Major barriers remain for New Zealanders accessing contraception - survey

Family Planning is calling for visits for sexual health and contraception at the doctors and other primary health care services to be free to improve access to the medication which prevents pregnancy.

It’s one of the not-for-profit organisation’s recommendations in its first report on contraception use, containing feedback from nearly 6800 people.

Some people were under-represented in the online survey, with 12 per cent of respondents identifying as Māori and 2 per cent identifying as Pasifika.

The majority of respondents identified as female, with 55 per cent aged 20 to 29 years old and 24 per cent aged between 30 and 39 years old.

The report shows accessibility, affordability, education and stigma are still major barriers when it comes to contraception access in New Zealand.

The survey showed 24 per cent of people were not using their preferred contraception option.

“It’s really quite a long process (to get contraception) so I think if that can be simplified and made a lot easier then I think we are making inroads into reducing unwanted pregnancies,” Porirua Whanau Centre chief executive Liz Kelly said.

She supported the call for free doctor’s appointments for sexual health issues, saying it would lead more members of the community to accessing contraception.

“It’s about prioritising their money so if it’s a toss-up between getting "the pill," and feeding your kids, in this community and I’m sure in many but in this community feeding your kids is always going to win,” she said.

Victoria University students also support Family Planning’s recommendation for the Government to fund doctor’s visits for contraception.

“If it’s something that is free to everyone and it’s so standard people are more likely to just think, ‘Oh yeah, contraception’s just another normal part of life,'” Victoria University Women’s Collective co-president Tara O'Suillivan said.

Victoria University Students’ Association president Michael Turnbull agrees that it will remove some stigma surrounding the subject.

“By making it more accessible we can normalise getting in touch with sexual health providers,” he said.

The survey shows "the pill" is the most popular form of contraception, then condoms and in third place, long-lasting implanted contraception devices for women including the Government-funded Mirena and Jaydess.

The survey shows 29 per cent of people have relied on the risky withdrawal method for preventing pregnancy before.

The Government’s funding of Mirena allowed Victoria University Feminist Organisation president Anna-Grace Somerfield to access the medication, who before that was facing a $500 cost for the device and insertion.

She waited nearly two months to get the implant at Family Planning after the funding kicked in, with insertion significantly cheaper there than at her doctor’s.

“I think having long-term contraceptives like the IUD hard to get really pushes women to access things like "the pill,” she said.

Stigma surrounding contraception is something Victoria University Women’s Collective co-president Zianna Mcleod has experienced on multiple occasions.

“It’s a very heteronormative system as well so it’s very disadvantaging to like lesbian and bisexual women in particular,” Mcleod said.

Struggling to find affordable oral dams for protection from sexually transmissible infections, she raised this issue with her GP.

“You could access them from Family Planning and it’s about a four pack for $11 something which of course isn’t really an option to people. They’re not available online.”

She said her GP advised her to cut them out from latex gloves.

“It’s a bit concerning that people have to go out of their way to DIY contraception… cutting it, you could be tearing the latex and putting your hands all over it as well, so it’s not the most hygienic option so it’s pretty disappointing in that regard,” she said.

Mcleod said it’s unfair that people can get condom prescriptions but can’t get prescriptions for oral dams.

“A lot of lesbian and bisexual women probably end up thinking, ‘Well then I have no chance of getting it, I’m not going to get an STI and so they go ahead and do that.’”

Her first experience with contraception at 15 years old also left her feeling “awful” when she went to the GP with uterine health issues.

“He thought that I was lying and he asked my mother if I was having boys climb in through the window at night so that I could get 'the pill' so that I could sleep with them.”

Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond said it was concerning that 5 per cent of those surveyed had experienced conscientious objection from a health professional when trying to access contraception or emergency contraception.

“We don’t believe you should be able to have a conscientious objection to offering contraception,” she said.

The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners said in a statement they supported non-judgemental medical advice.

The College stated if a GP denies a request based on their personal beliefs, the GP has to refer the patient to a GP who will help them, as detailed in the NZ Medical Association’s code of ethics.

Family Planning is also recommending the new Government provide adequate, long-term funding to the organisation to meet rising client demand.

The wait time for insertion of a long-lasting contraception device is now two months compared to the previous wait of a few days, a Family Planning spokesperson said.