Sexual health, as a relatively large part of life, is just as important as your mental and physical wellbeing. And, undoubtedly, it plays a part in both. As quite a stigmatised aspect of society, it’s sometimes difficult to get the necessary advice and resources without risking being told false and exaggerated information. So, in honour of sexual health week, here’s everything you need to know about sexual health.
1. Getting Tested Is Healthy and Recommended
Okay, so it might be a minor inconvenience to get tested for STIs. But with things like super-gonorrhoea, chlamydia and genital warts on the rise, it’s just as important as keeping up with your vaccinations. General advice is to get tested every time you get a new sexual partner, just to make sure that both of you can be safe and healthy. In the worst case scenario, you have to take some medication for a couple of weeks – but this can save you major complications with fertility in future and can help combat the spread of STIs. Staff at sexual health clinics across the country have been urging people to abandon the stigma and get tested – just as you’d get tested if you thought you had the flu. The test for most STIs is pretty basic: either a swab or a urine sample.
No matter how careful you are, there’s always a risk that somebody hasn’t been as truthful as you thought, and given than many STIs are symptomless, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
So tell your friends and your partners to get tested. It’s quick and easy, and usually you get the results within two weeks. Find out where you can get tested locally here.
2. Birth Control isn’t one size fits all
Nowadays, with increasingly available alternatives to condoms, it’s becoming more common to use a long-term form of birth control. Long term birth control usually lasts around 3 years and involves a minor procedure to insert. Making the right decision with birth control is hard though – it is important to take into account your medical history and lifestyle choices when making a decision. Most hormonal birth control is not recommended for people who smoke, due to a slightly elevated stroke or blood clot risk. Hormonal birth control also has links to mental health issues, so it is important to consider this risk when choosing it.
There are a lot of resources online and it’s advisable to look at others’ experience when making a decision. For a quick and easy graphic with a lot of compared methods, look here. And, if you do just want to stick to condoms but don’t have the money, head to your nearest sexual health clinic and they will be happy to provide free condoms
3. There’s no ‘perfect’ number
It’s much less common, nowadays, to worry about your ‘body count’. As society increases its understanding of sex as a fun activity, it has generally become more accepting. But still, some people have strong opinions about what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. And the honest answer is that nothing is right or wrong. Just like there’s no perfect age to start having sex, there’s no perfect ‘amount’ of sex to have. You might want to have a lot of sex. You might want to have a tiny bit of sex. You might want to have no sex. And those are all completely reasonable decisions. You might want to have partners of the same sex, of the opposite sex, or partners who identify with neither. And that’s okay. The only important thing to remember with having sex is to make sure that everyone involved is completely enthusiastically consenting. Including yourself. Communication with your sexual partners is the number one way to have safe and enjoyable sex.
4. There are NO consequences for having too much sex
In dark corners of the internet, it is strangely common to believe that too much sex will ‘damage’ or ‘loosen’ places like the vagina. This, frankly, is utter nonsense. Sex is not supposed to be painful, nor damaging, and no matter how much sex you have, the vaginal muscles still remain strong and sex has no lasting effect. If you experience pain during sex, try using a good amount of water based lube (a good go-to as oil based lube erodes the latex in condoms) and if it does not help, see a doctor. Even if it’s your first time, remember that the ‘hymen’ is not actually covering the vagina, so there is no reason for bleeding or pain other than nervousness and lack of lube.
The same goes with anal sex. Despite the common myth that it is ‘supposed to hurt’, anal play should be completely enjoyable for all parties involved. The healthiest way to have pain-free anal sex is to gradually introduce toys or fingers over a number of encounters – you should NOT try to have anal sex without lube and adequate preparation.
5. Sexuality is a Spectrum
For a lot of people, sexuality seems binary. But, unsurprisingly, it isn’t. There is a huge range between conventional ‘gay’ vs ‘straight’ labels. One particularly overlooked aspect of sexuality is the existence of bi or pansexuals. These are basically people who experience attraction to or have relations with people of the opposite gender, the same gender and people who identify with neither or both genders. And, within the bi/pansexual community, it’s pretty common to have a slight or even heavy preference for a certain gender. You’re still bisexual if you mostly date the opposite gender but experience attraction to the same gender, even if you’ve never had any same-gender sexual encounters.
