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Support is key to overcoming fears about emergency contraception

Health workers such as sexual health nurses and community nurses play a crucial role in helping young women overcome feelings of shame and blame when accessing emergency contraception, new research suggests.

OnMedica Editorial

Friday, 24 March 2006


Health workers such as sexual health nurses and community nurses play a crucial role in helping young women overcome feelings of shame and blame when accessing emergency contraception. Research presented at the Royal College of Nursing's 2006 International Nursing Research Conference in York this week shows how difficult it is for many adolescents to access emergency contraception for the first time.

The presentation looked at views of adolescent girls aged 14 to 19 years who had accessed emergency contraception more than once. These findings are part of a larger phD study 'Accessing emergency contraception - a feminist analysis of the adolescent experience' by Debbie Fallon, Senior Lecturer, Nursing, University of Salford, Manchester. This is a qualitative study where data was collected via 30 self-complete questionnaires and 30 semi-structured interviews with adolescents aged 14-19 years.

"All of them talked about the shame and embarrassment and the feeling of just "getting it over with" when they needed emergency contraception for the first time," Ms Fallon said. "But if they needed to access emergency contraception a second time, the feelings were very different. The turning point was that they now knew "they were not infallible", they were aware there were other girls "just like me", and they accepted that it could happen to anyone. It was important to them that they could 'blend in' on the second occasion, that they could treat the experience as one where valuable lessons were learned and they could take charge of their own reproductive health."

Teenaged girls accessing emergency contraception had far fewer feelings of guilt and blame if they had a good service provider the first time around, Ms Fallon said. "Impartial advice and nursing care were important factors in helping these girls feel less isolated," she said.

RCN General Secretary Beverly Malone said young women should be able to seek emergency contraception when they need it without fear of shame or blame. "We need, as a society, to say goodbye to narrow outdated stereotypes of sexual health services as something furtive and shameful or as a kind of emergency service for the sexually reckless," Dr Malone said.

"Sexual health services should be about providing care wherever it's needed. That's why nurses are well placed to make a positive impact in modernising sexual health services. They can help provide safe and effective emergency contraception and also give young people the skills to access reliable contraception for the future."

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