Playing Safe: Travel And Contraceptives

by Melissa on September 25, 2013 · 14 comments

Mom, Dad, Grandma, all family members… how bout you do yourself a favour and just skip over this post.  Hit the delete button in your inbox, or click that X at the top corner of your browser.
You probably don’t want to read this.

For all of my other readers, now that that is out of the way, let’s get down to business. 

The bow-chicka-wow-wow kind.

travel and contraceptives
Travel and sex go hand in hand.  You would be hard pressed to find any traveler who hasn’t had some sort of sexual encounters at some point during their travels.  But just because we’re getting caught up in the heat of the moment and hooking up, doesn’t mean we have to be completely reckless about it.  And trust me, there’s nothing worse than a little souvenir from your travels that arrives kicking and screaming 9 months later.  I’m talking about travel and contraceptives here.

We’ve heard it all before – practice safe sex, protect yourself and your partner(s), and try to avoid any unwanted pregnancies.  Common sense, right?  But when it comes down to the nitty gritty of travel and contraceptives, do you know your options?  In the heat of the moment, will you be protected?  Here are your options:

Abstinence

Let’s be real here- we’re talking about travel and contraceptives… if you’ve already decided you’re going to abstain from having sex (for whatever the reason may be – maybe you have a partner at home, maybe you have religious reasons, maybe you’re a virgin, or maybe you’re just too darn scared of anything those yucky backpackers may be carrying) you’re already steps ahead – and may I even say, have way more willpower than I do.  Kudos to you.

travel and contraceptives

Condoms

Probably the most popular and easiest option – condoms not only protect you from unwanted pregnancies, but from nasty STIs that could be floating around.  They are small and compact, and both male and female parties can be proactive and have condoms on hand – just in case.  No matter what contraceptive option you choose to protect you against unwanted pregnancies – you should still always rely on condoms to protect you against HIV and other STIs – especially if you are having sex with people you may not know too well (or at all).
travel and contraceptives

The Pill

I used to be a long-time user and advocate for The Pill, I started using it for medical reasons around the age of 17.  I religiously took the pill up until I was 23, then after my big breakup, I went off of it for a year.  Before heading off on my last RTW trip I made sure to get a prescription for my birth control pills but a problem I did encounter was with my drug plan not allowing me to bring more than 3months of pills at a time.  I had to get my mom to send me new packs of pills through the post every couple months – which was fine when I was living in Sydney, Australia and New Zealand – but if I were to travel to less accessible places –such as Africa or South East Asia, I wouldn’t be trusting the postal system to deliver my contraceptives through the mail.   The thing about the pill, is that to get total efficacy you must take them at exactly the same time, every single day – and to be honest, I was always really bad about it.  But if you can stick to the schedule, then they may be a good option to prevent unwanted pregnancies.  NOTE: They do NOT protect against STIs.

travel and contraceptives

The Shot (Depo-Provera)

Depo-Provera is a hormone injection that prevents pregnancy for up to three months.  This may be a viable option for those who are not long-term travellers.  Long-term travellers may have issues with finding a doctor while travelling that would be able to prescribe and administer the shot.  Unlike the pill – it is a single shot that lasts for three months so even the most forgetful girls can benefit from the simplicity of this option.  I haven’t used this particular form of contraceptive but have heard good things from friends who have but keep in mind there is no protection against STIs.

depo shot

The Implant

If you’re looking for a long-term travel and contraceptives solution, the implant may be a good option.  The implant – sold in North America as Nexplanon – is a small plastic rod (about the size of a matchstick), which contains progesterone hormones.  The implant is inserted into the patient’s upper arm, just under the skin and it can be left in for up to 3 years.  Removal of the implant is just as easy as insertion – a small incision is made and the rod is easily pulled out.  This may be a great long-term option for birth control – but it doesn’t protect against STIs.

travel and contraceptives

IUD

After returning home from my RTW trip, I decided to look into getting an IUD (inter-uterine device) as a long-term contraception option.  There are two types, the Mirena (with hormones) and the traditional copper IUD (no hormones).  Each has their own set of pros and cons, I eventually settled with the Mirena as it can lighten periods (sometimes people report that their periods even go away completely) and for other more technical aspects of the Mirena.  Since the IUD stays in you for up to 5 years, you don’t have to worry too much about the possibility of getting pregnant – since the only thing more effective is having your tubes tied.  For long-term travellers, this seems like the best option, which is why I decided to go with it.  Again, this form of birth control does not protect you against STIs – something to keep in mind.
travel and contraceptives

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Ultimately, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you’re keeping safe – as you should be doing in all aspects of your travel.  Don’t take unnecessary risks and protect yourself by being prepared for those unexpected moments.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Paula September 25, 2013 at 10:32 am

Hi Mel,
Great suggestions as I remember alot of travellers hooking up while on the road over 2 years. Another option which I find great compared to the pill for those of us that can’t remember to take it daily is the “ring” (Nuvaring). I’m going to be running into the same problem next year and wondering what I should do…Never heard of the insertion…interesting but a bit scary sounding like an IUD…p

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Melissa September 27, 2013 at 3:02 am

Yes! The Nuvaring is another good option. Totally forgot to put that one on. It doesn’t seem to be as popular as it has been in the past – but still a good option.

