Making Plan B, commonly known as the morning-after pill, easier for students to get might not alleviate the shame that can come with unprotected sex, but it’ll definitely help mitigate the consequences on college campuses in the future, says a leading sociologist.

The rise of vending machines that dispense the morning-after-pill on college campuses is a sexual health victory, sociologist Lisa Wade tells Inverse. An associate sociology professor at Occidental College, Wade is something of an expert on the social sciences involving campus hookup culture.

Plan B: The Basics

Plan B and other emergency contraceptives are designed to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse. They can help reduce the risk of pregnancy within 72 hours of said unprotected sex, but are most effective if taken within the first 24. Plan B is generally available over-the-counter at a local pharmacy, and can cost anywhere from $25 to $50.

Now It’s in Vending Machines

The vending machines are designed to cut out the middleman — a campus pharmacy or health center — by providing students with direct access to emergency contraception. This will curb the embarrassment of having to request the morning-after pill from a pharmacist, thereby opening oneself up to judgement by revealing recent engagement in unprotected sex.

Stanford University was the latest school to install one of these machines, which also sells condoms, the New York Times reported this week. Other California schools — Pomona College, U.C. Davis, U.C. Santa Barbara — have brought similar vending machines onto their campuses. The student who spearheaded the U.C. Davis installation, Parteek Singh, was optimistic about what the rising availability of these vending machines meant for colleges across the country. “This will be big,” he said to the Times. “This is just the beginning.”

One of the first universities to make Plan B accessible via vending machine was Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, back in 2012. “The machine is really used as much for privacy as anything else,” Dr. Roger Serr, the vice president of student affairs at the university, told CBS Philly at the time.

According to Wade, the sociology professor, college students are already very aware of Plan B, especially female college students. In her experience, female students tend to be more concerned with pregnancy than their male counterparts. She is in favor of the vending machines, and said that, “any resource that we can offer students that helps them control their fertility is absolutely essential.”

She does, however, speculate that the presence of these vending machines could contribute to an existing “pluralistic ignorance” on college campuses in regards to how sexually active students are. “Students overestimate how much sex their peers are having by something like 25 to 50 times,” Wade said. “So I can imagine these vending machines playing the same role in the culture as something like students’ social media feeds, where all they do is put up pictures of themselves partying which implies sexual activity and gives everyone the impression that everyone is doing a lot more drinking and a lot less studying than they are.”

But Wade is careful to add that this perception is so rampant already that emergency contraception in vending machines would be unlikely to radically shift anyone’s perspective.

“The cultural downside of contributing to the pluralistic ignorance is trivial compared with the importance of giving women control over their bodies,” she says.

Critics claim morning-after pill will increase promiscuity or discourage condom use, but those arguments are ultimately fallacious from budgetary and a scientific points of view: Even the cheapest Plan B generic is $25, a relatively steep price to pay for a single sexual encounter, especially compared to condoms or hormonal birth control. According to Wade, “there’s no evidence that giving people information or resources actually increases sexual activity, so that concern that it will somehow ratchet up the level of sex on campus, that has no basis in any robust research.”

So it appears that with the rise of vending machines that sell emergency contraception comes a safer, if slightly more insecure, college experience for the next generation of students.


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