One in three teenagers admits taking morning-after pill

ABOUT one-third of sexually active adolescents have taken the morning-after pill, according to the results of the largest study of contraceptive practices in women ever carried out in Portugal. The figures, revealed by the Portuguese Societies of Gynaecology and Reproductive Medicine, also show that 16 per cent of adolescents admit to not using any form of contraception.

Aimed at evaluating the current state of contraception use, 3,858 women, aged between 15 and 49, were questioned in mainland Portugal, and autonomous islands, Madeira and Azores. By far, the most sensational result hasFrom page 1

been the high recourse to the use of the emergency oral contraceptive pill, or morning-after pill, by females aged 15-19 years.

For Duarte Vilar, of the Family Planning Association (APP), the figures are not surprising. Speaking to the Público newspaper recently, he said that the fact that youths demonstrated an elevated use of the morning-after pill was not worrying in itself. What was more worrying, in his view, was that such a high proportion of teenagers had already put themselves in situations of unnecessary risk, which then led them, “in a proper manner”, to take steps to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

He suggested that part of the problem could be addressed by increasing the number of consulting facilities available specifically for adolescents. “For every county, there should be at least one juvenile counselling service situated at a strategic point,” he said. In 2001, according to the General Directorate of Health, only 30 per cent of health centres in Portugal possessed such a facility.

Pill is most popular

As far as the rest of the results were concerned, it came as no particular surprise that the conventional pill was by far the most popular contraceptive method – 88.3 per cent of women used it, followed by the condom with a 66.5 per cent. Meanwhile, 22.9 per cent of women said they used coitus interruptus, a famously unsafe method.

But many forget to take it

Of women who took the pill, three in four said that they had forgotten to take it at least once, while the number leaps to nine out of 10 in adolescents. Almost three-quarters of women said that they normally forget at least once during three menstrual cycles, while 15 per cent revealed that they forgot during every cycle. Again the figure is higher for adolescents, nearly a quarter of whom admitted to forgetting during several cycles.

Women well informed

On a more positive note, women show a good knowledge of the methods of contraception, with expected emphasis on the pill, the condom and tubal ligation (identified by 90 per cent). Just over half were conversant with more modern methods, such as the contraceptive patch, the subcutaneous implant and the vaginal ring, although use of these methods proved very rare (0.3, 0.9 and 0.5 per cent respectively).

“Morning-after” sales up

According to IMS statistics published recently, 200,000 packs of the morning-after pill were sold in Portugal during 2004, 30,000 more than in the previous year. Since marketing of the morning after pill was given the go ahead in Portugal in 1999, use of the emergency contraceptive has grown steadily despite controversy surrounding its use.