Fact vs. Fiction: The Morning After Pill

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OK, cards on the table. We know the drill – something didn’t go according to plan the night before and you need the morning after pill. Shock, horror - people have sex and sometimes even with the best of intentions, we find ourselves in need of emergency contraception.

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According to an FPA (Family Planning Association) survey, 52% of women aged 16-24 said asking for Emergency Contraception was embarrassing. The tired old story is a ‘walk of shame’, hiding beneath a baggy hoodie and whispering across the counter ‘Morning After pill please…’ before waiting for the ground beneath your feet to swallow you up – but why? It’s 2018 and we don’t need any unhelpful stigma or outdated taboos standing in our way.

“It’s understandable that anyone might feel worried about  sharing something as personal as details about sex,” pharmacist Deborah Evans explains. “But having a healthy sex life is good for us and pharmacists are here to help, never to judge. Like other healthcare professionals, we see lots of different health issues; women asking for emergency contraception is very normal for us.”

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“There are many reasons people come to us and ask for the morning after pill: condom split, he didn’t pull out in time, you missed your regular pill or you didn’t use any contraception at all.These things happen and there is nothing to be embarrassed about.”

One of the biggest barriers to women feeling confident about asking for the morning-after pill is misunderstanding how it works. The same FPA survey found that only 17% of women had been taught about emergency contraception at school.

Emergency contraception has for too long been the subject of rumours, myths and blatant untruths. We asked Deborah to put some popular rumours to bed (excuse the pun).

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Myth Number 1: Taking the morning after pill is the same as having an abortion

50% of women surveyed thought that taking the morning after pill was the same thing as having an abortion. This is NOT how emergency contraception works. Although you take it after having unprotected sex, it is still a preventative method.  

“Is it an abortion pill? No, absolutely not. Sperm can survive in the female body for 5 days after sex. The morning after pill works by inhibiting ovulation (egg release), so if we can stop the egg being there, the sperm who are hanging on waiting to fertilise an egg die off before the egg arrives, and a possible pregnancy is prevented. If you are already pregnant, however, then the morning after pill won’t interrupt your pregnancy.”

Myth number 2: The morning after pill will affect your fertility

 

In one survey, almost two thirds of women reported that they thought that using emergency contraception could affect their fertility later in life. There is no evidence that suggests this to be the case.

“No, taking the morning after pill will have no effect on your future fertility. In fact your fertility returns so quickly that we recommend using a barrier method of contraception (such as a condom or a diaphragm) until you have your next period.”

Myth number 3: The horrible side-effects aren’t worth it

 
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One misconception about oral emergency contraception is that the morning after pill will cause your hormones to run rampant, causing nasty side effects and disrupting your periods. While the morning after pill does affect your hormones, there is no evidence to suggest that it will turn you into an emotional, acne-ridden wreck.

“The morning after pill affects ovulation, which means your next period might be early or late, but after that your cycles will return to normal.”

“As for side-effects, every woman is different. The most common side-effects are headaches and nausea, but in general the morning after pill is very well-tolerated by most women. Talk to your pharmacist about anything you’re worried about, including how to manage any potential side effects.”

Myth number 4: You have to take it the morning after

62% of women surveyed thought that you have to take the morning after pill within 24 hours of intercourse. This is not true, ellaOne, for instance, is effective up to 120 hours after you have unprotected sex. However the morning after pill will be more effective the sooner you take it - so don’t delay. 

“The morning after pill is more effective the sooner you take it, but please don’t panic if you can’t get to the pharmacy straight away. It’s much more sensible to seek the morning after pill than to leave things up to chance! Also, you don’t have to wait until morning - if you have sex in the afternoon and a mishap happens then pop to a pharmacy and take it as soon as you can.”

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Myth number 5: You need a prescription for emergency contraception

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More than one-third of women surveyed by the FPA thought they needed a prescription for emergency contraception, or weren’t sure. It’s true that prescriptions were once needed for the morning after pill, but not anymore; now you can get it over the counter in a pharmacy. You can even buy it online and collect it in your local pharmacy later that same day. For more information on how to buy the morning after pill check out our website.

“In my pharmacy, women who need the morning after pill come to the counter and ask the healthcare assistant. They discreetly tell me and I invite the woman to our private consultation room where we have a chat to discuss her options and to check the morning after pill is right for her. I listen to any concerns and questions she might have too, reassuring her.”

“You can purchase the morning after pill online for collection later on at a pharmacy; you answer a few questions and select a pharmacy for your pill to be delivered to. If you had to go to work ‘the morning after’, for example, you could order it from your desk and pick it up on your way home.”

My staff and I will talk to people and educate them about the products. I love that interaction and I love helping people.
— The Medicine Man, a.k.a James Powell

“My advice to anyone getting the morning after pill is not to worry or be embarrassed. Ask all your questions - there truly are no stupid questions when it comes to understanding how your body and especially your reproductive system works. It’s all part and parcel of being a confident and sexually active person.”

Did you know that you can even get the morning after pill onsite at a music festival? Just in case you’ve been rocking the tent as it were, and don’t want to spend the rest of your festival worrying, look out for The Medicine Man who will be appearing at seven of the UK’s biggest festivals this year. Also known as James Powell, The Medicine Man is a mobile pharmacy who stocks ellaOne for any festival-goers who need emergency contraception.

James is passionate about engaging with the young people at these festivals, and views educating them as a way to break down taboos and bust myths about emergency contraception.

“A key role we have is educating people and this is a great way to get pharmacists out of their dispensaries and give a face to the service,” The Medicine Man says. “My staff and I will talk to people and educate them about the products. I love that interaction and I love helping people.”

So, with these unhelpful and untrue myths about emergency contraception busted, we hope that we can wave goodbye to the ‘walk of shame’ and say hello to a ‘stride of pride’ - the confident walk of a woman who takes control over her body, and her morning after.


ellaOne contains ulipristal acetate. Always read the label.

Leo Kent