However great it would be if we lived in a world where sexual health was treated as just, well, health, unfortunately that's not quite the case right now. Though you probably make regular old health mistakes, too, the awkwardness around your genitals and what you do with them means that there are even more sexual health mistakes you may be making. Sexual and reproductive health shouldn't be just some afterthought to general healthcare. And an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach — rather than a proactive one — may harm you in the end.
We can't go back in time and give ourselves a better sexual and reproductive education, and your options for affordable healthcare may be quite limited. Still, it's never too late to start doing better, and a little knowledge (and real talk) can go a long way. Whether you're a teenager or well into your sexually active years, there are things you can do to start taking your sexual health more seriously. Even if you don't love your doctor (or don't have one yet), you need to approach every health encounter as your own No. 1 best advocate. If you can push through the confusion and discomfort around sexual health, it will definitely be worth it.
Avoiding the doctor
Many women end up at the doctor at least yearly to get their birth control prescriptions, but if you're using an over-the-counter or permanent option or are not sexually active, it can be easy to let a few years slip by. You may not need to go every single year, but if the last time you saw a doctor was when you were in a training bra and braces, you're overdue.
Lying to your doctor
Those forms that ask you to tick the boxes for which sexual behaviors you've engaged in, and to specify with how many people, force you to stare your sexual history — regrets and all — right in the face. But not being honest is almost as bad as skipping the doctor altogether, because he or she can't know what kinds of tests and interventions are right for you if the information those recommendations are based on is wrong. Fess up.
Thinking you don't have an STD because you're asymptomatic
Though an obvious lesion or discharge may certainly tip you off as to the presence of an STD, many STDs can be asymptomatic, at least for a while. For instance, half to three-quarters of chlamydia and gonorrhea patients show no symptoms, and this is the primary reason they go untreated (passing the disease along to others in the meantime). Though it's great that you're not experiencing discomfort, you still may need to get tested.
Googling too much
Maybe your doctor has just put you on a new birth control pill, so you go home and google it to read reviews. Three hours later, you've read about hundreds of women who allegedly went crazy on it, been invited by a splashy banner ad to join a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturer, and are too afraid to take your pill. Or maybe you're having a symptom, so you decide to try to self-diagnose your junk, and now you're 100 pages into revolting Google Images results wondering how you can forget about the whole thing. Oops, you've become a victim of cyberchondria! If you must get advice online, trust reputable info from sources like the Mayo Clinic, and better yet, get it directly from your doctor.
Assuming your STD will be treatable
Though some STDs are treatable, others aren't — and drug-resistant STD strains are on the rise. This means that you need to avoid getting STDs in the first place, but it doesn't mean you should ignore them if you have become infected. You can still manage incurable STDs, and of course you have a responsibility not to pass them to others. Your doctor can help.
Assuming you can't get pregnant
Strangely many women believe they can't get pregnant, for unclear to inaccurate reasons. These women are, unsurprisingly, over-represented amongst those choosing abortions. Though obviously it won't happen every cycle even if you're sexually active, it's safe to assume that if you're post-menarche and pre-menopause you're fertile — and you should start acting like it!
Worrying you can't get pregnant
The flip side of this observation is that you also shouldn't worry too much about not being able to get pregnant in the future, when you want to. Women between the age of 20 and 34 are over 90 percent likely to get pregnant within two years of trying, and many succeed way sooner. As long as you've been taking good care of your reproductive health and are planning to try for children at a reasonable age, spare yourself the stress.
Not caring because you don't want kids
Obviously infertility is a scarier prospect for women who've known they wanted to be moms since forever than it is for women who've known they don't want to be moms since forever. Still, damaged fertility resulting from a sexual health problem like an STD or cancer should never be seen as trivial or as a convenience — it indicates that your body is sick in these cases.
Thinking "safe sex" is healthy sex
All the condoms in the world can't fix a crippling self-esteem or sex addiction issue. Though your medical doctor can help you protect your body, you may need mental health resources to help you protect your emotions, your values, and your identity, so don't be ashamed to discuss sexual health with a therapist, too.
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