Consent FAQ

These days, we talk a lot about sexual consent. If you’re not quite sure what it’s all about, this post can help you find the words to communicate consent. The following are some frequently asked questions about consent.

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“Love.” by SummerRain812. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

1) What if I am not sure what I want or I feel conflicted?

When your partner asks you about what you want, you may realize you don’t know. You also may find that one part of you is thinking “heck no!” and another is more like, “let’s go!” For example, sometimes your body is sexually aroused but your mind has some misgivings, or you like the idea of having sex, but just aren’t fully present in-the-moment.  It can be confusing to you and your sexual partner if you’re feeling conflicted.

Tips:

  • In the moment, stop and take space to identify what you’re feeling.
  • Reflect what might be coming up for you. Sexual activities outside your comfort zone can make you feel vulnerable in a way that’s positive and exciting or scary and threatening. How can you tell the difference between these two forms of vulnerability? What feelings, thoughts, and body sensations are associated with each of these experiences?
  • Outside the heat of the moment, talk with your partner about what you were feeling and the need to stop. A respectful partner should appreciate your honesty and your needs.

2) What if my partner’s words don’t match their actions or I’m getting mixed messages?

Sometimes you may be perceive your partner’s communications as confusing. For example…

  1. Your partner says yes, but their tone of voice and/or body language don’t reflect an enthusiastic yes.
  2. Your partner says no, but then they go along with sexual acts that you initiate. They may seem to be enjoying these things when they are happening.
  3. Your partner says they don’t want certain things to happen, but then initiate those things.
  4. When you ask your partner what they want, they say they don’t know.

In example B, you need to take your partner at their word. Initiating sexual activity after your partner clearly states no is sexual assault. There are many reasons someone might seem “into it” that do not indicate consent. Physical arousal and response are involuntary and not necessarily linked to consent or desire. Someone also may go along with a situation because they are afraid of the person violating their boundaries and trying to appease that person in order to stay safe.

In examples A, C, and D, there are a number of reasons you may feel confused by your partner’s communication. Remember, they aren’t trying to confuse you or “lead you on.” Instead:

-Your partner may be internally conflicted and unsure of what they want. (See number 1, above.)

-Your partner may feel pressure to go along with things they aren’t fully comfortable with.

Tips:

  • When you feel confused, it is your responsibility to stop and check in with your partner about where they are and what they’re feeling. For example, “Hey, let’s stop for a minute. You said you just wanted to make out, but now you’re taking off clothes, so I feel confused. I want to make sure we’re both comfortable with where this is going.”
  • In non-sexual situations, talk more about communication. Make sure your partner feels safe and comfortable setting boundaries with you, and ask how you can help create an environment where they kind of communication is possible. If your partner is not personally sure of what they want, ask them what kind of space and support they need from you to figure this out.
  • Consistently affirm your respect for your partner and their needs, desires, and boundaries.

3) What do I do when my partner says no?

  • Respect their no. Let them know you’re glad they felt comfortable telling you how they felt. Appreciate the honesty and safety you’ve fostered with your partner.
  • Do something else! You might want to get out of bed or whatever romantic or sexually charged situation you’re in, or your partner may let you know what they DO want to do.

4) What if no is hard for me to hear?

Hearing no may be hard for a number of reasons. It’s different for every person, and you may want to identify why, and exactly what you’re feeling, like sadness, resentment, hurt, etc. In the moment, you still have to respect your partner’s “no,” though you can say something like “Hey. I appreciate you being honest with me, and I respect that. Thanks! I’m also having some hard feelings about this I’m going to sort out on my own. I can get back to you about them when I’ve thought them through more.”

Here are some more tips about handling no and dealing with hard feelings around that. If you’d like to learn more about healthy communication, see the LGBTQ Healthy Relationships Online Curriculum. If someone has violated your consent or that of a friend, see safe.unc.edu.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

So Yes Means Yes, But How Do I Ask?

This blog post was originally published on June 16, 2015.

Photo:
Photo: “Communication” by Joan M. Mass, Flickr Creative Commons.

As many of us know, UNC-Chapel Hill adopted a new affirmative consent standard in August 2014, meaning that, rather than “no means no,” UNC enforces a “yes means yes” standard—where consent is defined as the clearly conveyed, enthusiastic, conscious, non-coerced “yes.” It is the responsibility of person initiating the activity to receive affirmative consent, and being under the influence of drugs or alcohol does not lessen that responsibility. Consent can’t be treated as binding; if your partner and you say that next Friday you plan to have sex, you should still check in with your partner next Friday to make sure they consent. If, next Friday, your partner decides they do not consent, you cannot try to hold them to what they said the week before or make them feel guilty in any way for changing their mind. Also, consent to one activity is not consent to another (so, for example, consent to oral sex is not consent to vaginal sex).

