Sex & Relationships

Understanding how emergency contraception works

Emergency contraception may be the most poorly understood form of birth control. Often, it’s incorrectly associated with the idea of abortion or the termination of an existing pregnancy.

packet of pills

Masterfile

Emergency contraception may be the most poorly understood form of birth control. Often, it’s incorrectly associated with the idea of abortion or the termination of an existing pregnancy. But emergency contraception, which is most often offered in pill form, doesn’t terminate a pregnancy; it merely prevents conception and it does that essentially by delaying ovulation.

Research suggests that many women aren’t aware of this distinction, however. According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC), while forms of emergency birth control have been available for three decades, only 57 percent of Canadian women were familiar with it.

To rectify the situation, and as part of their recognition of World Contraception Day on Sept. 26, the SOGC made a public call for greater education about emergency contraception and its accessibility. For example, many women may not be aware that it’s available to purchase without a prescription in the pharmacy department of many local drug stores.

“Health-care providers must become advocates for emergency contraception and ensure that Canadians who require this important therapeutic intervention are able to have access to it when they need it, wherever they may live, and regardless of other people’s personal views,” said Dr. Sheila Dunn, principal co-author of the Emergency Contraception clinical practice guideline.

Additionally, the SOGC argued that it’s essential for more women to be properly educated about just how emergency contraception works — for example, it’s not a form of abortion — and how it ought to be used. For example, some forms can be used/taken anywhere from three to five days after a woman has engaged in unprotected sex as a means of preventing an unwanted pregnancy (there is no protection from STIs, however).

In the SOGC release guideline co-author Dr. Édith Guilbert argued that discussion around emergency contraception should be part of a larger conversation about practicing responsible sexual behaviour.

Said Guilbert: “Women need to understand that emergency contraception is just that — birth control to be used in the event of an emergency. Getting emergency contraception is an opportunity to discuss ongoing contraception and protection from both unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.”

Do you think these products should be available over-the-counter?