Emergency contraception: knowledge and understanding

Dr Philip Goldstone looks at women’s attitudes to and understanding of emergency contraception

In November and December 2016, we conducted an anonymous online survey to better understand women’s experiences with unprotected sex and their knowledge and use of emergency contraception1.

The survey was completed by 512 women of reproductive age (15 – 45 years old) who had not tried to become pregnant in the previous 12 months.

Our survey reiterated the findings of previous research, which has shown that knowledge of the availability, safety and effects of EC is poor among Australian women2,3.

In addition to the findings published in AJP last week, the survey found that:

  • Nearly all (97%, 496/512) respondents were aware of post-coital contraception and 99% (493/496) of these women knew that the emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) can be used for contraception after sex. Only 13% (64/496) knew that an intrauterine device (IUD) can also be used for emergency contraception.
  • Only 25% of the women surveyed correctly identified the mechanism of action of ECPs. The most popular response (over 60%, 309/496) was that the ECP stops a fertilised egg attaching to the uterus wall whilst 14% of respondents believed that ECPs have an abortive effect.
  • Women were asked, “What do you think about the emergency contraceptive pill? Please mark all that apply.” Of those who responded to the question (496/512): over three-quarters (78%, 389/496) agreed that “it is a responsible choice to prevent an unplanned pregnancy”; and nearly two-thirds (63%, 313/496) of women agreed with the statement that “it should not be a taboo subject or make women feel guilty about using it.”

This article is the second of a three part series.

For more information, please contact info@mshealth.com.au.

Disclaimer: Marie Stopes International in 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.

Dr Philip Goldstone is the medical director of Marie Stopes International in Australia (Dr Marie and MS Health)


  1. Survey data on file at MS Health
  2. Hobbs MK et al. Pharmacy access to the emergency contraceptive pill: a national survey of a random sample of Australian women. Contraception. 2011 Feb;83(2):151-8.
  3. Calabretto H. Emergency contraception – knowledge and attitudes in a group of Australian university students. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 2009 Jun;33(3):234-9.

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