Making decisions about sex, birth control, and health

Browse the internet and you will find no shortage of pages about “taking charge” or “taking care” of sexual and reproductive health. But what does this mean, exactly?

While the answer may be a little different for everyone, it involves feeling good about yourself and knowing your choices align with your values. It means being proud of—and enjoying—your sexuality. It’s knowing your own sexual boundaries and feeling confident to communicate those boundaries to a partner. It’s taking action to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It’s being empowered to make decisions about if, or when, you want to become pregnant. It’s getting regular gynecological checkups and being able to have informed, honest conversations with your healthcare providers.

Taking charge of your sexual and reproductive health means all of this and more. Here are some key tips to ensure you’re giving these things the care, thought, and attention they need.

Determine what’s right for you

Sex is something you deserve to enjoy. Remember that it’s up to you to decide if and when you choose to have sex. This goes for whether you’re in a romantic relationship or whether you’re not. And always be sure you’re having sex in a safe and healthy way.  It’s a good idea to check in with yourself regularly: think about your values, what you’re looking for sexually, and any boundaries you’d like to set for yourself. These answers could change throughout different stages of your life.

What may also change through your life are your thoughts on becoming pregnant. You may decide this isn’t the right time to become a parent, in which case, taking steps to prevent becoming pregnant is key.

Keep up with your gynecological appointments

Regular gynecological exams are another important aspect of maintaining good sexual and reproductive health. Here’s a rundown of the key parts of an appointment:

  • External exam. During this exam, the vulva (exterior part of the vagina) will be examined for any sores, cuts, or other abnormalities.
  • Pap test. Your healthcare provider will also perform a Pap test, which involves collecting cells from your cervix (the lower part of your uterus that opens up into the vagina) to help detect potentially precancerous and cancerous cells in the cervix.
  • Discussion about STDs and possible screening. Some STDs don’t cause symptoms, so it’s important to be honest with your healthcare provider about your sexual partners and whether reliable protection has been used. Various strains of HPV spread through sexual contact and are associated with most cases of cervical cancer. Vaccine options exist that can help prevent infection by certain types of HPV.
  • Outside of your regular exams, you should schedule a visit with your gynecologist if you experience pain, menstrual changes, any skin issues with your vulva, or if you have questions about birth control. It is an important step in keeping yourself healthy.

Above all, be honest with yourself, your partners, and your HCPs.