Taking care of your sexual health
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If you’re sexually active, it’s important to regularly visit a health care provider, like a doctor or nurse, to have sexual health check-ups and discuss sexual health issues.
What is a sexual health check-up?
A sexual health check-up is an examination by a doctor or nurse for sexual health issues like sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). During your sexual health check, you can also ask any questions you have about reproductive and sexual health.
Who can carry out a sexual health check-up?
A sexual health check will be carried out by a health care provider, but who exactly this will be depends on where you go for your check-up. You might see your regular medical doctor, or a doctor or nurse at a community health center or a family planning clinic like Planned Parenthood.
Check out the Get Help section for more information about how you can get access to a health services.
Who needs a sexual health check?
Anyone who is sexually active should have a sexual health check-up. How often and when you need to have a check-up depends on your lifestyle and sexual activity, so a sexual health check is advisable sooner rather than later if any of the following circumstances apply to you:
- If you think that you might have an STD;
- If you’ve had unsafe sex, including vaginal, oral and anal sex;
- If you’ve had a condom break or fall off during sex;
- If your partner has another sexual partner;
- If you have more than one sexual partner;
- If you’ve shared injecting equipment like needles;
- If you’re starting a new sexual relationship.
What happens during a sexual health check-up?
A health care provider will usually begin a check-up by talking with you about your sexual history. Some of the questions your doctor or nurse will ask you might seem personal. Here are some examples of questions he or she might as you:
- How many sexual partners you have had?
- What kinds of sexual activities you have engaged in?
- Have you had sex with men, women or both?
- Do you have any symptoms?
- Have you injected any drugs or shared needles?
- Do you have tattoos or body piercings?
You might feel uncomfortable telling the truth when answering these questions. But if you don’t give your provider accurate information, you might not get the best advice or be given the appropriate tests. This could mean your health could be seriously affected. Some STDs can lead to long-term health problems if they’re not treated properly.
During your examination, with your consent, your external genital area might be examined for any signs of STDs. A variety of tests might be conducted, including
- A urine sample or blood test;
- Swabs, where a sample of fluid or discharge from your genital area will be taken and examined under a microscope. Sometimes it might be necessary to take extra swabs from the throat or inside the anus;
- For women, a vaginal examination, like a Pap smear, might also be performed. A Pap smear is a routine swab of the cervix that all sexually active women are advised to undergo. You should confer with your doctor about how often you should have a pap smear.
Whatever your results might be, your medical records are private according to the law if you’re 18 or older. Any information that health providers receive or discuss with you at a clinic is completely confidential and cannot be shared with your parents or people you know. Regardless of your age, health care providers are also bound through ethical practices to keep your health records confidential.
If you do test positive for an STD, your doctor is obligated to report cases of certain STDs to the government so the disease can be monitored throughout the U.S. Your identifying information like your name will not be used. They don’t need to know who you are, they only want to keep track of how many people are getting the infection across the country.
You might also want to consider telling your previous sexual partners about it so that they can get tested, and treated if necessary. There are many ways that you can tell them—face-to-face, over the phone, or even in an e-mail. But any way you tell them, it’s important to their sexual health that they be informed.
Consider a sexual health check-up a good opportunity to ask any questions you have about your sexual health or discuss anything that’s worrying you. A good health care provider will encourage you to ask questions.
It’s important that you feel like you are able to ask any questions you have. It’s equally important that your provider answers your questions and explains all procedures in a way that you’re able to understand.
Important questions to ask during your check-up
Some of the questions you might want to ask your provider before your sexual health check-up include:
- Can you be seen by a provider without a parent or guardian present?
- What kind of insurance does the provider accept? Will you be able to pay for the services?
- Will you be able to get a free or low-cost Hepatitis B vaccination? (This is a vaccination that is recommended for young people.)
- Will you be able to receive written documentation on the tests you were given and your results?
- Will your provider keep your information confidential?
- Will the provider allow time for urgent visits for issues like pregnancy and emergency contraception?
Here are some questions you might want to ask during your visit:
- What STDs are you being tested for?
- Will the test be a blood test, or urine test? How often should you undergo these tests?
- If any of the tests are positive, do you have to tell anyone? Will the provider tell anyone?
- If the test is positive, how will you be treated?
- Will your infection affect your future fertility, pregnancy or general health?
Stay in touch with how you’re feeling. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable discussing these topics. If you’re your doctor or nurse makes you feel uncomfortable in how they respond to you, you may want to try seeing someone else.
For more information
Check out the Intro to STDs fact sheet for more information on you sexual health.
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