Five safer sex tips for the party season

This party season, don't find yourself having to deal with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or an unintended pregnancy.

Make sure you're prepared – have enough of your contraception method to last the festive period, and know where to get help if you need it.

Natika Halil, sexual health charity FPA's director of health and wellbeing, said: "It's not unusual for people to have an accident during the party season because of contraception failure or unprotected sex.

"And we tend to see more teenagers become pregnant in December and January than other months of the year.

"Research has shown that when we drink alcohol we are more likely to do something we regret later, and that we think less about the risks of STIs."

Our five safer sex tips for the festive season will help prevent an accident becoming a crisis.  

1. Stock up on your contraception

If you use a method of contraception that you need to take every day, such as the pill, make sure you have enough to last over Christmas, especially if you're going away.

"The classic mistake is to go away and forget to take your contraception with you, or to run out of pills on Christmas Eve," says Halil.

"To avoid this, check when your pill pack is going to run out. If it will run out while you're away, get a new one before you go.

"And if you're using the contraceptive injection, make sure it's up-to-date. Whatever contraception you use, make sure you're organised and have enough to last."

To avoid forgetting your contraception if you go away:

  • put it on your list of things to pack
  • leave a note for yourself by the front door
  • set a reminder on your phone
  • write it in your diary
  • ask your partner or a friend to remind you

If you don't have a regular method of contraception, such as the implantinjection or intrauterine device (IUD), consider organising one before the holidays.

Find out about the different methods of contraception.

2. Stock up on condoms

Keep some condoms with you. They're the only form of contraception that protects against both pregnancy and STIs.

Condoms are useful to have in case you have sex with someone new, or if your regular method of contraception fails or runs out.

Vomiting can reduce the effectiveness of the pill. If you're sick, you may need to use condoms to make sure you're protected against pregnancy.

The advice varies for different pills, so check the information leaflet in your pill packet, talk to your doctor or nurse, or see FPA information on the combined pill and FPA information on the progestogen-only pill.

You can get free condoms from community contraceptive clinics, sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics, and some young people's services. You can buy condoms from pharmacies, supermarkets and vending machines.

Make sure any condoms you use have the CE mark on them. This means they meet European safety standards.

Find sexual health services near you.

3. Know where to get emergency contraception

Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy if you have had unprotected sex or your regular contraception has failed.

It's better not to rely on emergency contraception as a regular method of contraception as it does not work as well at stopping pregnancies.

There are three methods of emergency contraception – two hormonal pills and the IUD. Despite the common label "morning after pill", none of the methods have to be used straight away or within the first 12 hours to be effective.

The emergency pill Levonelle needs to be used within three days of unprotected sex. The emergency pill EllaOne and the IUD can be used up to five days after unprotected sex.

IUDs must be fitted by a trained doctor or nurse at a clinic or your GP surgery.

If your contraception fails, or you have unprotected sex over Christmas and the local clinics and pharmacies are closed, knowing where to get the emergency hormonal pill or IUD could make all the difference.

Find out more about emergency contraception.

Where can I get emergency contraception?

You can get emergency contraception (the IUD and emergency pill) free of charge from community contraceptive clinics, sexual health clinics and some GP surgeries.

You can also get the emergency pill from some:

  • genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics 
  • NHS walk-in centres
  • pharmacies (you may have to pay)
  • young people's services

Some GP surgeries and clinics may give emergency hormonal contraception in advance so you can take it with you if you go away.

4. Know how to find a clinic

To find a clinic:

If you're under 25, you can email Brook via Ask Brook, or you can visit the National Chlamydia Screening Programme website to find out where you can get tests for chlamydia.

Some clinics may be closed during Christmas. Call your local clinic to find out their Christmas opening hours.

You can visit any sexual health or contraceptive clinic in England. Find out the nearest or most convenient one for you and their opening hours over Christmas and New Year, whether you'll be at home or away.

5. Don't panic

Help is available if your contraception fails or you have unprotected sex over the party season.

Even if your nearest clinic or GP surgery is closed, you can go to an NHS walk-in centre or an accident and emergency department.

Some of these can provide emergency contraception and offer advice and testing if you're worried about STIs.

Find sexual health services.

Remember, it's always OK to say no if you don't want to have sex with someone. Nobody has the right to make you go further than you want to.

Page last reviewed: 25/11/2014

Next review due: 25/11/2016

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