Beijing - A new survey of more than 40,000 Chinese reveals widespread misconceptions over the use of contraception and sexual health.
The online survey held by the China Population Communication Center, which is affiliated to the National Population and Family Planning Commission, covered contraceptive drugs, condoms and feminine hygiene.
"Widespread misuse, if not abuse, of the morning-after pill is of great concern," said the Beijing-based sexologist Ma Xiaonian, who oversaw the survey questions.
Nearly half of those polled said they preferred the morning-after pill to other forms of contraception, because of its effectiveness and convenience, the survey showed.
The percentage would be even higher if the survey had been restricted to youths, he said.
"Some women use it frequently, which, apart from common side effects, including vomiting and headache, will affect recipients' reproductive health," he said.
The trend is largely fueled by advertising hype and its availability, said Wu Shangchun, a researcher at the National Population and Family Planning Commission.
The emergency contraceptive is now largely available without a prescription at roadside drugstores in China, almost 50 years after it heralded women's sexual liberation in Western countries.
While the drug is easily available in China, in the United States women under the age of 18 are currently required to have a prescription.
"Billboards advertising the drug are even erected on campus," said a female Beijing coed, surnamed Liu.
She said the morning-after pill is widely used by some of her fellow students, who no longer have to rely on their partners to use condoms.
"Morning-after pills should not be used as a regular form of contraception. Their misuse can be harmful to health," said Ma, who urged the public to acquire accurate information from health professionals.
Only 10 percent of the survey respondents said they would seek reliable information.
The rest said they informally sought knowledge about sex and reproduction, usually from the Internet, the survey found.
"Many of the tips available on the Internet are actually advertisements, which can be misleading," Ma pointed out.
Regarding feminine hygiene, 95 percent of female respondents said they had used a feminine wash and nearly 48 percent said they thought the wash would help minimize the risks of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, Ma noted.
"In truth, it doesn't help at all," he said, adding that frequent use undermines the vagina's natural acidic environment and may be detrimental to health.