“Self-care” has been a popular topic in feminism for many months now, and with good reason. It’s crucial to take care of your body, from the food that you eat to the ways that you relax. However, one often overlooked area of self-care is ensuring the sexual health of our bodies. In fact, sexual health is often the most neglected part of one’s health care routine. Sexual health encompasses many aspects, both physical and emotional, and it’s crucial to our overall well-being to invest in it.
I have often been guilty of ignoring my sexual health, for reasons of modesty, fear, and inconvenience. I realize now how helpful regular visits to your gynecologist truly are and in today’s post I’d like to discuss some the most common sexual health needs of women.
Pap Smears: A Pap smear, or Pap test, is a standard screening for cervical cancer. It works by testing for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix, the opening of the uterus. It’s suggested that you start getting pap smears by the age of 21. Many women (myself included) have avoided pap smears because I’ve been told “how painful” they are. While everybody is different, I find this description to be greatly exaggerated. The process is very quick and mainly consists of your doctor gently scraping the walls of the cervix. While mild pressure and discomfort may occur, it’s better to know possible issues before they become a problem. According to cancer.gov, “regular Pap screening decreases cervix cancer incidence and mortality by at least 80%.”
STI Testing: Roughly one in four college students have contracted a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). Much of this is attributed to an overall lack of sexual education across the nation and can be exacerbated by the partying lifestyle of many undergraduate students. This doesn’t mean that we should fear sex, though. On the contrary, we need to be vigilant about maintaining our sexual health when it comes to STIs. April is STD awareness month and the CDC recommends that everyone Talk (with their partners about STIs), Test (for STIs regularly), and Treat (existing conditions promptly). Testing is safe and easy, and protects your health in the long run…so get tested ASAP! If you’re a JMU student, be sure to hit up the free HIV testing in Taylor 400 and 402 from 11-3 pm today!
Breast Examinations: Breast examinations often seem like the easiest part of our sexual health to take care– it’s so easy you can do it yourself! But if you’re like me, you’ve been plagued by the fear that you’re doing your self-breast exams all wrong and have missed something dangerous. As someone that has lost family members to breast cancer, the importance of prevention (if possible) is incredibly important to me. So, the last time I was at the doctor I made sure I knew how and when to give myself proper breast exams. I asked questions until I felt comfortable doing it on my own and I think that’s the best advice I can give anyone! It’s important to be consistent because there are many studies that show the benefits of Breast Self-Examination (BSE)!
While these three practices are crucial components to sexual health, there are many topics that I didn’t cover. It’s important to do your own research and take advantage of the knowledge of experts (ie. your gynecologist at Center for Cosmetic & Reconstructive Gynecology, etc.).
Taking care of our sexual health is a crucial part of self-care. And more importantly, our sexual health is our responsibility as consenting adults. So be proactive and smart about it!