Is the morning after pill safe?

contraceptives safe sex
Image: Dreamstudio/123RF

During the December rush for carnal pleasures, it was a little hard for men and women to play it safe. In a poll conducted on sales last festive, a pharmacy in Tshwane sold over 2200 emergency contraceptives from late November to the end of December. In Kalapeng Pharmacy in Mpangeni sales averaged at 50 per day throughout December.

According to Clinical Sexologist, Dr. Elna McIntosh, emergency contraceptives (EC) work by delaying ovulation and stop eggs from forming inside the womb. "Emergency contraceptives can be used within 72 hours or after sexual intercourse during which a condom broke," Dr. McIntosh advises.

Although they are usually ingested, emergency contraceptives also include intrauterine devices (IUD) which can be taken five days after unprotected sex. Although there is a dependency for emergency contraceptives, Dr McIntosh advises that is should be used in conjunction with another contraceptive.

Although heavy use of emergency contraceptives have been rumoured to cause cerebral haemorrhage, cerebral thrombosis or infertility, Dr. McIntosh suggest that that might not be the case. "We have no studies available in SA. However, it’s a known fact (from speaking to Pharmacists) that EC is misused," she said, "however, the same applies to abortions. We do see patients returning for more than 1 abortion."

A study conducted by the University of Princeton echoes Dr. McIntosh's observations. No deaths or serious complications have been caused by excessive use of emergency contraceptives. However, emergency contraceptives containing levonorgestrel (hormonal component usually found in Plan B contraceptives)  showed that they can reduce the length of a menstrual cycle. It showed that the cycle was shortened by one day when taken preovulatory and increased by two days  postovulatory. 

So what is the recommended contraceptive to use? "Any one that suits the person's body," says Dr McIntosh, although she is quick to warn that that a number of women prefer not to use other forms of contraceptives because it affects their hormones.

Dr McIntosh also warns women against the high levels of progestogen in emergency contraceptives. "They pump 500 times the required amount of hormones down their throats. Why would you do that? It's like smoking 500 times too much weed," she says. "Women who are obese; women who smoke or have high blood pressure cannot be using emergency contraceptives."

Although sales are high for emergency contraceptives, a number of women have fallen pregnant on the morning after. Palesa Tau, who frequently used EC says that she fell pregnant despite using the morning after pill.  Since her pregnancy, she has changed her tune. "Condomise, at least you know you'll be a bit safe from AIDS and rather try out other long term options instead of the morning after pills. They're too risky."

Although there seems to be more products for female emergency contraceptives Tau is adamant that there should be a bigger focus on male contraceptives, even though it may be in vain. "It will probably be the same. Condoms are accessible to men but still, I think human beings are inherently careless."

Should there be more pressure to advance the use of male contraceptives, or will it bring about no change? Share your thought with us.

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