Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Published at 10:41 GMT
Party sex teenager splits opinion
Teeangers can lose control at parties
Family planning experts have clashed over whether the morning after pill should be made available over-the-counter.
The controversial nature of the debate has been highlighted by the case of a 13-year-old girl who had sex with seven different men in one night.
Writing in the British Medical Association News Review, Ann Whitehead, who works at a west London family planning clinic, said the case proved that the morning-after pill should not be sold over the counter.
Ann Whitehead said the girl, called "Cathy", proved that women wanting emergency contraceptives often also needed the advice of a doctor to go with it.
She wrote: "She is in care but went to a party last weekend where, she says, she had sex, not unwillingly, with seven, yes seven, different men.
"She was too drunk to remember whether they all wore condoms.
"The next day, she worried that she had become pregnant or that she would become pregnant if she went to a similar party next week, as planned.
"Worries about infection and the various medical and social consequences of her behaviour had not entered her head. One useful role for doctors is to put them there if no-one else has."
Dr Whitehead also warned that the easy availability of the morning-after-pill would provide men with an excuse to avoid using condoms.
"Frightened girls and girls under pressure from their partners are not always sensible," said Dr Whitehead.
Jeanette Cayley, who was also writing in the BMA News Review, said the two women "disagreed vehemently" on the issue.
Dr Cayley said emergency contraception should be available over the counter and that it did not constitute encouraging sex.
She also pointed out that it was more effective when taken quickly.
"When I talk about over-the-counter pills, it does not mean obtaining emergency contraception would be like handing over cash for cosmetics.
"But health service resources are strained. Everyone is encouraged to be educated in health matters and to take responsibility for their own wellbeing," she wrote.
"A huge national campaign has tried to tell the public emergency contraception is available, safe and worth considering. Why should we wish to exert medical controls when they are not necessary?"
Dr Cayley said surveys of patients attending family planning clinics to seek emergency contraception shows that there were just as many people in the 20 to 35 age group, and in the over-35 group as there were teenagers.
"Studies show emergency contraception is more effective the sooner it is given after coitus. Therefore, if the method is considered acceptable, users should have access to it as quickly and easily as possible."
A spokesman for the Health Education Authority said: "Broadly speaking we do believe in the wide availability of emergency contraception provided it is supervised by a health professional."
He said there was no evidence that emergency contraception promoted casual sex.
Dr Adrian Rogers, a family values campaigner, said children who were having sex under the age of sixteen were being neglected by their parents, and by the care system.
"One can take the view that there is nothing that society can do about that, and the best one might be doing by giving children the post coital pill is preventing an unwanted pregnancy," he said.
"That is the prevailing ethic, but it is the ethic of hopelessness, despair and carelessness.
"Caring for these children does not simply mean dishing out post coital contraception."