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4 August 2006

Contraception and the realities of life

In a feature on 'slut counselling' in the Times (London), Ann Furedi, chief executive of bpas, examines why young women have unprotected sex.

‘A recent survey of bpas clients showed that 40 per cent of the 60,000 women who come to us each year for an abortion were not using contraception when they got pregnant.

‘The popular view is that these women are young, vulnerable, ignorant. On the contrary, they’re mostly intelligent, capable, articulate, know the risks of unprotected sex and where to get contraception; eight women in ten we see say they usually use it. They are not habitual “risk takers”, but when it comes to sex they abandon caution.

‘Why? Because for many women, especially outside a long-term relationship, sex is about “now” and contraception is thinking about the “future”, and in the heat of the clinch, the two don’t always go together.

‘This is the frustration for sexual-health doctors. For them “good sex” is planned, with condoms purchased and by the bed, and lines to get a partner to use one are mentally rehearsed. But for many of us “good sex” is passionate, spontaneous, back-seat-of-the-car sex that defies “family planning”.

‘It’s a problem. Hormone methods of contraception give round-the-clock pregnancy protection, and the morning-after pill provides a second chance to limit pregnancy risks if you have unprotected sex, but the risk of infection remains. Condoms protect against both, but despite the best of intentions tend to stay in the packet.

‘The best thing we can all do is to be aware of how life is. Doctors need to accept that women who have risky sex aren’t necessarily ignorant, immature or otherwise dysfunctional, but normal. There’s no “slut counselling” at bpas. There’s an opportunity to discuss whether your contraceptive is the best for your life and a chance to be tested for infection. We encourage clients to keep morning-after pills at home, so the next time they throw caution to the wind they lessen their chance of needing an abortion — as chances are, there will be a next time. After all, sex is hot.’

Published as part of the feature article ‘Smart girls who ought to know better’ in the Times (London), 29 July 2006.