“Every Medicine Is Somewhat Poisonous”: Understanding the reluctance to use oral contraceptives among unmarried women seeking abortion in China



      In this study, I examined the low uptake of oral contraceptives (OCs) in China and the factors affecting the reluctance among unmarried Chinese women seeking abortion to use OCs to prevent unintended pregnancies.

      Study design

      I conducted ethnographic and participant observation in multiple medical facilities and interviewed 62 women who were seeking or had had an abortion between 2013 and 2017 in a coastal city in east China. I analyzed data regarding the women's perceptions and experiences of using OCs through a thematic analysis approach.


      The women reported fear of side effects, including infertility, weight gain, and mental health issues and their view on traditional Chinese medicine further validated their skepticism toward Western medicine. Discouragement from male partners and a lack of sexual and reproductive education also caused their hesitancy and misunderstandings of OCs.


      This study contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the barriers to OC use in China. It resonates with existing studies that associate the reluctance to use OCs with the fear of side effects and highlights the influence of sociocultural specificities and couple interactions in shaping contraceptive use.


      Tackling premarital abortions is one of the priorities of the Chinese government in the face of the population crisis. Service providers and educators should understand unmarried women's reluctance to use OCs and provide comprehensive sexuality education and postabortion counseling services to women and men to dispel culturally specific misconceptions.


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