By Dr. Sayra Sievert

When it comes to your sexual health, the most important message from your Women’s Care provider is that you should talk openly with your gynecologist about any aspect of your sexual health. Too often patients do not feel comfortable sharing any concerns regarding sexual health with anyone, causing you to feel alone and unsure if what you are experiencing is normal and if there are any treatments available.  

Your gynecologist is here to listen and to provide important information about treatment options. Many questions that patients have are common questions, and your Women’s Care provider is here to help guide you, reassure you, and treat clinical conditions to improve your quality of life. Your provider’s role is to listen while making your feel comfortable to ask any question you are concerned about.   

What are STIs and what are the signs that you should be tested? 

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that spread by sexual contact. Any person who is sexually active is at risk of getting an STI. Women at higher risk are those who have or have had more than one sexual partner; their partner has had more than one sexual partner; they have a history of a prior sexually transmitted infection, or have had sex with someone who has a known STI.  Some STIs have symptoms while some do not, so it is important to talk to your gynecologist about your individual history and risks factors to determine the best testing approach and frequency.   

Which gynecologic diseases are considered part of sexual health? 

Some common sexually transmitted infections are chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, genital herpes, hepatitis B, HIV infection, HPV infection (human papillomavirus), and syphilis. Some of these can cause issues with fertility, so it is important to be screened and treated. Many of these STIs are asymptomatic at first, so it is important to be screened to initiate treatment, prevent long-term sequela, and prevent the spread to others.  

We now know that some high-risk types of HPV play a role in causing abnormal changes in the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer and other types of cancer. Receiving annual care by your gynecologist with pap/HPV screening per guidelines will help decrease your risk of cervical cancer. 

What are common myths about sexual health? 

A common misconception regarding sex is that you cannot continue a healthy sexual relationship as you age. Many older couples continue to have active sexual lives as they age. It is important to discuss problems that may arise as a woman ages, such as vaginal dryness or pain with intercourse.  Often there are treatments available that enable women to continue to have an active sexual component to relationships.   

Are there symptoms patients should look for that may indicate a problem regarding their sexual health? 

Any changes that don’t seem normal should alert a woman to seek care with her gynecologist.  For example:  

  • A change in vaginal discharge that is causing symptoms. Vaginal discharge can be normal, but in some instances, it can also be a sign of an STI or another infection that can impact sexual relations. 
  • A new pain with intercourse is a reason to be seen and evaluated by your gynecologist.   
  • Mental health issues, which can have an impact on your sexual health.   

How can a Women’s Care provider support patients with their sexual health? 

Your gynecologist is here to help you through difficulties or problems you may be experiencing in your sexual health. Patients should feel at ease asking any questions, whether they seem too big or too small. It is important to feel comfortable in your provider relationship so you can discuss issues that are very personal and impactful. Your Women’s Care provider is here to listen.