Even though college students have grown up with the internet, a new study finds that the majority of them don’t know how to use it to locate accurate information about emergency contraception such as Plan B.
The Northwestern University study asked first year students to search online to find a solution for a 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.” Although two-thirds of participants concluded that their friend should seek emergency contraception, just 40 percent were able to correctly identify that their friend could purchase Plan B over the counter at a pharmacy.
Eszter Hargittai, the lead author of the study, explained that the study points to the obvious fact that college students need to be taught about contraception before they find themselves in a situation that requires them to rely on their knowledge about it:
HARGITTAI: These results suggest that despite their highly wired lifestyles, many young adults do not have the necessary skills to navigate the vast amounts of information available online with expertise. [...] Students who did not seem to have prior knowledge of emergency contraception often used a variant of the search term ‘prevent pregnancy’ and did not do a very good job at locating information about emergency contraception. Those who already knew the answer or had some knowledge came up with the search terms ‘the morning after pill’ or the drug ‘Plan B’ and did a better job of finding information.
Respondents’ incorrect answers included “wait it out,” “wash genitals,” “adoption,” “RU-486,” “ascorbic acid,” visiting a gynecologist in an incorrect locale, taking a pregnancy test, and purchasing another condom.
Emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, is restricted for those under 17 years old, but remains available without a prescription to everyone over 17. Assuming the average college student is well beyond this threshold, there is no reason they shouldn’t be fully educated about the range of contraceptive methods available to them. However, because of the prevalence of abstinence-only education programs across the nation, many young adults are woefully under-educated about birth control. When it comes to both internet search engines and reproductive health, young adults need to know how to effectively use all the tools at their disposal.