Why You Should Care About Sexual Health

Sex isn’t something our society likes to talk about. In fact, most of us were taught since we were kids that sex is the kind of topic you keep far away from polite conversation. Despite mental health topics being more and more welcome in today’s conversations, sexual health is still quite taboo.

Talking about sexual health may make you blush, but it’s important too! Sexual health is strongly related to both your physical and mental health and something not going quite right in your sex life may indicate an underlying physical or psychological issue you should take care of.

Let’s explore further why sexual health is important.

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Your sexual health can tell you a lot about your physical health.

The human reproductive system is tied to many of our other bodily systems. One simple example: huffing and puffing during sex may mean you need to work on your cardiovascular health!

Sex has numerous health benefits. It can:

  • Improve sleep quality
  • Relieve chronic pain
  • Strengthen your heart
  • Boost your immune system
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower risk of prostate cancer

Problems With Your Parts?

Unfortunately, our equipment doesn’t always work perfectly. For people with penises, erectile dysfunction (ED) may be more than a frustration; it could be an indicator of an underlying health condition, including diabetes, kidney disease, and high blood pressure. While it can also indicate prostate cancer, don’t panic! ED is quite common (affecting about 30 million Americans), and most people who have it don’t also have prostate cancer.

For people with vaginas, pain during sex can also be both distressing and a health issue. While some cases can be remedied with a little lube, pain may indicate a problem like ovarian cysts, endometriosis, or simply an irritating skin condition. You deserve to have pleasurable sex, so talk to your doctor or gynecologist if sex makes you uncomfortable.

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Sexual health is a big part of mental health.

Sex can be an issue for people with existing mental health conditions that require treatment by medications. Many antidepressants lower libido as a side effect. This can be frustrating for patients taking these drugs, but they may be uncomfortable bringing it up with their doctors. They may not even know that a prescription drug is a reason behind their bedroom troubles.

So if you’re reading this, take medication, and are experiencing bedroom troubles, please do talk to your doctor! Fixing your problems can be as simple as switching to a slightly different medicine that delivers the same treatment. Don’t be shy about talking to your doctor about sex. Chances are they have plenty of experience with these issues.

You deserve a healthy relationship.

Perhaps more significant than both physical and psychological health effects, sexual health has a profound impact on your relationships. Misunderstandings can put strains on intimate relationships. For example, if one partner experiences pain during sex and thus doesn’t enjoy it, but their partner doesn’t know, the partner that does enjoy sex may assume they’re not attractive enough. This can lead to relationship conflict and loss of self-esteem. That’s why it’s important to keep communicating about everyone’s needs, wants, likes, and dislikes.

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A Word About Consent

Consent is also another important topic, especially in today’s #MeToo era. Consent means the person you want to have sex with, freely and clearly agrees to sex. Planned Parenthood offers a simple way to remember what is considered consent: FRIES.

  1. Freely given
  2. Reversible
  3. Informed
  4. Enthusiastic
  5. Specific

A few more important things about consent:

  • It can be withdrawn at any time.
  • Just because you didn’t say no, doesn’t mean you consented. Consent must be clear, enthusiastic, and freely given.
  • People who are drunk or high are not capable of consenting, nor are minors.
  • Being in a relationship does not automatically imply consent.

Remember, you deserve a healthy relationship! If you are currently struggling with sexual health-related issues, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Prioritize yourself.

Unique Health Tips for LGBTQ+ Women

Despite sharing many of the same health concerns as heterosexual, cis-gender women, those who identify as LGBTQ+ women face unique health-care challenges. Unfortunately, inclusive health-care education is lacking, so many people simply grow up without knowing the relevant aspects about safer sex. But this article is here to help inform everyone on some LGBTQ+ health-care tips!

