July 1, 2015

Contraception In The Top 10 Study Abroad Destinations

Guest blogger Allison Yates provides an overview of contraceptive options in the top 10 study abroad destinations for U.S. university students.

Print More
Photo of couple kissing with the base of the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Photo of couple kissing with the base of the Eiffel Tower in the background.

College-aged students getting ready to study abroad often research culture, plan their weekend trips, study the language, and prepare themselves for the shock they might encounter while living abroad. Researching the society’s norms regarding sex and relationships might come as an afterthought.

Aside from preparing yourself for the typical norms regarding relationships, researching the current situation regarding condoms, birth control pills, over-the-counter emergency contraception pills, and voluntary interruption of pregnancy is important, not only for your sexual health, but also to be conscious of the laws in your future country of residence.

Many study abroad departments at universities encourage students to take enough prescription birth control for the duration of their time abroad and other necessities for safe and enjoyable sex, such as condoms and lubricants. Regardless if students bring their own supplies or not, it is important to know the nature of the environment in which they are entering.

While there is a great necessity to research all types of sexual health norms, laws, and regulations, this post will specifically focus on contraception. For the top 10 study abroad destinations for U.S. university students, I will explain three categories: availability of contraception, emergency contraception, and voluntary interruption of pregnancy.

 United Kingdom

  • Contraception:  Both male and female condoms can be accessed for free, regardless of age, at various types of health clinics, and can be bought at pharmacies, supermarkets, vending machines in toilets, petrol stations, websites and catalogs. In health clinics, contraception can be accessed by under 16-year-olds if the clinic believes it is in his or her medical interest.
  • Emergency contraception: According to the National Health Service, there are two types of emergency contraception available: Levonelle, which you can get for free at contraception clinics, sexual health clinics, other health clinics and some pharmacies, or EllaOne free when accessed with a prescription, or if 18 or over without a prescription at certain pharmacies. The IUD can also be accessed at contraception centers and other general health clinics.
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy: Permissible before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Resources:

Use the National Health Service’s website to find the nearest sexual health clinic near you.

Italy

  • Contraception: Male condoms are readily available, and can even be frequently purchased in vending machines across major cities. Italian researchers  found that general knowledge of the female condom was absent and use infrequent. Other forms of contraception are available with a prescription from a physician.
  • Emergency contraception: available with a prescription from a private clinic or public hospital.
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy: Abortion has been legal since 1978. The procedure must be performed in an authorized private facility or public hospital and is free of charge. Patient and doctor must first sign a certificate.  After the first trimester, abortion is only legal if the pregnancy puts the health of the mother at risk.

Resources:

Go! Girl Guides suggests visiting a private clinic if you don’t speak Italian.

Spain

  • Contraception: Male condoms are widely available in vending machines in restrooms, grocery stores and pharmacies. Female condoms are available at pharmacies. Other contraceptive methods can be accessed with a prescription from a physician at a public or private clinic.
  • Emergency contraception: Can be accessed (for around 20 euros) without a prescription at pharmacies if above the age of 16. Below the age of 16, the pharmacist has the right to determine if the person has the maturity to be sold to.
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy: Legal (without parental consent for those 16 years of age and older) within 14 weeks of pregnancy. Must be performed in a public clinic or an accredited private center. If the pregnancy presents a risk to the health of the woman or if the fetus has abnormalities, then the procedure can be performed legally up to 22 weeks of gestation. The procedure is only covered by public health if it is done for therapeutic reasons (risk of health to the mother, abnormalities in the fetus).

Resources:

Read about being a foreigner trying to access an abortion in Spain. Information can be found about varying costs and clinics that perform the procedure.

France

  • Contraception: Male condoms are widely available and sold in pharmacies and vending machines in restrooms. Female condoms are more costly but can also be found at pharmacies and some vending machines, and can be accessed free at family planning centers, testing centers, and other sexual health clinics.
  • Emergency contraception: available over-the-counter at pharmacies.
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy: Legal within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with no questions asked.  The government must cover costs of legal abortions and contraception.

Resources:

Mouvement Français pour le Planning Familial (MFPF)  has over 40 clinics across the country and provides sexual and reproductive health services, with many of its patients under the age of 20.

