Sexual health in France

Everything you need to know to stay healthy and safe

Sexual health is important no matter where you are in the world, and knowing what the landscape is like when moving abroad is vital to make sure you stay safe and keep healthy.

Sexual health in France

A whopping 43% of couples in France have confessed to adultery, making it the 5th most adulterous country in the world. If you’re living in France and plan on engaging in a sexual relationship, you should know to practice safe sex and learn their social norms regarding sex.

Social norms and education

Sexual education has been present in French school curriculums since 1973. Students receive 30 to 40 hours of Sex Ed throughout the school year and schools are expected to provide students in grades 8 and 9 (12 to 15 year olds) with condoms. The French government has been providing information and campaigns about contraception to high school students for years, aiming for gender equality, respect between boys and girls and sexual intelligence.

In 2015 efforts to push women’s rights to choose the contraception of their preference have been taking off. The curriculum focuses mainly on STDs and gender equality, all age-appropriately taught, but it is believed to be lagging behind in terms of sexual rights. This problem is harder to tackle as radical groups are slowly beginning to protest against sexual education being taught to children.

Use of contraception

81.8 per cent of sexually active people in France use some sort of contraception, making it the third highest percentage of all of Europe  behind the UK and Malta. However, condoms are only used by a very low 4.7 per cent of women in union or married. The preferred contraceptive for 15 to 24 year olds, which has increasingly become more popular over the past few years, is the first- and second-generation pill.

IUD and condoms have become increasingly popular over the past 5 years for women over 25 years of age.

Obtaining contraception

Obtaining contraception in France is rather easy as the subject is widely regarded and people are being taught and encouraged to practice safe sex.

Condoms

As mentioned above, schools provide condoms during sexual education classes as per government recommendation. There is no need for prescription to purchase condoms and they are widely available throughout the country. Condom dispensers can be found in any street corner, outside pharmacies, in public bathrooms and more. Additionally, they are easy to purchase at pharmacies or supermarkets.

Female condoms are not as common, but can be purchased at some pharmacies, as well. The price freely ranges from 6 to 9€ per box of three condoms. It is distributed for free in health program clinics such as family planning centers, testing centers or at AIDS service organizations.

The pill

As in most countries, it is necessary to have a prescription in order to buy oral contraceptives in France.

Mailing pills to France from your home country is not permitted unless you have a special license which can cost approximately $1000 USD. Before leaving your home country, it is recommended that you stock up with as many months worth your pharmacy or insurance company allows. Once in France, visit a general practitioner or gynecologist who will be able to see what you are taking and inform you whether you’ll be able to purchase it in France or suggest an equivalent. This is why it is a good idea to know the scientific name of the brand you are taking in order for your doctor to find an equivalent easily. The doctor should provide you with a prescription once your stock is over.

It is possible to buy over-the-counter oral contraception in some pharmacies with your empty box, but it is still always better to visit a doctor to avoid side effects (nausea, acne, weight gain, etc.).

Additionally, check with your international or French insurance provider as most oral contraceptives are covered by them. Either way, you should not expect to pay over 15€ for a month’s supply.

IUDs

IUDs are the second most popular contraceptive system in France. According to the World Health Organization, 21.9 per cent of sexually active women who are married or in a union prefer the IUD (Dispositif Intra Utérine - DIU) method. However, many practitioners refuse to go through with the procedure with young women or women who have never given birth. This is unfounded criteria and more of a passed-on tradition, but they believe that women who have never given birth have a smaller uterus that is unable to accept the IUD. However, there are methods to measure the capacity of the uterus and see if the IUD can be inserted properly.

You can expect to pay approximately 30€ for the copper IUD and 125€ for the hormonal IUD.

Implant

Implants are available throughout France and cost, on average, 107€. This is a highly safe and efficient method to prevent pregnancies and one that is preferred amongst women older than 25. Sécurité Sociale reimburses 65 per cent of the cost.

