Shamed For Taking The Morning After Pill: 6 Women Share Their Stories

photographed by megan madden.
Emergency contraception is easier to access than ever before in the UK – high street pharmacies including Superdrug and Boots cut the price last year and it's still available free via the NHS and at sexual health clinics. However the stigma surrounding it remains and it's women who are bearing the brunt – we're being judged, patronised and made to feel ashamed for something that's a) very often an accident, and b) resulted from the actions of two people. Not us alone.
Recent research on nearly 1,000 18-35-year-old women by the morning after pill brand ellaOne found that 57% feel awkward and embarrassed when making the purchase, while just 10% feel confident. In another survey, three-quarters of women admitted to not seeking emergency contraception after having unprotected sex, due partly to embarrassment and factors like misinformation (only 17% of women learn about it in school). ellaOne's new campaign, #MyMorningAfter, seeks to tackle the taboo and the sexist tropes surrounding the morning after pill and encourage women to share their experiences of emergency contraception. Here, six women share their stories of morning after pill shaming with Refinery29.
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1 of 6

His reaction made me feel so unbelievably awkward and guilty.

Jennifer, 25

I've taken the morning after pill more than five times in my life. The first time I was 20 and at university – I was so rubbish at taking my contraceptive pill and often forgot when I had a boyfriend. A friend told me the morning after pill was free for under-25s.

After asking to see ID and proof of my address (I have no idea why), a female pharmacist took me into a tiny little dark room away from the counter (which made me feel like I’d done something wrong), and asked me some really intrusive questions: when and how exactly it happened (I lied and said the condom slipped off because I felt a bit stupid and ashamed for being what some would probably call "reckless"), the ins and outs of my last period and some health questions. She also made me take the pill there and then and literally stared at me while I swallowed it, which made me feel uncomfortable.

The next time I went to get the morning after pill it was from a male pharmacist, and when I asked for it, his face completely dropped. His reaction made me feel so unbelievably awkward and guilty, so from then on, I always asked to speak to a female pharmacist. Other times, I’ve just walked into a pharmacy and bought it on the spot in about five seconds, with hardly any questions asked. Every time has been quite different, actually.

They always say that if you’re sick within 12 hours, to come back and get another one, then they brief you on the side-effects, like an early or heavy period. Now I’m older and wiser (lol), I make sure my contraception is all in order. I have no idea what the long-term side-effects are but I try not to think about it. I hope I haven’t mucked up my ovaries – there needs to be more education on it, I think. Google isn’t helpful…
2 of 6

He asked me what the fallopian tubes were.

Jess, 31

My GP gave me a pop quiz about my reproductive system because I dared to come for the morning after pill two months in a row. He asked me what the fallopian tubes were and I was like "erm, I dunno". Then he said: "Well I'd have thought you'd have known that if you were coming for the morning after pill twice in a row." He gave it to me but I went home and cried.

I had slept with two people at that point and had been using condoms – with my boyfriend, not that it matters – that the university had given out in freshers' week. They were shit and broke both times. Seriously fuck that guy, I wish he'd said that to me now – I would be livid. But at 18, and not very experienced, I felt like I was a) a "slag", and b) not being responsible with my own body for not being able to name the function of the fallopian tubes off the top of my head during an unforeseen pop quiz.
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3 of 6

My boyfriend came with me to the pharmacy and I felt less judged.

Kaitlyn, 23

I've taken the morning after pill three times in my life, the most recent time being a few months ago. My boyfriend came with me to the pharmacy and I felt less judged because I was with him, which was weird. It was as if it was okay for me to be taking it because it wasn't a one-night stand and I was in a stable relationship. Often I'm probably judging myself too, due to the social stigma around it. I paid for it because I couldn't be bothered to go through the conversation with a doctor to talk about it.

A friend of mine takes it quite regularly and she says her doctor is brilliant and knows what it's like to be a young woman, so gives it to her (while recommending that she goes on to a form of contraception).
4 of 6

You go into those situations assuming you'll be helped.

Charlotte, 27

I was once refused the morning after pill because I'd taken it 48 hours before (after very unfortunate condom-breaking situations). I felt panicked and lost because I wasn't sure what my other options were. You go into those situations assuming you'll be helped, so to be turned away felt pretty scary – it's like my autonomy had been taken away and I couldn't help but blame myself: 'Well, you shouldn't have got yourself into this situation.' I'm not sure if they intended to shame me, but that's definitely how I felt.

Then I went somewhere else and I disclosed that I'd taken the pill very recently but that the condom had broken so I needed it again, and they were very reluctant to give it to me. She seemed unsure if it was safe or not and implied that this was a really unique situation, not one she had heard before (again, implying shame), and essentially said she couldn't. I ended up going to a walk-in clinic instead and they were super nice about it, even giving me a spare one to take away with me.
5 of 6

He made me feel so witless for what had been a total accident.

Katy, 37

When I lived in Ireland and was packing to go to a music festival I pulled the pill out of my wallet and realised, despite having had lots of sex, that I hadn’t taken it for the past four days. I panicked. In Ireland we don’t have the NHS (which is part of the reason I would lie down and die for it now I live in England), so I had to book an appointment with a doctor. He was not my GP – he was older, male and in a very bad mood. He made me feel so witless for what had been a total accident. His tone and the unhelpful questions he asked throughout ("Why haven’t you been taking the pill every day like you are supposed to?") made me feel like a piece of shit scraped off the sole of a shoe. He also asked if I had a boyfriend, which last time I checked, has sweet fuck all to do with anything. I’ll never forget it.
6 of 6

I was left standing like a tool for 30 minutes.

Marianne, 28

I’ve had a lot of mixed advice and experiences when going for the morning after pill. In one pharmacy I was left standing like a tool for 30 minutes before I had to approach the counter again and remind them I was still waiting (they could see me clearly and just chose to leave me waiting, which wasn't ideal when I was already clearly anxious). Once I did see the pharmacist he took me into a dirty back room with his lunch on the table and asked me when the "accident" happened. Overall it was not a pleasant experience.
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