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More Than Half Of Schoolies Don't Know About The Morning After Pill

The ‘Morning-After Pill’ has been sold over the counter for more than a decade but a large amount of young Australians don't know how to use it or get it, prompting calls for a name change.

A survey of school leavers who attended the 2017 Schoolies celebrations on the Gold Coast, revealed a staggering amount of young Aussies lack a basic understanding of the availability of emergency contraception and when they're appropriate to use.

The surprising study, conducted by Queensland's Griffith University, found the majority (63 percent) of 500 teenagers surveyed did not know they could access the 'morning-after pill' (MAP) without a prescription.

Emergency contraception can be accessed without a prescription. Image: Getty

Half of the respondents also falsely assumed the emergency pill was only effective up to 24 hours after unprotected sex, when the most common form, levonorgestrel, is effective for up to 72 hours.

A more recent form of oral emergency contraception, ulipristal, is effective for up to 120 hours.

Startlingly, less than 20 percent of the teenagers surveyed were aware of these time frames, lead researcher Denise Hope told 10 daily.

Time for a name change?

"Where is that misinformation coming from?" Hope asked.

"We can only suggest that the term "morning-after pill" is really misleading, and we suggest that we abandon that and adopt the more clinically appropriate term 'emergency contraception' because that's what it is."

The term "morning-after pill" is colloquial and not found on any of the drugs' packaging or marketing material.

Schoolies were asked about their contraceptive awareness and delivered surprising results. Image: AAP

Hope was surprised Australians were still so far behind in their contraceptive awareness, despite us being on par with adults and university students across the globe.

"I was surprised by the results given that we have had at least one form of emergency contraception available from pharmacies in Australia now for 15 years," she said.

The researchers are now working out how to change the country's attitude and awareness of contraception.

"Does it involve sex education in high school? Certainly we understand that the emphasis is predominately going to be on the safe sex message, but it's not always safe, there may be a contraceptive failure.

"We just want to spread the word that there's something that a young lady can do to protect herself from unwanted pregnancy," adding it's important for men to also be aware of contraception options.

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Emergency contraceptive pills work to stop a pregnancy before it starts by preventing or delaying the release of an egg from the ovaries. The pills typically cost between $15 and $45 from Australian pharmacies, according to family planning centre Marie Stopes.

While it has varying windows of effectiveness, the sooner it's taken, the more effective it is.

Majority of young Australians still don't know how easy it is to access the morning after pill if they need it. Image: Getty

The Griffith researchers conducted the survey at the wristband distribution centre on the first day of Schoolies week, which was attended by more than 13,000 high school graduates in 2017.

Both young women and men took part. Overall female respondents were two to three times more likely than men to show an understanding of emergency contraception basics.

"There were times when the young males would just try to hand the iPads over to the women in their group, thinking that this was just a woman's domain," Hope said.

It's possible that a lack of advertising of contraceptive drugs could be fuelling Australians' lack of awareness of their options, Hope also explained.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration cleared both forms of emergency contraception for advertising in 2018. Before then it wasn't permitted to be advertised in Australia.

Despite this Hope said the research team have yet to see a single emergency contraceptive advertised.

"We would like to see some targeted advertising, particularly at young people, particularly, through their social media platforms," she said.

The findings come as the latest round of Schoolies are cementing their party plans for November, when many will flock to Surfers Paradise to celebrate their end of high school.

The Queensland government's Department of Child Safety -- which runs the Safer Schoolies website -- was presented with the report last Friday.

In a statement to 10 daily, Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women Di Farmer said the department will consider its recommendations.

"The Palaszczuk Government will always take expert advice on the health and wellbeing of young Queenslanders seriously, and the topic of safe sex is no exception," she said.

The Safer Schoolies website has information about safe sex, consent and healthy relationships, Farmer said. Safer Schoolies volunteers also carry condoms during the event and are trained to refer young people to health support services.

The website does not currently provide information on emergency contraception.