Emergency contraception

The morning after pill and emergency contraception are available in pharmacies throughout the country without prescription. Contrary to many other countries, it can be quite cheap to buy the morning after pill in France, for about 7€. Public and parochial high school nurses are also authorized to provide emergency contraception.

STDs

In 2011, there were 160,000 people living with AIDS in France. Although this number has been decreasing amongst heterosexual people, it has increased amongst the homosexual population. France is one of the few countries in Europe with the most new HIV cases every year.

You can go to your nearest Centre de Planification et d’Education Familial (CPEF) to get tested for STDs and STIs. Some of the services are free; however, paid services are rather inexpensive when compared to countries such as the USA or the UK. As of 2015, pharmacies sell HIV autotests, which allow you to know your status in approximately 30 minutes.

Entry restrictions

There are no specific entry restrictions for people with HIV/AIDS in France. Antiretroviral medication can be brought into the country for personal use as long as the traveller has a medical attestation from his or her doctor.

Abortion

France is very liberal when it comes to sexual health and women’s rights. Abortion was legalized in 1975 and is a common practice with approximately 17 in 1,000 women between 15 and 44 years of age terminating a pregnancy. Medical care for pregnant women (including abortion) in France is covered by the Sécurité Sociale as long as you announce your pregnancy to the Caisse des Allocations Familiales (CAF), which is the government body that treats all family-related issues.

Abortions in France are called Interruption Volontaire de Grossesse (IVG) and they are allowed up to week 12 of gestation. After that the fetus can only be terminated if doctors agree that the pregnancy poses a risk to the health of the mother or if there are abnormalities to the fetus. After inquiring about an abortion, there is a compulsory ‘cool-off’ period of 7 days for the woman to think about her decision. This period can be shortened to 2 days if the patient is close to the 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Underage pregnant girls do not need parent authorisation to terminate a pregnancy, as long as they are accompanied by an adult of their choice to the clinic. This adult cannot tell the parents or any third party of the abortion. Minor and unmarried women are required to attend counselling during the week following the procedure.

Doctors are allowed to refuse to carry out an abortion but are obliged to direct the patient to her closest CPEF.

A whopping 43% of couples in France have confessed to adultery, making it the 5th most adulterous country in the world. If you’re living in France and plan on engaging in a sexual relationship, you should know to practice safe sex and learn their social norms regarding sex.

Social norms and education

Sexual education has been present in French school curriculums since 1973. Students receive 30 to 40 hours of Sex Ed throughout the school year and schools are expected to provide students in grades 8 and 9 (12 to 15 year olds) with condoms. The French government has been providing information and campaigns about contraception to high school students for years, aiming for gender equality, respect between boys and girls and sexual intelligence.

In 2015 efforts to push women’s rights to choose the contraception of their preference have been taking off. The curriculum focuses mainly on STDs and gender equality, all age-appropriately taught, but it is believed to be lagging behind in terms of sexual rights. This problem is harder to tackle as radical groups are slowly beginning to protest against sexual education being taught to children.

Use of contraception

81.8 per cent of sexually active people in France use some sort of contraception, making it the third highest percentage of all of Europe  behind the UK and Malta. However, condoms are only used by a very low 4.7 per cent of women in union or married. The preferred contraceptive for 15 to 24 year olds, which has increasingly become more popular over the past few years, is the first- and second-generation pill.

IUD and condoms have become increasingly popular over the past 5 years for women over 25 years of age.

Obtaining contraception

Obtaining contraception in France is rather easy as the subject is widely regarded and people are being taught and encouraged to practice safe sex.

Condoms

As mentioned above, schools provide condoms during sexual education classes as per government recommendation. There is no need for prescription to purchase condoms and they are widely available throughout the country. Condom dispensers can be found in any street corner, outside pharmacies, in public bathrooms and more. Additionally, they are easy to purchase at pharmacies or supermarkets.

Female condoms are not as common, but can be purchased at some pharmacies, as well. The price freely ranges from 6 to 9€ per box of three condoms. It is distributed for free in health program clinics such as family planning centers, testing centers or at AIDS service organizations.

