With as often as society stresses the importance of sexual health, STD statistics in the United States still remain startlingly high. In 2008, over 1.2 million cases of chlamydia, nearly 337,000 cases of gonorrhea and 13,500 cases of post and secondary syphilis were reported to the Center of Disease Control (CDC). As it stands, one in every five Americans has genital herpes, and more than 80% may not even realize they are infected.
Though we continue to stress the importance of protection when it comes to our sexual health, high numbers continue to astound us. Somehow, somewhere, someone is ignoring both their education and the statistics, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Taking control of our sexual health should start long before you even become a sexual being. Through educating our children and stressing the importance of self-respect and diligence when it comes to using protection, we have the ability to put a dent in those numbers for the better.
Here are ten things you can do to start protecting your sexual health, if you’re not already doing so.
- Take your sexual relationships seriously from day one. In this fast-paced world where we get everything from instant Internet connections to 3-minute fast food meals, many people expect everything to move quickly–even their relationships. The pressure to have sex in the early stages of a romantic relationship can be intense, often severing the relationship altogether if one party decides they’re simply not ready to take the first sexual step. Don’t be afraid to say no if you’re not ready to have sex. If your partner doesn’t respect your choices, ask yourself if that is really someone you want to spend time with.
- Always use protection, and I don’t just mean birth control pills. Sure, the patch and daily oral birth control pills decrease your chances of getting pregnant, but they don’t protect you from contracting STDs.
- Take charge of protection yourself. Not everyone is going to take using a condom seriously, and some partners may use the excuse of not having one on hand to avoid using one. If you’re armed with protection yourself, that excuse is thrown out the window before it can even be made. If your partner still refuses to use a condom, maybe it’s time to reconsider the serious step you’re about to take in the relationship.
- Know your body, especially your genitalia. If you are aware of how your body looks, you can easily detect signs of possible infection and schedule a necessary visit to the doctor or clinic for further testing and treatment.
- See a doctor immediately if you think you may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Early treatment will keep you from spreading the infection to your future partners, who could in turn infect someone else.
- Don’t have unprotected sex if you have been diagnosed with an STD–ever! Talk to your doctor about safe sex practices to avoid spreading infection to your partner, especially if you have a highly communicable disease like herpes.
- Ladies, I feel your pain at the mere mention of the word pap smear, but we cannot afford to put these off. From the day you get your first period, scheduling an annual feminine exam that includes a pelvic examination and a pap smear is necessary–even if you’re not sexually active.
- Talk to your doctor about protective vaccinations, like the HPV and Hepatitis B vaccine. Protecting yourself against infection before it even starts is not just a step in the right direction, but it could save your life. Some doctors will even give the HPV vaccination, which guards against uterine cancer caused by the human papilloma virus, to male patients.
- Find a doctor who is comfortable talking to you about sex and STIs. Not every doctor will feel comfortable, which can make getting answers to your questions and concerns difficult. If your current doctor isn’t comfortable, find one who is.
- Abstain. Yes, I know we live in a sexual world where abstinence doesn’t feel like an option, but not having sex–even foreplay–is the ONLY way to eliminate the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Does that mean you should stay a virgin for the rest of your life? Of course not, but abstaining from sex until you have found a partner you trust will keep you sexually healthy.