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Attitudes towards the morning-after pill show that people still want to punish female sexuality

Have you ever, for no apparent reason, wondered what the specific sum of £28 could get you?

Well my friends, I have. £28 could get me a flight from London to Amsterdam and I’d still have six quid left to spend on an in-flight G&T. £28 could buy me one trouser leg’s worth of a Topshop Joni Jean. £28 could literally buy me a hamster. But, most importantly, £28 could buy me an incredibly high dosage of hormones which could prevent pregnancy up to five days after conception.  See, all it takes is a mistake; the condom split, or you were drunk and foolish. There could be so many reasons as to why someone may need to buy the morning-after pill, but, whatever the reason, we are still expected to fork out twenty-eight whole pounds for the ‘luxury’ that is the prevention of a pregnancy.

If you are someone who is rolling your eyes as you read this, you are not a feminist. If you honestly believe that the said person deserves to pay £28 because they were an idiot, then please leave. As someone who is incredibly sensible 99 per cent of the time, my irritation, guilt and anger towards myself and my partner for even managing to risk pregnancy should be enough. I don’t need the price tag to laugh at me as well. By adding an (extortionate) price to such an important piece of kit, you are not only making it much harder to obtain, but are also simply outlining the harsh reality of the fact that society still shames it. For let’s not forget that it is us gals who are having to actually go out and buy the pill. Much like squeezing a spot or buying a plaster for a gash, it is up for us to find a solution to our body’s own problems – and therefore it is up to us to have to pay the fee.

The over-pricing of this ever-so important pill is completely dismissing the scientific fact that for pregnancy to occur, it takes two to tango. Boots’ refusal to lower its price of the £28 Levonelle pill – in comparison with Superdrug and Tesco’s halving of its price – reveals a sexist motif. Its reason being? It believed that the lowered price of the pill would “incentivise inappropriate use”. In doing so it still supports the misogynistic and patriarchal nature that surrounds it; it diminishes the female sexuality to something which should still be punished – for the woman alone is being reprimanded, even if the act which proceeded included a male counterpart. All in all it still manages to prove that our sexuality is still not something which is 100% under our control.

Boots insensitive, irrelevant response lacks any sort of empathy, despite their subsequent apology. The morning-after pill is a last resort. It is also not that easy to obtain.  The first time I took the morning-after pill, I didn’t know what to do so I went to the doctors. Seeking medical help meant my prescription was free, but the three-hour waiting time meant I had to also miss work that day, and then spend an even longer time looking for pharmacies which had the available prescription. The second time I took it, I went to a pharmacy because I heard a rumour that the pill was actually free in some places. I got to the counter and had to have a private consultation. It was awful. If the wait for it wasn’t bad enough, the man asking me the questions actually told me off. He snapped at me for being stupid without any consideration that it wasn’t purely just myself who was to blame. He huffed as I whispered the words ‘emergency contraception’ over the counter, and when I mentioned that I couldn’t take a regular contraceptive because I suffer from migraines, he still tutted as if it really was that simple.

When going to the counter and getting ready to hand over the tenner in my purse (my naïve self never realised that meds could actually cost more) I sobbed when the pharmacist told me the price. I was (and still am) a student who literally spent all her money on nights out and biscuits. I sold my slow-cooker that week so I could fund my weekly shop, I had about £7 in my account and could not actually afford my much-needed emergency contraception. If the embarrassment surrounding my financial situation wasn’t enough, I had to call my Mum, ask her to borrow the money and admit – once more – that I had to take the morning-after pill. By having to go out and pay for it, coupled with the shame that was attached to it, only reflects the taboo nature which still surrounds the pill – therefore managing to display the contrasting attitudes between the female and male sexuality.

A £28 surcharge deems the pill a luxury. The price of the pill, through one’s natural avoidance to pay it all-together, makes it even harder to reach (eg. by seeking out specific pharmacies that give it out for free, going to the doctors for it). As a result, such a fear of “incentivising inappropriate use” eliminates the idea that the morning-after pill could perhaps be more accessible, and point-blank states that the pill may even begin to become a frivolity. If you haven’t already caught on yet, the morning-after pill is not at the top of any girl’s favourite thing to go through. Once you have taken the pill you are inundated with such a high level of hormones that you are exposed to the possibility of side-effects. The worst for me was how it affected my mental well-being. For a week, all I could spend the time doing was lying in bed bawling at the fact that Aldi hadn’t stocked my favourite orange juice, all while completely sacking off my lectures because I had suddenly decided that my degree was not worth it. On top of this, my period had appeared incredibly early; being incredibly heavy and incredibly painful.

I could clearly ramble on about the morning-after pill forever. I am someone who has taken it more times than she has fingers on one hand. Although it may be stressful and unpleasant, it has been an utter godsend, because here I am: unpregnant. I am a sexually active young adult who is also incredibly sensible, but like absolutely everything in this world, accidents can – and do – occasionally happen. Like any other available medication, I hope that it will eventually become easier to obtain, and the stigma surrounding it will eventually break. Of course, in doing so, attitudes towards sex in general need to be addressed for them to filter through to parts of society such as this.

With that, I hope that one day, if I ever have to take the pill again,  I won’t be faced with any judgement upon doing so, or that ridiculous fee. If I wish to go out of my way, it is in fact free from many sexual health clinics. Or in turn, I could just boycott certain retailers completely. I mean why pay £28 from an inconsiderate corporation when I could just go elsewhere, am I right?

Words by Charlotte Johnstone

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