January 26, 2014

Rose Wilson Harrison

Okay, youth, I think it’s time to have The Talk. I’m sorry, but it’s just so necessary. Stats show that STIs are spreading faster these days, especially among us young people. The rate of teen pregnancy in Australia is declining (about 5% of sexually active students get pregnant), but still sits at a higher level than many other developed countries. Studies suggest that one reason for this is that many teens avoid planning sexual encounters, feeling as though sex is only okay if it’s drunken or unplanned (thanks for nothing, society).  Despite that, health education in high schools tends to skim over the details of how to plan for sexual encounters – or, at least, we remember the part where we had to watch videos of babies being born, and forget the part where we learnt how to access contraception.

Obviously, I’m no doctor, but read on for a quick guide to how much your safe sex life will cost you and where to go for the essentials in the Banyule area. If you do get into a bit of a pickle, there are plenty of more official resources and support services out there. Scroll to the bottom of this article for links!

1.  Consent

Before you start thinking about any of the points below, you should know what is and isn’t legal. The first basic rule is that any sexual activity done without consent (ie. rape) is completely illegal (not to mention completely insensitive). Consent must be willing and enthusiastic. It must be ongoing (ie. consent to one act does not equal consent to all acts). It must also be sober. Sex outside those conditions is rape. If you think you may have been assaulted, contact services such as the Sexual Assault Crisis Line or Kids Help Line for support.

Secondly, age of consent – in Australia, any sexual act involving people age 12 or under is illegal. If you are 12 – 16, legally you can’t do anything with someone more than 24 months older than you. Victorian Legal Aid has all of this info.

2. Lube

When I first saw Superbad, I legit did not know what lube was. But in retrospect, Michael Cera had the right idea. I think Becca would have been pretty psyched that he brought lube. Otherwise, all the pressure’s on her to provide the lubrication. You know what I mean.

While lube doesn’t help with STI or pregnancy prevention, it’s worth investing in, especially for beginners. Try Priceline, Coles, Safeway – basically anywhere. Try out a few different brands to see which one suits you. It’s pretty cheap (under $10).

Definitely go for water-based lube because oil-based ones (which last longer) make your condom more likely to rip. Water based lubes are also less likely to irritate your skin. You should check the ingredients for things you’re allergic to.

3. Condoms  

When used correctly, condoms are 97% effective at preventing pregnancy and STI transmission. However, the way most people use them makes them only 86% effective. Google tips on how to use and store them correctly if you want to reduce your risk of accidents.

In 2008, an Australian survey showed that among sexually active 16 – 49 year olds, only one in five had used a condom in the past 6 months.  In the light of that fact, I think it’s important to state the obvious – condoms aren’t just for preventing pregnancy, you need them to prevent getting STIs.

In 2011, the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria had the highest rates of STIs. About one in 20 Australians aged 15 to 29 have an STI, and rates are increasing. Australia-wide, the largest increase in the rate of chlamydia infection was seen in women and men aged 15-19 years. These trends show that even though young people are generally well educated about STI prevention, we aren’t putting it into practice.

Remember that some STIs can be present without the person actually showing symptoms. Basically, you can never be too careful. Keeping that in mind, some guys might try to convince you to do it without a condom. I can guarantee you that his excuses are baloney. Don’t feel pressured to risk pregnancy and STIs for the sake of his pleasure. If someone is allergic to latex, there are non-latex alternatives called polyurethane condoms. If the condom is the wrong size, go down the street and buy a different size. There are no excuses – no glove, no love! And remember, if you feel uncomfortable with something, you don’t have to do it.

Condoms can be legally purchased by everyone, everywhere. There is no age limit.

There are so many brands and different types of condoms that it can be really intimidating trying to choose. At first, it could be a good idea to get some different sizes, unless you’re quite sure about what will work. According to the internet and anecdotal evidence, Ansell Lifestyles, Durex, and Trojan are some reliable brands.

With self-checkouts at supermarkets, there’s the obvious advantage of not having to announce to the local check out chick that you’re gettin’ jiggy tonight …but just remember they really could not care less. If you have to go through the cash register, just do it.

