Let’s Talk About Sexual Health
September was Sexual Health Month but more importantly, it can serve as a reminder of what we should be doing year round. Take charge of your sexual health! Here’s how.
Sexual Health doesn’t just mean condom use; it is much more comprehensive than that. It includes mental, sociocultural and physical components as well as a mix of general knowledge that applies to many people and information that is unique to us. It includes our attitudes toward our bodies, our sexuality, and our initiatives to promote synergy between these aspects whether that is through working on our relationship with ourselves, communicating with our partners, getting STI testing with appropriate frequency and/or staying educated on related topics from reliable sources.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG):
- Believes that sex education is something that should begin in “early childhood and continue through a person’s lifespan”.
- Recommends you get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea at least once a year.
- This recommended frequency goes up if you change partners or have multiple at the same time.
- Emphasizes the role relationships play in our sexual health, specifically the importance of relationships free of “coercion, discrimination and violence”
- Categorizes sexual health as a major part of overall wellness
STIs and STI testing:
ACOG emphasizes four steps you can take to decrease your risk for STDs. These include:
- Knowing your sexual partner.
- Remember: the more partners your partner has, the higher risk of infection you have.
- Using a latex or polyurethane condom every single time you have any type of sex (vaginal, oral, anal).
- Educating yourself on risky sex practices.
- Be aware that rectal tissue is thinner and therefore more prone to breaking which gives infections an easy way in.
- Be aware that bodily fluids can also carry infectious agents.
- Getting vaccinated.
- Not all STIs have a corresponding vaccine but the ones that do, HPV and Hepatitis B, should be taken advantage of!
There are bacterial, viral and fungal STIs.
Bacterial STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, are typically the easiest to treat if caught early; usually a single or few doses of the right antibiotic can eliminate the infection. Cases become more complicated when the infection isn’t detected or treated quickly. These STIs are fairly common, especially chlamydia and gonorrhea. Therefore, ACOG recommends testing for them at least once a year. This frequency increases if you have a new sexual partner or you or your partner have multiple sexual partners. Chlamydia and Gonorrhea testing can be added onto your pap smear. This is especially convenient so patients can avoid another visit or swab culture which can cause some discomfort. Syphilis testing is done through a blood test, it is routinely tested in pregnancy.
Viral STIs, like herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis B, differ from bacterial infections in that they are caused by viruses meaning they are not treated with antibiotics and are not curable; rather, they are treatable. This means that you will always be at risk for infecting a sexual partner but, through treatment, the amount of virus in your system can become so low that the risk of transmission also drops substantially. These types of STIs require lifelong testing and/or treatment. HPV is unique in that many types of HPV don’t cause any health issues at all while other types, called “High risk strains” have been linked to multiple cancer types, including cervical cancer. HPV testing is routinely added onto pap smears of women older than 29 years of age. HIV, Hepatitis B and Herpes testing are best done using blood tests.
For more specific questions, click on the link for ACOG’s Sexual Health FAQ: www.acog.org or schedule an appointment with your doctor today!