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11 Ways to Take Care of Your Sexual Health

Tips on avoiding sexually transmitted infections, from Our Bodies, Ourselves by The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective

The best way to deal with an STI is to avoid getting it in the first place. Many women now find that having sex is an expected part of a new relationship, often before the individuals know very much about each other. At any age, we may want to delay sex until we know our partner(s) well enough to talk about the risks of disease and ways to protect ourselves. Willingness to talk about safer sex and STI prevention may be a good indicator of whether both partners are really ready to have sex. It’s your decision. Other people have to respect your choice and your feelings about it. Don’t let anyone pressure you into having sex if you don’t want to.

If you want to have sex, be prepared to protect yourself. Keep your safer-sex supplies within easy reach. Get them out before you start playing, since once you’re aroused, it may be harder to stop and look for them.

If you find it hard to talk to your partner about safer sex, you can practice what to say and how to say it with a friend, or with a counselor at a health care or family planning clinic.

If you think there’s a chance you or your partner(s) have been exposed to an infection, go for testing and treatment right away. Remember, you might have an STI and not have any symptoms.

You can get screened (tested when you don’t have any symptoms) for some STIs that don’t always have visible symptoms. It’s smart to do this if you are starting a new sexual relationship, have sex with more than one person, or think or know your partner has another sex partner. Ask exactly which STIs you are being tested for—some have to be diagnosed from symptoms because there’s no reliable screening test. Current guidelines recommend screening sexually active women who are age twenty-five and under every year for chlamydia, which is very common and may cause serious health problems if not treated.

If you or your partner has an STI, sex is risky until you and all your current partners (and their partners) have been tested, treated, and cured. Ask your health care provider how long you need to wait to be sure it’s safe.

Before accepting treatment, make sure you understand what you are taking and for how long, the side effects of medication, and any follow-up tests or treatment required. Don’t be embarrassed about asking questions.

Ask your health care provider about getting a vaccination against hepatitis B.

Regularly examine your body, especially your genitals, to see how everything looks normally. You may want to use a speculum to look inside at your cervix. If anything looks or smells different, you can ask your provider for a test. Even if a sore goes away, it may still be a sign that you have been infected.

Get regular pelvic exams, routine Pap smears, and STI screenings.

Find a health care provider who is comfortable discussing sexual health. Look for someone who gives you complete and understandable information, encourages and answers questions, and accepts your sexuality. Don’t wait for your provider to bring it up. If you need help, ask for it!

Author of Our Bodies, Ourselves (Copyright © 2005 by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective), The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective aims to empower women by providing information about health, sexuality, and reproduction. Advisory board members include Teresa Heinz Kerry, Susan Love, and Gloria Steinem. To learn more visit




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