Sexual health can seem scary to think about and awkward to talk about. Whether you’re concerned about pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or another issue, it’s normal to feel any of a huge range of emotions – from numbness through to being worried.
But dealing with this stuff is definitely worth it. When you get support with your sexual health you’ll benefit in a number of ways:
- You’ll be getting help to be safer and healthier
- You’ll be looking out for anyone you’re intimate with
- You’ll be taking care of your body
- You’ll be supporting your mental health.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some useful tips on how to get help with sexual health.
Deal with anything urgent straight away
Some sexual health issues are important to address urgently. Here are some examples of when you should get help as soon as you can.
- If you think you may have possibly become pregnant and don’t want to be, see a pharmacist to access emergency contraception (aka the morning after pill) within the first five days after unprotected sex.
- If you think you may have just been exposed to HIV, a medication called PeP (post-exposure prophylaxis) can lower your risk of becoming HIV+, but only if you take it within 48 after exposure (the sooner the better.)
- There are many reasons why you might miss a period, but it's a good idea to take a pregnancy test so you know if that's the cause. This way you can start thinking about your options as soon as possible.
You can speak to an ordinary doctor (a GP) about any of these issues, or you might prefer to go to a maternity or sexual health clinic.
Get regular sexual health checks
If you’ve had sex, sexual health checks are important. They are an opportunity to deal with any issues early and get good advice.
There are a few different places you can go for a sexual health check. Ordinary doctors, or GPs, can give sexual checks. You might, however, prefer to go to a sexual health clinic. Because they specialise in sexual health, they’re discreet and often cheap or free. Keep in mind that you might need a Medicare card (and some ID), so if you're able to access yours, bring it along. Remember to speak with the GP about what goes on your medical record, if you're concerned about this. You might like to ask a partner, friend or close family member to go with you – being with someone can make things less daunting.
In many clinics, you’ll be asked to answer some questions on a form or private touch screen about your sexual history and any symptoms. A health professional will then speak to you about anything you’re concerned about, and talk through the tests it might be useful for you to get.
Sexual health tests can involve blood tests, urine samples, and swabs of your mouth, vagina, penis, and/or anus (if any private swabs are necessary, you can usually do them by yourself). This is a lot less intense than it sounds. Remember that doctors and nurses do sexual health tests every day. They’re trained to be professional and supportive, and to them, it’s no big deal.
The clinic will let you know when you’ll get your results – the time varies for different issues.
Prevention is better than cure, and the best way to take care of your sexual health is to be prepared. Do some research online to find out more about sexual health. There’s a lot of useful stuff on the headspace website, or the government website Health Direct has some great info. Practicing safer sex can make things a lot easier in the long run, and make a big difference to your peace of mind.
Remember to talk about sexual health with people you’re intimate with. It might take a bit of practice before it feels comfortable, but having these conversations can build the trust and connection between you.
If you're struggling with worries about sex, sexuality, sexual health or pregnancy, get in touch with your closest headspace centre for support.