SEXtember: The international student’s guide to contraceptives
ARE you a sexually active international student? Make sure you’re taking all the right precautions to ensure you don’t end up with an unwanted pregnancy, and know what your OSHC can or can’t cover. Deakin University’s Dr. Georgia Babatsikos and student Max Zhu provide a comprehensive guide on the contraceptives international students have access to.
For many international students, being an independent young person means having the freedom to be their own person and make their own choices. They can go out more, stay out late with friends or party all night long at clubs; some may even try alcohol for the first time or even experiment with other drug substances.
This sense of freedom can also extend to sexual relationships, where students may be having regular sex either with their partner or with many different people. Indeed, some students may not be into these activities right now, but they may well explore them in the future.
So no matter where you stand on the freedom scale, it is still worth being prepared when it comes to managing your own sex life.
For young female students especially, unwanted and unplanned pregnancies can lead to a difficult and shameful ordeal. More often than not, it’s the women who are stuck with the difficult decisions while the men usually aren’t willing to support them, despite being half responsible for the creation of the baby.
So for those young sexually active international students, what can be done in order to plan ahead and prevent unwanted pregnancies?
Contraception methods and how to acquire them
If you aren’t ready to have a baby, the best way to avoid an unplanned pregnancy is through contraception.
Contraception is any type of medicine or device which still allows you to have sex, but will prevent the women from becoming pregnant. Prescriptions for these various means of contraception can be procured from student health services on your campus or from a general practitioner (GP) or doctor.
After getting a prescription, show it to your local chemist and pay for the medicine. Some forms of contraception will also require you to return to your doctor or a specialist so that they can distribute it into your body.
The types of contraception available in Australia include the following:
Pill (e.g. Levlen)
This is a small medicine pill for women which stops their body from releasing their egg once a month.
The pill is ingested once everyday and is 99 per cent effective only if you remember to take it. Should you forget to take it from time to time, the effectiveness of this contraceptive method will go down, thus increasing your chances of becoming pregnant.
The price of the pill will vary depending on where you go. Though generally speaking, a four month supply can be as much as $13 (this price is the same for anyone in Australia, including non–students).
There are also some more expensive brands of the pill available.
Contraceptive injection (e.g. Depo-Provera)
This is a hormonal birth control shot that is normally injected either on a woman’s buttocks or upper arm. It stops eggs from being released every month and is 99 per cent effective.
A contraceptive injection can cost approximately $20 for one shot (this price is the same for anyone in Australia, including non–students), which covers three months of protection. Once purchased, take this medicine back to the doctor and they will give you the injection.
Remember, the shot will need to be injected once every three months.
Implant (e.g. Implanon)
This slow release hormone medicine is implanted in the underside of a woman’s upper arm to stop the release of eggs. It is in a small rod that you can’t see, but can feel if you push on that spot on the arm. The implant lasts three years and is 99 per cent effective.
The process to acquire an implant is the same as getting a contraceptive injection: acquire a prescription, purchase the medicine from your chemist and take it back to your doctor so they can implant it onto your arm.
Although the implant can be expensive (Implanon, for example, can cost about $200), keep in mind that it lasts three years. Hence, it is definitely worth it if you feel like you might forget to take the contraceptive pill everyday. Peace of mind can go a long way!
Intrauterine device (IUD) (e.g. Mirena)
An IUD is a very small plastic or metal loop with a small string at the end that is inserted through a woman’s vagina and into her uterus. It stops the sperm from meeting the egg and/or the egg from growing in a woman’s uterus.
This method is 99 per cent effective, lasts up to five years and is acquired in the same fashion as an implant or a contraceptive injection.
Instead of returning to your local GP however, the IUD will require experts who specialise in this service. Contact Family Planning Victoria by visiting their official website or calling their action centre to learn more about where you can acquire these services.
Often referred to as the morning after pill, this medicine is taken either within 24 hours or 72 hours of having unprotected sex, depending on the kind of pill. This pill only stops or delays the woman’s egg from being released – it is not an abortion pill.
