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contraception

Minister for Health Simon Harris is aiming to remove VAT from condoms and menstrual cups, and we want to squeeze him with hugs for life.

Harris called for a review of Ireland's tax approach on menstrual products and the barrier contraceptive ahead of last year's Budget, but no changes were carried out.

His position appears to be the same this year, and he'll be asking for VAT on these goods to be scrapped in October's Budget.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The reduced rate of VAT of 13.5 percent applies to condoms at the moment, but the minister hopes to remove it entirely according to The Journal.

The Irish Pharmacy Union has also called for condoms to be VAT-free, with a pack of 12 condoms currently pricing at between €13 and €20.

Contraceptive gels for use with the barrier method also have a 13.5 percent rate applied. The oral contraceptive pill, the implant and injection currently have 0% VAT.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Harris wrote to Finance Minister Paschal Donohue about the work to reduce crisis pregnancies, saying that the VAT rates;

“Runs contrary to our work for people to practice safer sex and avoid crisis pregnancies and STIs”.

The letter  was released under the Freedom of Information Act, and states that the aim of the Sexual Health Strategy is to “improve sexual health and well being and to reduce negative sexual health outcomes”.

Harris writes in the letter that the cost of condoms could stop people buying them. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The importance of using condoms is also to protect against STIs, including HIV, as well as contraception.

While he pointed out that consumer expenditure is widely subject to VAT, Harris claimed that “there is a strong case for excluding non-oral contraception from this tax”.

"Such a tax may inevitably discourage people from purchasing non-oral contraception due to cost concerns. This runs contrary to our work for people to practise safer sex and avoid crisis pregnancies and STIs. Both of these outcomes have a negative impact on the people concerned and their immediate family."

The health service loses out in the long run if STI rates are high, due to the cost "involved in treating people who contract HIV".

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Harris has also called for the VAT rate on sanitary products to be reduced to 0% also, such as the VAT rate of 23 percent on menstrual cups.

“The issue that now needs attention is the position with newer products. Newer products (e.g. menstrual cups) that were not available at the time of these agreements are subject to the standard rate of VAT 23 percent.

“There is a cogent argument for removing VAT on these and any newer sanitary products and aligning them with the zero-percent VAT rate applicable to tampons and sanitary towels,” he said.

The minister currently is attempting to overhaul the cost and availability of contraception in Ireland.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The government announced that it hopes to increase free contraception nationwide, and Harris plans to reduce the cost of the morning after pill.

Last Monday, Harris announced that condoms would be distributed across third level colleges this year.

A public consultation is currently underway on how to increase access to contraception in the hopes to reduce abortion rates, STIs spreading and crisis pregnancies.

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The first scientific review of the use of menstrual cups has confirmed that they're safe and as effective as tampons.

The research was published in The Lancet Public Health journal, and features 43 studies and data from 3,300 women and girls.

Four studies found that the levels of leakage were similar between menstrual cups, pads and tampons, but one found that leakage in menstrual cups was actually less than tampons.

Menstruation can have astronomical results on girls' schooling in particular, as well as women's experience of work. If women use poor quality sanitary products, it can increase their disposition to infections.

Menstrual cups collect rather than absorb period blood, and fit into the vagina as reusable products, unlike tampons. There have been recent calls for schools to provide plastic-free menstruation products for students, as tampons and pads are extremely unsustainable for the environment.

Combating 'period poverty' in both high and low-income countries has become more of a priority, thankfully, so it's imperative that policy makers know which sanitary products to include in menstrual health programmes and puberty education materials.

The review also discovered that awareness of menstrual cups among women was noticeably low, though they have been gaining in popularity. The main concerns over the product included pain and difficulty inserting or removing it, as well as chafing and leakage, but the data noted that complications were actually rare.

Senior author Professor Penelope Phillips-Howard from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK says;

“Despite the fact that 1.9 billion women globally are of menstruating age – spending on average 65 days a year dealing with menstrual blood flow, few good quality studies exist that compare sanitary products.

"We aimed to address this by summarising current knowledge about leakage, safety, and acceptability of menstrual cups, comparing them to other products where possible," Professor Phillips-Howard added.

