Let’s be real: the quality of healthcare in Australia is excellent. But accessing it can be really tough.
There are heaps of reasons why people might find it difficult to get the healthcare they require. People living in regional and rural areas generally have lower access to healthcare due to their location, LGBTQIA+ people can face structural barriers and lack of representation when trying to find medical care, and although our Medicare system is pretty bloody good there are still some out-of-pocket costs that can be really hard for Aussies of lower socioeconomic status to afford.
And if you’re trying to access sexual healthcare all of this can be compounded by the fact that it’s, well, a bit awkward sometimes to talk to a doctor about the sex you’re having. Rationally, we know it shouldn’t be awkward—but it can be.
“But remember: sexual health is just health,” says sex coach Georgia Grace. “We all have a right to feel healthy, happy, and sexy in our bodies. There are a whole lot of amazing, super-professional experts who you can turn to for support if you need it.”
So if you’ve ever struggled to access the right kind of healthcare, this article is for you. Healthcare shouldn’t be difficult, and with a couple of tips, tricks, and hacks, you can make it work for you.
Do What's Right for You
The term ‘healthcare’ is so broad, and it can mean so many different things to different people. To some, healthcare is going to the doctor’s once a year for a check-up. To others, healthcare involves frequent meetings with specialists and regular treatments.
There’s no one, correct way to access healthcare so long as your needs are met. We encourage you to create your own definition of what good healthcare looks like to you, and to think about what issues or problems you would like to address by seeing a medical professional.
In general, your first step when accessing healthcare will be to speak with a GP, or General Practitioner. “Trained in diagnosing, treating, or referring patients as needed, GPs are the entry point to the healthcare system,” says Georgia. A GP might be able to prescribe you a treatment on the spot, or they might refer you to a specialist who can investigate your issue further.
“If you choose a bulk-billing GP, you won’t need to pay anything for the appointment. And you should also make sure you find a GP with whom you feel comfortable,” she suggests. So shop around if you’re able to! Health Direct has a great search engine that allows you to find GPs in your area, and it’s always worth reaching out to your friends or social networks for recommendations. Otherwise, you can take a stroll around your neighbourhood and collect some pamphlets from local GPs. Telehealth may also be an option for you if the kind of care you want isn’t immediately accessible.
Some cities and towns also have sexual health clinics that might be useful to you, depending on what kind of medical care you need. Sexual health clinics can often do things like diagnose and treat STIs, refer you to GPs and specialists for more information, and recommend support groups. If you think you have symptoms of an STI, or if you’d just like to get a regular check-up, Time to Test has a directory of sexual health clinics around the country.
Likewise, pharmacies can be useful for more than just getting a prescription filled and buying those delicious jelly beans. Pharmacies can supply the emergency contraception pill, which can be used after sex to prevent pregnancy if you didn’t use contraception or if your contraception failed. You don’t need to see a doctor first before you receive the emergency contraception pill—a pharmacist can provide it to you over the counter.
Following your appointment with a GP, you might be referred to a specialist who can speak to you further to help diagnose you, perform a specific test or scan, or offer you a treatment. Here’s Georgia’s run-down of some of the more common specialists you might hear of—although this is not an exhaustive list!
- Sexual health physician, or a GP who has a particular focus on treating sex-related issues.
- Urologist, a specialist who treats male bodies focusing on kidneys, bladder, prostate, and reproductive organs.
- Gynaecologist, a specialist who treats female bodies focusing on reproductive organs.
- Pelvic floor physiotherapist, a specialist who works with the muscles around the pelvic floor area.
- Psychologist, a professional who has received university-level training around mental healthcare. Therapists and counsellors may also be useful for discussing mental health with, but they may not have completed the same accredited training.
- Psychiatrist, who is similar to a psychologist but can also diagnose and treat mental health conditions.
- Sex therapist, sex coach, or relationship therapist, practitioners who work with sexuality and relationships. “As this is an incredibly broad field, different accreditations and methods exist in the sex therapy and sexual wellness space,” Georgia says. “Make sure to take a look at how someone has been trained, what methods they use, and what issues they can assist with.”
“Our school-based sex education generally focuses on a small subset of sexual health issues, like STIs and pregnancy, but there are a range of sexual health and reproductive health conditions that are worth being aware of,” says Georgia.
We can give you a heads-up on what to look out for—things like pain in the pelvic area, bleeding, changes in discharge, and any rashes or bumps are all worth getting checked out as soon as possible—but ultimately, health is such as personal thing that only you can know what feels wrong and right for your body.
“It’s important to remember that if you’re noticing changes in your body, or experiencing issues during sex, it’s worth speaking to a health professional early,” Georgia says. “And remember: you deserve to be healthy, happy, and enjoy your sexuality. And there’s no shame in getting the support you need to do it.”