To get the morning after pill, you can buy it from any chemist without needing any prescription. It is one dose and costs $16 (the same for everyone in Australia). The pharmacists will consult with you to make sure this method is suitable.
While the above options are all for women, men can also do their part in safe sex by applying a good old-fashioned condom before intercourse. In addition to preventing unwanted pregnancies, condoms also help protect sexual partners – men or women – from transferring sexually transmitted diseases.
That said, condoms aren’t as reliable as other forms of contraception (they can break or come off more easily during intercourse). Thus, it is recommended that students combine one of the above contraceptive methods with the traditional condom.
Sexually active men and women can both keep condoms with them (not just the men!) so that they are well-prepared anytime they are about to have sex (don’t wait until the last minute when no one has a condom).
Moreover, when a man says it doesn’t feel good to have sex with a condom, women are advised to think of the diseases and risks of pregnancy that can happen without one. Don’t let lust sway you; just think of how much you love and care for yourself, and how much you would want to protect yourself!
Condoms are often available for free from your student health on campus and at many other places such as Melbourne Sexual Health Clinic or the Family Planning Action Centre. You can also buy them from any supermarket in the medicine, vitamin or bandaid section, or from a chemist. They are even sold in petrol stations and some nightclubs in vending machines. The price can be as little as $5 for a packet.
What do you pay? Can your OSHC help cover for contraception?
Generally, Overseas Student Health Coverage (OSHC), the health insurance for international students, does not cover pregnancy related services (e.g. having a baby or having an abortion) for the first twelve months of a student’s stay in Australia. However, there are some universities for which this waiting period for coverage is only three months. Some even have no wait period!
It is thus recommended that students check what their insurance provider is able to cover, since it is good for international students to get access to contraception as soon as possible if they plan on becoming sexually active.
The OSHC generally does not cover contraceptive pills, but offers some co-payment on the IUD and implant. Once you pay for your IUD or implant, you can submit a claim to your OSHC and they will give you approximately $50 back.
Furthermore, if you choose to go to a GP off-campus, students are advised to visit a doctor that bulk bills. What this means is that you don’t have to pay any extra money for every visit to the doctor; you simply need to present your student and OSHC card. Usually the medical centre on your campus will bulk bill, thus making the process easier.
To find other GPs who bulk bill for your particular health insurance, get a list from your insurer.
Additionally, some places where you have to get a medical or pathology test (for things like a urine or blood test to check if you are pregnant, or if you have a sexually transmitted infection) can also be bulk billed. You have the right to ask about this before you make an appointment to see any doctor.
Remember that in Australia, when you make an appointment at the student health services on campus or with a GP, you never have to tell them the reason you are coming in. The only time you would have to disclose sensitive information is in the office of the nurse or the GP during your appointment. The information you tell will remain private between yourself and your GP or nurse.
They will not tell anyone – not your lecturers, immigration, people back in your home country, or even your family members – that you are taking contraception. That is your right here in Australia. The only people that will know are the people that you choose tell, so you can feel safe going to these services to get the important contraception you need.
Places of interest for students wanting to know more about contraceptives
For students who want to learn more about contraception, Melbourne has a few great clinics and centres with years of experiences in the area.
The Family Planning Victoria Action Centre located on Elizabeth St provide free doctors’ consultations with a one-off cost of only $10 for registration fee. They also offer cheap contraceptive pills, free condoms and specialise in IUD insertion.
The Swanston St Medical Centre (soon to be located on Bourke St as of October 2015) charges $20 for a consultation – which you can claim some back on your insurance – and bulk bill medical or pathology tests. They have many experiences with international students and offer services by doctors who speak many different languages.
Melbourne Sexual Health Clinic offers free testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted disease as well as free condoms. While they do provide emergency contraception, they will also refer to other providers for other types of contraception.
Don’t forget also that your university campus’ medical centre is always there to support you and can provide medical consultations and prescriptions related to protection from pregnancy.
Dr. Georgia Babatsikos is a lecturer and researcher at Deakin University’s School of Health and Social Development, who has taught international students for at least nine years and has been an educator in sexual health for 25 years. Student Max Zhu assisted Dr. Georgia Babatsikos in creating this guide.