“The Talk” from HealthTap Doctors

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Not only is Valentine’s Day coming up, but it’s also nearly spring (traditionally known as “mating season”). Love is the emotional side of a romantic relationship, and for many, sex is the physical side. In this week’s blog post, we’re bringing it back to sexual health basics.

Do you remember receiving “The Talk” from a parent, relative, or teacher? Instead of the awkwardness that accompanies those conversations, imagine having the benefit of a professional, top-ranking doctor talking you through the essentials and other questions that come up over time. Think also of the benefit of being able to refer to doctors’ answers if you need to give “The Talk” to someone else. We gathered seven top questions about sexual health, and here’s what our doctors had to say.

1. What is sex?

Biologically speaking, sex, or sexual intercourse, is the way humans reproduce. In a broader context, the definition of sex can be expanded to include intimacy and relationships. Dr. George Klauber says, “Ideally, sex can be thought of as a very close, romantic, and personal relationship. It should begin with two people who are strongly attracted to each other.”

2. Why do people have sex?

Besides reproduction, people typically have sex because it feels good. It’s important to have sex under the right circumstances, consensually and free from inappropriate pressure. Dr. Michael Sinclair says, “Under the right circumstances, there is little to regret [when it comes to sex].” If you feel you may regret a decision to have sex, then don’t have sex.

3. When is the right time to have sex?

When you feel physically and emotionally ready, and when you’re prepared to practice safe sex. Dr. Gregory Lewis advises, “Talk smart sex first. Have smart sex later. Talk to your partner.”

4. What is safe sex?

Safe sex refers to responsible behavior around having sex: preventing STD transmission and pregnancy. Dr. Carolyn Thompson makes a great point when she says, “Knowledge is power.” Safe sex starts by educating yourself.

Decreasing your risk of STD infection relies on choosing responsible sexual partners, regular STD testing, and using condoms. Preventing pregnancy involves using birth control, which also includes condoms.

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5. What is the best birth control method?

“The best birth control is the one you use.”

Dr. Jeff Livingston is right. When you choose a birth control method, you need to commit to it and use it properly in order to ensure its effectiveness. This is especially important if you choose an oral contraceptive — also known as “The Pill.”

While the abstinence is the only 100% effective form of birth control, there are also extremely reliable options for those who want to have sex. Dr. David Escobar suggests a combination of oral contraceptives and barrier method (condom) for birth control. Other, longer-lasting birth control options include the Nuvaring (one month) and the IUD (years).

Dr. Stephen Southard cautions: “Remember, not all forms of birth control prevent the spread of STDs! Always consider using a barrier form of protection like condoms.”

6. What STDs can you get?

Dr. Wayne Ingram warns, “Any and all STD’s can be transmitted with unsafe sex including herpes, gonorrhea, syphillis, HIV, hpv (warts), and chlamydia. Other diseases such as hepatitis, chancroids, tuberculosis, and a host of things that most lay persons would rather not see except in a textbook.”

STDs are caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites. They can be transmitted when bodily fluids are exchanged across mucous membranes — via sexual contact but also oral.

  • Bacteria: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis
  • Viruses: herpes, HPV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV
  • Parasites: trichomonas, crabs

Left untreated, STDs risk the spread of the disease and can result in a range of health issues, including infertility and other serious problems. Luckily, Dr. Andrea Knittel says that most are treatable (where the disease is not curable).

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7. How often should I get tested/screened for STDs?

It depends on whether you’re sexually active and how frequently you change partners. Dr. Ankush Bansal strongly recommends getting tested at least twice a year if you have multiple partners. Ideally, you should get tested before having sex with a new partner. Dr. Bansal also cautions, “If you have sex, you are at risk for STDs — period. Doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, bi, transgendered, etc.”

Dr. Joel Gallant, a specialist in Infectious Diseases, also notes, “Remember that there’s no single easy test for STDs. To test broadly, you may need a combination of blood tests, urine tests, and often throat and rectal swabs.”

These questions are only the basics when it comes to sexual health, so look at our topic pages on Sex, Having Safe Sex, Birth Control, and STDs for more information. For specific questions, ask a HealthTap doctor now (for free!): http://htap.it/AskDocs

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