I’ve found in my experience conducting One Act trainings that a lot of students struggle to understand the affirmative consent standard, and have a lot of questions about how it works in practice. Many of us are much more comfortable relying on body language, so enforcing a policy that heavily relies on verbal communication can be daunting.

But how do I ask? Won’t it kill the mood? Isn’t that awkward? Don’t you just know when someone wants to have sex? Is it really necessary to ask permission every step of the way? Does this mean that anytime I don’t explicitly ask permission, they can just regret it and call it rape?

Those are all questions I’ve been asked, on several occasions, by several students. A lot of those questions stem from a “but I just want to have sex” mindset, when the mindset should revolve around what both you and your partner enjoy doing. Affirmative consent isn’t about making things awkward, it’s about making sure your partner really does want to do what you want to do.

So how do you ask? Here are some suggestions:

“I’d really like to do ____, do you want to?”

“How do you feel about trying/doing   ____?”

“Does this feel good to you?”

“Are you interested in doing ___?”

“Are you enjoying this?”

“I like doing _____. What do you like to do?”

The possibilities are endless, so have fun with it! Remember that sex should be an ongoing conversation, where you check in with your partner to make sure they are excited about and are enjoying everything that is happening.

But what about just knowing when someone is consenting to sex? Why this change? Why use an affirmative consent standard, when, for years, relying on body language has been considered acceptable?

It’s simple: there has been new research  that indicates people are likely to freeze up when they feel scared, threatened, or traumatized. While most of us are familiar with flight or fight, there is actually this third chemical reaction in our brains – “freeze.” Because of neurobiology, people may not be able to speak up and say “let’s stop,” so they just disengage and wait for it to be over. Using an affirmative consent standard takes into account what happens in our bodies on a cellular level. Beyond biology, social norms may impact some a person’s ability to speak up. Statements like “maybe later,” “I’m tired,” “not right now,” “let’s just watch a movie,” or even silence are indicators that a person doesn’t actually want to have sex, despite none of those being an explicit “no.”

If you ask someone if they want to have sex with you (or do any other activity) and they say no, you didn’t “kill the mood.” You simply gave that person an opportunity to tell you that they didn’t want to have sex. Rejection usually doesn’t feel good, but neither does hurting someone. Affirmative consent is sexy. So play around with how you ask for consent, figure out what way is most comfortable to you, and practice good communication with your partner(s)! Being able to talk about what you are interested in doing together gets easier, and affirmative consent is sexy! Remember: even if you do find it awkward, a few seconds of feeling awkward is worth preventing harming someone.

If you’re worried that your partner may confuse regret with sexual assault, here is a great blog explaining why that likely won’t happen.

Can you think of any more ways to ask for consent? Post below in the comments!

In my words: Getting an IUD at UNC Chapel Hill

by Abby Kaufmann, guest blogger and UNC student

After 3 years at UNC-Chapel Hill, I have become very familiar with the general clinic at Campus Health Services but I had never really utilized their Women’s Health Services until this October when I got an intrauterine device (IUD). I am currently interning in a position where 10 hours of my week involves researching articles about reproductive justice issues, many of which are about birth control access and affordability. At the time I began the internship, however, I was not on birth control. The risk I was taking really started to nag at me, making anything intimate seem extra nerve-wracking and less enjoyable until I finally decided to do something about it.

A few weeks prior to making the decision to get an IUD, I had to go to campus health multiple times for a cold that just wouldn’t go away. Each time I was there, I couldn’t help but appreciate the free condoms throughout the building and the pamphlets on safe sex that included tips for queer people. But what really caught my attention were the charts on birth control in every exam room I visited, like this one:

I saw that with condoms, my go-to method of birth-control at the time, there was still anywhere between a 2%-18% chance of getting pregnant (depending upon whether or not they are used correctly).  I had tried things like the pill and the NuvaRing in the past but I was always forgetting when to take the pill or when to replace the ring which I knew made them less effective. I decided that an IUD would be the best way to go; not only are IUDs more effective than birth-control pills and the NuvaRing, they last for years.