Accessing Healthcare

LGBTQ+ women may face additional barriers to accessing healthcare because LGBTQ+ people in general are disproportionately low-income. If you relate to this, consider the following alternative resources:

  • Low-cost and community health centers may offer sliding scale or free health services.
  • Your local city or state LGBTQ+ advocacy organization may have suggestions, so call them up!
  • You can also find substantially cheaper medication online through international and Canadian pharmacy referral services. These websites link American patients to licensed pharmacies located in countries where drug prices are more strictly regulated.
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General Healthcare

Sadly, LGBTQ+ women are at increased risk for a number of medical conditions. This may be because, put bluntly, it’s stressful to be part of an oppressed minority. When you deal with discrimination every day, taking care of yourself can fall off the priority list.

Be aware that LGBTQ+ women are more at risk for:

  • Breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gynecological cancers
  • Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse
  • Obesity and inactivity

To avoid these health concerns, ask your health-care provider about health screenings, and remember to get yourself checked up on a regular basis. The CDC provides a comprehensive list of LGBTQ+-friendly health clinics across the country here.

Wait, pregnancy?!

When you think about LGBTQ+ women’s health issues, pregnancy concerns may be furthest from your mind. After all, two women can’t conceive, right? However, do note that trans women are women too, and they may still possess the equipment necessary to make someone pregnant.

Also, just because a woman identifies as LGBTQ+, doesn’t mean they don’t have sex with cis-gender men. Therefore, a woman who has intimate relationships with someone who may be able to get her pregnant should take the same precautions as cis-gender, straight women. This may mean taking hormonal birth control pills, using condoms, or getting an IUD device.

LGBTQ+ women can get STIs too!

There has been much focus on gay men and the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 80s. While health education for gay men is immensely important, sadly, less focus has been put on LGBTQ+ women’s health.

Some women assume that by having sex with other women, less bodily fluids are exchanged and therefore the risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is low. Unfortunately, this is not true. For example, HPV is common among women who have sex with women, as this virus can spread through skin-to-skin contact. Bacterial vaginosis is also more common among women who have sex with women than women who have sex with men. Untreated bacterial vaginosis may increase your risk of other STDs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and even HIV.

To help prevent these diseases from spreading, apply the following safer sex habits:

  • Use barriers like dental dams and gloves.
  • Put condoms on shared penetrative sex toys.
  • Wash sex toys thoroughly before sharing them, and wash your hands as well.
  • Get screened for STIs frequently.
  • Let medical staff know you have sex with women.

Trans Healthcare

Trans women have unique health needs that may require specialized care. For example, the hormones they use to transition can interact harmfully with medications, and what’s more, trans folks are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Furthermore, transitioning itself is a complex medical process that requires a lot of time, care, and often times, money. Unfortunately, not transitioning can be extremely distressing.

If you identify as trans, it’s important that you find a health-care provider you trust to discuss this issue openly. You can learn more about health insurance and trans health here. Be aware that some insurance providers do not cover services related to trans healthcare and that you have the right to report discrimination to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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Mental Healthcare

Systemic discrimination can put an immense strain on the mental health of any LGBTQ+ individual. Moreover, many LGBTQ+ individuals come from other minority groups. They are people of color, have disabilities, or deal with limited financial resources.

Furthermore, as an LGBTQ+ woman, you’re not exempt from problems that plague everyone else. This includes moving out for the first time, toxic or abusive relationships, and mental illness.

Social isolation is another problem. Those who are estranged from homophobic or transphobic family and friends can lack important social supports.

A Word about Domestic Violence

The stereotype that women don’t fight physically like men creates the wrong belief that women-only relationships don’t experience domestic violence. In fact, health-care providers may fail to ask about this. So if you have an abusive partner, be aware that you too can access women’s shelters, and make sure your health-care provider knows.

If you’re struggling, you deserve mental health support, even if it’s just a chat with a compassionate ear. Good places to start include the LGBT National Help Center hotline or the LGBT National Youth Talkline. The Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists can also help you find an LGBTQ+-friendly mental health professional.

We’ve come a long way.

Despite the obvious shortcomings still pervasive in the health-care system, LGBTQ+ women’s health and women’s health in general has improved drastically in recent decades. From Sappho to Stonewall, we’ve come a long way. Hopefully, more positive changes will come at the other end of the rainbow.

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