Sexual health checks

If you’re sexually active, it’s important to keep an eye on your sexual health. Get the facts on sexual health and why doctors’ visits are important. Find out what a sexual health check-up involves, including what to do if a check-up is making you uncomfortable.

What is sexual health?

When people think about sexual health, they mostly assume sexual health is about sexually transmissible infections (STIs) or sexual dysfunction. They are definitely part of sexual health, but there’s more to it than that. Sexual health is about three things – safety, pleasure and respect. In other words, it’s about caring for yourself in sexual relationships.

Factors important to your sexual health

  • Good communication. It’s important that you feel comfortable discussing your sex life with your partner. Get tips on how to communicate effectively.
  • Enjoyment. Both you and your partner should be working together to ensure that your sexual relationship is fulfilling.
  • Respect. It’s important that sexual relationships are based on respect for each other’s needs, desires and value as a person.
  • Consent. The person you’re with needs to be happy and comfortable with the sexual relationship you have. Non-consensual sexual activity is a crime, so make sure you understand the laws around consent.
  • Minimising risk of pregnancy and sexual transmissible infections (STIs). Make sure you understand the risks of pregnancy and STIs in sexual relationships, and learn how to practice safer sex.

Sexual health checks

If you are sexually active, it’s important you visit a doctor regularly to have sexual health checks, even if you feel nervous about it. Remember that you're not alone in feeling this way. At the check-ups, you'll be able to discuss your sexual and reproductive health and rights issues. Sexual health checks can involve:

  • tests – e.g. for STIs, pap smears (for women), or sexual dysfunction.
  • discussing contraception – including long term contraception options
  • reproductive issues
  • discussing your rights in sexual relationships.

Anyone who is sexually active should have sexual health check-ups, but how often and when depends on your lifestyle and sexual activity. A sexual health check is really recommended if the following circumstances apply to you:

  • if you think you might have an STI
  • if you’ve had unsafe sex, including vaginal, oral and anal sex
  • if a condom broke or fell off during sex
  • if you or your partner have more than one sexual partners
  • if you’ve shared injecting equipment
  • if you’re at the start of a new sexual relationship.

Questions you could be asked

During a sexual health check you will probably be asked a number of detailed questions about your sexual history. They might include:

  • how many sexual partners you’ve had
  • about the type of sexual activity you engage in
  • who you have sex with (men, women, or both)
  • whether you have any symptoms that could indicate a sexual health or reproductive problem.

As uncomfortable as it is sharing this kind of information with someone you don’t know very well, it’s important to answer any questions honestly; as it could impact on the types of tests or advice you’re given. Untreated STIs can lead to long term health problems like infertility, organ damage or blindness.

Tests that could be performed

With your permission, a health practitioner may also:

  • examine your external genital area for signs of STIs
  • take swabs of fluid or discharge on a cotton bud for examination under a microscope
  • ask you to provide a urine sample or blood test
  • for women, perform a vaginal examination, such as a pap smear (a swab on the cervix inside your vagina to test for signs of cervical cancer).

It’s a great idea to ask any questions you have, including about any tests you have, confidentiality or about the impact any health issues may have on your life.

If a sexual health check is making you uncomfortable

Sexual health checks can be uncomfortable, awkward and embarrassing. It might not put all your concerns at ease, but it’s worth remembering that for a doctor or qualified health practitioner, sexual health checks are a normal part of their job. However, make sure you stay in tune with how you’re feeling. If you’re really uncomfortable with the practitioner, or you think they aren’t comfortable with the situation, you might like to see someone else.

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