The first time I heard about an IUD was in a magazine article in 2012. Even then, I recognized the benefits and expressed interest in getting one to my gynecologist in Cary at the time. She didn’t think it was a good idea and successfully scared me into changing my mind. She told me that, since I had never given birth, it would be painful and that this pain was too much for most of her younger clients so she often had to remove their IUDs. She said that the NuvaRing would be my best option since it would be easier to remember and that it was just as effective as an IUD (I now know that both of these statements were false). I expected a similar reaction at Campus Health but was pleasantly surprised to find a wealth of resources about IUDs and to feel supported by both the nurses and the doctors.

I thought I would be able to just show up, have the procedure, and then go about my business for the next 3 years but this was not the case. When you make an appointment to get an IUD at Campus Health Services, you are required to have a brief consultation first so that you can discuss the various types of IUDs and what to expect during the procedure. After that, I also had to make an appointment for a well woman exam so they could check for STDs, do a pap smear, perform a breast exam, and assess my health in general. While it was a little annoying to have to come back so many times, I realized that it was all because Campus Health actually cared about my overall wellbeing. It also provided a good opportunity to get to know the doctor before the procedure.

Usually, CHS prefers to do the procedure when you are menstruating so that they can rule out any chance of pregnancy (even though they do a pregnancy test anyways) because of the life-threatening risks associated with getting an IUD while pregnant. Because of this, some students may have to wait longer than they would like to before they can get their IUD but in the end, it’s really for their own good.

To say that I was impressed with UNC Campus Health Women’s Services would be an understatement. They made sure I felt comfortable about the procedure not only during the procedure itself but before and after it as well. Never once did I feel judged or discouraged from making my decision.

I would encourage my peers to utilize UNC Campus Health’s birth control resources If you attend a different university, don’t be afraid to contact campus health on your campus to see what services they provide. Also, be sure to check out Bedsider for ways to bring birth control to your campus and to compare methods side-by-side.

I’m thankful for birth control. And I’m thankful that Campus Health Services at UNC understands that, as college students, we already have so many things to worry about and that getting pregnant doesn’t have to be one. #ThxBirthControl

 

Abby originally posted this content during her internship and agreed to let us re-post here with slight modifications as a guest blog. View the original blog post here.

Safety on the safe.unc.edu website

Have you ever wondered about the bright green “leave website now” button in the top right corner of the SAFE website?

safe website

This button is a safeguard for individuals who are experiencing violence or abuse. Abusers often control the types of information and resources their partner can access, including information about getting help. It may not be safe for someone who has a controlling partner to be browsing a website where there’s information about how to get help. Learn more about controlling behaviors here.

  • The button lets them leave the site in 1 click if the abuser enters the room or looks over their shoulder.
  • You’ll find a similar button on other websites that serve victims of violence, such as the local domestic violence agency, Compass Center for Women and Families:
    http://compassctr.org/get-help/domestic-violence/safety-planning/

If you suspect that it may not be safe for you to look at websites on getting help, be sure to clear your browser history. Click on this link for additional tips from the National Network to End Domestic Violence for staying safe online when you are in a violent or controlling relationships.

Visit the Get Help Now Section of the SAFE website for even more information about getting help for sexual or interpersonal violence or stalking.

If you’re not feeling safe in your relationship, help is available through both confidential and private resources. Everyone has a right to a safe and loving relationship.

 

Kelli is the Coordinator for Violence Prevention Programs at UNC Student Wellness. Kelli has a Master of Arts degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from The Ohio State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from The College of William and Mary in Women’s Studies. Kelli believes we can prevent sexual violence, interpersonal violence, stalking, harassment, and discrimination by changing systems of oppression, empowering bystanders, supporting survivors, and holding individuals accountable for their problematic behavior.

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: 4 Tips for Self-Compassion

Whether it’s exams, holidays, family, travel, finances, or just the persistent passage of time (aaah!) that takes our attention, this winter season can easily turn into a whirlwind of tending deadlines and the expectations or needs of others.  Of course, so much of that activity is necessary and pleasant (Completing projects!  Seeing loved ones! New Year’s resolutions!), but as the leaves fall off of the trees and the nights get long and quiet, I also like to follow nature’s lead and take some time to turn inward and rest.

1521435_10101745854380648_545676155_nI’m not proud to say that most of the time I actually find it easier to be kind to others than to myself, and this can be particularly true around holiday times. When we are able to extend the same compassion to ourselves that we extend to others, though, everyone benefits.