And overall, it’s pretty common to not quite know where you fit on the sexuality spectrum – but there’s no pressure to label yourself or justify your feelings, the most important thing is that you are comfortable with your own sexuality.
6. Gender is a Spectrum
In the darker corners of the world, namely places like America, gender is a hotly debated topic. But it shouldn’t be. Throughout history there have always been cases of transgender individuals (those whose gender is not the same as assigned at birth) and even genderless or many gendered people. It’s not particularly recent news. Non-Binary, a category which could signify several different gender identities, has become a more common part of life with the introduction of things like gender neutral bathrooms. “They” as a gender neutral pronoun has grown in its usage and acceptance due to increased awareness of different gender identities.
If this comes as a shock to you – keep it to yourself. It’s often difficult to come to terms with being transgender, as well as dangerous and often alienating. If you’re lucky enough to fit exactly into the gender you were born as, you have no right to doubt those who don’t feel the same.
7. The Vagina isn’t a Mystery After All
People who don’t have vaginas tend to see the vagina as an overly complex organ. Maybe due to lack of education, misinformation and a whole bunch of horrible stigmas, a lot of people with a vagina aren’t actually sure what’s happening either. Despite having to learn each part of the penis in sex education, the internet or anatomy textbooks are probably the best source of information on the vagina. If you’re a bit lost when it comes to the vagina, try looking for a simple diagram online or watching a sex education video. And yes, even if you have a penis, this is definitely worth looking up if you have sex with people with vaginas. It’s never too late to learn.
You might have seen women in porn having an orgasm from just having sex. But, in reality, that is rare. Only 25 – 30 % of people with vaginas can orgasm from penetrative sex – the remaining 70 odd percent require extra clitoral stimulation such as touching during sex to achieve orgasm. This little-known fact leaves some people feeling broken and frustrated, but it’s just due to lack of education on the existence and sole purpose of the clitoris. If you’re finding that you can’t orgasm from penetrative sex, you’re actually in the majority, and it’s one of the biggest and most annoying sex myths still out there.
8. Masturbation is normal (even in a relationship)
For people with vaginas, masturbation can be a bit of a touchy subject while growing up. Stigma, misinformation and lack of education on genital anatomy can alienate young people trying to get to grips with the ins-and-outs of their body. But the truth is that masturbation is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. It is a useful and enjoyable way to learn what you like and what you don’t like – and is especially important to build sexual confidence. If you don’t know what you like, how should someone else?
And another myth is that you shouldn’t need to masturbate while in a relationship, and that’s just not true. Sometimes your partner won’t be around, or won’t be up for doing anything, and it’s important to respect that they might not always want to have sex when you do. It’s crucial to remember that they have no obligation to please you, and if they don’t want to masturbation is a completely healthy way to deal with it!
9. Anxiety should play no part in sex
It goes without saying that sex should be a completely comfortable activity for all involved. But sometimes that’s not how you feel – it could be due to insecurities about a whole number of things. Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep and you’re not really in the mood – so tell your partner. Communication is key – if your partner is disappointed by your lack of interest, let them be. It’s not healthy to have sex when you don’t want to, and whether you’ve been together 10 minutes or 10 months you have no obligation to have sex.
If you’re regularly insecure about your body or anything during sex, it’s important to see a doctor or seek other professional advice. Impotence and sexual dysfunction are often seen as embarrassing, but they happen to almost everybody at some point and the quicker the issue is dealt with, the more enjoyable your sex life will be.
10. Size Doesn’t Matter
This is kind of a universal truth, and ties into my last point about anxiety. Body worries are pretty common amongst our generation, who are now having ‘fit teas’ and diet products marketed to them by people with different body types and body shapes who spend all day in the gym. It’s ridiculous to expect yourself and everyone else to adhere to these expectations – and it’s just as ridiculous to bring these expectations into the bedroom. It’s likely you don’t have the same body type you’ve seen on the internet, so needlessly worrying about what you look like (especially ‘down there’) is pointless. No two people look the same and have the same skill set. Sex isn’t about looking amazing, it’s about enjoying yourself and helping your partner enjoy themselves too. If you’ve ever been teased or tormented by a previous sexual partner, maybe it’s time to look for better partners.
The only time you should ever worry about your genitals is if you’re having particularly smelly or discoloured discharge. Normal discharge should be an even consistency and have a weak odour. Anything else and you may have an infection – bacterial or sexually transmitted – and you should contact your nearest clinic or GP.
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