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To Be Recognized in the Pharmacy: Dispensing a Contraception after the “Pill Scare’’ in France and Bypassing of (Para)Medical Authority

Leslie Fonquerne

Research Framework: This article is based on a doctorate research project in sociology studying the prescriptions and uses of oral contraception in a “pill scare” context. It questions how oral contraception is dispensed and purchased, particularly in faulty prescription cases.

Objectives: By focusing on the specific step of the purchase of oral contraception, this paper intends to reveal the strategies developed by users to access oral contraception in the context of sometimes-discriminatory, non-medical logic of pharmacy staff.

Methodology: This article is based upon qualitative fieldwork data collected throughout January 2014 to August 2018. On the one hand, seventy-six interviews were conducted with seventeen contraceptive pill users, their mothers, as well as thirty-five healthcare professionals authorized to prescribe or dispense contraception. On the other hand, nearly one hundred medical and gynaecological consultations were observed in both public and private medical facilities.

Results: The prescription’s function varies according to the pills’ generation: guaranteeing the refund of second-generation pills and acting more as a medical monitoring device for third- and fourth-generation pills. However, if there is an issue with the prescription (whether it is missing or expired), the latter seems more accessible than the former. Moreover, the variable in terms of accessibility is not as much a matter of medical logic than one of familiarity between the user and the pharmacy staff, in which case they use ageism to the disadvantage of the youngest. Consequently, users mobilize their mothers to bypass (para)medical authority.

Conclusion: The contraceptive use requires self-control and skills that go far beyond daily pill ingestion. At the same time, non-medical logics operate as devices of social control in regards to contraception accessibility.

Contribution: The purchase of oral contraception, a specific step in the ‘‘contraceptive work’’, remains under-researched. Thus, this article questions the prescription of pills as a dispensable tool.