What's my advice on how you can take care of your sexual and reproductive health? Honor yourself, foster healthy relationships, take care of your body, and get the preventive care and screenings you need.
In honor of National Women's Health Week, celebrated May 11–17, I'd like to share four ways you can take care of your sexual and reproductive health:
- Protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and get treatment if you've been infected. About 19 million people get an STI each year in the U.S., but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. I encourage you to learn about STIs and how you can protect yourself and your partner(s). It's also important to visit your health care provider for STI testing, including HIV, if you have symptoms or questions. However, STIs often do not have symptoms, which is why it's essential to get tested even if you haven't seen or felt anything out of the ordinary. Fortunately, many STIs are easily diagnosed and treated — but if you leave an STI untreated, it can have a lasting effect on your health. Untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea and some other STIs can lead to infertility, for example.
- If you're not ready to get pregnant right now, use contraception. Did you know nearly half (49 percent) of all pregnancies in the U.S. are not planned? Research shows that when pregnancies are planned, mothers, babies, and families are healthier. The good news is contraception can help you control if and when you get pregnant. There are many methods available to you, so you can choose one that fits your needs and lifestyle. Long-lasting reversible methods such as IUDs and implants are the most effective at preventing pregnancy. They can also be removed if or when you decide you want to get pregnant. Learn more about the different contraceptive methods and their effectiveness.Remember, birth control methods such as the pill and IUDs do not prevent STIs. For STI protection, use a male or female condom along with your regular method of birth control.
If you're concerned about cost, the Affordable Care Act has you covered. Thanks to the health care law, most insurers must cover without a copay, coinsurance, or deductible all FDA-approved female contraceptive methods prescribed by your health care provider. There are also low-cost or free services available at family planning clinics. Find a local clinic by using the Office of Population Affairs' family planning clinic locator.
- Be proactive about your health. Visit your health care provider to receive regular checkups and preventive screenings, and make sure you treat and manage any medical conditions you have. Under the Affordable Care Act, many services like screening tests for cervical and colorectal cancer are available at no cost under most insurance plans. Talk to your health provider about which preventive screenings you need and how often you should have them.Low-cost or free services are also available at family planning clinics. Find a local family planning clinic by using the Office of Population Affairs' clinic locator.
- Maintain a healthy relationship. Communication is the key to a healthy relationship. Choose partners who you feel good around and who treat you well. Your partner should respect your wishes, feelings, and the decisions you make about your body. If you have questions about your relationship or you want to learn more about healthy relationships, visit loveisrespect.org.
I hope you'll join me in taking these steps for better sexual and reproductive health. It's important for women to remember that we're in control of our bodies, so pledge to engage in safe behaviors! National Women's Health Week may be over, but it's never too late to take steps for better health.
How do I know if I'm at risk?
Many behaviors put you at risk for getting STIs, including HIV. You are at risk if you answer "yes" to any of the following questions:
- Have you had unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex (sex without a condom)?
- Do you have multiple partners?
- Do you have an STI, including HIV?
- Have you shared needles?
- Do you exchange sex for drugs or money?
- Do you have a partner who answers "yes" to any of these questions or whose health status you don't know?
- National Coalition for Sexual Health