The sale of the morning after pill to girls under sixteen should be universally celebrated. It is taken ‘just in case’ after unprotected sex. This provides girls with the kindest method of control over their reproductive rights. It is guilt free because the girl may not even be pregnant when the pill is taken. There have always been girls under the age of 16 who have had sex. The pitfalls are not in the age at which it is available, the £35 cost or the cocktail of chemicals in the pills, they’re a last resort. The pitfalls rest in stigmatization and male pressure.
Although pharmacists are not obliged to sell the contraception to girls they do have to ask if the girl understands the implications of emergency contraception. This question has little value considering why she is there in the first place. They also have to ask if the girl is willing to tell her parents that she has had unprotected sex, or if she would be willing for someone else to tell them. If this is not humiliating enough, imagine if the pharmacist also has a disapproving look.
Practising sex safe is something adults get wrong more than young people 1 but that will not stop some adults from casting aspersions. If that attitude is coming from the pharmacist then girls may not use the service at all and that will have far greater consequences.
The availability of emergency contraception will lead to girls being encouraged to ‘throw caution to the wind’ and have unprotected sex. Females still look to males for approval after all. This will have the unintended consequence of increasing the risk of STIs.2 The Health Protection Agency figures in England showed that young people accounted for more than half of all newly diagnosed STIs. Girls are at risk even if they only have unprotected sex once.
It is so important that this service is available for girls. However, for this to really work the service needs to be available in schools, where it can be dispensed free of charge in a safe non-judgmental environment. Alongside a curriculum that lifts the self-esteem of girls. This way the humiliating and sensitive barriers are removed and a girl’s amour propre can be reinforced.