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Sexual health FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

We’ve been doing sexual health work for more than 40 years so we’ve heard lots and lots of questions about sexuality and sexual health. There is nothing you could ask us that would make us feel uncomfortable or judgmental. It’s our job to provide our clients and the community with factual and current information. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you can’t find the answer to your question on our site.

Here is a list of the most common questions we get asked both in the clinic and the community by people from all different backgrounds.

Click one of these common questions to jump to the answer, or browse the whole series.

Call us to speak to an educator about your sexual health questions. You are always welcome to text our Beyond The Talk texting line 250-812-9374. (We cannot answer questions by email!)

Questions about our clinics

Questions about birth control, infections, and sexuality

Questions about abortion

Questions about sexual orientation

See our FAQ about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender topics.

Answers about the clinic

Do I need to make an appointment to come to the birth control clinic?

Appointments are recommended at our clinics to see an educator or a doctor. If you would like emergency contraception pills you can walk in during clinic hours. If you just want to pick up birth control and you already have a prescription with us, you can drop in during clinic hours.

How old do I have to be to come to the clinic?

There is no age limit to become a client of the Island Sexual Health Society. You can come to any of our clinics at any age.

Do I have to tell my parents or partner?

All of our services are totally private and confidential. You don’t need to tell anyone you’re coming to or you’ve been to our clinic! You can come to our clinic by yourself but you are always welcome to bring a partner/friend/parent/brother/sister/auntie/support worker –  anyone you’re comfortable with!  All client information is confidential and will not be released without client consent unless legally required.

Are there any situations in which you can’t keep things confidential?

Only in the case of reportable STIs and disclosures of harm:

1) Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, and HIV are reportable infections in BC. We are required to follow up and report positive results to BC Centre for Disease Control for statistical purposes and partner notification. It is important that sexual partners are notified of a positive result and advised to get treatment. This can be done confidentially without your name being used.

2) We are required by law to report disclosures of harm to self or others, child abuse or neglect, or if information is required by a court of law or other legal proceedings. We follow the guidelines concerning our duty to report that have been created by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC. If you would like more information regarding this, please ask a staff member.

Answers about birth control, infections, and sexuality

What if I need birth control and can’t pay for it?

If you need birth control and don’t have the money when you come to the clinic, we will give you one month of birth control on credit and keep a tally of your account. If ongoing payment is a problem please ask to see our nurse and discuss  assistance options.

What do I do if I miss a pill?

If you miss a pill take it as soon as you remember and refer to our missed pills guidelines to see if you need to take emergency contraception.Also use a back-up method, such as condoms, for a week. Our guidelines will also tell you what to do if you’ve missed more than one pill or you’ve started your package late.

I think I might be pregnant! How can I find out?

If you have missed a period, or if your period is late, you can take a pregnancy (urine) test to find out if you are pregnant. We can do a free pregnancy test for you and have support available to discuss your options with you. You can also see your doctor to be tested. The very earliest a urine pregnancy test will be accurate is 2 weeks after sex. You can also buy pregnancy tests and do them yourself at home.

Other signs of pregnancy include:

  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Swelling, soreness or tenderness in your breasts
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Frequent urination

Stress or changes in your lifestyle can affect your menstrual cycle too, so that may be why your period is late. Get tested to be sure, and continue to use birth control if you are still having sex and don’t want to become pregnant.

Can I get pregnant the first time I have vaginal sex?

Yes! You can get pregnant any time you have vaginal sex and the sperm and egg meet!  If you want to avoid becoming or causing someone else to become pregnant,  use birth control correctly, right from the first time you have sex. If you’re using the pill, patch, ring, injection or IUD, plan to begin these methods before you start having sex so they will be as effective as possible when you have sex. Pairing another method with a condom is also always a great idea as they help to reduce the risk of STIs.

Can I get pregnant by swallowing the semen during oral sex?

No, you can’t. Swallowing semen is the same as swallowing anything – it ends up in your digestive system—it can’t make you pregnant because your mouth (and digestive system) doesn’t connect with your reproductive system.

Remember though, that you can get a sexually transmitted disease through oral sex if your partner is infected, so you should use a condom or oral dam during oral sex.

Can I become pregnant without having sex?

You can’t get pregnant through oral sex, or through masturbation.

But if you are fooling around with your partner and there is an opportunity for ejaculate fluid to enter the vagina, there is a chance that you can become pregnant. This can even happen if a hand with ejaculate fluid (the fluid that that comes out of an erect penis which contains sperm ) touches the opening to your vagina. If you want to make sure that you don’t become pregnant, make sure you use a condom, or avoid having contact with his genitals and fluids.

Can a person get pregnant if they have unprotected sex during their period?

Pregnancy can happen any time ovulation occurs which is usually two weeks before the beginning of a person’s next period but it varies for each person! Also remember that sperm can remain for approx. 5 days within the uterus and fallopian tubes so even if you had sex during a period and ovulation happens 4 days later, fertilization could occur.  It’s not the most likely time, but it can happen.

If I am using birth control (the pill, the patch, the ring, the shot or IUD); do we still need to use condoms?

Yes. Birth control only helps to reduce the risk of pregnancy; none of the methods prevent sexually transmitted infections.

