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T​echnology changing the face of sexual health

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Feature

In celebration of International Nurses Day (12 May) we sat down with our national nurse advisor, Rose Stewart, to talk about being a Family Planning nurse in 2018 as clients increasingly turn to new technologies to support their sexual and reproductive health.

Ms Stewart explains five ways that technology has helped her clients become more informed, empowered and in tune with their bodies.

  1. Period tracking apps

In most appointments, Family Planning nurses will ask female clients when their last period was.

“Twelve years ago, no one really knew when their last period was. Today you ask the same question and the client will pull out their phone and be able to tell you the exact day their period started,” says Ms Stewart.

“As nurses we’ve really seen the rise in popularity of period tracking apps and the added benefits that come with them - women are much more aware of their bodies and where in their menstrual cycle they are.”

She says there are other benefits too, like reminding you to take your pill or to get your next Depo injection. If you’re trying to get pregnant, these apps can also tell you when you’re ovulating and most likely to conceive.

“As Family Planning nurses, we really support anything that gives you more understanding and empowerment over your sexual and reproductive health.”

  1. Menstrual cups

The rise in the number of clients opting to use menstrual cups instead of pads and tampons is another change that Ms Stewart has noticed.

“Although they’ve been around for decades, it’s only been in recent years that attitudes have shifted and menstrual cups have become more mainstream. Some people can be put off by the idea of inserting them or having to deal with menstrual blood but in fact most people who try them never go back to disposable products!”

Menstrual cups are environmentally friendly, chemical free, and although there’s an upfront cost, they work out to be much cheaper over time. Plus you can keep your cup in for up to 12 hours at a time.

“Using a cup will also give you a better understanding of how much you bleed – you might actually be surprised by how little it is.”

  1. Phone appointments

Since launching our phone appointment service in 2014 our clients have jumped at the opportunity to have certain appointments over the phone.

Family Planning offers phone appointments for clients needing the ECP, condoms, advice about contraception, and in some instances repeat pill prescriptions. We can also carry out your pre-IUD and implant insertion information appointments over the phone.

“It’s been a real success, especially for people who are busy and can’t find the time to come into a clinic for their appointment. Instead, it’s a short phone call at a time that suits them.”

  1. Comfort with the no-bleed pill taking

Did you know that the ‘period’ you have while on the pill isn’t really a period? It’s actually withdrawal bleeding triggered by stopping the hormone pills and was included in the development of the pill by a Catholic scientist who thought a monthly bleed would make the pill seem more natural and appealing.

However according to Ms Stewart there is no medical reason for having a monthly bleed and it doesn’t 100% indicate that you’re not pregnant.

She says it’s now recommended to skip the inactive pills and miss the bleed altogether. “Taking your pill continuously gives you even better protection from unintended pregnancy.”

“We’re finding more and more women are taking advantage of this option and making their pill work for them by deciding when, or if, they have a bleed.”

  1. The rise in use of LARCs

It used to be thought that IUDs weren’t suitable for younger women. We now know that this is not only false, but quite the opposite – IUDs and other methods of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) are suitable for young women and offer the best protection against unintended pregnancy.

“Having the opportunity to use highly effective long-acting contraception has been revolutionary for women who want to delay when they have children while they focus on other things like their careers.”

Ms Stewart has noticed how LARCs are increasingly becoming the contraception of choice for young women - and the statistics back her up. 

“In the last ten years we’ve noticed an upward trend in the number of people wanting LARCs, while at the same time the number of people choosing to use the pill has been decreasing.”

We love LARCs because they’re so effective (more than 99%), they last many years and they’re what we call ‘fit and forget’ – once you have them inserted, you don’t need to remember anything - like you have to with pills or injections. LARCs are also very affordable; the Jadelle implant and the copper IUD are both free.

Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.

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