If you go to a petrol station, they might be up near the counter. The person behind the counter will have nothing to do except watch you trying to choose, so try to go in knowing what you want. Otherwise you might spend more than you wanted to, or accidentally buy glow in the dark condoms. The petrol station guy might even try to recommend some for you (super awkward).

Fun fact: The most expensive condom in the world costs $68. Luckily for us, a box of condoms here only costs about $10 – 15.

4. LGBTQI community

Health education in high school basically only covers heterosexual relationships, which sucks. The main thing to remember is to always use condoms and dental dams if there is any risk of STI transmission (Pro tip: you can make a dental dam out of a condom!). There are heaps of online resources and support networks that will be more helpful to you than this article. You can find links to Melbourne-based initiatives on the Banyule Youth Services Website.

P.s. wondering what a dental dam is? It’s another barrier method.

5. Birth Control Pills (“The Pill”).

When used perfectly, birth control pills are 95 – 99% effective. “Perfectly” means taking it every day, preferably at the same time. Otherwise, it’s about 95% effective. The Pill does not prevent STI transmission. You might want to consider a combination of birth control and condoms to prevent pregnancy (since neither method is 100% effective) and condoms to prevent STI transmission.

How do you actually get on the pill? This is where it gets a bit complicated. You need a prescription from a doctor. You technically have to be 16 or older to go to the doctor alone and get on birth control. Any GP can give you the prescription – just make an appointment over the phone, and maybe request a female doctor because yes, there is a breast exam involved (not a mammogram, they basically just pat around your boobs to make sure there are no suspicious lumps). They take your blood pressure and ask a few questions about your sex life. Ask your doctor about the different types of pill (progestin only pills and combination pills) – they will know better than Google.

So that costs you about $35 after the Medicare rebate – without a Medicare card, it’s double that. I love having my own Medicare card so that I don’t have to rely on the family one. You can transfer your details from the family card to your own, or just apply to get your own. Unfortunately, you have to be at least 15 years old to get your own, and it involves a trip to a Medicare office.

The doctor will ask you to come back for another prescription in a few months so that they can make sure you’re doing okay with that brand of pill (the hormone dose varies in strength between brands). So there’s another $35. But, assuming everything is fine, they’ll give you repeats to last a year.

There are different brands of birth control pills. Prices start from about $20 per box (one box will last 3 – 4 months) and can get up to hundreds of dollars (don’t worry, your doctor should take your situation into account and prescribe you a cheaper one).  You have to be on the Pill for a month before it is considered effective. It’s a hormonal method, so you might need some time to adjust. Everybody responds differently, so don’t expect to have the same experience as me, your best friend or some stranger on Yahoo Answers.

6. The “Morning After Pill”

The Emergency Contraceptive pill should always be your Plan B. Its success rate sits at about 85 – 90%. It basically punches you in the ovaries with hormones, and this can cause a whole range of symptoms (again, it varies from person to person). You don’t need a prescription to get this pill. You buy it over the counter (for about $30-40) at any pharmacy. There is technically no age limit, however some pharmacies have different policies regarding under 16 year olds. For instance, they may refer you to a doctor or Family Planning clinic if you are under 16. Pharmacists are also allowed to refuse to sell it based on personal beliefs. This is more common in rural areas – but if you do happen to be refused by a pharmacist on those grounds, simply try a different location, or get in touch with a Family Planning Clinic or doctor.

It’s effective during the 3 days after ‘the event’, but sooner is better. You have to fill in a form with your details (mostly medical stuff) and that’s it. If you have heard rumours like “the morning after pill is just like an abortion and causes birth defects!” forget them right now. They are completely wrong. In fact, you should fact-check every rumour that you’ve heard about sex in general. There is a lot of misinformation being spread deliberately by sex-negative conservatives and unintentionally by friends and family.

I’ll leave you with some reliable resources for you to check out – especially if you’re interested in forms of contraception that I haven’t mentioned above. Please post any resources or information that you have found helpful in the comments!

– Rose Wilson-Harrison

– Photo by Amy Steele

Family Planning Victoria

Banyule Youth Services’ Sexual Health an Family Planning page

Banyule Youth Services LGBTQI Youth Health and Support services page

Better Health Channel Sexual Health Page

Children By Choice Youth Space



, , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply