Talking about sexual health with your doctor is important no matter who you are.
Your doctor can recommend ways to stay safe in your sexual relationships and discuss body image as it relates to sexuality. You might also find out ways to prevent certain diseases.
Sexual health can be an intimidating topic to bring up — and you may even have concerns about disclosing your sexual identity to a doctor. But it’s important that you’re honest with them.
The conversations you have in the exam room are confidential, and your doctor is bound by law in the United States to protect your personal information.
Honest dialogue between you and your healthcare provider can help you learn the conditions you may be at risk for, how to prevent them, as well as if you have any current diagnoses related to your sexual health.
It can be awkward to approach your doctor about sexual issues, especially if you’re LGBTQIA+ and worried about discrimination.
But if you ever feel disrespected or uncomfortable during your exam, you can seek out a new doctor. (And don’t hesitate to report anything inappropriate — you have that right).
Here are five reasons why it’s necessary to bring up your sexual health with your doctor:
STIs — sexually transmitted infections — can be transmitted during anal, vaginal, or oral sex.
Most STIs don’t have any symptoms, especially in their early stages. You might not know if you or a sexual partner has an STI without getting tested.
Most STIs are treatable or managed with antibiotics or other medications, and some can be cured entirely. Yet, many cases are still believed to be undiagnosed and untreated.
Some of the more well-known STIs include:
- herpes simplex virus (HSV)
- human papillomavirus (HPV)
- hepatitis A, B, and C
Why is STI prevention important?
Untreated STIs can have serious health consequences in some people, which is one reason why it’s important to learn how to protect yourself against these infections.
Some serious health effects that may occur include:
- reproductive complications, including infertility
- stillbirth in those who become pregnant
- chronic pain
- cognitive decline
According to the
- Syphilis cases increased by 71 percent. Cases of congenital syphilis increased by 185 percent.
- Gonorrhea cases increased by 63 percent.
- Chlamydia cases increased by 19 percent. Chlamydia is the most common STI, with more than 1.8 million cases in 2018. From 2017 to 2018, cases increased by almost
Figures for HIV are collected separately. According to HIV.gov, 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the United States today. Just in 2018, more than 36,000 new HIV cases occurred.
Who’s at risk for an STI?
Anyone who’s sexually active can contract an STI. However, it’s reported that men who have sex with men (MSM) do have a greater risk.
Can an STI be cured?
If someone receives an HIV diagnosis, for instance, they will need to take medication daily to manage their condition and stop the virus from replicating.
Why should I talk with my doctor?
Your doctor can discuss personal risks for acquiring STIs. They may recommend when to get tested, depending on your sexual history.
You can also talk with your doctor about:
- the frequency you should be tested for STIs
- any vaccinations they recommend against certain STIs
- medications you can take if you have an HIV-positive sexual partner or exam
Being aware of safer sex practices cannot only help prevent the transmission of STIs, but also help boost your sexual health in general.
There are several things you may want to discuss with your doctor:
- Methods of protection. You can ask about ways to protect yourself leading up to a sexual encounter, and during the sex itself.
- Barrier methods. Find out what barrier methods are best for you, and how to use them properly. For instance, you can discuss the particulars of condom use. This may include outlining safer condom use, such as using condoms made from latex or other synthetic materials.
- Lubricants. Your doctor can also speak about using a water- or silicone-based lubricant. These can decrease the chances of a condom breaking or malfunctioning.
- Sexual positions. You may want to ask about sexual positions for several reasons. For example, if your partner has HIV, where you position yourself during sex may increase or decrease your chances of contracting the virus.
Certain practices can specifically help reduce your chances of acquiring an STI. If you have any questions, you may want to ask your healthcare provider about:
- using barrier methods each time you engage in a sexual activity
- engaging in a monogamous relationship with a sexual partner
- avoiding situations where you may become intoxicated and engage in sex without condoms or other barrier methods
- getting tested with your partner before beginning a sexual relationship
STIs aren’t the only reason to discuss sexual health with your doctor. Your sexual identity and relationships can affect your body image.
You may find that body image is an important factor in your self-image. This can lead to engaging in destructive or unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to meet an idealized body type.
Some people try very hard to develop what they think of as an “ideal” body image or shape. Your doctor can discuss your body image with you and the health consequences of trying to maintain a certain look.
Your mental health can be closely intertwined with your sexual health.
The World Health Organization (WHO)
Sexual health isn’t just about the absence of disease or birth control.
- reliable information about sex and sexuality
- an understanding of the risks of sex without contraception
- access to sexual healthcare
- an environment that promotes sexual health and well-being
These are all areas in which a healthcare provider can help. They can help evaluate your mental health, and arrange for any treatments you might need to build or maintain your well-being.
It’s especially important for communities that face discrimination or cultural homophobia, such as MSM, to talk with their doctors about mental health issues.
In general, these substances can affect your overall health — mental, physical, and sexual.
Additionally, behaviors associated with using alcohol and drugs may lead to having sex without barrier protections, which can increase the risk of contracting an STI. You may also not be able to give or receive consent.
Using tobacco, alcohol, and other substances can have long-term consequences on your health. And in people who have HIV, smoking puts you at even
- heart disease
- lung diseases
Sometimes, people who start using these substances can develop substance use disorders. If you’re at risk for substance use disorders, your doctor can help with treatments that put you on the path of recovery.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 20.4 million U.S. people over age 12 had a substance use disorder in 2019. Of these disorders, 71 percent involved alcohol and 40 percent involved drug use.
Substance misuse can involve serious physical and mental health complications.
It can help to talk with a healthcare provider about any substance use concerns you may have. They can help you find the best methods for cutting down or reducing your use.
Discussing your sexual health with a doctor goes beyond just talking about your sex life. Healthcare providers can ensure you’re aware of any risks related to having sex and how to prevent or lower them.
They can also help you find solutions if you’re experiencing issues with your self-image, mental health, or use of substances.
Try thinking of your doctor or medical professional as a confidante who keeps your best interests in mind. If one doctor isn’t giving you the support you need, there’s always someone out there that will.