There have been numerous repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, from social restrictions and job losses to financial difficulties, but a huge one that is floating under the radar is the impact it has had on sexual health.
And it’s women, in particular, who are suffering. In fact, medical journal The Lancet has said the pandemic is having a ‘devastating’ effect on the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls across the globe.
Back in April, one Lancet report even stressed that, while certain healthcare services will need to be reshuffled, ‘sexual and reproductive health cannot be viewed as a luxury’ – so should be prioritised. But sadly, many women have faced problems getting the sexual healthcare they need.
In the UK, limited access to Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) clinics and other health services during lockdown meant that many women were unable to access vital contraception – a reproductive right. As a result, some were forced to go online and pay to continue with their various types of contraception.
Pharmacist Abbas Kanani tells Metro.co.uk their online pharmacy platform Chemist Click saw a 35% increase in demand for their private contraception prescribing service, after lockdown hit.
Abbas says: ‘What patients were finding was that their GPs were extra busy – some people reported that their GPs had shut and doctors were only doing remote consultations.’
Duchess Iphie, a sex, intimacy and relationship counsellor, agrees that women have been faced with a plethora of sexual health obstacles, as a result of the pandemic.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The pandemic has definitely affected female sexual health in a way that most have taken for granted because its not considered as serious, forgetting that the inability to access GUM clinics can lead to unwanted pregnancies and/or sexually transmitted diseases.’
Not only were GP practices and healthcare surgeries limited in their accessibility, but various pharmacies and contraceptive clinics which offered the morning after pill for free were also unavailable for women.
Duchess adds: ‘Some people may be able to buy the morning after pill but not everyone can afford £20 plus for a single tablet if the usual free providers are not open to them.’
There’s also coils, implants and other forms of contraception to take into account.
Duchess says: ‘One definite effect on women during this pandemic is expired coils (IUD) and implants, as well as overdue contraceptive injections.
‘There will be a lot of women whose contraception needs changing and their appointments have been cancelled with no option to reschedule or set a new appointment.’
Duchess found herself in this situation with her Mirena coil.
She says: ‘I personally had an appointment in April to change my Mirena coil after five years, the appointment has been cancelled with no option to re-book. I just received a text. When I called to book a new appointment, they said unless it’s an emergency there are no appointments available.
‘So now I don’t know the impact of having an expired coil in me, I have received no information on what to do next, no opportunity to book another appointment. So in effect I am in limbo with no idea what to do next. This I can imagine is the same for a lot of women which in turn can affect their sexual life.’
Overall, it seems a lack of attention has been paid to the sexual health facilities and services for women – particularly in regards to contraception – during the pandemic. These essential services have been cut or restricted causing problems for people not just in the UK but all around the world.
UN Women UK Executive Director Claire Barnett tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Pandemics affect people of different genders differently, and the needs of women and girls are often not considered during the design of crisis response and stimulus programmes.
‘Sexual and reproductive health rights is a critical public health issue.’
Since March, UN Women UK have been warning governments around the world of the dangers of cutting sexual and reproductive services for women and girls during the coronavirus crisis.
Claire adds: ‘This is particularly important for survivors of violence.
‘There is already a reported stigma associated with seeking sexual health support, and we must be vigilant against further barriers to sexual and reproductive care for women and girls.’
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