Why There's No Shame in Emergency Contraception

After the Perfectly Imperfect Tour stopped at UW-Madison to educate young women on confidence, women’s health and Plan B, I began to wonder about the horror stories I’ve heard among friends who’ve tried to work up the courage to access alternative birth control methods.  It made me wonder: what are women doing when standard birth control methods fail?

“I remember walking straight to the back pharmacy center of some Walgreens fifteen minutes outside my hometown.  I stood between a family of four and an elderly woman, just waiting for my Plan B,” said Angie*. “I was so terrified someone was going to know why I was there.  It was my worst nightmare.”

Angie, a senior at the UW-Madison, is one of thousands of women to use emergency contraception when other birth control methods fail.  In fact, nearly one in four sexually experienced women aged 20-24 use emergency contraception.  So, if the morning-after pill is so common, why are we so embarrassed to use it?

Perhaps it’s because of the negative stigmas that still exist around sexually active, unmarried women.  The “Great Sexpectations” double standard, i.e. that men should have all the sex they want, but women should stay pure (that whole “chewed gum” metaphor we learned in sex-ed). This might slow a woman on her way to the pharmacy because picking up emergency contraception implies that she (gasp) had sex.

This is an issue for many reasons, including the fact that everyone deserves sexual autonomy and, just as importantly, women should never be afraid to take necessary steps to avoid unwanted pregnancies.  Unfortunately, social stigmas like these are hard to combat, because they don’t change overnight, making women feel especially vulnerable in high-stakes situations.  

Still, whenever it comes to your health, there’s only one rule to follow: Do what’s best for you.  It shouldn’t matter what you think the elderly man behind you at the pharmacy thinks, because frankly, it’s none of his business. 

“Really, when it came down to it, I would much rather get a dirty look or two than end up pregnant,” said Angie.

But social stigmas aren’t the only reason women are afraid to get the morning-after pill in a pinch.  Turns out, two-thirds of women have misconceptions about emergency contraception.  These misconceptions likely stem from a lack of conversation about women’s health and accessibility, so it’s important for accurate information to be regularly available to anyone who needs it. 

While it’s true that a woman’s individual health is no one’s business but her own, it’s also important to remember that the best way for women to understand their options, is through open, honest discussion and fact-based information.  Asking your doctors and other medical professionals can be a great resource, but finding necessary information online is getting easier and easier, too.   

Women shouldn’t break a sweat on their way to the pharmacy because we have every right to take care of our bodies.  While it shouldn’t be considered the primary birth control method, Plan B One Step is a safe, easy and accessible option if another method fails.  While it’s true that ingrained social expectations don’t change overnight, becoming a part of the conversation, realizing your worth (as a woman AND as a human) and fighting for health information and access will change how we think about sex, birth control and emergency contraceptives. 

Get key information about emergency contraceptives below and have a conversation with trusted friends, family and your doctor.  There’s no reason to feel embarrassed at the pharmacy, no matter the reason you’re there.   


*Name has been changed 



Hornstein, Theresa M. and Schwerin, Jeri Lynn. Biology of Women (5th edition). Delmar, 2013. ISBN10: 143540033X ; ISBN13: 9781435400337