What’s your perception of contraception? A Deakin expert busts common myths
This week is Sexual and Reproductive Health Week. This year’s theme is ‘Knowing Your Rights’, which is an important reminder for all of us to check in on our sexual and reproductive health knowledge, and make sure we’re taking steps to do what’s best for our own health and wellbeing. Yes, we know it can be awkward to talk about your sexual and reproductive health, but it doesn’t have to be! Sexual activity comes in many different forms – but no matter your experience, sexual preferences or relationship status, everyone who is sexually active should have their own understanding of the contraceptives and safer sex practices available to them.
We caught up with Claire Stonehouse, Deakin lecturer in Health Education and Student Wellbeing, to talk about how Deakin students can navigate the information (and misinformation) around contraception. Claire has a passion for teaching health education to young people, and believes in stigma-free sexual education having a positive impact on people’s lives.
What are some common misconceptions about contraception that young people have?
Unfortunately, there are some misconceptions about contraception out there that can be quite dangerous. You may have heard about some of these:
- Two condoms are better than one. NO – if you use two, the friction between them both can cause them to fall off! Then you have no protection.
- If a female is on the Pill she is ready to have sex. NO – there are many other reasons why women take the Pill, these include acne, period pain, irregular periods etc.
- The withdrawal method is a safe way to have sex. NO – there is precum on the penis before ejaculation, so STIs and sperm can already be inserted prior to withdrawal.
- Using oil-based lubricant. NO – this can weaken the condom and cause it to rip or break. It’s a great idea to use a lubricant during sexual activity, but choose water-based lubricants when using condoms.
- Using a hormonal contraception will cause cancer. NO – there is no evidence of this, in fact some hormonal methods actually lower your chances of cancer.
Why are there so many options when it comes to contraception? What are the best methods to start with?
We are lucky here in Australia to have so many options for contraception. Contraception means to stop conception, so there are different ways that can be done.
The barrier method
With this method, something is used to block the sperm from meeting the egg. Condoms, both male and female, fulfill this requirement as they collect the sperm and it can be thrown away. These also help protect the best against STIs, so can be used in conjunction with other methods that aren’t as effective. These are usually the best method to start with, because they’re cheap and easy to get.
Condoms come in all shapes, sizes and flavours, so there is a good fit for everyone. You can also cut one up the side and use as protection for oral sex. If you have an allergy to latex, there are different types you can use.
Hormonal methods change the hormones in the female body to trick the body into thinking it is pregnant, and therefore can’t get pregnant again. So, an egg won’t be released. Other ways that hormones work are to create an environment where the sperm find it hard to live or get through to the ovaries.
Hormone methods like the Pill have to be taken regularly if they are to be effective. lmplanon, a rod injected under the skin in your upper arm, can be inserted and forgotten about for three years before it needs to be replaced.
The Vaginal Ring needs to be inserted for three weeks then left out for a week, then a new one used. This method can be quite expensive. Some of these might suit you better than others, some people may not be able to cope with the hormones, so another option might be better. Remember that hormonal contraception does not protect against STIs.
Other methods are available (but not usually recommended for young adults):
- IUDs – usually for women who have already had a pregnancy.
- Diaphragm – not popular in Australia, and harder to get.
- Withdrawal – never a good option for anyone, as pregnancy can still occur!
- Vasectomy or Tubal ligation – long term and no guarantee of reversal.
- Emergency contraception – this is not recommended to use as a regular contraception method, but it’s good for emergencies and can be obtained from a pharmacist or GP.
Is it OK to ask new partners about their sexual history? Is it reasonable to ask them to be tested before sexual activity takes place? What is a good way to ask this?
Yes, it definitely is reasonable to ask for both a history and a test!! In fact, it is your right to know. You may want to have sexual activity before you can get in to have a test, but in this case it is really important that you are careful and use a condom.
Sometimes it can be really difficult bringing up this topic, so it’s best to do it before you are about to participate in sexual activity. Some people however won’t know whether ex-partners have had STIs, because many STIs have no symptoms. Even though they may look OK, they can still be carrying an STI.
Asking when you are in a safe space, are both/all calm and have some time to talk is important, assuring that you are concerned about keeping everybody safe and healthy. If your partner/s do not want to tell you this or get a test, you might be worried, so possibly hold off or practice safer sex with a condom.
Is it better to make up your mind in the moment, or should sexually active people have a plan in place to make sure they’re being safe every time they engage in sexual activity?
It is always better to be prepared! Then you can ensure you have had a conversation about protection, what might happen if something goes wrong, or if either wants to stop at anytime.
Thinking about condoms, the place you are going to do it, whether or not alcohol or other drugs will be involved, getting home etc. before participating in sexual activity also allows you to relax and enjoy the experience.
It is OK to make your mind up in the moment as well, as our minds and bodies are sometimes ready quickly, but it is important that you do consider protection in that brief moment before. If you don’t have any, can you ask a friend, get to a shop, etc. to get a condom? You could carry some in your purse, wallet, pocket (as long as they haven’t been there for long!). Home-made condoms and the withdrawal method are never a good idea.
Where can Deakin students receive assistance, education or counselling if they’re unsure about their contraception options and need non-judgemental advice?
The nurses and doctors at the Deakin Medical Centres are used to working with young adults regarding sexual activity and safer sex practices. All of the Medical Centre GPs and nurses are experts in sexual health. They have all the up-to-date information and are lovely to speak with, they won’t judge you (and there’s probably not much they haven’t heard before!).
Otherwise, there are some great websites you can access to give you information and/or go to see sexual health professionals.
Want to find out more?
- Book an appointment at the Deakin Medical Centre.
- See the fact sheets published by the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre.
- See the sexual health advice on the Better Health Channel website.
- Visit the Family Planning Victoria website.
Everyone has the right to safe and appropriate healthcare, including during a pandemic. If you or someone you know has questions about accessing sexual and reproductive health services, call 1800 My Options on 1800 696 784. You have the right to make your own choices about your sexual and reproductive health. If you feel like someone is controlling these choices by using pressure or violence, call 1800RESPECT 1800 737 732.