Here are some ideas for cultivating self-compassion in this–or any–season:

1.    Practice non-judgment.

Many of us are taught (explicitly and implicitly) that certain things are “good” to feel and be, while other things are “bad” to feel and be. Though we don’t need to indulge in or perpetuate harmful behaviors, judging ourselves harshly for how we feel or where we are (or aren’t) in life only digs us deeper into suffering.  Mindful non-judgment can interrupt that.  Practicing this can be as simple as noticing a feeling or a thought that’s happening (like “Whoa, I’m really jealous that my brother got that giant TV.”) without plastering positive or negative associations all over the thought/feeling and, consequently, yourself.

 2.    Re-connect with your body.

Academic rigor, screens in our faces, hectic western culture—there are many reasons a lot of us get trapped in our heads.  Bringing awareness back to the physical experience of a moment can be a game changer.  This might happen in the form of an activity like taking a break to go for a walk, or it might just mean objectively noticing what’s happening in your body in response to a thought or feeling (like “Hm, when I hear Aunt Pat smack her dentures, my teeth clench and my throat gets tight”).

3.    Treat yourself like you would a friend.

Would you tell a friend who did poorly on a test that they are worthless and can’t do anything right? Or “Welp, another bad date, huh?  You’ll probably be alone FOREVER.”  I doubt it.  What makes it okay for you to be a bad friend to yourself?  Experiment with changing the tone of your inner conversation to something more kind.

4.     Allow for pauses.

I’m giving you permission to do nothing.  Try it.  This might mean not going out with old friends for the 5th night in a row when you’re tired and just want to snuggle up in your new fleece footie pajamas, or it might mean closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths in silence when you realize you were about to open up your Facebook newsfeed for the 16th time today. Try it.  If it feels difficult, ask yourself why.

These are just a few ideas/reminders.  For more detailed tips about mindfulness and starting a meditation practice, check out this post from earlier in the year.

Also, if you have tips for self-kindness that work for you, please share in the comments!

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Safe Sparks: How to Find Your Online Match

"Dating Online" by whybealone1, Flickr Creative Commons
“Dating Online” by whybealone1, Flickr Creative Commons

Match.com. eHarmony. Tinder. OkCupid. Coffee Meets Bagel. Over the past few years, all of these online dating websites have gained members. Online dating has become increasingly more common, especially among millennials. According to one study, 22% of Americans ages 25-34 have used an online dating website. Do people find their soul mate online? The data is unclear, but lots of people definitely meet people online, for friendship, relationships, and/or sex.

Meeting up with someone for the first time can be scary or intimidating, but it can also be a lot of fun! Here are some tips to make the most out of your online dating experiences:

  • Be careful what information you put online. It’s not recommended to put your last name, address, or work online since anyone can access it. Only share your phone number with people whom you plan to get to know better or meet up with.
  • It’s a good idea to chat online or on the phone (or even facetime!) before you meet. This way you can see if you want to meet up with them rather than arriving for a date and realizing then that they seem sketchy.
  • Meet in a public place, such as a coffee shop, for a first date. It’s not recommended to meet for the first time at someone’s apartment, dorm, or house.
  • Arrange your own transportation. This way you can leave at any point and won’t have to depend on the person to get you home.
  • Let a friend or two know where you are going ahead of time and who you are meeting up with. It can be a good idea to have a friend call or text you at some point to give you an “out” in case you want to leave. You can have a code word or just say that your friend needs you.
  • If you plan on hooking up or having sex, discuss expectations ahead of time. Discuss contraception and barrier methods (such as condoms and dental dams), comfort level with certain acts, and what you expect out of the meet up. Know that you can change your mind at any point in time, and you never have to do something you are uncomfortable or unsure about. Consent is required for all sexual acts.
  • Trust your intuition. If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, trust that feeling. Never feel guilty for stopping communication with someone who doesn’t make you feel good.

 

Amee Wurzburg is the Sexual Violence Prevention Program Manager at Student Wellness. She is currently earning her Masters in Public Health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC. Amee received her BA in History from Barnard College of Columbia University. Before moving to North Carolina, Amee worked at an organization in India focused on HIV, where she worked on projects related to rights-violations, LGBTQ health, and domestic violence.

Meet Rebecca Gibson from the Equal Opportunity Compliance Office

This is Rebecca Gibson, the Report & Response Coordinator at UNC. She works in the Equal Opportunity Compliance Office, where she provides support and resources for students who have experienced sexual or interpersonal violence, stalking, and other forms of discrimination and harassment. She is your go-to person in case you are in need of the services she provides. I chatted with Rebecca to get a better idea of who she is and what she does.

Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Gibson.
Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Gibson.

