Even Valentine’s Day apparently doesn’t trump the start of a brand new year when it comes to getting frisky.
Sales of the morning-after pill surged across the U.S. after New Year 2022, new research shows. Nearly 41,000 extra pills were sold in the following week, a period linked to increased risks of unprotected sex.
Sales of emergency contraception also rose after other holidays such as Valentine’s and Independence Day but not as much, a team led by Brandon Wagner of Texas Tech University report in the Christmas issue of the BMJ.
While the annual New Year’s sale spike might seem funny, Wagner’s team points out in a journal news release that “it is indicative of unmet contraceptive need that calls for further attention” amid tightened restrictions on abortions in many U.S. states.
The increased sexual activity associated with New Year’s is less likely to be protected due to increased drinking, they point out. New Year’s Eve has also been linked to increased rates of sexual assault and limited access to other forms of birth control because clinics, medical offices and shops close early or altogether.
For the new study, researchers analyzed retail scan data for levonorgestrel, an over-the-counter medication available without age restrictions.
While effective when taken within as many 96, and possibly 120, after unprotected sex, it’s more likely to work the sooner it is taken. This makes timely access important, researchers said.
They focused on sales in the week after New Year’s Eve 2016 to 2022 in U.S. retail outlets. Weekly sales were divided by the number of females between 15 and 44 years of age.
In 2022, sales of levonorgesterel rose overall by 0.63 units per 1,000 women, which equated to almost 41,000 extra pills.
Valentine’s Day and the Fourth of July also saw a surge — but smaller ones, 0.31 units and 0.20 units, respectively per 1,000 women. St. Patrick’s Day was associated with a 0.14 increase.
No surges in sales were linked with Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
Researchers said their work had some limitations. They noted sales are not synonymous with use and their data did not include emergency contraception obtained through medical clinics, independent pharmacies or online. The findings may not be generalizable to other settings due to differences in how and which holidays are celebrated and how reproductive health care is accessed, they said.
But the results suggest that the nature of some celebrations might make them important public health targets, researchers said. They suggest that targeting behavioral risks, strategies to prevent sexual violence and improving access to birth control around holidays may limit the risks associated with unprotected sex.
“More than ever, emergency contraception is critically important for people in the US, particularly those living in regions with bans or severe restrictions on abortion,” they wrote.
“Future work will explore how other dynamics at play in the US context, including state abortion restrictions, affect emergency contraception purchasing behavior and imply potential public health interventions to provide contraceptive care to those who need it the most,” they added.
The Mayo Clinic has more about the morning-after pill.
What This Means for You
Access to emergency contraception may be limited at holiday time. Be prepared.
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