Condoms offer your best chance at reducing the risk of STIs.

What do I do if I have had unprotected sex?

If you have had unprotected sex or your birth control method failed (condom breaks), you can use Emergency Contraceptive Pills or a Copper IUD as Emergency Contraception.

You can use Emergency Contraception Pills (ECP) up to 120 hours following the incident to reduce the risk of pregnancy occuring  but they are most effective if used within 72 hours (3 days). Anyone can buy them from our clinics or most pharmacies without a prescription. They will cost between $17-45 and are up to 89% effective.

A copper IUD can also be used as emergency contraception, if it’s inserted within 7 days. You need to visit a clinic such as ours to have a health care practitioner insert one. The cost is $100-200 for the device and it is 99% effective in reducing the risk of pregnancy. It can also be left in for up to 5 years to protect against pregnancy in the future. The copper IUD  reduces the chances of fertilization (sperm and egg meeting) and implantation occurring.

Contact us for more information about emergency contraception.

If you are unsure as to whether there could be a risk of an STI, you should consider being tested for these as well, particularly since many STIs do not have any symptoms. Talk to you Doctor or Clinic Staff for further information.

How do I know if I have a sexually transmitted infection?

You can have an STI but not have symptoms though, such as in many cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, or HIV. This means the infection can damage your body without you even knowing about it. It also means you could accidentally pass on an STI to someone else. Common symptoms of STIs include a burning feeling when you urinate, itchiness or unusual (for you!) genital discharge.

If something about your genitals has changed (you have a rash, itch or discharge) and you think you could have an STI, the only way to be sure is to see a doctor or a nurse. Go to your family doctor, a clinic, or a special STI clinic if your city has one and ask to be checked for STIs. All STIs can be treated and managed but not all can be cured.

We’re not ready to have sex yet—what else can my partner and I do to be close?

There are many things two people can do to be intimate.

  • holding hands
  • kissing
  • touching
  • massage
  • bathing together
  • mutual masturbation
  • watching or reading erotic literature together

The list is endless, so get creative!

Is it okay to masturbate?

Masturbating can’t hurt you—it’s really a personal choice. Some people are comfortable with it and some people are not, and both choices are completely okay. Masturbation can teach you a lot about your sexuality, such as how and where you like to be touched. This can help you communicate to your partner what you like and experience more pleasure during partnered sex.

People masturbate for different reasons—because it feels good, to relieve stress, even as a way to be intimate with their partner. If you enjoy masturbating and you do it in appropriate places (not in public!), then it is definitely okay. It’s always a good idea to wash your hands (or toys/objects) before and after!

What is a Pap test and when do I need to get one?

A Pap test is a medical test performed by a doctor or during an internal pelvic examination. The Pap test specifically screens the cervix (the opening to the uterus, which is located within the vagina) for changes . The Pap test can detect changes to the cells on the cervix before they become cancerous.

As part of the exam other swabs may also be taken to test for STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. People with cervixes should begin having paps at the age of 21 or 3 years after first sexual contact (even digital (hands and genital contact btwn partners) sex counts!). So if you had sex for the first time

NOTE: You do not need to have a Pap exam on your first visit to the clinic unless you request one.

Q and A about abortion

How far along in a pregnancy can you get an abortion?

In Victoria, you can get a medical abortion up to 7 weeks and a surgical abortion up to 24 weeks.

How old do you have to be to get an abortion?

There is no age restriction in BC. You can get an abortion at any age.

Can anyone else (parent, partner, employer, school, host family) find out if I have an abortion?

Abortion services are completely confidential at any age. You can choose to share this information if you wish but your information will not be shared with anyone without your knowledge or consent.

How much does an abortion cost?

Abortions are covered by BC Health care so it won’t cost you anything for the consult, counselling and procedure if you have a care card. Unfortunately, none of the medications are covered by BC Health care. If you have extended medical benefits, you may be able to claim the medications.

Will you be able to have a pregnancy in the future if you have an abortion?

Yes. Neither a medical or surgical abortion will  affect future pregnancies. It is recommended that you wait 3 months after a medical abortion to become pregnant again as the medication may linger.

Are abortions safe?

Abortions carry a very small risk of complications when they are performed by a qualified Doctor in a clinical setting.

Is the abortion pill (Mifepristone) available in Canada yet?

Mifepristone was approved by Health Canada for use in July 2015 but it is now undergoing further research by the BC Ministry of Health. It isn’t expected to be available by prescription before Winter 2016.

Do I need a referral from another Doctor to access more information about abortion or an abortion procedure?

No, you do not. You can self refer to an abortion provider. You can find a listing of providers through the National Abortion Federation.

Do you provide abortions at Island Sexual Health?

No, we are not certified to provide abortion services. We can provide supported decision making and referrals for any of the pregnancy options (abortion, adoption and parenting) free of influence or judgement. We are a completely pro-choice organization that believes a person has the right and ability to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health.

  • In Victoria, you can directly contact VI Women’s Clinic  at (250) 480-7338
  • In Vancouver
    • You can contact the CARE program at 604-875-2022 or Toll Free 1-888-300-3088 ext. 2022
  • Outside of BC
    • National Abortion Federation provides comprehensive listings of clinical care for abortions in North America. You can also call 1-800-772-9100.