Research from 13 of the studies discovered that around 70 percent of women would continue using menstrual cups once they were comfortable with how it worked.

Menstrual cups are made of soft, flexible material, such as rubber or silicone. They create a suction seal to stop any seepage of blood once inserted into the vagina. The cups collect more menstrual blood than tampons or sanitary pads, but must be emptied and washed regularly.

The two types include a vaginal cup, bell-shape and sits lower in the vagina, and a cervical cup which is placed higher up, like a diaphragm. The cup doesn't relate to your menstrual flow, so it's all about finding the right size to suit your own body. 

To insert, you simply fold the cup and place it into the vagina where it can unfold and form a leak-free seal. To remove, squeeze the bottom of the cup to release the seal and sterilise the cup between periods.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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There are numerous brands to try, such as Mooncup, Saalt and Intimina Lily, but it can take a few attempts before you feel confident about using one. The cups are also extremely cost effective, as it can last for up to 10 years and can be reused every month. 

We highly recommend OrganiCup if you want to try a greener way of menstruating. Being reusable, rather than disposable, menstrual cups are seen as a far greener option for the environment than tampons and sanitary towels.

Researchers believe that making menstrual cups available globally could aid the fight against period poverty and health problems such as infections, even where water and toilet facilities are poor.

Feature image: Pinterest

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Minister for Health Simon Harris has confirmed the launch of a public consultation on increasing access to contraception.

Earlier in 2019, Harris created a working group to consider the policy, regulatory and legislative issues regarding improved access to contraception.

The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment recommended access to free contraception, which the Minister has repeatedly claimed he hopes to achieve.

Image: RTÉ

Harris claimed he was aiming to give all women access to free contraception this year, and the public consultation will remain open until midnight on Monday, August 5 and is available on the Department of Health website

“Removing barriers to contraception in a key priority for me as Minister for Health,” Harris said.

“We have begun that work through the expansion of free access to condoms this year. This allows for expanded access to the groups most at risk, and within the youth sector, including third level facilities," he added.

Harris continued by emphasising the importance of public opinion in terms of informing the government and stakeholders on the issue.

“I would encourage all those with an interest to engage with the Department’s consultation before it concludes. It is our ambition to have the working group’s report concluded by September,” Harris said. 

The consultation responses will inform the working group's assessment of the problem, and should aid the group in making appropriate recommendations to the Minister.

The working group will investigate the extent to which cost is a barrier to getting reliable contraceptive options in this country.

Other factors influencing ease of access to contraception will hopefully also be addressed, such as financial barriers, legislative barriers, regulatory issues, and contractual issues. 

At the moment, women who have a medical card can gain free contraception. Without a medical card, the public have to pay for an initial consultation as well as a repeat appointment every six months for a renewal.

Options apart from the pill include the Implanon implant, or the Kyleena or Merina coil. Injections and a patch are other, less common options.

TheJournal.ie previously stated that Simon Harris has been lobbied by a pharmaceutical company and the pharmacy union in recent months, as plans for potential free contraception progress.

Feature image: RTÉ

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Condoms have been around for decades, and now you can even buy all types of styles- ribbed, flavoured, heated, extra-thin etc.

It can slip everyone's mind that they help prevent unwanted STIs and pregnancy, particularly when you're about to get frisky with someone and they decline the condom offer.

We've heard the excuses before; "I'm too big to wear a condom", "It doesn't feel good", "It just falls off", "I can't orgasm while wearing one".

golden girls condom GIF

Blah, blah blah; the contraceptives available for women can cause long-term health issues, changes their entire hormonal system, often induces anxiety, migraine, dizziness or causes spotted bleeding.

The list of side effects goes on, but men often say no to a simple condom. The excuses often aren't valid, so tell your boy to wrap it up stat. Luckily for him, we've got a hack to help ease any discomfort.

Cosmopolitan's sex researcher Maureen Miller, PhD, offered some advice;

“Add a few drops of water-based lube to the inside of your condom before you put it on. Men report being amazed at how much better it feels.” SO SIMPLE.

emma stone snl GIF by Saturday Night Live

Many condoms come with lubrication on the outside, adding just one or two drops into the tip of the condom before putting it on and rolling it down can make the world of difference for a guy's comfort.