The implant is a good longer term option, however it does come with pros and cons that are worth looking into more. Not as scary as the IUD – just a little plastic rod under your skin.

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Kate September 26, 2013 at 6:56 am

Good suggestions Melly :) something that people really need to think about to keep themselves save, anytime. Some doctors don’t recommend the IUD if you haven’t had kids yet, and it should be mentioned that this option especially isn’t recommended for multiple partners (as you know ive had the IUD for almost 2 years now, and my doctor said something about the strings that are left inside of you are susceptible to infection) it’s all about finding what works best for you and your body – my body hates extra hormones, so it’s great to be off of them and still safe.
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Melissa September 27, 2013 at 3:04 am

Very good points, that I left out moreso cause I didn’t want the length of this article to go on and on (cause you know how longwinded I can be!)

Its definitely all about finding what works best for you, your body and your situation. I wasn’t too keen on having heavier periods with stronger cramps – hence the Mirena is the way I went. :)

But thanks for adding those points! xoxo

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Becky September 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm

I’m impressed by this post Mel. This should get people thinking about responsibility. I had an IUD when I was younger and travelling. Just a word of caution (experience) for those who choose the IUD. It’s not a good idea to tell your partner that you have one because there are few and far between who believe that you’re sharing that info to let them know – you’ve got them covered . Go figure, some of the male species go though life thinking it’s all about them. Surprise! lol. It’s a good idea and good practice to always make them think it’s their decision. Double safety.
Safe travels everyone.
B.

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Melissa September 27, 2013 at 3:06 am

Double safety is extremely important- especially when using things that deal with hormones as opposed to actual STI protection. Everyone needs to remember to slap a condom on – just in case ;)

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Kerry September 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Hello! I really like this post and your blog – I just wanted to note that actually Mirena is more effective than ‘having your tubes tied’. Mirena has a failure rate of 0.2% (2 per 1000 users) compared with sterilisation’s failure rate of 0.5% (5 per 1000 users). It’s definitely good for peace of mind!
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Melissa September 27, 2013 at 3:08 am

Hey Kerry- wow! My doctor said that having your tubes tied was the only thing more effective, but hey! Regardless – they are both good odds if having a kid isn’t in your cards for the immediate future ;)

Thanks for the stats!

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Sally September 26, 2013 at 8:37 pm

I like the idea of this post but I find it’s a little lacking. No mention of the availability of some of these options in other countries? For example the pill is available over the counter in some South American countries (I know Argentina for a fact) and I’ve found buying the pill really convenient in South Korea, no prescription needed and you can buy as many as you’d like at one time. I think it’s similar in SE Asia with the no prescription needed, though some websites say to stay away from generic brands buying living abroad. I’ve actually found managing contraception much easier as an expat than at home, when I constantly had to call a doctor about renewing a prescription or going in for extra checkups because I changed doctors after the academic year.

Also, the depo shot has some serious health downsides, like causing crazy amounts of cavities after a year or so; one of the big side effects is bone loss. It’s not a very good long-term solution, but for a six month trip or something only, then it’s a decent option.
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Melissa September 27, 2013 at 3:13 am

Hi Sally,

I appreciate your comment- this post was meant more as a means to get the conversation and research started. I’d obviously hope that if someone is going to be making decisions about their sexual health that they would do their own research and not simply go to the doctor asking for an IUD because “mellyboo” told them it worked for her. So yes, I didn’t list all the side effects of every single option listed here, and there are other contraceptive options available… but I figured it was a good starting point to get people to consider this aspect of travel.

Thanks for the tips about the pill in S. America, S. Korea and SE Asia – since I haven’t travelled to those places, I didn’t quite know how it works there.

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Sally September 28, 2013 at 8:13 am

Of course, it’s a good topic to bring up! I’m glad you did.
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karl October 17, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Nice to see someone write about a topic that can still seem sort of taboo at times, nicely done.
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Melissa November 4, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Thanks Karl, I felt that it’s something that isn’t quite talked about… but lets be honest, sex and travel go hand-in-hand. It’s important to remember to keep safe while jumping in the sack – so hopefully this will help prepare travellers – especially female travellers.

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