If you hear ‘Sexual & Reproductive Health Day’ this February 12th and think ‘putting condoms on bananas’, then you might be exactly the people this holiday is for.
While safer sex practices are absolutely something that needs to be covered before you start an active sex life, there are unique aspects of your sexual and reproductive health that can gain importance at different parts of your life; yes, that can be pregnancy and STI prevention through using condoms, but also can cover things like protection in same-sex relationships, cervical and testicular cancers, and navigating sex during your senior years.
So let’s take a look at what Sexual & Reproductive Health Day is and how you can celebrate!
The History of Sexual & Reproductive Health Day
Celebrated globally, this holiday takes place just before Valentine’s Day, and is built upon the idea that “Sexuality and sexual health are integral to wellbeing throughout our lives. Everyone, no matter the age, is entitled to affirming health care, and that includes sexual health.” We couldn’t agree more – and we particularly love this year’s theme, which is about sexual health at every age.
What Should You Be Doing for Sexual & Reproductive Health Day?
One of the most important things you can do for yourself and your potential partner(s) is to practice preventive healthcare. First we need to understand what “sexual health” means and it comes in a variety of forms; self-value, a healthy body, satisfying sex or relationships, mental harmony. It also means being comfortable to talk about your sexual history with a health care provider. Ultimately it is up to you to determine what you value and what sexuality practices align with what feels right.
Getting a Yearly Test
If you’re having sex with new partners and haven’t been using condoms 100% of the time – that includes for oral sex! – then you should still be popping by your local GP’s office for a yearly STI test. There are plenty of STIs that can spread through skin to skin contact (ie hands) that can have real, long-term effects on your sexual health and fertility, like HPV. It’s also important to note that you can have and be a carrier of STIs whether or not you have symptoms.
With the exception of cervical and prostate cancer screening, these sexual health services are encouraged for both men and women: STI screenings, HIV testing, Hepatitis C screening, Hepatitis B vaccination, HPV vaccination, contraception counseling, and abuse counseling.
You, with the help of your healthcare professional, will of course know what the best services are for you.
Asking About Your Cancer Risk
If you have a cervix, you’ve probably heard of a Pap smear – these cervical screenings take a look at the cells on your cervix to check for cancerous cells. Typically, you should be checked every 3 years once you reach the age 25.
For penis-having folks, your cancer risks will change at different ages. Testicular cancer, for example, is the leading cancer for those aged 15-35, and while it is usually quite curable, that is only if it has been caught early. More advanced stage testicular cancer will require more aggressive treatment, which can negatively affect fertility.
Prostate cancer tends to affect you later in life; if you’re caucasian and have no family history of prostate cancer, you should start screenings around age 50, but if you do have a family history or of African-heritage, screenings should begin at age 45.
Stopping the Stigma
While we often talk about the taboo of certain aspects of sexuality, such as non-heterosexual identities, BDSM or non-monogamy, a lot of discussions are about how these taboos are falling away and allowing people to enjoy their interests or live their lives more honestly. However, stigma about sexual health has not necessarily enjoyed this same opening up.
While it’s important to be on top of your sexual health, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there need be a stigma surrounding STIs, as all latest CDC figures show that it’s a large proportion of the population that will have one at one time of their life or another. Yes, we should be safer, but we also need to be able to discuss the realities of sex and the risks therein appropriately; STIs are not a ‘moral’ punishment that happens to ‘other people,’ and thinking of them as such only makes people a lot less likely to get themselves checked out.
Make Pleasure Part of the Equation
Our sex lives – from frequency to interests – might change as we go through life, but that doesn’t mean it has to stop altogether if we don’t want it to. This can mean including ‘vibrator therapy’ as part of your menopausal coping plan, to changing what ‘sex’ means between you and your partner in the face of erectile uncertainty – it can even mean exploring new sex positions that better suit limited mobility as you age or if a physical disability becomes part of your life!
Pleasure is absolutely part of your sexual wellbeing, and while it may seem awkward to bring up to your regular doctor, you can and should – if they aren’t able to handle your query, they’ll be able to refer you to someone who can!