Searching for a “Plan B”: young adults’ strategies for finding information about emergency contraception online

People increasingly turn to the Internet for health information, with 80 percent of U.S. Internet users (59 percent of adults) having used the Web for this purpose. However, because there is so much health content online, users may find it difficult to find reliable content quickly. Research has also shown that websites hosting information about the most controversial topics – including Emergency Contraceptive Pills, ECPs – contain a great number of inaccuracies. While the Internet is a potentially valuable source of information about sexual health topics for young adults, difficulty in searching and evaluating credibility may prevent them from finding useful information in time.

Emergency contraception has long been heralded as a “second chance” for women to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. However, the commercial promotion and use of ECPs has been a highly contentious issue in the United States, a fact that has had a significant impact on legislative action and accessibility. Due to their limited window of effectiveness and given that people do not tend to obtain them until the moment when they are needed urgently, it is essential for people to be able to find accurate information about ECPs as quickly as possible.

Our study investigated empirically how over 200 young college students (18-19 years old) at two college campuses in the Midwestern United States searched for and evaluated information about emergency contraception. They were given the hypothetical scenario: “You are at home in the middle of summer. A friend calls you frantically on a Friday at midnight. The condom broke while she was with her boyfriend. What can she do to prevent pregnancy? Remember, neither of you is on campus. She lives in South Bend, Indiana.” All of the students had considerable experience with using the Internet.

Worryingly, a third of the participants, after looking for information online, were unable to conclude that the friend should seek out ECPs. Less than half gave what we consider the ideal response: to have the friend purchase ECPs over the counter at a pharmacy. Some participants suggested such solutions as “wait it out,” “adoption,” “visit a gynecologist” (in the incorrect location), and purchasing another condom. Three percent of respondents came to no conclusion at all.

Continue reading “Searching for a “Plan B”: young adults’ strategies for finding information about emergency contraception online”