Tuesday, 3 March 2020

One for the Girls*: Handy Tips For Maintaining Your Sexual Health

The term 'girls' and any reference to female/woman in this article refers to anyone who owns
'female' genitals and the same advice could be given to those non-binary, gender fluid etc. *There is talk of sexual intercourse including non-consensual sex in this article.

Your sexual health is just as important as your overall physical health, and should always be a top priority. Sexual health problems can have a knock-on effect on our physical health, fitness, and mental wellbeing, which can become long-term problems if not addressed quickly.  

But lack of available information - and let’s face it, a bit of embarrassment - can mean that we don’t know as much about maintaining our sexual health as we should. Don’t worry, this is pretty common. But if you don’t know your STIs from your IUDs, then it might be time to get stuck into some research.

Good sexual health may relate to your physical body (cleanliness, sexually transmitted diseases and infections),
but is also covers the process of reproduction (your period, contraception, and how to have a baby), and mental
health practise in relation to your sex life (safety, body positivty, healthy sexual relationships). 

There are lots of issues connected to these main areas of your sexual health. In this article, we will go over some
key ideas and provide some top tips on how to keep yourself happy and healthy throughout your sex life. But if
you have any further questions, get in touch with your local sexual health clinic.   

Knowing When the Time is Right 

So, first things first - how do you know when you’re ready to have your first sexual experience? If you're thinking
about losing your virginity or having sex with a new partner, here are seven main things to think about:

1. It's your decision - Remember, only you can decide whether or not you’re ready to have sex, and it’s more
than ok to say “no”. 

2. No means no - It’s important not to pressurise anyone else to be sexually active if they don’t want to be.
You must respect that. No means no.

3. Do you know about the law? -The legal age of consent in the UK is 16; any younger than that and it’s against
the law for you to be having sex. This is true for boy/girl sex, girl/girl sex, boy/boy sex and basically for all sex,
with anyone! But when you get to 16, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right age for you to start having sex.

4. Non-consensual sex with a person who is drunk or under the influence of drugs is rape - If a person is
unconscious, or if their judgement is impaired by alcohol or drugs, legally they are unable to give consent to sex.
Having non-consensual sex with a person who is drunk or under the influence of drugs is a crime.

5. Communicate with your partner about sex - It’s really important to communicate with your partner about
being sexually intimate so you can find out each other’s likes and dislikes. It’s also important to wait until you’re
ready to progress to sex

6. Talk about safe sex - It’s vital that you talk about safe sex before you get to having sex; you need to protect
yourself from STIs and the risk of unplanned pregnancy.

7. You might not be ready to have sex if.....You feel embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about points 4 or 5
above with your partner. 

Avoiding STIs 

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that are spread by sexual contact. STIs can cause severe
damage to your body—even death. Except for colds and flu, STIs are the most common contagious
(easily spread). Some STIs can be treated and cured, others cannot. 

The most common STIs are: Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Genital herpes, Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
infection, Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, Syphilis, Trichomoniasis, and Hepatitis B.

A person with an STI can pass it to others by contact with skin, genitals, mouth, rectum, or body fluids. Anyone
who has sexual contact with another person may get an STI. 

The following factors increase the risk of getting STIs:

  • Having more than one sexual partner
  • Being with a partner who has or has had more than one sexual partner
  • Having sex with someone who has an STI
  • Having a history of STIs
  • Using  intravenous drugs (injected into a vein) or partner use of intravenous drugs

And these are THE BEST ways to reduce the risk of getting an STI: 

  • Know your sexual partners — Your partner’s sexual history is as important as your own. The more partners you or your partners have, the higher your risk of getting an STI. 
  • Use a latex condom—Using a latex condom every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex decreases the chances of infection. Condoms lubricated with spermicides do not offer extra protection. Frequent use of some spermicides can increase the risk of HIV.
  • Avoid risky sex practices—Sexual acts that tear or break the skin carry a higher risk of STIs. Even small cuts that do not bleed let germs pass back and forth. Anal sex poses a high risk because tissues in the rectum tear easily. Body fluids also can carry STIs. Having any unprotected sexual contact with an infected person poses a high risk of getting an STI. 
  • Get immunized—Vaccinations are available that will help prevent hepatitis B and some types of HPV.

Everything You Need To Know About Thrush!

There are some other common infections which affect your sexual organs, which are NOT STIs, but which may be caused or worsened by sexual activity (though they can occur for other reasons). The most common of these infections is thrush. 

Thrush is a very common vaginal infection, caused by an overgrowth of yeasts which live normally in the bowel and may be present in other parts of the body, such as the mouth, skin and vagina. Some women are more susceptible to thrush, and the symptoms can be exaggerated by poor sexual hygiene, hormonal changes, and some medications (especially steroids and antibiotics).

Symptoms of thrush in women include: vaginal itch, discomfort or irritation, vaginal discharge, redness and/or swelling of the vagina or vulva, stinging or burning when passing urine. Other conditions, such as genital herpes or urinary tract infection may have similar symptoms, so it is important to have the diagnosis confirmed.

The best way to avoid thrush is to keep your vagina clean. Avoid perfumed soaps, gels and antiseptics as these can affect the healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels in the vagina and cause irritation. Use plain, unperfumed soaps to wash the area around the vagina (the vulva) gently every day, particularly after sex.

If you do develop thrush, don’t worry - it is common and fairly easy to treat. You can either go to your doctor, or try an over-the-counter treatment like Canesten Duo, which contains fluconazole. This works from within to clear the thrush infection, while the double strength Canesten thrush cream (containing clotrimazole) effectively calms the itch.    

Know Your Contraceptives

Contraceptives are designed to prevent you from becoming pregnant during sex. There are many different types of contraceptives available to explore. All that matters is that you find the right one for you, and that you are comfortable using every time you have sex. 

It can take some time to find your perfect system. So go and speak to a sexual health professional, whether that be your doctor, gynecologist, or sexual health nurse, and talk through your options.  

Physical Fitness and Sexual Health 

Fundamentally, the very best thing for your overall sexual health, is maintaining good physical health, fitness, and diet. Your sexual health is, after all, just an extension of your physical health. 

Not only will diet and exercise keep your whole body fit, help you defend against infections and injuries, and keep your reproductive organs stay healthy - it will also help you enjoy sex more. That’s right - getting your fruit and veg intake and hitting the gym will actually make you better in bed!  

Sexual Health Clinics 

Last but not least: get to know your local sexual health clinic. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and if you have any concerns about your sexual health - make an appointment. The staff will always be discreet, friendly and non-judgemental, happy to help solve your problem, whatever it is.  And if you are sexually active, you should have regular STI tests every time you change partners. 

*Collaborative article

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