Communicating contraceptive choice

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We’re having a little fanfare moment today as our contraception information and support pages have this week gone live. To put in context why we’ve done this work, we invited King’s College Hospital’s HIV, sexual health and contraception doctor, Dr. Verity Sullivan to write this week’s blog on her experiences with working with women and contraception...

Here in the UK, we’re hugely lucky to have access to safe, effective and (drum roll please) FREE contraception. Available from a variety of services, it gives us choice and the ability to enjoy sex minus the worry of an unplanned pregnancy (whoop!)

I’ve been a contraceptive doctor for several years and providing women (and their partners) with these freedoms is hugely rewarding. But despite loads of good things going on, there’s no doubt that more work is needed to educate the British public and to dispel some of the myths surrounding contraception and sexual health.

For me, a constant observation is that people don’t know about the variety of contraception available. Most people have heard of “the pill” but are unaware that things like the implant exist, which may be more suited to their lifestyle and long-term plans. They are also unfamiliar with the potential health benefits of the different methods, e.g. the IUS for improving heavy, painful periods. I’ve had many a patient pleasantly surprised by types of contraception they previously knew nothing about.

I come across loads of misconceptions and being able to resolve them is just fab. Many women worry that after choosing a method of contraception, then that’s your choice for life. This couldn’t be further than the truth. Many worry that getting an implant or coil fitted will be in the leagues of major surgery: again, with some reassurance (and a medicinal bar of dairy milk) most women tolerate these procedures beautifully. And many worry that they will have the same side-effects as a friend. Contraception side-effects are different in every woman. The experience of your sister may be the complete opposite to your own, so always consider the options based on your individual situation.

So how do we get all of this info across? Education is of course key and for many starts young. For me, it was a mixture of info from friends, a giggle-inducing talk from the school nurse aged 14 (poor woman) and a variety of questionable teen glossies. For others it may have been nuggets from a sibling or even a parent. Either way, my resources were more than most. Education about contraception and sexual health is still not mandatory in schools despite ongoing efforts, leaving teenagers uninformed and vulnerable to the risks that sex brings. And in an increasingly digital age, it can also be difficult to know which websites and resources to consult. Which is why direction towards reliable sites such as SH:24, BASHH and the FPA is so important.

Another concern is access to services: this affects some women because of where they live or the hours that they work. But our needs as a population are also growing. There’s also the very real problem of the recent government public health budget cuts that are taking resources away from services, threatening clinics with closure and reducing access to much needed specialist care. Whilst these goings on may feel very distant to your everyday life, they are changes which will realistically affect us all.

When it comes to contraception, there’s no doubt challenges exist for patients and providers alike. But you do have choices. I’ll leave you with some key points:

  • Only condoms will protect you from STIs! Contraception is for preventing pregnancy, not an infection
  • Your choice isn’t forever! You can always switch things up if it’s not working out
  • Choosing the right form of contraception takes time and consideration, so read the info and make sure you ask your doctor or nurse all the questions you have, no matter how silly they seem. That’s what we’re here for. And grab a bag of free condoms whilst you’re at it.

You can find local clinics in Lambeth and Southwark via our website clinic finder, but if you’d like to read up a little first, why not check out our new contraception pages. We love talking people about the what, why and how of SH:24 - after all that’s how we’ve developed these new pages - so whether you’re an existing user, would be user, or just have an opinion, please tell us what you think. It’s how we improve what we do, and with more parts of the service coming live over the next few weeks your opinions really count. You can tweet us or send us an email - you’ll always receive a response!