Sexual Health Checklist: Taking Charge of your Sexual Health
Now is THe THE PERFECT TIME TO ASSESS WHETHER OR NOT YOU’RE CAUGHT UP ON YOUR SEXUAL HEALTH CARE NEEDS.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Did you miss a sexual healthcare appointment during the stay-at-home period?
- If you are sexually active and using a form of contraceptive for birth control, did you run out?
- If you are sexually active and not using birth control, could you be pregnant?
- If you are sexually active, have you had any new partners for oral, vaginal, or anal sex?
- Whether you are sexually active or not, have you been experiencing any pain, discomfort, or unusual symptoms that you want checked out?
Sexual health care is essential to your overall health. It is important that if you feel you need to seek medical care to address any of the questions listed above, that you contact a healthcare provider soon.
Of course, there may be barriers to getting care due to Covid-19. These barriers can include a lack of health insurance due to loss of employment or challenges enrolling in a health care plan during this time. If this is the case, please reach out to one of your local social support agencies for assistance or visit www.healthcare.gov to get assistance with finding an affordable healthcare plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Additional barriers to seeking sexual healthcare may include: not being able to find a healthcare provider that looks like you, not having the time or resources to get to an appointment (like transportation, childcare, or up-front costs associated), feelings related to attending medical appointments (like fear, anxiety, lack of trust with providers, feelings related to your gender or sexual identity), or even things like past traumas, including sexual assault or bad experiences in medical settings.
Even if you’re experiencing one or more of these barriers, here are two very important reasons why you should always stay engaged with your sexual healthcare.
- Preventive Care Preventive screenings are recommended so that if there is a health concern, it can be addressed quickly. Some common preventive screenings include:
- Pap Smear: These are recommended for women ages 21-29, every 3 years; for women ages 30 and older, every 5 years; however, these screenings could be recommended more often by your provider as well. [Note: These recommendations are for women with a uterus and/or cervix]
- Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) screenings: For women ages 25 years of age or younger and currently sexually active, it is recommended that chlamydia and gonorrhea testing be done each year. For women over the age of 25, who have new or multiple sexual partners, or a sexual partner who has tested positive for STI, testing should be done at a minimum of once per year. Common STI screenings include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. All pregnant women should be screened for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B at various stages of the pregnancy. [Note: These recommendations are applicable for cisgender women, transgender women, and gender non-conforming individuals who are sexually active.]
- Mammogram or Breast exam: Breast exams are recommended during well-women visits and may be recommended more often for women who are considered to be at higher risk (for example, women with a family history of breast cancer). Otherwise, women begin annual mammography starting at age 40. [Note: These recommendations are for women with breasts.]
- Sexual Health Resources Meeting with a healthcare professional regularly to discuss your sexual health concerns and to seek out sexual health is essential. When meeting with a healthcare professional, it is important to discuss your own personal sexual health concerns and needs. These can include requesting reproductive options (including access to birth control or abortion services), the prevention of STIs and HIV (like using condoms, dental dams, or learning about PrEP), ways to address sexual difficulties (like painful sex, vaginal dryness, low desire for sex with partners), or to discuss sexual and reproductive health concerns (like how to safely use sex toys or talk about family planning).
An important aspect of taking charge of your sexual health is partnering with your healthcare provider to help ensure you’re receiving the best care possible. It’s your right to have access to accurate and quality sexual health care, and, at the very least, you should feel like you can trust your provider. Healthcare should be provided to you without judgment. You should feel like what you discuss with a sexual healthcare provider will be kept private or confidential. Here are a few tips to partner with your healthcare provider, when you do go in for your next appointment:
- Write down any questions or concerns that you have and take them with you.
- If you have been experiencing any pain or discomfort, tell your provider about it.
- If you want to receive a specific screening or test, it is okay to ask for it. The provider may ask additional questions or offer information to you. Take the time you need to process it.
- If you do not understand what the provider is telling you, ask them to stop and explain it to you.
- If you are offered medication to take, be sure to ask what kinds of side effects it may have. If you do not like the side effects, you have had a bad experience in the past, or you are uncomfortable with the medication that has been offered, it is okay to ask for other options.
The key to having a positive sexual healthcare experience is to work together with the provider. When you are able to feel heard in the appointment and the provider is able to offer you their medical advice, then you and the provider can work together to agree on the options that are best for you.
Information was provided by Dr. Ashley Townes and can be found in the citation below:
Townes A, Herbenick D. (In Press, 2020). Black women’s sex lives matter: Tips for talking with your healthcare provider. American Journal of Sexuality Education, https://10.1080/15546128.2020.1721389
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Ashley TownesPhD, MPH, Sexual Health Researcher
Dr. Townes has experience working as a Community Health Educator and Disease Intervention Specialist in Cincinnati and the surrounding areas. She has worked on several initiatives related to the dissemination of national HIV prevention and care campaign materials tailored for African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, and transgender women of color. Dr. Townes has taught collegiate-level Human Sexuality courses, served as an Epidemiologist at the Ohio Department of Health, and currently works as a sexual health researcher in Atlanta, GA.
Ashley’s research background includes work on the sexual experiences of African American/Black women accessing health information and utilizing sexual health services. In 2018, she received grant funding from the Patty Brisben Foundation for Women’s Sexual Health to translate sexual health research data into educational materials. Her career interests are aimed at providing quality sexual education and working towards health equity.