Community pharmacy has, for many years, been involved in providing support for sexual health, selling products ranging from condoms, lubricants, emergency hormonal contraception (EHC), sanitary goods, pregnancy and ovulation tests, herbal supplements for the menopause, treatments for cystitis and thrush and, recently, Viagra for erectile dysfunction.
This range of products and services is not available from any other single provider and so community pharmacy is well-placed to position itself as a one-stop-shop for sexual health.
Condoms offer the best protection from both an unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Encouraging use of condoms is of utmost importance and can be promoted by listing their advantages:
- Many contain lubricant
- 92-98% effective
- Prevention of STI’s
- Only contraception males have control of
- Females can be prepared and carry them also
If a customer knows or suspects that a condom has failed, they can access services at their local pharmacy to find out if this has happened and/or what the consequences may be. These (obviously) include the sale of pregnancy tests and similar products. However, customers can also access STI screening and detection services at some Irish pharmacies. Screening for common STIs is offered by companies such as Let’s Get Checked.
Emergency contraception is a safe, effective and responsible method of preventing pregnancy when regular contraception has failed, no contraception was used, and/or in the case of sexual assault. For those who act quickly, emergency contraception will usually prevent pregnancy.
Emergency contraception will not prevent someone from getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
The main brand of the ulipristal ECP in Ireland is ellaOne. This pill is available from pharmacies without a prescription. It must be taken within 120 hours (5 days) of unprotected sex but is most effective the sooner it is taken. The IPU protocol supports the ulipristal ECP (ellaOne) as being more effective than the levonorgestrel ECP.
It’s important to remember that its best not to assume anything about the patient when they approach the pharmacy for advice on sexual health. A person who is asking for information may not be sexually active and just want to be better informed. A person may not already know all the facts. Being prepared to go back to basics and giving information in stages ensures you give a patient time to ask questions about what you have said and clarify any areas of misunderstanding.
It can be hard to reduce a whole conversation about sexual health into a 30-second-over-the-counter chat. It is much more beneficial if consultations can take place in an appropriately confidential space if possible. This helps to build up a trusting relationship with the patient as confidentiality is a priority when accessing sexual health services in any setting.