Women’s sexual health focuses on safer sex practices, getting screened regularly for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), choosing vaccines and medications, using contraception properly and getting medical treatment for reproductive health issues and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), sexual health includes not only individuals, couples and families, but also communities and whole cultures. It is important that women know about various birth control options available to them as this can help empower them to be able to better manage their family planning decisions related to timing and the size of their family.
Women should feel free and initiate interest to discuss various options available to them with her doctor. Asserting that women should know how to protect herself and her partner from the risk for contracting a sexually transmitted disease, Dr Kiran Coelho, Consultant, Gynaecology and Obstetrics at Khar’s PD Hinduja Hospital & Medical Research Centre, said in an interview with HT Lifestyle, “Proper protection during sexual activity can help prevent the transmission of STD. Women should have the knowledge of simple contraceptive measures like condom (barrier method) in preventing STD.”
She advised, “Every women should be vaccinated with HPV vaccines like Gardasil, Cervarix etc which protects them not only from warts caused by human papilloma virus but also from cervical cancer. These vaccines are most effective when taken before the age of sexual activity. Screening can help reduce the risk of contracting an STD. Regular STD testing can help reduce the long-term effects of an infection. Left untreated, bacterial STDs such as Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia can have serious negative effects on your health, including infertility. Screening can help prevent these complications.”
Since many women think that menstruation is supposed to be painful, they may not discuss their discomfort with their doctor. However, Dr Kiran Coelho warned, “Severe pain during your period may be a sign of an underlying gynaecological or gastrointestinal health issue and should seek prompt treatment. It is important that women does not take any symptoms related to their sexual life like decreased libido, pain during intercourse, problems with orgasm etc lightly and take timely treatment from a qualified doctor.”
According to Dr Kshitiz Murdia, CEO and Co-Founder of Indira IVF, awareness on the upkeep and maintenance of one’s sexual health has been observed to be limited in India, especially when it pertains to women. He said, “This can be attributed to how topics under the umbrella of sexual education in youth and otherwise are considered a taboo and its discussion hushed. This lack of information can result in women not identifying symptoms for sexually transmitted infections, contracting infections, unwanted pregnancies, having no knowledge of the diseases of the reproductive system and its medical treatment.”
He listed some points to understand the same:
1. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) – STIs are those infections in the reproductive organs that are caused by sexual acts. These can be spread with the exchange of sexual fluids, including penetration, oral contact, and anal sex. Additionally, in mothers living with STIs, it can be transmitted from the mother to the child during the pregnancy as well as during breastfeeding. It thus, becomes essential for women to keep a check for STIs by visiting their gynaecologist regularly, not only to protect themselves but also their partners and future children. One effective way of preventing STIs is to have safe sex using condoms and dental dams while engaging in sexual activities.
2. Vaccines as a preventive measure – STIs can be caused by different microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses. Currently, there are vaccines for STIs caused by viruses including Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and hepatitis B. HPV is known to cause cervical cancer thus, such vaccines also help in the prevention of the same in women. HPV and hepatitis B vaccines are optimal when taken before women become sexually active.
3. Safe sex practices – Safe practices adopted during sex help in two ways – keeping STIs at bay and avoiding unwanted practices. Using barriers such as condoms and internal condoms during sexual intercourse and oral sex is one way to stop the exchange of sexual fluids, including semen which can cause a pregnancy if fused with an egg. Dental dam and nitrile gloves are other barriers that are used during oral sex and other sexual contact to avoid STIs. Additionally, following a hygiene routine before and after intercourse is a must. Keeping sexual partners at a minimum is an ideal case. In between two partners, it is imperative that STI screening is performed to detect any infections present; this can help contain the spread of infections, if any. Moreover, undetected STIs can spread its impact to different parts of the body, causing complications and also, leading to infertility.
4. Visit health practitioner regularly – Regular visits to the doctor’s clinic and highlighting any problems with their sexual and reproductive health can help bring a number of problems, if present, into the limelight. For instance, an irregular or painful menstrual cycle is an evident symptom for an underlying conditions – such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis – in the reproductive organs or hormones. Timely detection and treatment can arrest complications.