Holiday romance? Advice, including where to get emergency contraception abroad.

posted by: Don Leslie

The holiday season is upon us and recent research shows that we feel less inhibited and more likely to have sex when on holiday. If we are single, we are more likely to engage in ‘risky’ sexual behaviour, have more one-night-stands and no-strings-attached sex. If we’re in a relationship, a holiday can also mean an unplanned pregnancy. We’ve put together some advice about steps you can take to be prepared and what you can do if things don’t turn out so well.

Be prepared.

If you think you might meet someone on holiday, use condoms. Use them with all partners. Use them for oral sex. A condom can prevent pregnancy and is also the most effective way of protecting yourself against an STI.  It’s far better to prevent infection rather than cure it, especially with cases of super-gonorrhoea being seen in Europe over the last 12 months.

Be aware as well, that common things found on holiday such as sun cream, after sun or sand can make condoms more likely to rip.

Being prepared also means making sure that your contraceptive method is up to date and available. If you are taking the contraceptive pill or using the patch then make sure you have enough for your holiday.

You can also continue to take your contraceptive pill to delay your period until after your holiday. Find out more here.

Take care.

Alcohol and recreational drugs impair your judgement and can mean that you take more risks. Be aware of your limits because going beyond them could result in sex you regret, including sexual assault. Make sure that someone knows where you are.

Vomiting and diarrhoea can also have an impact on the effectiveness of your contraceptive method, so if you haven’t been well you should consider taking extra precautions such as using a condom.

The contraceptive pill also works best when taken at the same time every day. If you are travelling across time zones you may want to factor this in, perhaps by putting a reminder on your phone.

Emergency contraception.

If things don’t work out as planned, emergency contraception can be effective up to 5 days after sex, although it has a greater chance of working the sooner it is taken. The copper coil IUD can also prevent an unplanned pregnancy as well as acting as an emergency contraceptive and can be fitted several days after sex. This means it might still be worth enquiring at one of our Devon Sexual Health clinics if one can be fitted on your return.

Accessing emergency contraception outside the UK.

Emergency contraception (the morning after pill) is available in most countries although getting hold of it can vary from place to place. In some countries you can buy it straight over the counter at a pharmacy, in others you need a prescription from a doctor or a short interview with a pharmacist first.

According to the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception (ICEC), you can buy emergency contraception straight over the counter in France, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, America, Sweden and India.

In Australia, Italy, Thailand, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain or Croatia, you’ll need to speak to a pharmacist first. They are trained to ask you a series of questions before you can buy it. These pharmacists might also be required to give you a follow up call the day after you take it to see how you’re feeling.

In countries like Colombia, Cambodia, Poland, Japan and Russia you’ll need to book an appointment and get a prescription for emergency contraception from a doctor.

In most cases, you will have to pay for your emergency contraception.

For a full, up to date list of where to get emergency contraception abroad, visit the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception (ICEC).

When you get home.

If you have had unprotected sex with anyone whose sexual history you are unsure of then you should get tested for sexually transmitted infections. Many STIs have no symptoms so the only way to be absolutely certain is to have a test. You need to wait for 2 weeks after having sex before the test can give an accurate result.

If you are 25 or under, you can order a postal home test kit or you can book an appointment at one of our clinics where we would be happy to see you.

More information can be found at

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Accessing our service

In response to the emergence of COVID-19 we have implemented a telephone triage system for all of our clinics. Our central telephone number is 0300 303 3989.

We are currently experiencing high demand for our Sexual Health Services across Devon and Torbay with unprecedented demand in Exeter. Please note always review urgent cases the same day. If your need is urgent and you are struggling to reach us keep trying as our phone system will explain how to access same-day care with us.

We have updated information on the provision of routine contraception here.

Self-requested STI testing by post is available for those aged under 25- more info

We are now running an under 18’s sit and wait clinic at Exeter, Torquay, and Barnstaple for more information click here

If you are struggling to access sexual health services, alternatives may be available:

  • Emergency Contraception - from a local pharmacy - more info
  • Contraceptive pills and LARC procedures - obtained from your GP
  • HIV PEPSE - available via A+E departments - more info
  • Condoms by post (for gay and bisexual men only) - more info