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By Michelle Tilley for BitchBuzz

Did you ever want to pick the brain of a sexual health and contraception expert? Well I've done just that! I recently had the chance to sit down with a nurse specialising in sexual health and contraception. Here's what she had to say!

Can you tell me what it is that you do?

I’m a nurse practitioner. I run a family planning clinic and also a drop in clinic for anything relating to contraception, sexual health, psycho-sexual problems, etc.

What’s the age range of the patients that you see?

They range from 14 to about 50+ and the average age is around late teens and twenties.

What’s the most common question you get asked?

When it comes to sexual health, it’s usually that people want to ask me for sexual health testing because they’ve had sex with a new person, they haven’t used a condom and they know they’ve put them selves at risk.

When it comes to contraception - it’s: “What are my options?”

Do women come in with their partners?

Some do - and I’ll talk to them both - predominantly to the female, because it’s obviously her choice when it comes to contraception - but I will always address the issue of safe sex and talk to both of them about that. There are some things I only talk to women about - such as Super Sperm.

Super Sperm?

Yes - some sperm can live for up to seven days and we refer to this as Super Sperm. There are a number of scenarios where this can present a problem and women need to know about it - but you never, ever tell a man he’s got Super Sperm - you’ll never hear the end of it!!

What is the question you get asked the most, where you’re surprised people don’t already know the answer?

The thing that most surprises me isn’t a question, it’s that women know that they’re putting themselves at risk, and yet they don’t do anything about it.

What is the best method of contraception?

The best method of contraception is the one that works best for you.

A lot of people I know don’t use the pill because they’re worried about weight gain. Why does the pill make you fat?

OK. All the research shows that if you lined up six women who used hormonal contraception and six women who didn’t, they would all equally put weight on. All women put weight on - they just like to have something blame. But, one of the hormones, progesterone, used in the pill makes you hungry, which is where most of any weight gain comes from. Also, there are a lot of women who bloat at various points in their cycle and that will be perceived as weight gain.

If you’re looking at the issue of weight gain with contraception in general, the Depo Provera injection is the method is most likely to cause women to gain weight and you’re looking at probably gaining one to two kgs (two to four pounds) a year from that.

What is a coil and are they as scary/painful as people seem to think?

There are two kinds - there’s the copper coil (or IUD) and the plastic coil which contains hormones (the IUS). They give women a gripe-y period-y pain as they’re being inserted and maybe for a day or two afterwards - but the rest is really just hype.

It’s largely painless in most cases. Women are often surprised at how small how they are and they’re also amazed at how efficient they are - particularly the IUS, which also regulates periods as well. The copper coil can also be used as emergency contraception and then left in - so that’s got its merits as well.

Is there any real scientific link between using the pill and increased risk of breast cancer?

Well, you’re increasing the amount of oestrogen that you’ve got circulating in your body and a lot of breast cancers are oestrogen dominant and therefore there is a slight increase in the risk of breast cancer but it is only a slight increase. That risk naturally increases as you get older as well and so as you get to the age of around 35, if you’re still on the pill you may need to start looking at an alternative method. If you smoke and you’re 35, then you can’t use the combined pill anyway because that also increases the risk of breast cancer and that’s a World Health Organisation issued policy.

Is there any truth in any of the non-drug based or natural methods of contraception?

There’s lots of urban myths about the “safe method” and the “safe period” in a woman’s cycle which are a load of crap. There are women that worry about adding hormones to their body and I would recommend the copper coil, because that doesn’t involve any hormones. You can do natural family planning - but that requires a woman to be very much in tune with her body and it doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted infections (STI‘s).

Should people use condoms during oral sex?

Yes. Purely from a perspective of STI’s. A lot of people don’t consider oral sex to be “real sex” - but they’ve obviously never seen gonorrhea of the throat! You can contract most STI’s orally - syphilis, Chlamydia, gonorrhea.

What method of contraception would you NEVER prescribe?

The rhythm method - basically, pulling out or withdrawal.

And abstinence, right?

No, abstinence is a good method of contraception. I always tell the women that come to see me that while most contraception is now 99.9% effective, the only one that’s 100% effective is the word “No” - and its one every woman always carries with her.

Why is it important for women to be educated about contraception?

To prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. I mean at the end of the day, if they want to prevent a pregnancy, contraception is the only way they’re going to do that. They need to know certain facts to prevent themselves from being drawn into things like “my penis is too big for a condom” and so on.

What are the valid reasons why a man can’t wear a condom?

There is no real valid reason - because even in the case of a true latex allergy, there are latex free condoms. No man is too big for a condom - during my training, I had to put a condom on a large marrow. A normal sized condom will fit a large marrow.

Show me a man with the penis the size of a marrow, I’ll shake your hand and maybe change my mind!! The other thing is that there are different kinds - for example, there are extra strength condoms that won’t rip during anal sex. There is a condom for all seasons - just not a man, unfortunately!
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