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Emergency Contraceptives: What to do When Your Failsafe Fails

The ECP
The ECP

Women and doctors have long known that administering a high dosage of certain birth control pills within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse can prevent pregnancy. Since this was not originally the intended use for birth control pills, it is only in the past year have two new drugs specifically designed for emergency contraception been approved.

In 1999, Health Canada approved Preven as the first emergency contraceptive kit. It consists of a pregnancy test and four pills of estrogen and progestin. And only three months ago, a progestin-only emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) with lesser side effects was placed on the Canadian market under the name Plan B.

Lois Pratt, Nursing Co-ordinator at Queen's Student Health Services says that Student Health still uses Ovral, a high-dose birth control pill, for their emergency contraception. When a woman goes into Student Health for an ECP, she will be given four pills of Ovral free of charge. Pratt recommends that women make an appointment first thing in the morning, as ECP is more effective the sooner it is taken. On weekends there is a doctor on call to meet with students and write prescriptions.

According to the 1999 Montreal Health Press, all forms of ECP are 98 per cent effective if taken within 72 hours. ECP is essentially a high dose of the same female hormones used in birth control pills. By changing a woman's hormone levels, ECP potentially blocks ovulation and changes the lining of the uterus, by making it an inhospitable environment for implantation. ECP will not affect an existing pregnancy or a pregnancy that occurs later in a woman's cycle.

Since the approval of a medication specifically designed for use as an emergency contraception in Canada, the debate surrounding it becomes focused on accessibility. A 1999 report from the Ontario Medical Association Committee on Drugs and Pharmacotherapy recommends that physicians consider providing women at risk of needing ECP an advanced prescription. Making ECP available in drugstores with a prescription is another option advocated by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada and supported by the Ontario Medical Association.

An important part of accessing the ECP is ensuring that women and men know about it before they need it. " The majority of people do not know about ECP, on campus and off campus," said Queen's Health Educator Diane Nolting. Pratt, however, feels that knowledge is increasing. "We might have one a day, sometimes two a day at Student Health Services," Pratt said about the frequency of women requiring ECP. "We are delighted that the word had finally got out... I would say our numbers have increased over the last three to four years."

With a very transient population at Queen's, we cannot assume that all students have the same knowledge or background. Therefore, education and awareness are crucial. Nolting agreed, "If you don't know about ECP you can't begin to make a decision about its use."

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Anna Palubiski and Hannah Varto are the Director and External Educator, respectively, of the Sexual Health Resource Center.

The ECP

At this stage in the game, there are few surprises when it comes to sex, right? It is somewhat safe to say that by university age, most of us have figured out (gracefully, sloppily, or otherwise) the basic mechanisms of sex: how it's done, what it does, etc. Yet somehow, much like a student who makes it to the end of the year Calculus exam without ever hearing of, let alone understanding, the concept of cosine-theta, some of us have minds like sieves: we often miss the nitty-gritty. Read on to find out about some of the peripheral details about sex that you may not know…at the very least, it'll make for great ice-breakers at a party.

ECP's At-a-Glance

ECP's may be for you if:

-you have had sex without adequate contraception or experienced a contraceptive accident

-you are uncertain after a sexual encounter that occurred less than three days.

What if it's too Late for ECP's?

About 1.5 American women choose to have an abortion every year; thankfully, fewer than 1per cent experience a major complication associated with the procedure. Simply put, there are two main types of abortion: medical and surgical. A medical abortion involves taking medication that will end a pregnancy; it is the less invasive of the two procedures. The other, a surgical abortion, ends a pregnancy by emptying the uterus with special instruments. Once about 7 weeks have passed after conception, a surgical abortion is the woman's most viable choice. The most common routine for surgical abortions involves opening the cervix to remove the contents inside the uterus. The second, and less common alternative, is to induce labour. The woman then expels the contents of her womb, as if in childbirth. This type of abortion would generally occur after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

The Condom

The earliest mention made of the condom in Western culture occurred in the 1500s. Etymologists speculate that the root is derived from the Latin word for "house" or "roof", although some believe that it came from the Persian "kondu", which translates to "vessel".

A Rose by Any other Name…

Regardless of its root, the condom has been called many different names. Some interesting pseudonyms for the condom are American/French/Spanish letters, rubbers, diving suits, Malthus caps, one-fingered gloves, raincoats, armour, safes, and, my personal fave, "goody bags". And it seems that the public are not the only ones to be befuddled over what to call our most groaned about form of protection; manufacturers too seem to suffer the same plight. Some past brand names have included, "Banzai Bliss", "Swashbuckler", and for the overly optimistic of you, the "Die-Hard".

And You Thought Latex Was Bad

As many discrepancies as there have been in christening the little suckers, there has been more indecisiveness in how to make them. For example, in the past, condoms have been made out of animal bowels, leather, shell, wax, seed pods, linen, and metal.

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