If lube feels unreal for you, we're fairly sure it'll feel great for him too. You only need to add a little bit of lube, however. Too much will make the condom more susceptible to falling off.

Anti-baby note to remember: Oil-based lube can break the condom or thin the walls, so if you're not on any other contraceptive, make sure it's water-based lubricant. We recommend the YES brand.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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“Condoms are mighty hard to break, although not impossible. The number one reason for condom breakage is that the condom was not put on properly," Miller says. 

"The tip must be squeezed as the condom is being rolled down the penis so that there is room for ejaculate. Otherwise, the condom can burst," she adds. Remember: Safe sex is hot as f*ck.

There are plenty of ways to make putting on condoms super sexy; “Using your mouth, tongue, and hands, make the project of putting on a condom really erotic." Damn, we need to try this.

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Worrying new figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre have revealed rising rates of young people being diagnosed as HIV positive in Ireland.

An expert described how sixteen people were diagnosed last week with the illness, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases is at an "alarming" rate.

The age group of 20-year-olds until the age of 29 are the age group at high risk of getting an infection.

Concern’s team leader for health and HIV Breda Gahan said:

“I’m thinking of those 16 people who got that big blow of news last week and how it will affect them in terms of travelling, future job prospects, stigma and treatment.

“I would say unfortunately the stigma has increased both in Ireland and globally. On top of that, who are you going to tell? Are you going to tell your partner or your ex partners or family? No one wants to carry the burden alone," Breda continued.

“I don’t want to frighten people or say if you have sex you’re going to get HIV that’s not the case. But people don’t realise a lot of the cases of HIV are home grown.”

Even though there is access to free treatment for AIDS in Ireland, Gahan feels that the Government need to do more to raise awareness about the disease.

“HIV prevention is failing, it just hasn’t been invested in despite the increasing number of infections. The Government should get those who have the skills to travel to primary schools to work with those who are age appropriate."

Gahan added;

“Education is the social vaccine. Girls and boys need to understand how to protect themselves from life-threatening infections. There is a serious lack of accurate information, there’s a lot of myths and misconceptions.

“We also need to make services more adolescent and user friendly. No one wants to go to an STI clinic.”

Recent figures from the HPSC report show that 239 cases of HIV have been reported so far this year.  4,193 people have contracted chlamydia, 1,341 have gonorrhoea, and 793 have herpes.

In comparison to last year, Ireland has seen an increase of almost 1,200 infections.

Breda Gahan explained the reason for the apparent lack of concern among youth:

“There’s an increase in STIs among young people because of complacency and people aren’t dying so there’s less fear. Young people don’t really care if they get an STI because it’s treatable.”

The expert says that we need to start educating children in primary school aged 10 to 12; 

“As a nurse, I would go as far to say that it’s too late to educate kids at secondary school level. Hormones are hopping at that age.

“It’s alarming and concerning to see the increase of numbers. No sex can be totally safe – there’s always some risk, for example a condom breaking. But there needs to be education about safer sex.”

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With the current charged political climate of #MeToo, which is bringing issues of consent, sexual violence, abuse and harassment to light on a daily basis, it's the PERFECT time for a show like Sex Education.

Netflix' new series is already critically acclaimed with it's standout teenage characters, incredible acting talents and refreshing humour, but what's just as important is the need to face sexuality and it's trials and tribulations at a young age.

The show is tackling imperative issues and somehow manages to be laugh-out-loud funny at the same time, how does it achieve this unique, charming quality?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Sex Education follows Otis Milburn, a socially awkward but sweet-natured sixteen-year-old (Asa Butterfield) and his sex therapist mother, played by the amazing Gillian Anderson.

Otis' school life is filled with iconic characters like Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa), the most GAS LGBT+ character of all time, and misunderstood punk and resident badass Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey).

