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Young women’s fertility knowledge: partial knowledge and implications for contraceptive risk-taking
  1. Victoria Louise Newton1,
  2. Jane Dickson2,
  3. Lesley Hoggart1
  1. 1 School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  2. 2 Sexual and Reproductive Health, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Newport, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Victoria Louise Newton, School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care, Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK; victoria.newton{at}


Background There is a lack of research on young women’s fertility knowledge and awareness. This has implications for contraceptive risk-taking, including the use of emergency hormonal contraception (EHC). By drawing on two research studies, this article shows how greater fertility knowledge could benefit young women in terms of pregnancy prevention.

Methods We draw on two qualitative research studies (‘fertility study’ and ‘abortion study’) resulting in a composite sample of 46 interviews with women aged 16–24 years. Focused secondary analysis was undertaken looking specifically at fertility knowledge in relation to contraceptive behaviour.

Findings A lack of accurate knowledge about the menstrual cycle was evident in two ways. Young women drew conclusions about their invulnerability to pregnancy if previous unprotected sexual intercourse (UPSI) had not resulted in pregnancy. Additionally, although participants were aware of EHC, there was no awareness of when it might fail other than after a certain time limit.

Conclusions Young women would benefit from a more nuanced understanding of fertility. Episodes of UPSI that do not result in pregnancy can encourage a belief that ‘it won’t happen to me’, and this has implications for taking chances with contraception. Partial knowledge about the effectiveness of EHC may also lead to unintended pregnancy. Calculating the number of hours following UPSI generates overreliance on what is only one of the factors determining the effectiveness of EHC. Information regarding the link between EHC and failure rates near the day of ovulation needs to be more widely publicised.

  • ​fertility
  • contraception
  • emergency contraception
  • IUD
  • pregnancy risk
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  • Contributors VLN and LH were jointly responsible for the conception, design, primary and secondary analysis of the work. VLN was responsible for the initial drafting of the manuscript and final edits and revisions. JD and LH carried out interim revisions, edits and suggestions. JD was responsible for the conception and drafting of the material related to emergency hormonal contraception and the implications of the research findings for practice. VLN, LH and JD jointly approved the version to be published and are accountable for the accuracy and integrity of the work.

  • Funding The fertility study was jointly funded by the Centre for Applied Social Research, University of Greenwich, and Greenwich Community Health Services. The abortion study was funded by Marie Stopes International.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement No data are available. Consent was not obtained from study participants to share transcripts beyond the research team.

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