SEXtember: Clinics, care and check-ups

WHERE can you go when you need advice on sexual health? Sarah Lim tells you about the low-cost clinics in Melbourne that are available to international students in Melbourne and respect your privacy.

Let’s face it. Though it’s marketed in movies and sung about in songs, sex is a sensitive and personal topic for many people.

This is especially true for  international students, particularly for those from Asian countries, where a very conservative and traditional culture still exists. If sex is taboo in these countries then sexually transmissible infections (STIs) are completely off the discussion table.

But no matter how ardently you avoid the topic, STIs are a real possibility. If you are sexually active,  you should be having regular check-ups to make sure you’re healthy, regardless of whether you practice safe sex or not.

Not convinced? The Australian Bureau of Statistics states 341, 000 people in Victoria were diagnosed with chlamydia last year. Almost 40,000 had gonorrhoea and 5,000 people were diagnosed with syphilis or HIV.

Left untreated, STIs can cause serious health problems, including infertility. HIV, syphilis and gonorrhoea can all be fatal. And STIs must be treated. They won’t go away on their own (Read our guide to STIs for more).

Fortunately, there are specialist clinics in Melbourne that provide easily accessible and confidential sexual health services to international students.

You can visit them for everything from a simple check-up to STI and pregnancy tests and consultations. They also hand out free condoms and can provide advice on all sexual health topics.

Three well-established sexual health clinics in Melbourne are:

The Royal Melbourne Hospital at Parkville, north of the CBD, also has an infectious diseases service.

All services provided at the MSHC are free of charge. The centre is on 580 Swanston Street and specialises in testing for, treating and managing STIs. You don’t need to make an appointment, you can just walk in and take a number. The clinic also provides sexual health advice, free condoms and pregnancy tests.

The Action Centre and Box Hill clinic services do charge a small consultation fee.

In many cases, STIs have no symptoms, so you won’t notice any change in your body. The  Family Planning Victoria website recommends you get a sexual health check-up at least every six months. These check-ups only take a few minutes.

As for prevention, the Family Planning recommends vaccinations and protection, but warns that condoms and dental dams are not “100% effective in preventing STIs”.

So if someone you know is sexually active, tell them about these clinics. They’re confidential and in, most cases, free to students.

Alternatively, try  Nurse-on-call, an initiative by the Department of Health Victoria. It has a 24-hour helpline that enables you to speak to a qualified nurse, who will be able to give you medical advice on 1300 60 60 24. Nurse on Call also provides interpretation services if you are not comfortable speaking in English.

If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy and need to talk to someone about the decision-making process the Marie Stopes helpline (1800 003 707) operates round the clock, seven days a week. They can keep your identity confidential, and interpreter services are available upon request. They are also able to help if you have a question about an STI, or about sex in general. You can chat online with an expert too for an informed decision about your pregnancy. Find out more here.

In conclusion, if you have a question, there’s no shame in getting help. The earlier an STI is detected, the easier it can be treated. Not to mention, there will be fewer complications and less chances of infecting others. So be proactive and get a check-up if you’re sexually active.

This article was written for the month of Sextember. Find out more about the campaign, how you can contribute and our other stories here.

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