Middle finger Maeve= our 2019 mood. You heard it here first:

fuck you high school GIF by NETFLIX

After discovering his penchant for giving responsible and understanding sex advice, Maeve 'complex female characters' Wiley encourages Otis to set up his own teen sex clinic for some quick cash, and the results are HILARIOUS.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Among the vital topics faced with beautiful skill are abortion, transphobia, homophobia, mental health, consent, contaception, racism, sexism and toxic masculinity; we're in awe of episode three and the emotional rollercoaster of teenage life, told with humour and care.

Here are the best memes and reactions online to our new favourite binge-worthy show, PRAY FOR SEASON TWO IMMEDIATELY.

1. How pure Eric and Otis' friendship is:

2. Complex LGBT character of colour GOALS

3. If you know, you know *wink*

4. The confusing time setting which seems like a 1980s/1990s/2019 mash-up:

5. Is it USA or UK though?! They have Letterman jackets with British accents?! Help?!

6. It's MY VAGINA: that iconic episode four scene has become a meme…

7. How HAWT Gillian Anderson is in the show as Otis' sex savvy mum:

8. Gillian's LEWKS were 2DIE4:

9. Eric and Adam's weird bully vs hilarious victim sexual tension 

10. Maeve Wiley's distinctive Margot Robbie resemblance is HAUNTing:

11. COMPLEX FEMALE CHARACTERS. Need we say more?

12. The script is spit-out-your-tea levels of hilarity:

13. THAT video of 1980s Gillian Anderson teaching a workshop:

14. How damn WOKE it is:

 15. THE PLUMBER's SCROTE:

16. If anyone harmed Eric the internet would defend him til the death:

17. I repeat: TIL THE DEATH

 18. Lily is top 5 strangest characters ever, but she deserves points for her bravery:

19. Aimee. Just…Aimee. Not to mention disturbingly honest portrayals of female masturbation:

20. We choked at this scene, and arguably the funniest line of the script:

21. Eric and Adam's pinky scene. The feels.

 22. GIVE US SEASON TWO AND NO ONE WILL BE HURT:

We gasped at that ending. Our hearts gave out, from pure weakness.

sex ed wtf GIF by NETFLIX

We're currently tweeting Netflix incessantly until they announce a season two.

MAEVE DESERVES HAPPINESS, OKAY? 

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Research has discovered that ONE IN THREE women have heard the classic excuse of the condom being "too small to use."

We're feelin' pretty smug at this news, but we thought it would be three in three, to be honest…

A study has proven that just FOUR percent of people experienced problems with the condom legitimately not being big enough to use, despite so many women hearing the excuse. LOL.

golden girls condom GIF

Scientists were seeking to dispel the fallacy through their testing of condom sizes with an air compressor, and found that the condoms expanded to well over the average penis size.

The NHS and King's College London have previously said that the average size is 5.16 inches long.

However, engineering firm SGS Engineering maintain that the condoms measured roughly THREE FEET LONG by one foot wide when inflated to full capacity, so it seems a lot of men are telling fibs.

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A spokesperson for the engineering company who tested the barrier contraceptive said: “The condom, when inflated, would be approximately the same size as an Alsatian.”

A DOGGO. A REAL-LIFE BIG SIZED DOGGO. Let that sink in for a minute.

Researchers talked to 1,000 people in the UK to discover common attitudes to condom use, and found that only one-third of sexually active 18-24 year olds use condoms, and just 41 percent of sexually active folk across all age ranges use them. Alright then, do you want a baby/STI? Did you not see Mean Girls?

sex ed GIF

70 percent of those who were quizzed said they don't use a condom every time they have sex because they use another contraceptive method, such as the pill (24 percent of y'all are smart), withdrawal method (13 percent of y'all are stupid) and sterilisation (10 percent).

This is next level absurd; one in ten people said they didn't use condoms because of the WEIRD SMELL.

20 percent said the reason was discomfort, while 16 percent said it was because they reduced the pleasurably sensation, and 8 percent said they 'forgot'. Fools.

However, of the 70 percent of people who cited another contraception being used, one third just assumed that this was the case but there wasn't any proof. Mmmkay then. 

