When I was in seventh grade, our science class began the much-talked-about Sexual Education section. For two days, our class was divided by gender so that the boys and girls could discuss their changing bodies. Why did we do that? Well, to put things simply, because different organs behave differently. Women’s sexual health is very different from what constitutes men’s sexual health. And while there are some overlaps, like safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases, the two forms of sexual health are very different.
In this article, we will discuss several important things that women should keep in mind when it comes to their sexual health. These bits of advice will help women maintain a healthy sex life while ensuring they are proactive in identifying and addressing any issues that may arise.
Regular Checkups with a Healthcare Provider
Regular checkups with a healthcare provider are essential for health, not just for women, but for all people. Your doctor will provide physical exams, advice and education, in addition to recommending appropriate screenings and tests. They also serve as a source of knowledge and someone you should feel comfortable discussing your health with. If you begin to experience abnormal pain or notice something new and troubling, your first order of business should always be to talk to your healthcare provider. Routine screenings for cervical cancer, breast cancer, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are just a few examples of the litany of types of tests that a healthcare provider may recommend for you based on factors like age, genetic background and symptoms.
It’s crucial that women feel comfortable to discuss any concerns or issues they have relating to their sexual and overall health with their healthcare provider. Too many women feel embarrassed or ashamed to honestly discuss sensitive topics with their doctors, but if you cannot discuss these matters with a trained professional who went to school for years and years to treat the problems you may be experiencing, then who can you talk to? Always remember, that healthcare professionals are there to help. And if you feel that you cannot have an honest discussion with your doctor, then maybe it’s time to consider finding a new doctor.
Safe Sex Practices
Safe sex, be it contraceptives or frequent testing, practices are crucial for protecting your sexual health. And like the topic above, this advice does not exclusively apply to women. The most well known safe sex practices include using condoms or other barrier methods during sexual activity to prevent the spread of STIs. Frequent testing for STI’s (Also known as STD’s- Sexually Transmitted Diseases), especially if you are sexually active with multiple partners or are starting a new sexual relationship, is crucial tool in your sexual health tool kit. STI’s/STD’s can include HIV/AIDS, Syphilis, Herpes, Chlamydia, HPV and many others.
There are also medications and vaccines that can help protect you against HIV. These medicines are often known as PrEP, and if you are at an increased risk for HIV due to a variety of factors, it is worth considering talking to your doctor about PrEP.
Women are also at risk for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer in women. HPV is a common STI and in addition to cervical cancer, it can cause vaginal, vulvar, anal, and throat cancer. Fortunately a vaccine is available. The vaccine is recommended for girls and boys around the age of 11 or 12, however if you are older than that and have not received the vaccine, you can still benefit from getting it later in life. Women who receive the HPV vaccine are significantly less likely to develop cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is a crucial tool for women’s health, as it can prevent the development of a serious illness and save lives.
Menstrual health is another important aspect of women’s sexual health that is discussed all too infrequently. Women should be aware of their menstrual cycle and keep track of any changes to their period, such as irregular bleeding or severe cramping. Women should also track the days in between their cycles so they can know if their next cycle is late. Tracking your period will allow you to know when to expect your next menstrual cycle and if you are late or miss a period, it may be an indicator that you are pregnant. These changes may indicate other underlying health issues, like endometriosis, fibroids, or even menopause and should be discussed with a healthcare provider.
Practicing good menstrual hygiene is also a crucial aspect of women’s sexual health. By using clean sanitary pads, tampons, or menstrual cups during their periods, women can reduce the risk of infections Proper hygiene can help prevent infections and other complications.
Pregnancy and Contraception
Pregnancy and contraception are also important considerations for women’s sexual health. If you are sexually active and do not wish to become pregnant, you should use an effective form of contraception, such as birth control pills, condoms, or an intrauterine device (IUD). It’s important to discuss the pros and cons of different contraceptive methods with a healthcare provider to determine the best option for each individual.
For women who do wish to become pregnant, it’s important to discuss preconception care with a healthcare provider. This may include taking folic acid supplements, managing chronic health conditions, and avoiding harmful substances such as tobacco and alcohol.
Sexual Pleasure and Overall Vaginal Health
Sexual pleasure and satisfaction are important aspects of women’s sexual health. Women should feel comfortable exploring their own bodies and communicating their needs and desires to their sexual partners. It’s also important to understand that sexual pleasure and satisfaction can be influenced by a variety of factors, such as stress, fatigue, and relationship issues.
Let’s take Vaginismus as an example. Vaginismus is a condition that is caused by an involuntary contraction of the muscles found within the vagina. These contractions are especially noticeable while attempting vaginal penetration be that for sex or even inserting a tampon. In the simplest of terms, these become too tight for anything to be inserted. These contractions can be very painful and make vaginal penetration too painful to bear. For many women who have vaginismus this means that they cannot have penetrative vaginal sex, use tampons or receive OBGYN examinations.
If you experience Vaginismus, your doctor may recommend you begin what is known as vaginal dilator therapy. This will require the use of a vaginal dilator, which is a cylindrical device made of silicone that will be inserted into the vagina. Its purpose is to train the vaginal muscles to get used to expanding. Vaginal dilators are graduated, meaning they get larger with size, with the smallest oftentimes being smaller than the average pinky finger or a junior tampon. As you train more with your vaginal dilators you’ll be able to move up to the next larger size, eventually reaching a size that is approximately the size of your partner or desired partner. Vaginal dilators are reasonably priced and available without a prescription.
If a woman is experiencing difficulties with sexual pleasure or satisfaction, it’s important to discuss these issues with a healthcare provider or a therapist. They can provide advice and support to help address any underlying issues and improve sexual wellness.
There are many things to keep in mind when thinking about Women’s sexual health and there are many topics which we simply didn’t have time to discuss. It may seem like an overwhelming amount of information, but remember there are people trained to help you navigate all of this information and the more information we have available to us, the healthier we can be.