Female students fall back on Plan B
A female student, who would like to remain anonymous, recalls an incident in the spring of her sophomore year when she woke up in a room she didn't recognize with a guy she couldn't remember leaving a party with. She could tell that they had had sex, but she was not on birth control and did not know if the guy had worn a condom. After leaving his room, she went straight to the College's Garrison Foster Health Center to obtain Plan B.
Plan B is an emergency contraceptive that is commonly referred to as "the morning-after pill." It works by disrupting the normal development and maturation of an egg, thus preventing or delaying ovulation. While the effectiveness of emergency contraception is influenced by many factors, research listed on the Colby Health Center's website shows that it is 80 percent effective.
Plan B has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration since 1999, but it was not made available over the counter to men and women over 18 until 2006. The drug itself has changed quite a bit over the past few years. "Plan B used to have a big estrogen component as well as progesterone, and now it's progesterone-only, so it's much less medically worrisome," Lydia Bolduc-Marden, nurse practitioner at the Health Center, says. "There aren't as many contraindications or instances that somebody can't take it, and the side effects used to be a lot of nausea and vomiting and that's all gone away with the estrogen being gone."
Contrary to popular belief, Plan B is not an "abortion pill." "[Plan B] makes it difficult for an implantation to occur, but it would not abort an implantation that had already occurred, so it's not considered something that could make somebody abort a fetus," Bolduc-Marden says.
A female student should take Plan B in cases in which she had unprotected sex and did not use birth control, a condom broke or slipped off, a diaphragm slipped out of place, she forgot to take her birth control pills or she was forced to have sex.
Plan B is available at the Health Center by seeing either Bolduc-Marden or one of the nurses on duty, but students are warned not to depend on it as a contraceptive. "We want Plan B to be readily available. We certainly want women to feel like they have access to it, [but] we don't want it used as birth control," Bolduc-Marden says. The nurses prefer that students who receive Plan B over the weekend make an appointment with Bolduc-Marden "to talk about more effective forms of birth control [such as birth control pills and condoms]," she says.
Despite these efforts, students on the Hill are using Plan B more and more each year. During the 2007-2008 school year, the Health Center gave out 98 doses of Plan B to students, and it saw an increase in use in 2008-2009 with 119 doses. As of March 2, the Center has given out 81 doses of Plan B so far this school year.
Bolduc-Marden believes that "alcohol [on campus] is the reason...that women have unprotected sex and make bad decisions...with people they may or may not know well. It certainly would influence somebody's capacity to make good judgment about using protection and having unsafe sex."
Stories of students on campus that have engaged in sexual behavior while intoxicated are ubiquitous. Even more startling is the number of women who have had to resort to Plan B because they were too intoxicated to engage in sexual behavior in a safe way.
A student who has resorted to Plan B after partaking in unsafe sex while she was drunk says that, "while I might have still engaged in sexual activity sober, I wouldn't have been so stupid about it." "Students assume they will make the right decisions when the time comes, but if alcohol is involved it's a lot harder to make those decisions."
Another student had a similar story from her freshman year following the Paint Dance during spring Loudness. She drank an excessive amount of alcohol and could not remember most of her night, but she did remember engaging in unsafe sex. "It was like, I knew what was happening and knew it wasn't safe, but I was too drunk to stop it," the anonymous student says. "I would've made a much different decision had I been sober."
Another reason students use Plan B is because they see the emergency contraception as a reassurance factor, even if they don't really need to take it. Students will often come in to request Plan B, even if they are on birth control or used a condom, because they are worried about their birth control failing. The Health Center sees a lot of women who are using Plan B more often than they need to. "If a woman is on birth control, has been consistently for at least two weeks and hasn't missed her pills, chances of pregnancy are extremely unlikely," Bolduc-Marden says.
The stories of students on campus mirror this behavior, as several students say that they have used Plan B in instances where they probably did not need to. "My boyfriend and I used a condom the first time we had sex," a third anonymous student remembers. "Nothing went wrong, but the next day I freaked out and wanted that extra assurance that I would be OK, so I got Plan B from the Health Center."
What Bolduc-Marden does find reassuring, however, is the lack of women on campus who seem to solely rely on Plan B as their primary form of birth control. She says that she does not often see women who engage in risky behavior because they know that Plan B will be available for them in the morning.
"A lot of the Colby women are really responsible about birth control, so in terms of Plan B in preventing pregnancy, most women are responsible about being on birth control to begin with," she says. "But Plan B is not 100 percent effective, so we have had women on occasion, but rarely, get pregnant even after taking Plan B. So I hope students aren't relying on it that much." Students at the College have a higher degree of sexual health than the average person, which Bolduc-Marden also attributes to the intelligence of the students. "Even in terms of STDs, our rates [for chlamydia and gonorrhea and HPV] are way lower than the average population, even in the state of Maine. I think women are responsible, intelligent and [are] making good decisions around pregnancy prevention to begin with," she says. To maintain sexual health, students are encouraged to frequent the Health Center for regular exams and screenings. The Health Center offers many services, including comprehensive gynecological care for women such as Pap smears and screenings for men and women for chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV.
Bolduc-Marden also encourages responsible drinking behavior for students on campus to preserve good decision-making. "Alcohol plays a role in [over] 90 percent of sexual assaults, whether they're date rapes or just bad decisions around sexual encounters," she says.
"Related to alcohol, if women can't remember or they feel guilty that they were also drunk, they assume it's half their fault. Also when women can't remember what happened, a lot of consequences come up--counseling and other areas, just in terms of mental health issues down the line."
Students can obtain Plan B at the Garrison Foster Health Center for $20 by making an appointment with Bolduc-Marden or by visiting the nurse after-hours or on weekends. Emergency contraception is also available via phone at 1-888-NOT 2 LATE.