Sexual health is an important component of overall well being. Unfortunately, conversations about sex are often considered taboo in society. For Sexual Health Awareness Month, we’re breaking through that barrier to bring you some essential information on the most common sex-related topics. It’s a great resource to brush up on your knowledge or share with someone who’s just starting to learn about sexual health.
STD Prevention & Testing
Safer sex practices often start with a better understanding of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This is because STDs are easier to prevent when you know what they are and what causes them.
STDs can come from any sexual activity, and they can happen to anyone. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that nearly 1 in 5 Americans has an STD, for a total of nearly 68 million infections. This is an alarming number, but luckily there are numerous ways to prevent and treat STDs.
The most basic STD prevention is the barrier method — most frequently, a condom. STDs can be spread from one person to another through skin to skin contact and fluids, so creating a physical barrier between partners can reduce the risk of infection.
This method can be very successful if used correctly, but there is still a chance of contracting an STD. The only way to guarantee that you won’t contract an STD is abstinence, or not engaging in sexual activity with any other people. So if you are sexually active, it is important to test regularly for STDs.
Testing is crucial because although some STDs will present symptoms, many will not — so you could be infected and not even know it. You can get STD tested directly at many medical facilities, for example an OB/GYN. If you do test positive for an STD, talk to your doctor about next steps. All STDs can be treated with medicine and many can be cured completely.
Birth Control & Pregnancy
Depending on what kind of sexual activities are happening, pregnancy can also occur. Pregnancy happens when sperm inseminates an egg and attaches into the uterus. Some people want to be sexually active but do not want to get pregnant for a variety of reasons.
The barrier method, or use of condoms, can act as a physical roadblock between sperm and eggs. In this way, it is not only useful for STD prevention, but also for basic birth control. Condoms can be purchased at a majority of convenience stores and are often given away for free by health institutions.
But condoms are only the beginning, and there are many other birth control options available. Other birth control methods include hormonal options, like the birth control pill, patch, shot, implant, and more. These methods work by releasing hormones so that the release of eggs is paused or stopped, making it more difficult for sperm to inseminate.
Certain forms of hormonal birth control are some of the most effective outside of abstinence. Many of these options also come with side effects — both good and bad — that are important to discuss with your doctor. Planned Parenthood offers an in depth look at the full portfolio of birth control methods, including cost details and rates of effectiveness.
Sexual Violence Prevention
Sexual violence is also a prevalent issue in the United States, with one American assaulted every 68 seconds according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). It can happen between strangers, acquaintances, and even close friends or family. While the majority of victims are female, sexual violence can happen to anyone, of any gender.
Anytime sexual activity is taking place without consent, sexual violence is occurring. Consent is an agreement between people participating in sexual activity. It must be freely given — not under duress, coercion, or the influence of drugs or alcohol. Consent is all about communication, and people can consent to one sexual activity without consenting to others. In cases of sexual violence, specific laws regarding consent vary by state.
If you need free support from a trained specialist, you can call the 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673.