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  • Sep 22, 2019

Sexual health is whole person health

Photo courtesy of Molly Holmes.

By Molly Holmes, BSN, RNC-OB, Nurse Manager, Ambulatory Women's Health.

"Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time."
 - Maya Angelou

For some patients, certain aspects of health care are distinctly uncomfortable to talk about or acknowledge and often this is the case when it comes to sexual health. Talking about a difficult issue related to sexual health can be embarrassing and taboo in some cultures. Concerns with such intimate issues may not be as immediately threatening to life as a heart attack, but concerns about sexual and reproductive health do have a significant impact on well-being.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services offers this summary:
Sexual health is a state of well-being in relation to sexuality across the lifespan that involves physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual dimensions. Sexual health is an intrinsic element of human health and is based on a positive, equitable, and respectful approach to sexuality, relationships, and reproduction that is free of coercion, fear, discrimination, stigma, shame, and violence.

Which is a very wordy way of saying ... sexual health is whole person health.

Medicine used to view women as unique only when it came to reproductive concerns. The study of disease and chronic illness focused on male biology and it was presumed that female bodies would respond in the same way. We know now that this is not always the case. Women exhibit symptoms of both acute and chronic disease in very different ways from men. The good news is that the specialty of Women's Health, focused on obstetrics and gynecology, serves as a launching pad for conversations about conditions that affect other body systems throughout life. This new form of "personalized medicine" focuses on disease development and screening prior to menopause. The treatment of localized physical concerns translate into improved care for bigger issues down the road.

But what about sexual health in the immediate sense? In the digital age, there are many misconceptions regarding sex, relationships and reproductive issues. Myths and prejudices abound. At times, it may be difficult to know where to turn with questions about these highly personal subjects.

The internet doesn't always provide reliable, high-quality information, and could even cause people to have unrealistic expectations about what is normal.

What to do?

  • Find a health care provider that you trust. See them regularly for routine health screenings, such as pap smears and more often if you suspect something may be wrong. 
  • Talk to your medical team about the best options for family planning and protection. There are lots of different methods and each has benefits and risks.
  • Be honest with yourself about your needs and prioritize yourself as well as your partner(s).
  • Have open discussions with your sexual partner(s) about protection, birth control and health.

As cringe-worthy as these conversations seem, your health care team is fully prepared to empathetically and professionally listen to and address your concerns. At CHA, we are fully committed to the treatment of the whole person, and this includes ensuring access to resources such as birth control, STI & HIV testing, pregnancy testing and options, fertility awareness, family planning, emergency contraception, and puberty/menstruation/menopause counseling.

People aren't perfect, relationships aren't perfect, and life is certainly far from it. Your body does not always behave in predictable ways. It can be terrifying to open up about such personal problems, and it is crucial to have medical providers that you can approach openly. CHA, in keeping with our medical home model, welcomes you to access your professional team in a safe and inclusive setting where diversity is embraced and celebrated. 

This articles provide general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this article, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider.

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