Half of people experienced an unplanned pregnancy because they didn't use condoms. See? Sex Ed is IMPORTANT people.

Condoms are up to 98 percent effective at protecting against STIs and unwanted pregnancies, 15 percent of people in the survey said they didn't trust condoms for fear of splitting.

Only three percent if these worries are based on this happening to them previously though.

andy samberg flirting GIF

A spokeswoman for SGS Engineering, Natalie Richardson, commented on the results;

 “The findings were surprising – particularly how anti-condom some men seemed to be, despite them not considering any other contraceptive methods."

“Potentially women are being told the excuse as a way of avoiding condom use because of sensation reasons. However, in most cases the risks far outweigh the benefits of ‘increased sensation’,” she added. Damn right they do.

happy the simpsons GIF

Ian Green of sexual health service organisation Terrence Higgins Trust said that the best way to protect against STIs remains to use condoms;

“There is the right condom out there for everyone. Penises come in a whole range of different shapes and sizes – and condoms do too. For example, if you do find standard condoms too small, then you should try a king size option."

“Last year we saw big jumps in rates of both gonorrhoea and syphilis, which is why more needs to be done to promote condom use, the range of different shapes and sizes available, and the importance of regular testing," he continued.

"This is particularly true among groups most affected by STIs in this country, which includes young people, gay and bisexual men, and people from BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) communities.” 

The Family Planning Association, said regular sized condoms are suitable for most penis shapes and sizes.

Karen O’Sullivan, who has 30 years of experience working in sexual health wrote : “We would advise anyone who knows that regular condoms aren’t suitable for them, for whatever reason, to carry appropriate options with them so they can have safe sex."

Sexual health provider SH:24 said health providers need to move away from the “one size fits all” contraception mentality.

“When patients come into a clinic, they can often assume all condoms are the same size so we also want to see better education around choices and how to use condoms properly,“ they said.

It just goes to show, we need to massively step up when it comes to sexual health education, because myths are still circulating.

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The helpline which was set up by the HSE to offer information on unplanned pregnancies to women was reportedly "busy but not overwhelmed" on it's first day yesterday.

The HSE set up the MyOptions helpline in order to act as the main referral path for women seeking abortion services.

On the first day of operation services available nationwide, 20 women sought an abortion according to GPs who have agreed to carry out the services.

The exact level of demand will not be known yet for another number of weeks.

The Irish Times reports that it will be next week at least until the first terminations can be carried out, as a result of the three-day 'cooling-off' period.

The first cases which were referred to doctors ranged from upwards of four weeks' gestation.

In terms of cases which are close to the 12-week limit, they will be facilitated with same-day appointments at the nearest maternity unit.

The flow of Irish women who are travelling to the UK for abortion services is expected to continue, though at a reduced level, as abortions over 12 weeks are not permitted under Irish law except under highly limited circumstances.

The Minister for Health will be notified of the amount of terminations performed within 28 days. 

A number of minor teething issues have arisen involving blood testing procedures and ultrasound provision.

Simon Harris has said;

“The level of preparedness varies, but the initial experience with the HSE’s helpline has been very positive."

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When it comes to sexual/ reproductive health issues, the more information you can provide your doctor with, the better.

Sure, nobody wants to delve into their sexual history or describe the ins and outs of their heavy flow to a complete stranger, but it's got to be done and luckily, there are a few steps you can take to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.

According to Dr Sara Kayat from netdoctor.co.uk, there are seven things every woman needs to know about their sexual health.

Know your cycle

How long does your period last? Is it regular? How much do you bleed? What about spotting?

If you ever talk to a GP about changes in your menstrual cycle, you better be prepared to answer all of the above and more.

Contraceptives aren't always plain sailing

The pill is not one-size-fits-all, in fact, it can take some women years to find the method of contraception that suits them.

Be sure to monitor any undesired side-effects, such as mood swings or headaches so that your GP can advise you on the best alternative.

Delayed periods can be normal

It can take several months for your periods to return to normal after stopping contraception.

According to Dr Sara, it will take most women between one and three months to start producing enough hormones to get back to their normal rhythm.

