Women: Taking control of your sexual health

Key takeaways:

  • Sexual health affects your emotional, physical and social well-being.
  • Open, honest communication with your doctor and your sexual partner is a vital component in achieving sexual health.

[3 MIN READ]

When your to-do list seems miles long, it can be challenging to prioritize your sexual health as an essential part of your daily life. Between financial stress, motherhood, relationship challenges, work and the million other things that demand your thoughts and attention, you may be feeling like many women in America who no longer consider sex a pleasurable experience that's worth their time. In fact, as many as forty percent of women may experience no libido at all at some point in their lives.

Many women are not talking about sexuality or making it a priority because it may not be a natural or comfortable conversation. You may wonder why your sexual desire is lower than your partner’s, why it fluctuates or even what’s normal. But rest assured, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to the sexual norm, but there are ways to help you understand and own your sexuality.

This is the second article in our two-part series focused on helping women take charge of their sexual and reproductive health. The first article centered on the steps you can take to guard against cervical cancer. For this second installment, we talked to Christina A. Gabel, CNM, a certified nurse midwife at Mission Heritage Medical Group, about how women can take control of their sexual health and why it's crucial that they take the time to do so.

Here’s what she shared.

What is sexual health?

Sexual health is a state of emotional, physical and social well-being regarding a person's sexuality.

What does "taking control" of your sexual health mean?

First and foremost, start talking about sex and your sexual needs. It may not be easy or comfortable to talk to your partner about your sexual needs or wants, but open communication is key. Sharing your thoughts and expectations of your sexual experiences will most likely help you achieve greater sexual satisfaction.

Can you learn to enjoy sex?

Learning about your body and your likes and dislikes will help you have a more enjoyable sex life. Often sexual education for young adults is not focused on pleasure and enjoyment but instead on avoiding sex or learning the basics of reproduction. It can be challenging to grow beyond that viewpoint later in life without exploring your own anatomy and learning what stimulates your sexual pleasure.

Are there physical health benefits to having healthy sex?

Beyond the emotional benefits, there are many physical health benefits to having sex. It’s like a workout for your pelvic muscles. For women, it can strengthen the pelvic floor. When you have an orgasm, it causes contractions, which strengthens those muscles.

Research has also shown that sex can lower your blood pressure. It counts as exercise and raises your heart rate, which can reduce your heart attack risk. Sex eases stress and anxiety. It helps you get better sleep by releasing oxytocin and endorphins, which have sedative properties.

How do the different stages of life—adolescence, pregnancy, menopause, senior years, etc.—affect your sexual health?

If you’re like most women, your sexual health changes throughout your lifetime. During adolescence and early adulthood, you may be exploring your sexual needs and desires. You are getting to know your body and becoming comfortable with it. During this stage you need to be informed about sexuality and given tools to keep yourself safe. All women should learn at a young age what informed consent is and how to protect their bodies.

Most times, sex during pregnancy is completely safe. It does not harm you and will not harm your baby. The amniotic sac protects the baby. Sex will not cause a miscarriage.

Sex during pregnancy can help with pelvic floor strength and exercises. As your pregnancy progresses, it is important to have open communication with your partner about what feels good and adjust your positions as needed as the pregnancy progresses. Orgasm during pregnancy can cause Braxton Hicks contractions; but don't worry, this is normal and will not induce early labor.

Regular sexual activity is important after menopause because it stimulates blood flow and keeps your vaginal tissues toned. Sex helps maintain your vagina’s length and stretchiness.

Some women can experience vaginal dryness during and after menopause. Using a lubricant during sex can help with this. Talk to your doctor or midwife to determine if you need a prescription for hormonal creams.

Do men and women have different sexual health needs?

Women tend to want to create intimacy with their partner. They don't always have sex just to have an orgasm but rather to create a meaningful bond with their partner. Men often become intimate to gain sex, whereas women have sex to achieve intimacy.

Are there ways to protect yourself, like contraception and screenings?

It is important to protect yourself from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This is one of the ways women can take control of their sexual health.

Talk to your healthcare provider to figure out the best options for you. Have regular check-ups with your doctor or midwife and get screened for any potential problems or infections.

How do you set healthy boundaries sexually?

Having real, truthful communication with your partner is the first step in setting healthy boundaries sexually. Be confident in your choices, likes and dislikes and communicate them to your partner. You can also discuss what your partner’s sexual boundaries are and respect those as well.

When is it time to seek professional help?

It is important to know when to talk to your healthcare provider regarding your sexual health. If you are having issues with your libido, talking to a sex therapist may help. If you are taking medications that might affect your sexual desire, review them with your provider to see if there are alternatives. If there are any physical signs or symptoms that interfere with your sexual enjoyment, ask for treatment options.

How does taking control of this empower women?

Taking control of your sexuality will empower you to know you are in charge of your outcomes regarding an enjoyable sex life. Finding ways to get your sexual needs met will boost your self-esteem and give you more confidence.

If there were one piece of advice you'd give women to take control of their sexual health, what would it be?

Communicate with your partner. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it will get easier as time goes on and communication remains open. Grow to be comfortable with your body. Learn what you like and dislike. Most of all, know that you are the only one that can prioritize your sexual health. Despite life’s expected obstacles and hormonal challenges, a sexual and intimate life reminds you that your body deserves to be celebrated for healthy aging and longevity.

Make an appointment with your provider if you are having any sexual problems. Many times, there is a solution to any issues you may be having.

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Find a doctor

The team of women’s health experts at Providence listens without judgment and offers compassionate, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care.  Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can access a full range of healthcare services. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.

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How have you taken charge of your sexual health? Share your insights with readers @providence.

Related resources

Get relevant, up-to-date information on the coronavirus (COVID-19) from Providence.

If you need care, don't delay. Learn more about your options.

Medical screenings every woman should have

Perimenopause: The transition phase before menopause

Take charge of your cervical health

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

 

About the Author

The Providence Women's Health team is committed to providing useful and actionable insights, tips and advice to ensure women of all types can live their healthiest lives.

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