Highlights from the Australasian Sexual Health Conference Part Two: Porn and Abortion

Here are the remaining highlights from the Australian Sexual Health Conference. And warning, there are picture of VULVAS (shock horror) below:


Porn!

Porn was a huge topic of conversation at the conference, with the highlight for me being a presentation by Professor Alan McKee from UTS on porn and sex ed. I’m not going to be able to do his talk justice, but one of the most interesting take home points was that what constitutes pornography is not necessarily determined by the content, but by the context in which it is used. There was also a great survey of the crowd about images just like these ones:

VULVA2.png
A variety of vulvas. Image from The Labia Library.

Should primary school children be allowed to see images like this?

The consensus from the room was that yes they should, in the context of sex education, because they give young people an understanding about the huge variety of normal anatomy.

But what about flaccid penises?

Erect penises?

Ejaculating penises?

Moving images of sex?

 

Again, in the context of sex education, the consensus was that these images should be available to students. Whether or not this is possible given the current political climate is another issue entirely.

***

Given that young men and women are seeking out and using porn and a source of pleasure and sex education, it is really important that health professionals and educators understand more about the phenomenon so that we can make sex education better. Research conducted by PhD Candidate Angela Davis from the Burnet Institute, which involved surveying 1029 young Australians (aged 15-29) about how pornography had influenced their life, will certainly help with this endeavour.

Some of Angela’s research findings include:

What are young people learning from porn?

  • What naked bodies look like.
  • The mechanics of sex.
  • Positions and techniques
  • Exploring sexuality and pleasure

How do young people think porn positively impacts health and wellbeing?

  • Normalises a variety of sexual practices and sexualities
  • Exploration of sex and sexuality in a safe space
  • Positive body image (for some respondents)

How do young people think porn negatively impacts health and wellbeing?

  • Body image (including body shape, genital shape and hair)
  • Unrealistic sex expectations
  • Limited representation of sexualities
  • Promotion of harmful attitudes and behaviours towards themselves and sexual partners (such as absence of consent)

 


Medical Termination of Pregnancy

There were many talks focusing on medical termination of pregnancy (or MTOP) at the conference, highlighting the importance of the topic and the need for increased knowledge among both medical staff and patients.

An MTOP involves taking two different medications to terminate a pregnancy. The first, mifepristone (or RU486) is a synthetic anti-progestogen that interrupts the pregnancy. The second, misoprostol, is a prostaglandin analogue that causes uterine contractions and the expulsion of the pregnancy. The two tablets can be purchased together as ‘MS-2 Step’, and since being listed on the PBS in 2013 now costs users $38.30 (or even less with a health care card).

While now available in Australia, MTOP uptake has been slower than expected. Some of the barriers discussed at the conference include:

  • Lack of knowledge about locations, options and what an MTOP actually is.
  • Costs: both termination types can be expensive even with the PBS subsidy for MTOP, and these costs increase if a person has to travel.
  • Lack of access (especially in rural and remote areas).
  • Stigma and discrimination.

There were several strategies discussed about how MTOP could be made more accessible, particularly to women in rural and remote areas. Clinic 35 – Sexual and Reproductive Health in Wangaratta and Wodonga, for example, uses a nurse-led model to increase accessibility, and due to external funding can provide MTOP for the cost of the script only.

Philip Goldstone from Marie Stopes International and Paul Hyland from the Tabbot Foundation were also present to discuss both organisation’s models of tele-abortion (that’s right, obtaining an MTOP over the phone!) This concept completely blew me away and is an amazing opportunity for Australian women who are unable to access clinics or do not feel comfortable doing so. Information about these two services can be found at the following links:

up-to-1-in-3-will-have-an-abortion
Abortion isn’t going away. This is why access surgical and medical terminations is so important. Image from Children by Choice.

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