The pill

As in most countries, it is necessary to have a prescription in order to buy oral contraceptives in France.

Mailing pills to France from your home country is not permitted unless you have a special license which can cost approximately $1000 USD. Before leaving your home country, it is recommended that you stock up with as many months worth your pharmacy or insurance company allows. Once in France, visit a general practitioner or gynecologist who will be able to see what you are taking and inform you whether you’ll be able to purchase it in France or suggest an equivalent. This is why it is a good idea to know the scientific name of the brand you are taking in order for your doctor to find an equivalent easily. The doctor should provide you with a prescription once your stock is over.

It is possible to buy over-the-counter oral contraception in some pharmacies with your empty box, but it is still always better to visit a doctor to avoid side effects (nausea, acne, weight gain, etc.).

Additionally, check with your international or French insurance provider as most oral contraceptives are covered by them. Either way, you should not expect to pay over 15€ for a month’s supply.

IUDs

IUDs are the second most popular contraceptive system in France. According to the World Health Organization, 21.9 per cent of sexually active women who are married or in a union prefer the IUD (Dispositif Intra Utérine - DIU) method. However, many practitioners refuse to go through with the procedure with young women or women who have never given birth. This is unfounded criteria and more of a passed-on tradition, but they believe that women who have never given birth have a smaller uterus that is unable to accept the IUD. However, there are methods to measure the capacity of the uterus and see if the IUD can be inserted properly.

You can expect to pay approximately 30€ for the copper IUD and 125€ for the hormonal IUD.

Implant

Implants are available throughout France and cost, on average, 107€. This is a highly safe and efficient method to prevent pregnancies and one that is preferred amongst women older than 25. Sécurité Sociale reimburses 65 per cent of the cost.

Emergency contraception

The morning after pill and emergency contraception are available in pharmacies throughout the country without prescription. Contrary to many other countries, it can be quite cheap to buy the morning after pill in France, for about 7€. Public and parochial high school nurses are also authorized to provide emergency contraception.

STDs

In 2011, there were 160,000 people living with AIDS in France. Although this number has been decreasing amongst heterosexual people, it has increased amongst the homosexual population. France is one of the few countries in Europe with the most new HIV cases every year.

You can go to your nearest Centre de Planification et d’Education Familial (CPEF) to get tested for STDs and STIs. Some of the services are free; however, paid services are rather inexpensive when compared to countries such as the USA or the UK. As of 2015, pharmacies sell HIV autotests, which allow you to know your status in approximately 30 minutes.

Entry restrictions

There are no specific entry restrictions for people with HIV/AIDS in France. Antiretroviral medication can be brought into the country for personal use as long as the traveller has a medical attestation from his or her doctor.

Abortion

France is very liberal when it comes to sexual health and women’s rights. Abortion was legalized in 1975 and is a common practice with approximately 17 in 1,000 women between 15 and 44 years of age terminating a pregnancy. Medical care for pregnant women (including abortion) in France is covered by the Sécurité Sociale as long as you announce your pregnancy to the Caisse des Allocations Familiales (CAF), which is the government body that treats all family-related issues.

Abortions in France are called Interruption Volontaire de Grossesse (IVG) and they are allowed up to week 12 of gestation. After that the fetus can only be terminated if doctors agree that the pregnancy poses a risk to the health of the mother or if there are abnormalities to the fetus. After inquiring about an abortion, there is a compulsory ‘cool-off’ period of 7 days for the woman to think about her decision. This period can be shortened to 2 days if the patient is close to the 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Underage pregnant girls do not need parent authorisation to terminate a pregnancy, as long as they are accompanied by an adult of their choice to the clinic. This adult cannot tell the parents or any third party of the abortion. Minor and unmarried women are required to attend counselling during the week following the procedure.

Doctors are allowed to refuse to carry out an abortion but are obliged to direct the patient to her closest CPEF.

Further reading

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