Young women’s fertility knowledge: partial knowledge and implications for contraceptive risk-taking

Newton, Victoria; Dickson, Jane and Hoggart, Lesley (2020). Young women’s fertility knowledge: partial knowledge and implications for contraceptive risk-taking. BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsrh-2019-200473

Abstract

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 paper 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. 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 sex 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.


Conclusion Young women would benefit from a more nuanced understanding of fertility. Episodes of unprotected sex 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 unprotected intercourse generates over-reliance 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.

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