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Take Charge of Your Sexual Health

Authored by Susan Locke

Sexual health care is just as important to your well-being as your physical and mental health. Getting to know your body and its habits can help you stay on top of your health and notice when something might be wrong. Some sexually transmitted infections can have dire consequences if they aren’t caught quickly, and with many infections being asymptomatic, knowing your body can be an important factor. However, just knowing your body is not the end all be all. It’s important to have open communication with your partner(s) about your sexual health both individually and together. Keep reading to learn about the ways you can be proactive about your sexual health care. 

5 Ways to Stay on Top of Your Sexual and Reproductive Health 
 

 1. Get tested for STIs regularly. 

  • If you are sexually active, getting tested regularly is an important part of staying on top of your sexual health. 

 2. Talk to your partner(s) about getting tested. 

  • Taking care of your own health is important, but so is knowing about your partner(s) health. Remind your partner(s) to get tested as well if they are sexually active. 

 3. Get screened for HPV and cervical cancer. 

  • Cervical cancer screening is an important part of health care. Individuals with a cervix should start having screenings at age 21, regardless of when they first start having sex. How often you should have cervical cancer screenings and which tests you should have depend on your age and health history: 

  • Individuals who are 21 to 29 should have a Pap test alone every 3 years. HPV testing alone can be considered for those who are 25 to 29, but Pap tests are preferred. 

  • Individuals who are 30 to 65 have three options for testing. They can have a Pap test and an HPV test (co-testing) every 5 years. They can have a Pap test alone every 3 years. Or they can have HPV testing alone every 5 years. 

 4. Know when you should start getting breast exams. 

  • Clinical breast exams are recommended for individuals above the age of 50 with average risk. Individuals ages 40-49 should discuss screening with medical professionals if they are at a higher-than-average risk of breast cancer. 

  • If you are under the age of 40, while regular clinical screenings are not recommended, self-breast exams can and should be done regularly. 

  • Being familiar with how your breasts look and feel can help you notice symptoms such as lumps, pain, or changes in size that may be of concern. These could include changes found during a breast self-exam. You should report any changes that you notice to your doctor or health care provider. 

  • Having a clinical breast exam or doing a breast self-exam has not been found to lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. 

 5. Find the right birth control for you and your partner(s). 

  • Make a plan with your partner about the contraceptive method(s) you want to use. 

  • Remember that while LARCs are very effective at preventing pregnancy, they do not prevent STIs or HIV transmission.   

Sources:  

https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/cervical-cancer-screening 

https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/screening.htm 

https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/screening.htm  

https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/pdf/breast-cancer-screening-guidelines-508.pdf  

https://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment-guidelines/screening-recommendations.htm