Casual hook-ups, dating and late-night tinder encounters have become extinct practices due to COVID-19 and government regulations to control the virus. However, this is not to say that sex is not happening. Whilst it may feel strange to seek contraception in a time where physical contact is being so publicly discouraged, it is important to remember that every aspect of your health is valuable and should be taken care of. So, whether you are in lockdown with your significant other or just wanting to explore your contraceptive options, there are lots of resources still available to you.
Getting an appointment to discuss contraception is difficult enough at the best of times, often resulting in queuing on hold, listening to crackling music for at least 20 minutes, before being told the next available appointment is in a couple of weeks. Prior to the pandemic the NHS was under an overwhelming amount of pressure, something which COVID-19 has only escalated. Normally, we are discouraged from turning to Google when it comes to any aspect of our health. Having said this, the NHS has an extensive catalogue of information online, providing details on different contraceptive methods, as well as, how to access services in these strange times. There is a menu of options listed, with subsections outlining the advantages and disadvantages of each method, their suitability for individuals with certain medical conditions or lifestyle choices, and most importantly, whether they are still available in lockdown.
Sexual health services are provided on a local basis, so each NHS Trust operates their services themselves to cater to their community, rather than under a larger umbrella foundation. Finding your nearest Sexual Health Clinic is easy and can be done by simply entering your postcode into the tool available on the NHS website. Contraception can be an awkward topic and seeking access to it can be an inconvenience, but the ability to access all this information online is comforting for many. Moreover, while we remain in lockdown, these clinics are operating via telephone consultations. No more shuffling in those vinyl chairs while answering questions about your sexual partners and periods. That is not to say that you should ever feel embarrassed, but for those who are not as confident or open about their sexual health, the telephone can be a nice barrier and offer a layer of anonymity.
It is true that remote consultations can have their hick-ups. In order to prescribe the combined or progesterone only pill, patients have to provide a blood pressure reading due to the risk of blood clots. A blood pressure monitor is not an item you often find in student accommodation or the family home. Thus, a problem arises. GP practices and Sexual Health Clinics are still allowing patients to attend in person by invitation only, and if you are comfortable with this outing, you will be offered the opportunity to go take your blood pressure. An exciting chance to leave the house!
While now may feel like the perfect time to have the implant or IUD fitted, especially since such a common side effect is irregular bleeding, something much easier to cope with while in lockdown home, unfortunately the majority of Sexual Health Centres and GPs are not currently providing these services. Therefore, until lockdown is lifted, the only thing you can do is keep an eye on your providers website for when they will resume these fittings and use alternative methods of contraception.
Having said all this, accidents happen, condoms break, and pills are forgotten, so where do you go if the worst happens? Your local Sexual Health Clinic can provide the morning after pill free of charge, alongside your GP and some pharmacies (if you are under 21). Online you can book a telephone consultation, as you would do for a regular appointment. If, however, you’d prefer to get the emergency contraception yourself, pharmacies are still open in lockdown, including those within high street stores, such as Superdrug and Boots. Moreover, if you are uncomfortable leaving the house, Superdrug offers an online order service, which will deliver the medication discreetly and quickly. No matter your situation or location, the NHS has adapted to enable everyone to access the services they need. While certain elements are not currently available, information is accessible and most importantly the support is there if you require it. Even though the end of lockdown is still a way off, you are free and encouraged to explore your contraceptive options and take control of your sexual health.
– Katie Dunbar
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