Sexual health is a big part of life. It can affect and is affected by other aspects of health. This includes physical, mental, emotional, and social health. Being in good sexual health means you are well informed, careful, and respectful to yourself and others. It also means enjoying yourself sexually in a way you are comfortable with.
Path to improved health
Most people learn about sexuality and sex early on. You may have discussions with parents, siblings, teachers, or mentors. Or you may discover it on your own. You learn about gender and genitalia. You learn about what sex is and the risks it carries. Risks include pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and sexual abuse. It is important to learn as much as you can about sex. The more informed you are, the more prepared you are to make good choices.
There are many ways to protect your sexual health and care for yourself. Abstinence is the only way to 100% prevent pregnancy and STIs. This means not having vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
If you decide to be sexually active, you may want to consider a form of birth control. Different types include a condom, pill, patch, shot, implant, diaphragm, or intrauterine device (IUD). These can help prevent unwanted pregnancy. Condoms are the only method to help prevent STIs.
Talk to your doctor before you start having sex. They will talk to you more about safety, risks, and prevention. They can answer any questions you have about sexual health. They also can prescribe a form of birth control.
Some people have sexual problems or restrictions. Certain medicines and conditions can limit desire or function. Talk to your doctor before you take over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, or if you have side effects, such as pain, from sex.
Another part of sexual health is communication. Talk about sex to a doctor, parent, or adult you trust. It is best to be honest with questions and concerns.
You also need to be direct and clear with the partner you are sexually interested in. Talk about your expectations and set boundaries. Do not let him or her, or other peers, pressure you into anything. You should only do things that you agree, or consent, to do. Do not do something that you don’t want to do or that makes you uncomfortable. If you find yourself in a situation like this, tell the person “no.” Then leave the situation and tell someone you trust about it. They can protect you and get you help, if needed.
If you have been diagnosed with an STI, you should tell your sexual partner(s). They may be affected as well. The more partners you have, the higher your risk of getting an STI. Treatment can help cure or relieve symptoms of some STIs.
Things to consider
It is normal for your sexual health to evolve as you age. To stay healthy, it is best to regularly reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Doing this in advance will prepare you for sexual encounters.
Sexual health is not something you should manage on your own. It is something you should talk about with people you trust or love. You can talk about what is considered safe and what the risks are of certain actions. You should understand what consent is and that it’s okay to say “no.”
If you think you are pregnant, have an STI, or have been abused, seek help right away. For pregnancy and STIs, a doctor can do a test to confirm. They can provide you with more information and discuss your options. For abuse, a doctor can perform tests and provide treatment. A police officer or lawyer can provide legal assistance. You also may want to see a counselor, who can offer emotional support.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How will I know if I’m ready to have sex?
- What are the risks of having sex?
- If I decide to have sex, do I need to be on birth control?
- How can I practice safe sex?
- Are there any vaccines I should get before I have sex?
- I had sex, but now I wish I hadn’t. What can I do?
- How do I know if I am in poor sexual health?
- What should I do if I’m concerned about my sexual health?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.