Kelli Raker (KR): Tell me about your background. What led you to this position?
Rebecca Gibson (RG):
I’m a social worker by training and previously worked at the Durham Crisis Response Center managing the sexual assault program. I’ve consistently been drawn to this field because of the greater social influences and the resiliency that survivors exhibit even after great trauma has happened to them. I have always aspired to work in higher education. When this opportunity became available at UNC-Chapel Hill to do the work that I’m passionate about, it was just too good to pass up.

KR: What happens in your first meeting with a student who has experienced violence?
RG:
In our first meeting, I will explain my role in the process and available resources. I thank them for contacting me and try to assess any immediate safety concerns or medical needs. We’ll discuss community and campus-based confidential resources, interim protective measures, and reporting options, including speaking to law enforcement and making a formal report to the University.

I will explain that I am a private resource, which means that I will share information only as needed with the Title IX compliance coordinator, relevant staff in the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office (EOC), and other parties on campus who have a need to know depending on the conduct and where it happened. I will discuss immediate safety concerns and the option to go to the hospital to receive medical care. If the student discloses or alludes to some form of sexual violence, I will explain the option to receive a sexual assault forensic exam at UNC Hospitals or Campus Health Services and talk a bit about the role of the community advocate in providing hospital accompaniment if they choose to receive the exam. I will also provide information about confidential resources such as Cassidy Johnson, gender violence services coordinator, in the event the student would like to talk in a confidential space before talking with me.

It’s truly up to the student in this meeting to decide how much he or she wants to tell me about the violence itself. There are no obligations to provide details. That being said, my ability to help address safety concerns or discuss protective measures will be limited if the student doesn’t want to tell me anything. We’ll talk together about any concerns with academics or housing and if there is a possibility the aggressor will contact the student in the near future.

KR: What about when you meet with someone who may have harmed, harassed, or discriminated against another person?
RG: My role at Carolina is a neutral one. I’m a point of contact for those involved to answer questions, clarify steps, and connect to resources. In meeting with the individual who is responding to allegations of misconduct, I will provide appropriate resources and support just as I would make referrals and connections for a student who reported experiencing these types of conduct. I will explain what they can expect throughout the University’s investigation process, discuss next steps, and address questions they may have. There are times I’m simply not able to answer a question due to student privacy rights, relevant laws, or safety concerns. If there are questions or concerns either party has that I’m not able to answer or address, my job is to find the person who can provide the information.

KR: Why should someone come to talk to you?
RG:
I can facilitate interim protective measures such as academic accommodations or changes to housing, give perspective on reporting options, and connect individuals to resources both at the University and in the community. Ew Quimbaya-Winship also provides this assistance.

For someone who wants the University to pursue a formal investigation of an alleged policy violation, I’m the first point of contact to get that process moving.

For someone who isn’t sure about how they want to proceed, I’m able to talk through what the reporting process would look like and connect that person to others who can support them regardless of the decision to report. The University will make every effort to respect the individual’s decision about how to proceed.

KR: What do you wish all students knew about your office?
RG: I want students to know that my office is a welcoming space and resource for the entire Carolina community. My team is made up of smart, compassionate people who are working hard to make this campus safe and equitable.

I also want folks to know that in addition to addressing sexual violence, my office is also the place to go if you’re experiencing harassment or discrimination based on any protected status: age, color, disability, gender, gender expression, gender identity, genetic information, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and veteran status.

KR: Well, there you have it. Thanks, Rebecca! Always remember there are resources on campus to help you if you face any form of discrimination or harassment!

 

Kelli Raker is the Coordinator for Violence Prevention Programs at UNC Student Wellness. Kelli has a Master of Arts degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from The Ohio State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from The College of William and Mary in Women’s Studies. Kelli believes we can prevent sexual violence, interpersonal violence, stalking, harassment, and discrimination by changing systems of oppression, empowering bystanders, supporting survivors, and holding individuals accountable for their problematic behavior.

Will This Antibiotic Interfere With My Birth Control?

January in North Carolina means the common cold and the flu kick into high gear. Over the past few weeks, I have seen an increase of prescriptions for antibiotics and cough syrups come to the Campus Health Pharmacy for sick students. Almost every day, I have been asked whether taking antibiotics will interfere with birth control.

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Image courtesy of by Nate Grigg on Flickr

The issue of whether or not antibiotics interfere with the effectiveness of birth control has been a controversial topic for many years. To provide a quick review, there are many forms of birth control that contain both an estrogen and a progestin – pharmacists call these combined hormonal contraceptives.

