Getting birth control medication can be difficult enough in your home country, let alone on the other side of the world. I recently had a sub-dermal progestin-only contraceptive implant inserted in Seoul, South Korea, and I’m going to share all the details so that anyone thinking about doing the same thing will know what to expect.
A little background on my contraception situation before I begin. I’ve been on some form of hormonal contraception since I was 16 years old. I’m now 25. From October 2012 I was taking the progestin-only pill Cerazette, before I started using the progestin-only implant Nexplanon from January 2013 until January 2019. I then had my implant removed to go back onto an unbranded progestin-only pill prescribed by the UK’s NHS.
If you’re not like me, you would have done your research before you moved to Korea, or decided to stop using the implant. However, even if you had done your research, you’d likely find that the information on progestin-only birth control medication in South Korea is all either outdated or unclear, or both. In short; a progestin/progesterone-only birth control PILL is NOT available in South Korea. It’s not banned, but it’s simply not provided anywhere. The only option for progestin-only birth control here is to use the sub-dermal implant.
Commonly called just ‘the implant’, the sub-dermal birth control implant is a type of hormonal birth control that sits below the skin in the inside of your upper arm. It’s a small, matchstick-sized rod that releases Etonogestrel (a progestin medication) consistently for three to five years, and requires no attention; people call it the ‘get it and forget it’ for that reason.
As with every type of hormonal birth control, there are a plethora of side effects that may or may not affect the user. Some people report persistent bleeding, whereas others say their periods stop completely.
There are two brands of the implant: Implanon and Nexplanon. The only difference, as explained to me by the doctor, is that Implanon, the older version of the implant, cannot be detected by an X-ray machine, whereas Nexplanon, the new version, can be.
Obviously, I’m not a doctor, so you can find more information about it here.
The contraceptive implant is the only form of progestin-only birth control in South Korea. It’s available at most well-known gynaecologist clinics, but it’s not covered by national health insurance at all.
I had my contraceptive implant inserted at Mediflower in Seocho-gu, Seoul. It’s a very well-known gynaecologist and birthing centre, among both Koreans and non-Koreans. From now on, I’ll be speaking from my own experience at Mediflower, so the process at another clinic is not guaranteed to be the same.
When I had my implant inserted, the entire process was very quick. I made an appointment at Mediflower via email, but it’s also possible to call or go in person. After arriving at the clinic and filling in a registration form, I had a brief consultation with a nurse. She asked me about my contraceptive history, and my reasons for getting the implant. After approving me for the process, there was a small wait between my consultation and seeing the doctor. As I’ve already had the implant twice before, she was quite brief with her explanation of the process as I’m already aware of what happens. I was then sent to the procedures room.
As I was the first procedure of the day, the assistant spent some time preparing everything, but once everything was ready the doctor came in and the rest was really quick. A sheet was laid over my upper left arm, and the area was sterilised. Then, she gave me a local anaesthetic injection – this was the most painful part (I always hate the feeling of the vaccination fluid being pushed into me, plus I have quite a low pain threshold). Once she was happy that I was numb, she inserted the implant using what is like a large injection needle, or like a tampon applicator. I didn’t watch, but even if I had it wouldn’t have been exciting. The insertion was over in a matter of seconds. She put two butterfly stitches (also called steri-strips) over the entry site, and secured them with a small plaster.
I was told not to shower that day, and that, if I wanted to shower over the next three days, I should cover the area with a large waterproof plaster. I was also prescribed a five-day course of antibiotics to prevent infection. Unlike in the UK, they do not compress the area, so you’re left with some snazzy bruising which should go away in a couple of weeks. The plaster came off after a couple of days, and the steri-strips just a few days later. My arm was heavy and sore for the first day, but it got easier and more comfortable to move my arm quite quickly over the next two to three days.
Getting the implant inserted at Mediflower cost me 360,000 Korean Won (240 British Pounds/311 US Dollars). As the implant can be left in for up to three years, this works out at 10,000 Won per month.
Having had the implant inserted twice in the UK before, it was interesting to see the differences in the procedure. Having this procedure is never fun, but it’s always quick, no matter where you are. Interestingly, doctors in the UK compress wrap the site which helps with bruising, but the Korean doctor seemed more concerned by the risk of infection, hence the preventative antibiotics. Besides this, the whole process is pretty much the same.
My disclaimer. As I’ve already mentioned, I have had the implant several times before, and I have been on progestin-only birth control since I was 18. I am familiar with how it affects my body, and the doctor was happy for me to have the implant again considering my history with it. However, for someone who has never tried this type of contraception before, or who is transitioning from using an estrogen-only or combined hormonal contraception, the process might possibly be longer, or you may not be allowed it at all. To know if it’s suitable for you, speak to your doctor about it.
You can find more posts on South Korea here.