The morning after pill, and Sydney’s under-awareness of the treatment

While it’s not a situation that many people will find themselves in often – if at all – the possibility of accidental pregnancy is one that can strike anyone, however safe they are when they have sex.

Nonetheless, it seems like there are many people who are not clear on their options should they need to respond to an unwanted surprise, and this was particularly highlighted in a 2010 report from the Sydney Morning Herald.

People from in and around the city have been scared off from use of this last-minute, last-resort option due to a number of issues, notably “misinformation about how it works and where they can get it”.

This is according to La Trobe University’s Mother and Child Health Research Centre, which is worried about the lack of understanding surrounding the medication.

Examples of this included how most people do not know they can buy the morning after pill without a prescription; a further third believed it caused an abortion and another two-thirds understood that it would lead to birth defects if pregnancy continued regardless – all major misconceptions.

“The most surprising thing was that less than half the women knew it was available from the pharmacy without a prescription,” said Melissa Hobbs, study leader and researcher at La Trobe. “Making it available over the counter was a great policy but without providing [women with] information it won’t work.”

So, if you don’t quite understand how it works, here are the facts. The morning after pill is contraception you take after having sex. It is taken if a girl has had sex without contraception, or if they had used a condom and it broke; it can also be taken up to three days after the event.

Morning-after pills work by using hormones to stop the ovaries releasing eggs. They make the womb harder to capture fertilised eggs so they cannot develop into a baby.

It is strictly used in emergencies as it is not as reliable as the contraceptive pill or condoms, and will not stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases – it should never be looked upon as a simple alternative to traditional forms of contraception.

If five days or more have passed since unprotected sex happened, a person will still need to see their doctor to discuss their options. It’s often free from a doctor or family planning clinic, depending on how the health service works in your area, and over-16s can buy it from chemists.

Chemists can even provide free morning-after pills, should the government subsidise it.

After the pill has been taken, women won’t need to go back to their doctor unless they believe they are pregnant – it’s important to keep a close eye on periods being late, shorter or lighter than they normally are.

While it isn’t always effective, hormones can make a next period different – it may be the case that they are just experiencing the after-effects of the additional hormones.

So, if you’re stuck in Sydney and worried about your options after unprotected sex, fear not – your options are still very much open.

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