Combined hormonal contraceptives include:

  • The pill (Yaz, Tri-Sprintec, Cryselle, Heather, etc.)
  • The patch (Ortho Evra)
  • The ring (NuvaRing)

Combined hormonal contraceptives use multiple mechanisms to reduce the possibility of pregnancy. Estrogen suppresses the release of hormones from the pituitary. Progestin suppresses ovulation and thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering the upper genital tract. Progestin provides most of the contraceptive effects in hormonal contraceptive methods.

Broad-Spectrum Antibiotics and Common Antifungals = OK

Antibiotics routinely used to fight illnesses are the “broad-spectrum” antibiotics. These drugs are called “broad-spectrum” because they can be used to treat a variety of infections caused by many different organisms. These antibiotics include:

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Image courtesy of Global Panorama onFlickr
  • Amoxicillin
  • Azithromycin
  • Clarithromycin
  • Metronidazole
  • Quinolones (ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin)
  • Doxycycline

Common antifungal agents frequently used to treat vaginal yeast infections include:

  • Fluconazole
  • Miconazole

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies broad-spectrum antibiotics and antifungals as category 1 interactions with contraceptives. This means that the CDC has determined that when using a broad-spectrum antibiotic or antifungal, there is no restriction to using them in combination with combined hormonal contraception. Many groups agree with the CDC, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Broad-spectrum antibiotics have not been found to reduce the concentration of hormones in the combined hormonal contraceptives to a sub-therapeutic level that could increase the risk of pregnancy. Therefore, a backup method of birth control is not required for women using combined hormonal contraceptives and broad-spectrum antibiotics. Even patients who may be on a long-term antibiotic, such as erythromycin for acne, will not require a backup method of birth control when taking both the antibiotic and their normal form of birth control.

Enzyme Inducers = Use a backup method

This being said t is still important to ask your pharmacist about whether or not your antibiotic is considered “broad-spectrum,” because there are some antibiotics that do significantly interact with combined hormonal contraceptives.

Antibiotics that are known to definitely affect the efficacy of combined hormonal contraceptives are called “enzyme inducers” because they essentially make your body chew up the hormones in the birth control faster than normal. These types of antibiotics include the following:

  • Rifampin (including some combination antibiotics that contain rifampin)
  • Rifabutin
  • Griseofulvin (used to treat fungal infections)

Rifampin, Rifabutin and griseofulvin are antibiotics known to reduce the levels of hormones in the pill, the patch or the ring. It is very important that women on these antibiotics who also use combined hormonal contraception use a backup method of birth control while they are taking these antibiotics. The CDC has classified these antibiotics as category 3 interactions with combined hormonal contraceptives because when used together, the effectiveness of the birth control is reduced and pregnancy risk is increased.

Remember:

No method of birth control is guaranteed to be 100% effective even when taken correctly and even when using category 1 antibiotics.

Using your contraceptive method correctly, no matter which antibiotic you may need to take, increases the efficacy of the contraceptive method and reduces the risk of pregnancy. Here are some methods recommended by the CDC for how to ensure that your method of birth control is the most effective:

  • If you are taking a pill, make sure to take the pill every day and at the same time every day.
  • If you are using a patch, make sure the patch stays in place and that you change the patch on time, once per week.
  • If you are using a vaginal ring, make sure to remove and replace the ring on time as directed.

When in doubt…

Ask your pharmacist! All of the pharmacists in the Campus Health Pharmacy, located in the basement of Campus Health Services James A. Taylor building, and the Student Stores Pharmacy, located on the third floor of the UNC Student Stores, are happy to talk to you about any questions or concerns you may have. The pharmacists are here to provide further education on how to appropriately take your method of birth control, what to do if you miss a dose, or whether or not you should use a backup method of birth control while you need to take a certain antibiotic for an infection. Asking questions and staying informed is the best way to ensure your health needs are being met.

Jordan Wood is a 4th-year student pharmacist at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. She grew up just down the road in Hillsborough and attended UNC-Chapel Hill for her undergraduate degree. In her free time, she enjoys horseback riding and baking. 

References:

  1. Hatcher, R. A. (2011). Combined Oral Contraceptives (COCs). Contraceptive Technology(p. 303). New York: Ardent Media Inc.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2010). Appendix B: Classifications for Combined Hormonal Contraceptives. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5904a3.htm
  3. ACOG practice bulletin. No. 73: Use of hormonal contraception in women with coexisting medical conditions. Obstet Gynecol. 2006;107(6):1453-72