Images of American sexuality in debates over nonprescription access to emergency contraceptive pills

L. L. Wynn*, James Trussell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The debate over emergency contraceptive pill access in the United States revolves around speculations about Americans' sexual lives. The recently released internal U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) memo that expresses fears that adolescents will form "sex-based cults" around emergency contraceptive pills echoes arguments made against the nonprescription switch at the 2003 FDA hearings. In these hearings, opponents argued that nonprescription access would lead to adolescent promiscuity and disease transmission and that adult predators would use the drug to facilitate the sexual abuse of young women. In contrast, proponents of expanded access to emergency contraceptive pills overwhelmingly portrayed their model user as a responsible adult who experiences a torn condom during consensual sex. These imaginations of American sexuality are tied to competing models of the role of medical providers in women's sexual decision making. Opponents of the nonprescription switch argued that women need a learned intermediary, not only to determine their need for emergency contraception, but also to educate them about proper sexual behavior and protect them from abuse. Proponents advocated putting more responsibility for sexual health decision making in the hands of women, not doctors, and complained about the moralizing scrutiny of medical providers. In the absence of nonprescription access to emergency contraception, advance prescription of emergency contraceptive pills can ensure that contraceptive education is not tied to a specific sexual act and therefore not perceived as a judgment about women's sexual decisions. However, advance prescription does not help women who lack access to health care or women who make sexual and contraceptive decisions without consulting physicians.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1272-1276
Number of pages5
JournalObstetrics and Gynecology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes


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