Lifestyle editor Jacqueline Kilikita investigates why more and more young female professionals are taking dangerous risks with contraception.
Pretending to scour the shelves in a popular high street chemist, aspiring Lawyer Holly, 21, waits for her name to be called by the pharmacist. She is soon led to consultation room where her date of birth is noted down in exchange for an emergency contraception pack – also known as the morning after pill.
Holly is just another one of the thousands of female professionals under 25, that are taking unsafe risks when it comes to sex and contraception. That is, if they are even thinking about contraception at all.
A recent British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) survey found that a third of 150,000 women interviewed were not using any method of contraception despite having sexual relationships. Research has also revealed that 16% of women aged 20-25 have taken the morning after pill with 1 in 25 girls admitting that they have relied on emergency contraception more than once, for either forgetting to take a contraceptive pill or simply because using other forms of protection, such as condoms, had slipped their minds.
The obvious risk in the matter is the increasing rate of STI’s amongst 20-30 year olds that has seen a rise of five percent in this year alone. So just why are educated young women refusing to acknowledge that their safety hangs in the balance?
“You don’t ever think that contracting an STI will happen to you,” confesses Holly. “If your friends have had one, they would keep quiet so you tend to think that having unprotected sex with people isn’t as dangerous as the health industry makes out.”
But what about the health implications of taking emergency contraception? Pills like Levonelle and Plan B contain a large surge of hormones that prevent an egg from being released and many women have experienced side effects of vomiting and dizziness to intense headaches and disrupted monthly cycles.
Doctor Alison Elliman a consultant in sexual and reproductive healthcare at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust says that is it “not true that the morning after pill can damage a woman’s fertility,” however, the long term effects of the morning after pill are unknown to healthcare professionals who advise young women not to rely on the method to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
The decision to take the morning after pill isn’t always born from the common misconception of having had drunken one night stands with strangers, as Holly admits to having paid her local pharmacy over four visits to obtain emergency contraception after having careless unprotected sex with her long term boyfriend, despite being fully informed about the range of safe contraceptive methods out there. But isn’t she embarrassed of being noticed to have taken the pill more than once?
“If you go to a large chemist such as Boots, they usually have different pharmacists every day, so thankfully I’m never recognised. It’s also anonymous; no details are kept at all. But I do feel quite ashamed because I know better.”
Nearly all pharmacies in Wales and some parts of England have made the morning after pill free and it is also readily available in local sexual health clinics or from your GP. But is this instant access to emergency contraception facilitating sexual carelessness? If women were forced to pay the suggested price of up to £29 for the pill, would it make us think twice about taking dangerous risks?
Holly doesn’t think that changing the sexual health bill would make much difference. “Mishaps will always occur, whether you forget to take your pill or because of condom failure. I feel relieved to know that I can nip to my local chemist in my lunch break, so that I won’t have to deal with a baby I can’t afford to bring up, nine months down the line.’
Shockingly, 1 in 4 young professional women in the UK will have an abortion by the age of 30 with most of them having reported to be using the unsafe withdrawal method (withdrawing before ejaculation) and a large number even reported to having felt uncomfortable about asking their partner to use a condom. Despite this, thousands more young women obtain higher education results and enter into the world of work as high flying professionals, but the statistics regarding their nonchalant sexual behaviour are truly worrying.
With so much information and free contraception available from the NHS for women of all ages, maybe it’s time we gave as much thought to our sexual health as we do our education and careers.
“I dread to think what years of the morning after pill and the stress of the aftermath of having unprotected sex has done to my body,” Holly reflects. “I think most women are too focussed on other aspects of their life. Sometimes, we don’t realise that our health is the most important thing and that’s something we need to get out there.”
Words: Jacqueline Kilikita