Unintended pregnancy for one in five

New data suggest young women need more education around contraception choice, and pharmacists are perfectly positioned to help

A new survey of over a thousand women aged 18 to 27 years has shown that almost one in five have experienced an unintended pregnancy.

The survey, conducted by Galaxy Research and commissioned by MSD Australia, found the incidence of unintended pregnancy was only one in 20 among women aged 18 to 21, but this rose to one in four women aged 22 to 27.

The majority of respondents aged 22-27 years were 20% more likely to have used contraception compared to those aged 18-21 years, which MSD suggests could indicate a lack of knowledge in effective conceptive options among this age group.

While over a third of women aged 18 to 27 said they would welcome an unintended pregnancy, most (62%) said it would be more stressful than losing their job, all their savings, or breaking up with their partner.

Survey participants said that they expected their contraception to provide:

  • Peace of mind – 77%
  • Control – 65%
  • A sense of security – 63%
  • Reassurance – 60%.

The oral contraceptive pill (69%), condoms (66%), and the morning after pill (31%) were the most common forms of contraception used in young women.

Just 14% have used a contraceptive implant, 6% a contraceptive injection, 3% an intrauterine device, 1% a contraceptive ring and less than 1% a diaphragm.

Infographic: MSD

Over half (53%) of women wish they knew more about contraception options available to them and the majority (80%) would like their GP to recommend a contraception option based on their lifestyle.

Dr Deborah Bateson, medical director of Family Planning NSW, says that pharmacists are a trusted source of information about contraception and can help advise on correct use – thus reducing the chance of unintended pregnancy – and newer options.

Information about newer types of contraceptives are “starting to filter through,” she told the AJP.

“But if you look at the data around use of long-acting reversible medications, such as injections, implants and IUDs, compared to other countries particularly in northern Europe, we still hhave low rates of uptake,” Dr Bateson says. “There’s a lack of awareness and also some misinformation about these alternatives.

“It’s about informed choice – many will still make the choice to use the Pill, for example, as it’s still very useful, but perhaps when women are getting a new script for the Pill they can be made aware that there are new options.”

Pharmacists can also help to address misinformation about emergency contraception, she says, such as the notion that it is abortifacient.

“There’s two sorts of these now, there’s levonorgestrel and ulipristal acetate, and there’s still a bit of confusion – we need to ensure we’re all aware about the fact that how they work is very different to medical abortion medications, mifepristone and misoprostol.

“The way EC works is to prevent or delay ovulation – it’s really important to have that information, and the PSA has really excellent information for pharmacists to support them in providing EC.

“Pharmacists can also play a really important role in talking about how to take contraception. When a woman comes to see me, as a doctor I’m giving her a lot of information about the Pill, how to manage missed pills – it’s a lot of information to take in all at once.”

Pharmacists can supply written information, including that provided on the Family Planning website, she says, but also talk about ways to ensure best use of the Pill.

“It’s good to be aware of apps, too,” Dr Bateson says. “These can help make taking the Pill a bit more effective in terms of remembering to take something at the same time each day.”

The Galaxy data was commissioned alongside the launch of contraceptivematch.com.au, a new resource for women also commissioned by MSD.

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