From the Journals

Concerns over discretion, efficacy lead teen females to use emergency contraception

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More efficacy education is needed

This study was very well conducted and provides genuine insight into adolescents who access contraception and their views about the difference between emergency contraception and nonemergent contraception. It also highlights that we have so much more work to do, from a public health perspective, when it comes to educating youth about the efficacy of contraception. If young people who have easier access to emergency contraception still believe incorrect information, what about those people who have minimal access?

Dr. Catherine Cansino is an associate clinical professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Davis.

Dr. Catherine Cansino

The fact that the study mentions reliance on condoms as protection against sexually transmitted infections is fantastic; they’re getting that message. But we need to take the next step forward and distinguish what different types of birth control can offer. It’s not a one-size-fits-all [message]. The most effective contraception is meant for long-term use, but it doesn’t have to be used long term.

Catherine Cansino, MD, MPH , is an associate clinical professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Davis. She was asked to comment on the article by Fink et al.



Emergency contraception is perceived as “easy, effective, and discrete,” especially when compared with nonemergent contraception and condoms, according to a qualitative study of contraceptive behaviors and decision making among adolescent females who had previously used emergency contraception (EC) or planned to use it.

“Three main themes emerged from our interviews: There are multiple perceived benefits to using EC, nonemergent contraception (NEC) use is challenging, and the decision to use NEC is multifactorial,” lead author Geetha N. Fink, MD, MPH, and her coauthors wrote in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.

The investigators reviewed interview transcripts and questionnaire responses from 28 adolescent females who had all used or were planning to use EC. The participants, who were recruited from school-based health centers (SBHC) in New York, reported having used EC a mean of 3.5 times (range 0-30 times), noted Dr. Fink of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and her colleagues.

SBHCs in New York can distribute EC for free and – once general consent to care at the SBHC is provided at the start of each school year– without parental notification. This ease of access contributed to EC use, along with its minimal side effects. EC also can “be used discretely without the involvement of the partner,” Dr. Fink and her coauthors noted. Although the majority of participants stated being comfortable discussing their EC use, “they still appreciated that EC does not require partner involvement or awareness, unlike condoms or withdrawal.”

The participants’ decision making often was influenced by misperception; 65% incorrectly stated that EC was 90%-99% effective, and NEC use was ascribed to beliefs that “excess EC decreases efficacy or is detrimental to health and social interactions.” At the same time, Dr. Fink and her colleagues found that NEC use was associated with participants who had more sexual experience or who correctly identified it as more effective than EC.

“Our findings suggest that as adolescents gained more experience with sex and counseling, and also matured, they appeared to be more likely to utilize NEC,” they wrote.

Dr. Fink and her associates shared limitations of their study, including the uniqueness of SBHCs in New York City in providing comprehensive health care options, compared with those in the rest of the United States. However, they also noted the value in interviewing adolescent EC users and therefore better understanding why they’ve made these contraceptive decisions.

“We suspect many more students would benefit from access to EC and the SBHC, but may be unaware of these resources. We recommend increased efforts to promote awareness of these resources in schools, especially incorporated into sexual education. EC should be readily available for all adolescents,” they wrote.

The study was funded through a grant from the Society of Family Planning. No conflicts of interest were reported.

SOURCE: Fink GN et al. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2018. doi: 10.1016/j.jpag.2018.10.005.

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