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Many College Students Cannot Find Useful Online Information About Emergency Contraception, Study Finds

Many College Students Cannot Find Useful Online Information About Emergency Contraception, Study Finds

June 18, 2012 — Many college students have trouble navigating the Internet to find reliable information about acquiring emergency contraception, according to a study published in the journal Policy & Internet, UPI reports (UPI, 6/15).

Researchers from Northwestern University posed a hypothetical situation involving EC to 210 first-year students at a suburban and an urban college in the Midwest as part of a larger research project in fall 2007 and winter 2008.

The students were asked to search online for the best way to acquire EC pills for a friend in South Bend, Ind., who called on "Friday at midnight" after a condom broke during sex. The researchers said they chose South Bend because it does not have a Planned Parenthood clinic and set the time as midnight to make it more difficult for the students to get the answer in some way other than the Internet.

The majority of students used a search engine -- usually Google -- to try to find information. According to the study, 31% visited Planned Parenthood's national or local websites; 10% used morningafterpill.org, a website created by the American Life League; 8% went to Princeton University's Office of Population Research website; 6% used Wikipedia; 4% looked at the Plan B EC pill manufacturer's website; and 4% accessed a topic-related site, such as WebMD.

According to the study, two-thirds of the students were able to discern that their friend needed an emergency contraceptive. However, just 40% were able to conclude that the best way for the friend to access EC was over-the-counter at a pharmacy.

"These results suggest that despite their highly wired lifestyles, many young adults do not have the necessary skills to navigate the vast amounts of information available online with expertise," lead author Eszter Hargittai, an associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern, said. She added, "We shouldn't assume that every college student who walks into the classroom already has expert digital domain knowledge and web searching skills" (Northwestern News/Evanston Now, 6/14).