THIS Sextember, Manuella Silveira talks to some female international students about contraception and finds out why some students are saying no to the Pill.
While the oral contraceptive pill (known as the Pill) may be one of the most prescribed birth control methods in Australia, it may not be the contraception of choice for international students.
A group of female international students Meld spoke to said they found the Pill was inconvenient and expensive. The students were aged between 20 and 31 years.
A doctor’s prescription is required in order to buy the Pill in Australia, and the women we surveyed said it was too costly to visit the GP two to three times a year just to get a prescription for the Pill, and most health insurance policies for international students only partially covered the consultation fees. Students would also have to bear the cost for the Pill themselves.
What are the alternatives?
There are several methods of contraception available in Australia, and the betterhealth.vic.gov.au website provides a very useful fact sheet for those who want to find out more.
However, one of the closest alternatives to the Pill, is the vaginal ring.
As the betterhealth.vic.gov.au website explains, the vaginal ring contains similar hormones to the Pill and works in the same way. A ‘one size fits all’ ring is inserted into the vagina and stays in place for three weeks. During this time, it slowly releases hormones that pass from the vagina into the bloodstream. It is then removed and a new ring is inserted one week later.
The vaginal ring releases a low dose of hormones and saves having to remember to take a pill every day. It is also as easy to insert as a tampon and, like the Pill, is 99.7 per cent effective if used correctly.
G.C., a student, says she opted for the vaginal ring as her preferred method for contraception after hearing about it from her friends. They encouraged her to try it and she found it really practical, and has been using it for three years.
G.C. says she found having to remember to take the pill every day too much of a hassle.
“You don’t feel a thing and you only have to worry about it every three weeks,” she says.
Get advice from a health professional
For students who have just become sexually active, and have little knowledge about contraception and protection against sexually transmissible infections (STIs), a trip to the GP is still advisable, or a visit to see your university’s health professional. Family Planning Victoria’s Action Centre on Elizabeth St also provides low cost or free sexual and reproductive health services for people under 25.
A health professional will be able to advise and help you choose the method of contraception that is right for you and your partner. Issues that need to be considered include effectiveness, safety and adverse effects, weighed up against convenience, cost, and issues of trust and control, not to mention factors such as your general health, lifestyle and relationships, your risk of contracting a sexually transmissible infection (STI) and how important it is for you to not become pregnant.
Danielle Clayman, the Wellness@Melbourne Program Coordinator at the University of Melbourne says many international students have had little or no sex education in their home countries.
Unprotected sex isn’t something that affects local students alone, but is an important issue for all students, she says.
“One particular area of concern is the rate of unplanned pregnancy amongst international students”.
“We know that this is a problem, and we are working in various ways to promote a culture of safe sex for all our students here at the university,” she says.