Plan before you travel to avoid unwanted surprise

Whether you've missed your pill or had unprotected sex, Liz Connor explains how to take charge of your sexual health in a foreign country.

Plan before you travel to avoid unwanted surprise

Whether you've missed your pill or had unprotected sex, Liz Connor explains how to take charge of your sexual health in a foreign country.

Whether it’s the hot weather, free-flowing cocktails or the fact everyone seems to look better with a tan, summer holidays are a catalyst for spontaneous romance.

Meticulous editing on shows like Love Island can fool you into believing that sex abroad shouldn’t come with careful planning.

With any new partner, expert advice is to always use barrier method contraception (to prevent pregnancy and avoid STIs), but even the most organised packer can overlook the essentials in the heat of the moment.

So if you happen to be taking a holiday and you find yourself needing to access emergency contraception, it’s good to know your rights ahead of your flight...

Can I buy emergency contraception at a pharmacy while I’m on holiday?

Currently, 19 countries allow emergency contraception to be sold over-the-counter, and 76 countries require a prescription from a pharmacist.

According to the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception, France, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, America, Sweden and India are just a few of the popular holiday destinations where you can grab EC over the counter.

If you’re travelling to the likes of Australia, Italy, Thailand, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain or Croatia though, you’ll need to speak to a pharmacist who will ask you a series of questions before you can buy EC. Just like in Ireland, you won’t need a prescription.

Countries like Colombia, Cambodia, Poland, Japan and Russia are more strict, however, and you’ll need to book an appointment and get a prescription for emergency contraception from a doctor.

How can I find out what the rules are in the country I’m visiting?

Your first stop should be the ICEC (cecinfo.org). Its website has country-by-country information regarding how to obtain emergency contraception, which is well worth checking before you travel.

Just Landed (justlanded.com) also provides information on all kinds of topics regarding travel, including sexual health guides in several foreign countries, and the prices of contraception (which can hugely vary) in each.

What should I do if I need a prescription — does my health insurance cover me?

Your European Health Insurance card lets you access state healthcare in other EEA countries and Switzerland at a reduced cost, or sometimes for free.

However, it does not entitle you to free private healthcare, and you may have little choice as to what is available should you need it.

It’s worth checking with your travel insurance provider, ahead of your holiday, if your policy will cover a doctor’s appointment to access the morning-after pill, should you need a signed prescription.

What can I do ahead of time to help make travel less stressful?

Your best bet is to get emergency contraception before your trip and pack it in your carry on, to avoid any stress trying to access it in an unfamiliar place.

“Purchasing the morning-after pill ahead of needing it is particularly sensible if you know that the country you are visiting does not sell it over the counter, or you are travelling to a remote area,” says pharmacist Deborah Evans.

Like any form of emergency contraception, Evans says it’s there as a back-up, rather than to be relied upon as your first method of contraception.

“Ahead of travel, it might be a good time to think about other, more regular forms of contraception, such as taking the pill, having an implant, using the patch or having a coil fitted. If you already have a preferred method of contraception, then make sure you’re up-to-date with supplies before you go away.”

Remember: if you do have unprotected sex, you won’t be protected against getting a sexually transmitted infection, so remember to always pack condoms.

How long after having sex abroad can I take the morning-after pill?

“It’s called the morning-after pill as it most effective when taken as soon after unprotected sex as possible,” says Evans. “Although you don’t have to wait until the morning to take it.

There are two types of emergency contraceptive pill — EllaOne, which contains ulipristal, and Levonelle, which contains levonorgestrel (levonorgestrel may come under different brand names in other countries).

“Ulipristal has been shown to be more effective than levonorgestrel,” says Evans.

EllaOne can be taken up to five days after sex to prevent pregnancy, while Levonelle can be taken up to three.

“The most effective emergency contraception is to fit a copper coil within five days of the unprotected sex/failure in contraception, but this is not always practical, especially if you are on holiday.”

Evans stresses there may be some circumstances where the morning-after pill is not appropriate for a woman, for example, if she has certain health conditions or is on some medicines.

“A pharmacist or other healthcare professional will advise on the best options, and you can always chat to someone before you go away about your concerns.”

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