Australia

  • Contraception: Male condoms are bought over-the-counter at pharmacies; other methods must be accessed through a health professional. Female condoms are more difficult to find and more expensive, but are usually sold at sexual health or family planning clinics. According to somazone.com.au, a free question and answer site, 14-year olds can agree to medical treatments without consent, meaning they can ask for oral and other types of contraception beginning at this age.
  • Emergency contraception: Can be found at pharmacies, hospitals, family planning centers, women’s health centers, and sexual health centers. Reachout.com warns that if you buy it from a pharmacist, you may be asked several questions to see if it’s appropriate for you and you may be referred to a physician if the pharmacist deems it necessary.
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy:  In Australia, there are regulations regarding interrupting a pregnancy in all states except for the Australian Capital Territory. In Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, and Northern Territory, abortion is only legal if physicians deem the pregnancy to be a risk to the mother’s physical or mental health. Elsewhere abortion may be legal but restricted by gestational length. Childrenbychoice.org.au gives an overview of the laws in each state or territory.

Resources:

If you are in need of services from a sexual health clinic, Reachout.com gives a list of sexual health clinics by state/territory. The website also suggests consulting Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia’s website for clinic information and where to find STI testing and contraception among other things.

If your study abroad program provides health insurance, you won’t have to pay anything for a sexual health check-up. If it doesn’t, you can still access many of the clinics, but will need to call and arrange ahead of time.

Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia also published their guide Contraception: An Australian Clinical Practice Handbook giving all of the up-to-date contraception available in Australia.

Mexico

  • Contraception: Male and female condoms can be purchased at pharmacies. Other types of contraception can be prescribed at family-planning centers or by gynecologists.
  • Emergency contraception: available over-the-counter in pharmacies.
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy: Penalties vary by district (see penalties by district of Mexico), and since 2007 the Distrito Federal (Mexico City) has been the only entity that has legalized its practice.

Germany

  • Contraception: Male condoms are widely available at major grocery stores, pharmacies, vending machines in public restrooms, among other places.  Other contraception can be accessed with a physician’s prescription regardless of age.
  • Emergency contraception: According to Pro Familia emergency contraception can be accessed with a prescription from any physician. For youth under 20 years old with insurance, it’s free. However, as of March 2015, emergency contraception is available over-the-counter  (except for youth under 14 years old).
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy: Legal within the first trimester after mandatory counseling and a three day waiting period. The procedure must be performed in a certified center.

Resources:

Pro Familia has over 182 sexual and reproductive health clinics across Germany, providing services, education, and advocacy.

Ireland

  • Contraception:  Male condoms are widely available at vending machines, supermarkets, various health centers, and pharmacies Trying to snag free condoms? Free condoms can be accessed at many different centers around Ireland. Female condoms, although more expensive, are available at pharmacies. There are various other methods available in Ireland, though most require a prescription.
  • Emergency contraception: Depending on the type of emergency contraception  some can be purchased directly from the pharmacy without a prescription. Costs vary depending on type and medical coverage.
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy: Abortion is illegal in all cases, including rape, unless the pregnancy puts the life of the woman in danger.  An estimated 5,000 women travel abroad from Ireland each year to access abortion services.

China

  • Contraception: Contraceptive use in China is one of the highest in the world, and access to contraception is free in many family-planning centers and pharmacies across the country, often without a prescription.  However, free services may be difficult for single people to find, as many of the state covered services are designed for married couples. Condoms can be more difficult to find as only a small percentage of sexually active women use this method. (Read about writer Jocelyn Eikenburg’s experience buying a bulk pack of condoms at a Chinese pharmacy.)
  • Emergency contraception: Available at pharmacies without a prescription.
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy: Legal in all cases and up to six months of gestation. An estimated 13 million abortions are performed each year.

Resources:

The blog ElizabethinChina gives helpful information and hints on how to get contraception as a foreigner living in China.

Costa Rica

  • Contraception: Male condoms are available at pharmacies and supermarkets. According to a 2014 news article the female condom is more difficult to find. Other methods are available at pharmacies without a prescription and are covered by public health care.
  • Emergency contraception: Congressional debates were set to take action by April 30, 2015 regarding the legalization of emergency contraception. The Costa Rican Demographic Association recommends an alternative called “Yuzpe.” 
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy: Abortion is illegal except in cases where the pregnancy is a health risk and threatens the woman’s life. Illegal abortions are punishable with jail time with sentences ranging from 6 months to three years.

Conclusion

Just because you are a student traveling outside of your country doesn’t mean you can forget your sexual health! It is important to research beforehand and always come prepared. Because political climates change frequently, staying up-to-date on the sexual health related laws is a must. Do your research to be able to fully enjoy your time abroad.

If you are interested in further information, check out the resources below:

Allison Yates received a B.A. from Indiana University in International Studies. She is currently teaching English in Spain and is interested in researching cross-cultural relationships, sexual education, and violence prevention.