Many backpackers at some point during their travels will have sex. Sex and travel may be a little bit of a taboo subject to talk openly about but it is true. Months spent travelling from one exotic destination to another, meeting locals and other backpackers alike, the heady mix of freedom and probably a little too much alcohol, people letting their hair and their guards down, it all too often means one thing leads to another.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this of course, provided that you do it somewhere private and not the hostel dorm you are sharing with a dozen other people! No one wants to wake up to the sight of a pasty white backside moving up and down. And provided that you use protection! This really should go without saying now, but frankly the cases of travellers returning home with STI’s is rising every year.
So just use a condom. It is your first and best defence not just against pregnancy, but from STI’s too.
Of course not every backpacker will have sex on their travels, some may or even want to, but if you think there is a chance you might, just use a condom. Whatever other form of contraception you use, you should still use a condom.
Basic things to remember about condoms when abroad.
- Condoms can be damaged by heat, humidity or oil based products such as sunscreen.
- Take condoms you have bought at home with you, not every country uses the same CE mark of quality and safety standards required by law in Europe, you should see this on the packet if they do.
Other forms of protection.
This is an extremely popular form of contraception but does not protect you from STI’s, so you still need to use a condom. Normally it does work very well, but there are things that can affect it’s effectiveness when travelling. If you get ill and have had a bout of severe diarrhoea and vomiting within 3 -4 hours of taking it, this may affect how well the pill has been absorbed into your body.
Some antibiotics may affect the pill’s effectiveness, Doxycycline (a common antimalarial medication) can have the same effect. The best thing to do is to continue taking the pill, especially if this is the norm for you, and use a condom as well for at least the first few weeks of the medication course.
Injectable contraceptives and the IUD.
These are very effective contraceptives, but provide no cover for STI’s, so use a condom as well. Injectable contraceptives do reduce menstruation in some women, and some may see this as an added benefit.
Morning after pill.
You can’t rely on this at all when backpacking. You may be able to get it from a clinic or medical centre, and I really do strongly emphasise may. Not everywhere will have them, and that is assuming you are within easy reach of a clinic or medical centre. You may be able to get some before you go, but good luck trying to convince your GP or nurse practitioner you need them in advance. Odds are you will just get a lecture on safe sex and handed a load of condoms.
What to do if you suspect you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
If you are worried you may have an STI, the most important thing is to get checked by a medical professional as soon as is possible.
If you are still travelling, remember that the standards of services may vary wildly depending on where you are. Very rural parts of India or Africa for example will not have the same world class facilities as Singapore or Europe or other developed nations.
Remember also to check your travel insurance, as it may or may not cover you for STI’s, HIV or pregnancy treatment.
If you have arrived home, then it is important that you get a check up at your local GUM clinic, and be honest with the staff about your travels and sexual history. Clinical staff are not there to judge you, but it does allow us to give you the appropriate tests and treatment.