Sexual health forums reveal rural issues

ACCESS to contraception has emerged as a key issue in Barwon South West following a series of forums on sexual health in the region.

The forums, hosted by Women’s Health and Wellbeing Barwon South-West Inc. (WHWBSW), found that women were concerned about a lack of availability of contraceptive services such as condoms, oral contraception and emergency contraception.

WHWBSW executive officer Emily Lee-Ack said key issues were a lack of privacy when purchasing contraception, as well as a lack of availability.

“In smaller communities, there aren’t pharmacies and there aren’t necessarily GPs,” said Ms Lee-Ack.

“If we’re talking about condom availability, you might think you can get them anywhere, but if you live in town where the supermarket is only open nine to five, Monday to Friday, then your options are a lot more limited.”

Participants also expressed concern at the lack of access to free and bulk billing heath services, as well as the limited availability of sexual and reproductive health services. 

“As a community, we need to do more to ensure that the causes of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies aren’t simply that there is no access to the services which would prevent them,” said Ms Lee-Ack.

Ms Lee-Ack said that privacy was a large issue in the forums, whereby people in smaller towns were less likely to access contraception if they were personally known by their pharmacist or whoever was serving them at the supermarket.

Seven forums were hosted in Portland, Hamilton, Warrnambool, Colac and Geelong to follow up on issues raised in the Rural Women’s Access to Family Services report. 

“Participants in our forums shared their concerns about communities where there is no access to condoms, where consumers had been refused service, or had chosen not to use some venues because of concerns about privacy,” said Ms Lee-Ack.

Alarmingly, the forums also found that there was a lack of sexual and reproductive health education in schools and communities. 

Participants expressed a concern over a lack of clear referral pathways, as well as inconsistent links between clinical and community services.

“Part of what drives the lack of information in our communities is a sense of stigma regarding sexual health,” said Ms Lee-Ack.

“This can be frustrating for the committed staff in services right across our region, who are doing their best to support sometimes vulnerable clients.”

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