Being sexually active carries risks—risk of rejection, of unintended pregnancy, of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or even a simple cold. Being sexual also can provide many physical, emotional and spiritual benefits, including physical fitness, emotional bonding, and a feeling of spiritual connection.
It’s important to assess your own risks and benefits so that you can enjoy the benefits important to you while decreasing your risk of contracting an STD/STI, having an unintended pregnancy, or being coerced into sexual activity.
Taking Care of Your Health
It’s important to know how your body works, and be able to recognize when something isn’t right. If you have any symptoms that you’re just not sure about, get checked by a healthcare provider. But you don’t have to have symptoms to get checked, though. All women should receive regular care and testing to prevent problems before they develop. For example:
- All sexually active women under age 26 should be tested yearly for chlamydia. Older women with risk factors (like a new partner or several partners) should also be tested.
- Women under 26 should get an HPV vaccine, to help prevent infection from both high risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer and low risk types that cause genital warts.
- Starting at age 21, all women should begin Pap testing. Pap tests look for cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer. Women with normal test results can safely have Pap tests once every three years, or every five years if they are over 30. At age 30 and over, women should also get an HPV test along with their Pap.
- While not all women will need an annual Pap or HPV test, it is important to see a healthcare provider each year for what often called a “well woman visit.” This covers the basics-blood pressure check, height and weight-as well as a breast exam and pelvic exam.
Your annual visit also gives you the chance to talk with your provider about wide range of topics about your sexual health, from changes in sex drive, dealing with sex during pregnancy, pain during sex, protecting your fertility, what form of contraception would be best, or other issues. There are few topics, however, that any sexually active person should be sure to discuss, including preventing STIs, getting tested, and more. Here are a few suggested conversation starters.
- Given what we’ve talked about in terms of my sexual history, should I be tested for STIs? Which ones?
How often should I be tested for STIs? Which ones?
- I want to make sure that I’m taking all of the right steps to protect myself from STIs. Where should I start?
- How can I talk to my partner about STIs?
- I want to make sure that my partner and I get tested before we have sex. How can I bring up the topic with him/her?
- What are my options when it comes to birth control?
- What screenings* are recommended for someone my age? (*such as STI tests, mammograms, prostate cancer screening, etc.)
- I’m not always happy with the way my partner treats me. Can we chat about that?
Prevention Tips: Protecting Your Health and Fertility
- Use condoms correctly and consistently every time you have sex.
- Limit the number of sexual partners you have.
- Get an annual physical where you request appropriate screenings
- Get tested and ask your sexual partners to get tested (before you start having sex)
- Recognize when you are in an abusive relationship and know who to call.