From a young age, we’re taught the importance of going to the dentist twice a year to get our teeth cleaned, visiting a general practitioner annually to ensure we’re healthy and seeing the doctor when we’re sick and need medicine.
However, women are often not taught about the importance of going to the gynecologist, talking to their doctors about contraception before they're thinking about having sex and why it’s very important to go to get tested for STIs regularly.
This stuff is usually swept under the rug and women are left to figure it out on their own, with little guidance or support from their communities or families.
Our sexual health is very important to leading a healthy lifestyle. Sex is another part of life, and in order to stay healthy, we need to be proactive.
All too often, this gets left out of health conversations and we need to break down the taboo connotation that surrounds sex to address this issue.
We, as women, should pay attention to this aspect of our lives just as much as the other components of health and wellness.
Here are just some of the things that should be on your radar and health checklist:
A pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer. Basically, a gynecologist will insert a speculum into your vagina in order to open it slightly to get to the cervix.
The doctor will then gently scrape cells from your cervix to be tested, and that’s it! It usually takes less than two minutes to do and is less scary than it sounds and looks on TV.
In terms of who should be getting pap smears, women aged 21 to 65 should get them annually, and they are typically conducted as a part of a yearly wellness exam.
Visiting your gynecologist is very important for having good sexual health. The first step is to find a gynecologist you like and feel comfortable around.
Don’t see a doctor just because a friend recommended him or her, or you’ve been seeing said doctor since you were 17, despite the fact that you don't feel comfortable in his or her care.
Most practices will ask if you’d prefer to see a male or female doctor. Think carefully about this and choose! In terms of how often you should see your gyno, you should probably go about once a year, unless other questions or issues come up.
A General Women’s Wellness exam will cover a pelvic exam, a pap smear, breast exam and also gives you time to ask your doctor any pertinent questions about your sexual health.
I can’t emphasize the importance of getting regular STI/STD testing enough if you’re sexually active.
You should be getting tested every six months as a general rule if you’re not in a long-term, monogamous relationship — or, ideally, after each new partner with whom you have unprotected sex.
Now, STI/STD tests are not one-size-fits-all; the type of test you get depends on your age, level of sexual activity and sexual history.
In order to determine what sort of test you should get, you need to talk with your healthcare provider in an open and honest way. Don’t lie because the only one who will suffer is you. Any good doctor won't judge you.
Your test may include a physical exam to look for any physical symptoms of infection you may have. Then, depending on your risk and history, you will either get a blood test or swab test.
A swab test involves taking a sample of your vaginal cells to be tested for STIs like chlamydia, herpes and HPV. A blood test is more accurate and thorough and can test for STIs like HIV, which can’t be detected in a swab test.
Make sure you understand what you’re being tested for and always talk to your doctor if you have questions. If you do have an STI, it’s not the end of the world.
Many STIs are treatable and curable, like any other infection you may have. Our society has a lot of stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections, but not other types of infections, like sinus infections, for instance.
Would you ever feel ashamed for having clogged sinuses? Of course not!
So, you don’t need to feel dirty or shameful if you have an STI. In fact, more than half of the population will have an STI in their lifetime, so contraction is a lot more common than you think.
Pain During Sex
If you are dealing with pain during sex, it’s important you try to figure out what the issues are and be honest with your partner about it.
Remember, this is a very normal experience and doesn’t make you weird.
Often, a lack of lubrication can be responsible for such pain, so your first move should be to use more lube. This should also be coupled with a large dose of foreplay, which turns on women's natural lubrication systems.
If you try this for a while and pain still persists, you could possibly have an infection, STI or problems with your uterus or cervix (especially if you’re having sex too soon after childbirth). Regardless, make sure to talk to your doctor.
A Centers for Disease Control survey found that 6 percent of American couples have fertility problems.
Infertility affects men and women equally, despite the stereotype that women are more responsible for fertility.
As the American Society for Reproductive Medicine points out, although infertility is often treated as an inconvenience, it’s a medical problem that affects one’s ability to reproduce.
If you have been trying to get pregnant and have been having unprotected sex for at least a year, it’s advised you seek additional support from a specialist.
In fact, 85 to 90 percent of fertility problems are treatable by medical professionals.
Did you know half of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned? That’s a huge number when we’re living in an era where birth control has never been more accessible, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, which requires private insurers to offer contraception coverage with no cost of copays.
However, some insurance plans have been grandfathered in under the old rules or have been given time to switch the new system, so don’t panic if you haven’t seen immediate changes to your cost.
Talk to your insurance provider to get full details and ask if they cover women’s preventive services at no cost.
Here are some other ways you can get access to affordable contraception:
Use Planned Parenthood: Planned Parenthood clinics are some of the most frequently used sexual health clinics in the country.
The great thing about PP is they have programs that offer birth control on a sliding income scale, or at little to no cost to you. Find a clinic near you to see if you qualify for these programs.
Find Free Condoms: If you’re a student, chances are, the health clinic on campus has free condoms you can use.
Other places to check are LGBT centers, women’s centers and through any sexual-health-related student organization. You can also use this free app to find free condoms close to you.
Go Over the Counter: Many big-box stores like Walmart and Target offer over-the-counter birth control you can purchase.
Although it’s obviously not free, it can be more cost-effective than signing up for health insurance if you don’t have any, or having to use a grandfathered plan with outrageous copays and deductibles.
The bottom line is if you don’t want to get pregnant and you are able to, you need to be using contraception.
This is another area that doesn’t get enough attention for women. We are bombarded with Viagra commercials but never talk about sexual dysfunction in women.
In fact, it’s estimated that 43 percent of women will experience some sort of sexual dysfunction in life.
Female sexual dysfunction can happen to those young and old and can take a variety of forms. Female sexual dysfunction is treatable, though, so if you are having problems with orgasm, with sexual arousal or desire, consult your doctor.
Want to know if you have sexual dysfunction? The Mayo Clinic claims if your sexual problems affect your relationships or the quality of your sex life, you should seek professional consultation.
Female sexual health is something we need to start talking more about, and the first step is incorporating these wellness practices into your life.
The more we talk openly about and treat sexual health for women like any other health matter, the sooner we will eliminate the stigma that surrounds it.