Invest In Your Sexual Health

If no one’s ever told you before, let me be the first: your sexual health is important. Super important. Even vitally, wonderfully important. And it’s critical that you invest it. Here’s how you can work toward better sexual health:

1)   Ladies: Get back in those stirrups! Make sure to schedule your annual gyn exam. Even if you’re broke or in between health insurance plans, schedule it anyway. Planned Parenthood clinics offer sliding scale services all over the place as do many county and state health departments (check www.cdc.gov to find your local health department). When you’re there, ask the doctor or nurse what they’re doing, what they’re testing for (many women mistakenly think that they are automatically getting tested for STIs/STDs, which doesn’t often happen) and how things look.

2)   Love Your Body. We know that women with a more positive body image and genital self-image tend to take better care of their sexual health. We also know that women with more positive body image tend to feel more confident in the bedroom, more comfortable taking it all off and more inclined to try a variety of sex positions. Yay for the adventurous side of you! Check out some of the homework exercises in my book, Because It Feels Good, that encourage women to check out their genitals or – with a partner – to get naked together and check out each others’ parts in the mirror. There are fun, sexy ways to learn to love your own and your partner’s body. Why not start now?

3)   Be here now. Mindfulness – you know, the whole “being in the present moment” thing from yoga class – has been shown to help women improve their desire and arousal. Try to find this pleasure-focused, now-focused side of yourself and cultivate it. Not only will it help you get through a mind-numbing work meeting, it just may help you embrace every sensuous second of your time with your most favorite person, naked (of course).

4)   Ask about the HPV vaccine. Will either of the two (yes, there are two – Gardasil and Cervarix) HPV vaccines prevent all cases of cervical cancer? No. Might they prevent some? Yes. Might they prevent a bunch of abnormal cervical changes? Yes again. The HPV vaccines are not for everyone but they may be helpful to many young women and men. Check in with your healthcare provider to see if one of the vaccines may be a good option for you.

5)   Check yourself out. About once each month, take a look at your vulva. Not your car – your vulva, your genitals, the lady parts between your legs. Regular self examination of your vulva can help you catch things such as genital warts, benign skin disorders or vulvar cancer (which is very rare) early which can lead to  more effective treatment. Vulvar self-examination can also help women to become more familiar with their bodies and learn to love them (see #2 above) which is a good thing.

Your sexual health is influenced by the health of your body and your mind (and comfort with sex) so try to get in the habit of caring for yourself so that you’ll be better situated for a more delicious sex life.

[Originally published in my weekly sex column at Cheeky Chicago.]

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.