Pharmacist knowledge of ovulation and pregnancy risk

Let’s talk about sex (with pharmacists), writes Dr Philip Goldstone

In Australia, over 66% of women use some form of contraception1. Unfortunately, no form of contraception is 100% effective and there is low uptake of the most effective, long-active reversible contraceptives.

This is why many women go to their pharmacist for the emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) and why pharmacists need to be informed about the most effective choice of ECP.

However, according to a 2011 study, Australian pharmacists have a more conservative attitude compared to overseas pharmacists and revised training for local pharmacists was recommended2.

Additionally, attitudes towards acceptability are associated with pharmacists’ age, gender and pharmacy accessibility2.

In November and December 2016, we surveyed pharmacists in an effort to investigate pharmacists’ awareness and understanding of ovulation and fertility and their awareness and experience when dispensing emergency contraception (EC)3.

The survey was completed by 65 pharmacists ranging from 20-70 years old in various regions of Australia.

The survey found that:

  • Nearly two-thirds (62%, 40/65) of survey respondents correctly identified that one cannot accurately predict the time of ovulation based on the day of the menstrual cycle. Of the remaining respondents,8% (22/65)of pharmacists incorrectly believed you can accurately predict when a woman is going to ovulate based on the day of her menstrual cycle and 4.6% (3/65) were unsure.
  • To the question, “How long can sperm survive in the female reproductive tract?” the two most common responses were:
    • “up to 3 days” (37%, 24/65)
    • “up to 5 days” (40%, 26/65).
  • Assuming that sperm can survive up to five days in the female reproductive tract, approximately 60% (39/65)selected a different answer and 51% (33/65)of pharmacists underestimated how long sperm can survive in the female reproductive tract.

This article is the first of a three part series.

For more information, please contact


Disclaimer: Marie Stopes Australia includes the Dr Marie network of clinics and the not-for-profit pharmaceutical company, MS Health. MS Health is the sponsor of the EllaOne® (ulipristal acetate) emergency contraceptive pill.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Family Formation: Family Planning,’ Australian Social Trends, viewed April 2017, < >.
  2. Hussainy, S. Y. et al.(2011).’ Provision of the emergency contraceptive pill without prescription: attitudes and practices of pharmacists in Australia’ Contraception, 83(2), 159-166. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2010.07.001
  3. Survey data on file at MS Health


Dr Philip Goldstone is the Medical Director of Marie Stopes Australia (Dr Marie and MS Health).

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