13 Things OB/GYNs Want You To Know About Your Sexual Health
When it comes to your sexual health, you may think you’re doing all you can to remain as healthy as possible. However, there’s never too much to know when your well-being is concerned. Of course, discussing your sexual health with a partner or friends may not be easy, and coming to terms with it yourself may not be either. However, many OB/GYNs feel that it’s a necessary topic to broach.
Dr. Shoma Datta, DT Gynecology: Aesthetics & Rejuvenation, agrees. She says that many people don’t necessarily know a lot about their sexual health, which could be due to stigma and incomprehensive sex ed. “Don’t let cascades of misinformation and avoidance create chaos in this important part of your health and happiness,” she tells Bustle. Luckily, she says that there are many ways to help get everyone on point with sexual health, and that starts with you getting more in tune and comfortable with it.
Like Dr. Datta says, an avoidance mindset isn’t the way to take responsibility over your sexual health. That said, here are 13 things OB/GYNs want you to know about your sexual health, from how often to get tested for STIs to terminology to how medication could affect your sex drive.
1. Know STI Terminology
If “knowledge is power,” how much knowledge do you have regarding common STI terms? “STIs are all preventable but not always treatable, so it is important to know some basics and how to protect yourself,” Dr. Datta says. “First off, STI is for sexually transmitted infection.” With STIs, you may have an infection, but it may be curable and not cause any symptoms. However, if an STI changes your typical bodily functioning, it’s then referred to as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). In other words, all STDs are STIs, but not all STIs become STDs.
Dr. Datta also stresses the importance of knowing STI terms such as HIV, HSV, HPV, HCV, and HBV. But if you do not, she says there’s nothing to be embarrassed about since they can happen to anybody. Point being, it’s important to get educated and protect yourself.
2. Get Tested For STIs Regularly
If you’re not sure how often you should be getting tested for STIs, that’s a great question. “Usually, it’s best to get screened with a check-up at least yearly, especially since many STIs don’t show signs or symptoms,” Dr. Datta says. “The most common STI testing done is for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and hepatitis.” She adds that HPV and herpes are trickier to test and diagnose, so it’s best to speak with your doctor about what exactly you are being tested for, and why.
Of course, finding an OB/GYN that you trust and will not feel judged by is also key. Plus, if you’re nervous about going, you can always use the buddy system and go with a friend or your partner.
3. Talk To Your Sexual Partner About Sexual Health Before You Have Sex
While the thought of talking about sex with a new partner may not be on your top-10 list of things to do today — or ever — it’s imperative. After all, discussing your sexual health, and theirs, is an important step in your overall health. Now’s the time to figure out if they use protection, what kind of protection, how often they get tested, and so on.
“Sometimes it’s easier to have sex than talk about it, but you need to discuss it,” Dr. Datta says. “This doesn’t have to be that stomach churning ‘what’s your number’ convo, but you should discuss STIs and contraception. This is also a good time to suggest you both get tested before things get, well… naked.”
4. Keep Records Of STI Screens, Pap Smears, And Meds
To take better control of your sexual health, several OB/GYNs stress the importance of talking to your doctor, too. “There’s a ton of things to discuss during a medical visit, and on top of it, sometimes even docs can get shy asking about sex (medical professionals, we need to work on this!),” Dr. Datta says. “Be your own advocate — if you have symptoms or questions related to your sexual health, make sure they are addressed.”
She also says it’s a good idea to know both your medical history and sexual health history. “Keep a record of big health events, like surgeries or hospitalizations, and even the not-so-big stuff like your last pap smear or STI screening,” Dr. Datta says. “It also helps to keep a record of current and past meds (i.e., birth control) and side effects. This will also make you the best patient ever and your doctor will love you. More importantly, it helps get you the best medical care.”
Dr. Kendra Segura, MD, MPH, Your OB/GYN Next Door, also suggests going through your medications with your doctor. “A lot of people are not aware that certain medications, such as, antidepressants and birth control pills, can decrease your interest in sexual activates,” she tells Bustle. “Depression/anxiety, endocrine dysfunction, fatigue, and stress are a few conditions that can affect sexual health.” Dr. Kendra also recommends getting a wellness check by your local provider if something feels off.
5. Don’t Stop Taking Your Medication, And Don’t Assume They’ll Affect You The Way They Affect Your Friend
Amy M. Thompson, MD, associate professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Cincinnati and practitioner at UC Health, says to make sure you don’t stop taking medication(s) without speaking to your doctor first. “This can include birth control pills, or even antibiotics for an infection before the course is completed,” she tells Bustle. “Many times, there are alternative options you may tolerate better, and can stay on your treatment course.”
Similarly, Dr. Thompson also says not to assume you will have the same responses to treatment as your friends, or from online blogs. “Every person is unique — and just because someone you know has a great or terrible experience with a birth control medication does not mean you will, as well. I find that some women choose no birth control and are at serious risk of unplanned pregnancy just because they are fearful they will have the same issues their friend does.”
6. Be Sexually Responsible
To better take care of yourself sexually, don’t leave birth control up to your sexual partner. “This is on both people, and anyone who doesn’t respect that doesn’t deserve that,” Dr. Datta says. “You’ll get the most protection by using both a ‘barrier method’ for STI prevention, i.e., condoms, in combination with a prescription method for pregnancy prevention like the pill or IUD (if it’s medically safe for you).” She recommends being prepared in advice and having birth control options within easy reach so it doesn’t have to be a buzzkill.
