To determine American teenagers' awareness of and knowledge about emergency contraceptive pills and their likelihood to use them.
We conducted a nationally representative telephone survey between March 28, 1996, and May 5, 1996, of 1510 teenagers (757 girls and 753 boys), aged 12 to 18 years, living in the continental United States in households with telephones. The sample overrepresented African American, Latino, and low-income teenagers. The error attributable to sampling and other random effects for the total sample is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Of the 1510 teenagers, only about one quarter (23%) were aware that "anything" could be done after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. Slightly more (28%) had heard of "morning-after pills" or emergency contraceptive pills. Of the 423 teenagers who had heard of emergency contraceptive pills, one third (32%) did not know that a prescription is necessary to obtain them, and three quarters (78%) underestimated how long after unprotected intercourse the emergency contraceptive pill regimen could be initiated. Only 9% knew that emergency contraceptive pills are effective as long as 72 hours after unprotected sex. After being told about the option of emergency contraceptive pills, two thirds (67%) of teenaged girls said that they would be likely to use emergency contraceptive pills. Among the 66% of teenaged girls who had not previously heard of emergency contraceptive pills, 64% said that they would be likely to use them.
Emergency contraceptive pills have great potential as a tool for reducing unplanned pregnancies among teenaged girls in the United States. Few teenaged girls were aware that this option exists. Once informed, teenaged girls reported being very interested in taking emergency contraceptive pills if needed.