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by Robert MacKay, Monday, August 19, 2013 | Categories: Womens Health

Even though female contraception was introduced more than 50 years ago, it is still a topic that causes much debate around the world. Recently, we were surprised to read the reactions to research indicating that there was a need for pericoital contraceptives among women who attended family planning clinics.

The research, which was published in Contraception, took place in family planning clinics. The researchers surveyed 1616 women who attended clinics about their attitudes to using pericoital pills. The purpose of those pills is to be taken right before intercourse. Within that sample, 635 women had visited the clinic to have advice on abortion. The key findings indicated that 69% of the women visiting the centres to discuss abortion were positively inclined towards the contraceptives and 50% of patients who had visited the clinics for family planning would consider the treatment. The researchers stressed that there was a need for further research to consider exactly what demographics would benefit from this treatment the most and whether the pill would be effective.

To us this sounds like standard research that should not really cause too much controversy. However, as the study came in the wake of Bill and Melinda Gates awarding funding to an organisation to consider the efficacy of such treatment, the issue became more real to laypersons and politicians.

Perhaps that is why several news sources, including New York Magazine, dubbed the pill as the “slut pill” and compared it to the morning after pill. Many debates online appeared to focus on it as an easy solution that only a certain kind of woman could use. Yet, the researchers clarified that this treatment would probably be the most suitable for women who did not have regular intercourse.

Passing off this research as something that relates to promiscuity and assumed immorality completely misses the mark of the purpose of the current research. Based on our experience, we think it is fair to say that unprotected sex is far more common than it may be made out to be in some of the debates. It is also fair to say that not all women have equal access to contraceptives due to a multitude of reasons. From the sounds of it, the pericoital pill appears to have less severe effects than the morning after pill.

Clinicians that understand the sensitive nature of sexual health treatment also understand the need to lessen barriers to treatment and listen to research rather than debates. However, based on what we know about the pericoital pill today it is clear that more research is needed to substantiate the findings, to understand the potential risks and benefits and to evaluate the cost of the treatment. If future trials come to find a safe and effective pericoital pill, then we see little reason for denying women this choice.

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