As a woman, you can’t be afraid of taking control of your own sexual health and safety. Researching and preparing ahead of time to keep yourself safe is both healthy and wise. Using safe sex practices like birth control and STD testing can help prevent the spread of STDs and, possibly, unplanned pregnancies.
Your sexual health is a key part of your overall health, so make sure you’re checking in with yourself and your OBGYN regularly. Read on to learn more about how you can improve your sexual health with safe sex practices.
Know Your Birth Control Options
Today, we have so many more options than our mothers and grandmothers before us when it comes to birth control. Condoms, vaginal rings, IUDs, monthly injections, and daily pills are all options for preventing an unwanted pregnancy.
Some are more effective than others, some have more side effects, and others require a prescription. Identifying what’s important to you and your partner is key when making this decision. There are so many things to consider! Where will you use it? Do you want something that lasts all day or only when having sex? How much time do you have to use it every day?
Talk to your gynecologist about your options and what works best for you.
Now that you understand your birth control options, make sure you are using protection each and every time you have sex. Whatever form of birth control you choose, the best way to prevent pregnancy is to use it regularly and follow your doctor’s instructions.
If you’re not in a physically exclusive relationship or you’re worried about STDs, you should also use barrier protection every time you have sex. Physical condoms—male or female—are the only reliable way to prevent STDs.
Just remember that in this case, more is not better—you cannot use male and female condoms at the same time. The friction from the latex will cause breakage, negating their protection from STDs and pregnancy.
You should also be careful to use latex or polyurethane condoms if you’re worried about STDs. Natural condoms made from lambskin can help prevent pregnancy, but they are porous and, therefore, not useful for preventing HIV or other STDs.
If you are sexually active, you should regularly test for STDs. Some sexually transmitted infections and diseases don’t show symptoms for weeks or months after they are contracted, which helps their spread. By the time you know you have an STD, you could have unknowingly spread it to someone else. The same is true for your sexual partner(s).
Testing for STDs regularly and often is the only way to know for sure that you’re clean. Understand your status, and ask your sexual partners about their status, too.
Remember, a huge part of your sexual health is open and honest communication with your sexual partners. Don’t be afraid to demand transparency. If they’re unwilling to disclose or don’t regularly test for STDs, it may not be safe to trust them with your sexual health.
Be Open and Honest
As we just mentioned above, communication is key when it comes to your sexual health. Talk to your partner(s) about your sexual past, your STD status, your preferences in bed, and your birth control options—and ask them to reciprocate with the same information. This can prevent misunderstandings and reduce your likelihood of contracting an STD.
If you feel like you’re too embarrassed to have a frank discussion, ask yourself two things. First, are you comfortable enough with this person to have good and healthy sex? Second, is it worth possibly contracting an incurable STD to skip the conversation?
Use Protection for All Sexual Activities–Not Just Penetration
While you can only become pregnant from vaginal intercourse, you can contract an STD from vaginal, anal, or oral sex. That’s why it’s best to practice safe sex no matter what sexual activities you decide to engage in.
Using condoms during both anal and oral sex can prevent the contraction and spread of STDs. There are also dental dams, which are designed to protect you during oral sex with a woman. Ask your partner to use these various forms of protection if you’re concerned about STIs at all.
Vaginal Products— Do’s and Dont’s
extremely easy to care for your vagina and keep it healthy. Your vagina is self-cleaning, so you should only wash the outside with soap and warm water. Don’t douche or introduce vaginal wash, which can upset the delicate flora of your vagina and cause yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
You should also avoid using products that are strongly scented. The skin of your labia is delicate and sensitive, making it more likely to break out or have an adverse reaction.
One product you should be using is lube. Proper lubrication ensures more pleasurable sex and less chance of tearing, friction, or your condom breaking. This means healthier, safer sex.
Just make sure that you’re using water or silicone-based lubricant. Do not use oil-based lubricants for sex. They can increase the likelihood of a condom tearing or breaking. Read the instructions on your condom box carefully for information about which lube is safe to use with that particular brand and product.
Hygiene Equals Proper Care
Sexual health is not just about sex with other people. It’s also about exploring and understanding your own body. Whether you use sex toys with a partner or alone, it’s important to clean them properly before and after use. This prevents bacteria from entering your vagina and causing infections.
If you’re using your toys with a partner, make sure you wash between uses to prevent the spread of STDs through your toys.
Just make sure you’re following the instructions for proper care. Different materials require different types of cleaners.
The Importance of Sexual Health
To learn more about the importance of your sexual health, explore the Woman’s Clinic’s SPARC program. SPARC is all about expanding communication about women’s sexual health. We are here to help women who have intimacy concerns, issues with decreased sexual desire, and issues with sexual pain achieve their goals through all stages of life.
Everyone deserves to have a safe, happy, and healthy sex life.
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