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Plan B & The Stigma Against Emergency Contraception

By Melissa Lipari

I’ve watched this scene a million times in movies and TV Shows. A nervous girl goes to a drugstore to pick up an emergency contraceptive, she gets a disapproving look or remark from the drugstore clerk, and the girl goes home in shame. In a culture that seems to be so expressive and accepting of sexual culture and acts in film, TV, books, and various forms of media and entertainment: why are we so bothered by something as simple as Plan B? Shouldn’t we be just as transparent with sexual health as we are with sexual exploration?

Medically induced abortions are something that we won’t even discuss in this article, because if emergency contraception is taboo, you can imagine how insanely defensive people become over the knowledge that someone is choosing not to continue with a pregnancy. That is an article that needs its own space on Lemon-Aid, which luckily has been executed by editorial intern Maya Cherins (you can check it out here!) in an informative and unbiased fashion. Instead, let’s focus on emergency contraception which is NOT utilized after a positive pregnancy test or when someone is already pregnant, despite contrary belief. 

Emergency contraceptives come in two forms: a pill or an IUD.The emergency contraceptive pill or ECP, has been named the “morning after pill” because it is meant to be used as soon as possible after having unprotected sex, which often occurs the following morning. The most common form of ECPs is Plan B, which can be taken as a singular capsule after unprotected sex and is known as the most effective method. According to TeenHealthsource.com, “If taken within 24 hours of unprotected vaginal sex, Plan B is 95% effective at preventing pregnancy.” Like common medicines, the sooner you take a pill, the more effective it will be. ECPs can be taken in a single pill, like Plan B, or can be taken over a stretch of a few days in order to effectively protect a woman from an unexpected pregnancy. They can be purchased over the counter, which makes them a more accessible (but not necessarily a more affordable) option for emergency pregnancy protection.

The intrauterine device option is a copper wire that must be inserted in the vagina clinically, called the CU-IUD. Much like ECPs, the IUD must be inserted quickly in order for it to be effective in preventing pregnancy. The CDC writes, “The Cu-IUD can be inserted within 5 days of the first act of unprotected sexual intercourse as an emergency contraceptive. In addition, when the day of ovulation can be estimated, the Cu-IUD can be inserted beyond 5 days after sexual intercourse, as long as insertion does not occur >5 days after ovulation.” The tricky part about using IUDs as emergency contraceptive methods is that you have to visit a doctor in order to do so, which would be difficult if you are younger than 18 and have parents who wouldn’t support your decision. This is why the popularization of Plan B has become so widespread because it’s often been shown as accessible in movies and TV shows -  like big sisters or older friends purchasing the pill for a younger protagonist who has had a birth control mishap - due to the fact that it is so difficult to find an emergency contraception that is accessible for all.

With access to this information about emergency contraceptives, you would think that they wouldn’t be as stigmatized as they are today. Unfortunately, post-sex birth control methods are just as frowned upon as abortion methods, even though they are not a form of abortion and do not work if you’re already pregnant. More often than not, ECPs are commonly taken when a birth control method was being implemented but failed. For example, a woman forgot to take her birth control pill that morning or the condom that was being utilized broke during intercourse. ECPs are not this fun and carefree pill that women utilize when they don’t feel like protecting themselves. ECPs are expensive and have side effects that can range from nausea, vomiting, fatigue, cramping, headaches, breast tenderness or dizziness to light bleeding. It’s not a walk in the park to go to CVS and pick up Plan B when you are a young adult and already have the stigma placed on your body about that you should be having sex or why you shouldn’t be doing it at a “young” age. It’s also not a walk in the park as a grown woman to be cast down upon because you should “know better” than to have a run-in with unprotected sex by now.

The fact of the matter is this: there is a stigma against women who use emergency contraceptive methods because they are associated with abortions and unprotected sex. Regardless of how you view emergency contraceptives, they are important and a basic healthcare right. As a woman, I should be able to practice safe sexual measures and do what I please with my body, without getting shaming looks in the sex aisle. I applaud companies such as Amazon, who allow you to discreetly purchase ECPs online and receive them in 2 days, because it releases some of the shame that many women have felt from purchasing an emergency contraceptive. While I personally have never felt this shame, I am saddened for the women who have had to feel like choosing to be safe rather than taking the risk of having an unwanted pregnancy is actually a greater sin than to be reckless and not monitor your sex life or to remain abstinent due to the fear of backlash.

I hope that in the future, ECPs will become less stigmatized to women of all ages, backgrounds, and sexual histories. I hope that the prices will become lower, because it’s not feasible to believe that every woman can purchase a $50 pill when they have an unprotected sex scare (Amazon is also not the best business to support). I hope that emergency birth control methods are talked about just as freely as standard birth control methods, like birth control pills and IUDs. Most importantly, I hope that anyone who is reading this article and has ever felt like they were being treated poorly or looked down upon because they chose to use an emergency contraceptive, raises their head high after taking into consideration what I have said. It is not an embarrassment to be self-aware of your body, to have sex, or to know what you want or don’t want in the future.


For more information on emergency contraceptives, please visit plannedparenthood.com


References

https://www.hhs.gov/opa/pregnancy-prevention/birth-control-methods/emergency-contraception/index.html#:~:text=Emergency%20contraception%20is%20birth%20control,unprotected%20sex%20to%20prevent%20pregnancy.

http://teenhealthsource.com/birthcontrol/emergency-contraceptive-pills/#:~:text=How%20effective%20are%20ECPs%3F,%25%20effective%20at%20preventing%20pregnancy.)

https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/mmwr/spr/emergency.html

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/get-care/our-services/emergency-contraceptive

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