Lexie Hall weighs in during Sexual Health And Guidance (SHAG) Week to give some top tips on staying safe abroad.
Whether it takes place in your Ricky Road single bed, or in a hostel in Thailand, sex is sex, and can have the same unintended consequences: unintended pregnancies, STIs, and plenty more besides. Not the greatest of holiday souvenirs, let’s be honest.
Holiday flings might be all fun and games while they last, but returning with a baby may not be the ideal way to finish off your degree. So ensure that any alternative methods of contraception, such as the patch, implant or injection, are up to date and will remain effective for your entire time away. Also consider how any medication you’re taking abroad, such as anti-malaria tablets, can be known to impact on the effectiveness of these methods. While we’re on the subject, remember that ‘Delhi belly’, aka vomiting and diarrhoea, is not always the contraceptive pill’s best friend…
There’s something about being abroad, intoxicated by sun, sea and, well, alcohol, that can often lead us to let our guard down, in the name of ‘having a good time’. But stats show that you are three times more likely to catch an STI abroad than you are at home so the advice remains the same: if you think that getting some action between the sheets has even the slightest chance of happening, stock up on condoms before you go, always with that trusty CE mark on the packet. But remember – both the heat and oily products (such as suncream) can damage condoms, so ensure they’re safe for use before you get down to business.
We're students, we love free stuff - vaccines are no exception.
As with all health-related concerns, it is imperative to be prepared before you go, as well as while you’re abroad. Make sure you visit your doctor at least 4-6 weeks pre-departure to get any vaccines; while Hepatitis B is uncommon in the UK, it is far more widespread in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, transmitted through unprotected sex, as well as contaminated needles (for anyone fancying that obligatory ‘Dam 2k15’ tattoo). Given that the Hepatitis B vaccination is available completely free on the NHS, why wouldn’t you? We’re students, we love free stuff – vaccines no exception. Once you’re there, while it is impossible to predict everything that could happen when you’re abroad, identifying your local medical centre in advance of finding yourself needing the morning after pill might not be the worst idea.
Finally, it’s important to consider that attitudes to sex, sexuality and contraception do vary considerably across the world. Whether you personally agree with a country’s cultural and religious principles or not, abiding by them as a matter of respect and keeping out of trouble is paramount. Dress as the natives do. Stop and think before getting frisky beneath a beach towel. Don’t pose naked on top of sacred mountains in Malaysia. It is also key to remember that homosexuality remains illegal in many countries around the world, with similar laws also applying to heterosexual unmarried couples in certain locations. It really is worth familiarising yourself with local customs before you go wild; a one-night fling probably isn’t worth jail time.
Sexual health refers to not only using contraception, but ensuring that anyone involved is comfortable and consenting at all times. Communication is key, all the more so abroad when cross-cultural misunderstandings may come into play. Holidays should be all about relaxing, exploring and having a good time. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about your sexual health. Failure to do so could have unforeseen consequences that last a lot longer than that ten-day bender in Maga!