Context Data collected from two community family planning services are used to discuss the characteristics of users of emergency contraception (EC).
Objective To investigate the characteristics of women attending for emergency contraception.
Design A descriptive survey design was used to collect data. Questionnaires were completed over a 4-week period. Data were analysed using SPSS.
Setting Community family planning services in South West Surrey and Newham, East London.
Participants Consenting women aged 14-44 years attending for emergency contraception (n = 171).
Main outcome measures Description of the users, the current episode and contact with contraceptive services were analysed by age.
Results The age range was 14-37 years (mean 20.2 years). A majority were smokers. Of the women, 97.7% attended the clinic within the 72-hour time frame for issuing oral EC, however only 4% came within 12 hours of intercourse; 55% said that they had used contraception. Condom breakage was the commonest reason for failure. Reasons for not using contraception included getting 'carried away' (35%), not having condoms available (22%) and having drunk alcohol (13%). Of the sample 55.6% were previous users of EC.
Discussion The study demonstrates a high incidence of sexual risk taking and need for EC, especially amongst smokers and drinkers. The message that soonest is best still requires promotion. Providers of EC must co-ordinate their services to ensure access within the 12-hour time frame in a local area.
Conclusion Health professionals need to ensure that clients have appropriate information about EC and regular contraceptive methods and that user friendly provision is widely available.
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