As Dr. Thompson says, plenty of people think getting an STI or having an unplanned pregnancy won't happen to them. “Take prevention to be sure you are covered, even for the things you think are unlikely to happen to you. Why take the risk?" says Dr Thompson.
7. Don’t Ignore Strange Pains Or Symptoms During Or After Sex
While it may be easy to dismiss a strange, sex-related pain — like burning with urination or vaginal pain after sex (that seems more than fleeting) — it’s best to take it seriously. “While fleeting moments of rare discomfort may happen, you should take any severe or persistent pain with sex seriously,” Dr. Datta says. “Let your partner know you need a pause, and follow up with a doctor to be on the safe side to rule out something like an infection or abnormal growth.”
8. Practice Good Post-Sex Practices
Dr. Allison Hill, MD, OB/GYN, also says it’s important to pay attention to your hygiene when you’re sexually active. “Your natural lubricants and semen from your partner can alter your vaginal pH balance, which can make infections — like a yeast infection or a UTI — more common,” she tells Bustle. “Make sure to empty your bladder after intercourse to flush out bacteria which may have been pushed into the urethra during sex. Also, allow excessive semen to drain from the vagina so that your vaginal pH stays in balance.” Otherwise, she says, you may be at risk of getting a bladder infection or UTI.
Dr. Hill also advises another post-sex practice — rinsing the vulva with warm water and a mild soap (never perfumed or strong ones) to eliminate any excess bacteria that may travel into your urinary tract. “Then, dry with a clean towel and put on clean underwear,” she says. “Moisture on the vulva can lead to yeast infections or UTIs. Also, always wipe from front to back so that you don’t contaminate the vagina with bacteria from the rectum, which could ultimately lead to a UTI.”
9. Don’t Rely On Internet Research
I know — it is way too easy to self-diagnose yourself by looking up your symptoms online, but, oftentimes, there’s so many potential ailments you can have, it’s not a good solution. Of course, seeing your doctor face-to-face is best. “Diagnosing yourself automatically with a yeast infection or UTI may do more harm than good,” Dr. Datta says. “Even worse, don’t take those expired antibiotics or your bestie’s extra pills.” She says that issues causing genital discomfort can be hard to tell apart and are treated differently, so getting checked out is key.
Dr. Thompson agrees. “You shouldn’t assume everything you read online represents balanced reporting of medical facts,” she says. “Websites and blogs often do not provide a good representation of what we know and have studied about treatments.” She says that the Internet has become a place where patients who only have bad experiences report these. “What is often underrepresented are the good outcomes, or at least a balanced message — it is like talking to a group of lottery winners only,” she says. “So, based on only hearing lottery winners’ experiences, you would think your chances of winning the lottery is really high.”
Instead, she suggests looking at the larger statistics and talking to your doctor for health care information. “Also, for women and sexual health, Bedsider and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have some great patient information,” Dr. Thompson says.
10. Do Proper Damage Control If You Have Unsafe Sex
Although it’s best to try to prevent unsafe sex from happening, if it does happen, you should take action morning after. “The reality is, it happens, so we should talk about it,” Dr. Datta says. “You can still take action. Emergency contraception should be used ASAP and may prevent pregnancy if you did not use birth control or it did not work (it may work up to five days, but ASAP is best).”
She says that Plan B One-Step and generic versions are available in stores without a prescription to anyone, of any age. “Get yourself to a medical office to get an STI screening, as well,” Dr. Datta says. “If you’ve experienced sexual activity without consent, the best thing is to get to an ER, where you can be taken care of properly and guided through the process with support.”
11. Get To The Root Of Underlying Relationship Issues
Of course, your mental state of mind impacts your physical state of mind, which impacts your sexual health. On that note, Dr. Kendra believes it’s important to examine underlying relationship issues between you and your partner. “They’re often not realized to be directly correlated to good sexual health,” she tells Bustle. “But in addition to overall physical and mental health, the relationship with a partner is a principal determinant of sexual satisfaction.”
Dr. Kendra cites the Women’s International Study of Health and Sexuality (WISHeS), a questionnaire study of over 2,000 women. It found that low sexual desire with distress was associated with emotional and psychological distress, lower sexual and partner satisfaction, and decrements in general health status, including aspects of mental and physical health.
12. Don’t Forget About Foreplay
Foreplay — and making sure you get enough of what works for you — is another factor when it comes to your sexual health. “The importance of having and prolonging foreplay enables the body to become aroused,” Dr. Kendra says. “Also, sex will become more pleasurable with the use of lubricants.” She adds that as people age, their sexual desires may change; if you’re concerned, it’s best to discuss it with your OB/GYN.
13. Take Into Account Your Lifestyle Factors
Everyone’s lifestyle is different, and various factors may affect your sexual health. “When it comes to our overall health as women, we don’t acknowledge the impact of lifestyle — including diet, exercise, work-life stress — on our sexual and reproductive health,” Dr. Thompson says. “These impacts are hard to acknowledge, and when problems are there, these problems are often not as easy to fix with a simple pill.”
For instance, if you are noticing changes in regard to your sex life — i.e., your desire has gone down — it’s good to see if you’ve made any lifestyle changes lately (i.e., starting a new medication which could be affecting your sex drive). Of course, it goes without saying that you should talk to your doctor or OB/GYN for proper guidance and to figure out the next health steps to take.
All in all, you can see that there are several things that OB/GYNs want you to know about your sexual health, and the sooner you implement them, the better.