September is Sexual Health Awareness Month. Many of us have established exercise routines, healthy eating habits, and even meditation practices to protect and strengthen both our physical and mental health. But when it comes to our sexual health, do we have an understanding of how to safeguard or better it?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sexual health for all gender identities “requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.”
Sexual health-related issues can be related to relationships and sexual pleasure, but also encompass a wide range of negative experiences or conditions such as infection, unintended pregnancy, sexual dysfunction, sexual violence, or harmful practices.
HOW PRIMARY CARE PROVIDERS CAN HELP YOU MAINTAIN YOUR SEXUAL HEALTH
“There are times where a person’s sexual health needs will require them to interact with healthcare systems. In order to help patients meet their goals it’s the role of the health care provider to ensure they have the tools and information they need to lead healthy lives at each stage in life,” said Kate Schultz, a nurse practitioner at Eden Health. “For example, it would be a disservice to a patient’s health and wellness journey to prioritize physical health at the expense of mental health, and similarly sexual health is a crucial aspect of one’s identity and development and requires just as much care and focus as all other aspects of a patient’s life.”
Primary care providers firstly offer non-judgemental connections with patients in regards to sexual health. Providers are called to meet patients where they’re at and offer answers, without bias, to their questions and concerns. For some patients, their doctor’s office may be the only place where they can disclose their sexual health concerns, or discuss their sexual identity freely.
Providers offer support as problems arise for patients and are the first access point to care. This helps to minimize barriers to care, especially in areas where access to specialists or even gynecologists is limited.
MAINTAINING YOUR SEXUAL HEALTH
It’s important to check in often with yourself and your sexual partner(s) about your sexual health, just as you would keep tabs on your physical health.
A primary care provider can help maintain a patient’s sexual health by conducting:
- Physical examinations of new concerns
- Blood work and testing for sexually transmitted infections routinely and after exposures and screening for sexual health issues during visits
- Routine cervical cancer screening, including PAP smears, can usually be done in the primary care setting
- The provider can also make sure options for contraception are explained to patients to find the best choice for their needs.
- For patients who may be at higher risk for sexually transmitted infections like HIV, discussions about protection and PrEP are vitally important
- As patients age, discussions about menopause, breast cancer, and prostate issues can be discussed at appropriate ages
- Further testing to ensure patients are not limited in their sexual health and wellness as they age
Remember, our overall well-being means that our physical, mental, and, yes, sexual, health are all working in concert with one another to help us achieve our wellness goals. There is no age at which caring for physical, mental, or sexual health will end, and the primary care provider is the person with whom patients can build a trusted relationship to partner on that journey together.
To learn more about how Eden’s integrated care model can help you maintain all aspects of your health, request a demo today.