Nearly half of female students use the morning-after pill, a new survey shows, and critics say easy access to the drug is encouraging careless sex.
Seven in ten students who took it said they did so because they had sex without using any form of contraception.
The findings will fuel fears that an increasing number of women are relying on the drug as a regular form of ‘birth control’, often unaware the drug can cause an early-stage abortion.
The survey was carried out among 500 students in their late teens and early 20s at Kingston University in South West London.
A fifth of those polled by the student newspaper, The River, said they had had more than one sexual partner in a week and one in ten of the men claimed to have slept with at least two women in one day.
A third said they did not regularly use condoms with new sexual partners, leaving them at risk of sexually transmitted infections as well as unplanned pregnancies.
Norman Wells, of the campaign group Family and Youth Concern, said the ‘worry-about-it-later’ aspect of morning-after pill encourages risk-taking sexual behaviour.
He said: “When the morning-after pill was first approved for use in the UK, assurances were given that it would be used only in exceptional circumstances and would remain a prescription-only drug under the control of doctors.
“Marketing it as a ‘just in case’ drug and making it as readily available as aspirin is proving to be a dangerous experiment with unknown long-term consequences.
“The morning-after pill is also having a damaging social effect by lulling young women into a false sense of security, encouraging a more casual attitude to sex, and exposing them to increased risk of sexually transmitted infections.”
The Pro-Life Alliance raised concerns that many young women will not realise that the drug can end a pregnancy by causing an early-stage abortion.
Spokesman Rachel von Goetz said that although the data came from only one university, similar attitudes were likely to apply at institutions across the country.
“I don’t think there is anything atypical in this. What is extraordinary is how little students seem to know about how their bodies work.”
“The whole Government project to bombard the public, and especially young people, with sex education isn’t getting through to people.”
The morning-after pill is increasingly available online and over the counter in pharmacies.
It emerged in March that schoolgirls can now request the drug via text message and last month the first morning-after pill ad was screened on TV.
Critics are concerned that the wide availability of emergency contraception will encourage women to have unprotected sex.
There are also worries that the availability of it online will encourage women to stockpile it in the same way as headache tablets.