Be honest about your sexual history

There is no room for white lies when it comes to the diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections.

Not only is transparency vital in order to assess the potential risk of infection, but it will also help clear the problem up as soon and possible, meaning the risk of passing it on to a sexual partner will be greatly reduced.

Red flags shouldn't be ignored

Dr Sara explains how there are certain symptoms or reproductive health issues that should be closely monitored. 

These include bleeding in between periods, bleeding after sex, deep pain on having sex, unexpected weight loss, unexplained change in discharge, and pelvic pain.

Listen to your biological clock

Sure, if you're under the age of 35 you probably haven't given much thought to the fact that you are only born with a certain amount of eggs.

However, it if you do happen to be struggling to get pregnant after a year of trying, Dr Sara recommends visiting your doctor to investigate further.

Get to know your vagina

A change in the smell or texture of discharge could indicate the presence of thrush or bacterial vaginosis.

While there are many over the counter remedies for conditions like these, there's no harm in consulting a doctor if the problem persists.

 

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A new proposal put forward by the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has called for a number of hormonal contraception methods to be made available for free and without prescription. 

The Irish Times reports that, should the new measures come into effect, the pill, the patch, and the ring, would be freely available for all women over the age of 17. 

The proposed scheme would see pharmacists undergo additional training in line with international guidelines on the provision of contraceptives.

In order to avail of the scheme, women would not be required to have previously been prescribed a hormonal contraceptive.  

A spokesperson for the IPU said: “Given the professional input and the time involved in providing the service, consultation fees in line with those already paid for the EHC consultation to GMS patients (currently €11.50 plus ingredient cost and standard dispensing fee) would be appropriate.”

Similar to the push back on the provision of the morning after pill in 2011, it's likely that GPs would strongly oppose such a change.  

“There are no clinical reasons why oral contraceptives should still require a prescription. The oral contraceptive is one of the safest and most well-studied medicines available,” according to its proposal.

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New plans being considered by the Department of Health could see charges for the morning-after-pill be abolished or significantly reduced, as part of the Government's new sexual health programme.

Speaking yesterday, Health Minister Simon Harris outlined plans for a comprehensive women's health programme which will aim to allow for greater access to condoms, emergency contraception, as well as a potential price decrease for the everyday contraceptive pill with a view to making it completely free in the future. 

As it stands, the emergency contraceptive pill can cost anywhere between €15-€50, while the everyday contraceptive pill costs an average of €10 per month (not including the GP fee). 

According to The Journal, a new three-year education programme will also be rolled out in schools across the country which will include enhanced resources and lesson plans around the subject of sexual health. 

As well as that, the new programme will also include a 'safer sex' advertising campaign and sexual health promotion training for professionals in youth sector, those working with at-risk groups, and for parents. 

Minister Simon Harris stressed that these changes will go ahead, regardless of the result of the upcoming referendum on the legalisation of abortion services. 

“I want to make it clear that these initiatives can and will be implemented even if the proposed referendum is not passed,” he said.

It's understood the proposed initiatives will be funded in 2019, which, according to the Minister, will give him time to prepare the ground for the changes. 

 

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Birth control definitely isn't a one-size fits all concept, but many women don't know exactly what kind of options are available to them past the pill and using condoms.

The Dublin Well Woman Centre wants to change this, and will be hosting an informative discussion on forms of long acting, reversible contraceptives.

Long-acting reversible contraceptives, or LARCsare methods of birth control that provide effective contraception for an extended period without you having to really do anything.

They include options like contraceptive injections, IUDs and subdermal contraceptive implants, or 'the bar.' 

The talk will be on next Tuesday, June 13, and to make the information accessible to all women, it will be streamed live on the Dublin Well Woman Centre Facebook page.

 

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In recent years, they have seen a steady increase in the number of LARCs being fitted in their three Dublin clinics, with many women opting for this highly reliable, ‘Fit and Forget’ form of contraception.

The live discussion will be hosted by DWWC’s Medical Director, Dr Shirley McQuade and Chief Executive, Alison Begas, who will discuss options, the pros and cons of the various IUDs and implants, and answer popular questions and queries.

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