Talking to your doctor about sexual health - Play Safe
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Does the thought of talking to your doctor about sexual health give you butterflies or send a shiver down your spine?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It can be a little awkward to bring up the topic of sex and sexual health with someone you don’t know very well, but we can almost guarantee your doctor has heard it all before.

As hard as it may seem, it is super important that you talk to your doctor about your sexual health so we’ve put together our top tips to make that conversation a whole lot easier.

What is sexual health?

Many people often think that sexual health is just about making sure your genitals are healthy, but it’s so much more than that.

The WHO defines sexual health as “…a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health 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. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”

Based on this definition, sexual health encompasses everything from STI testing and using condoms to taking care of your body and exploring sexuality in a safe and consensual way.

Top tips for talking to your doctor about sexual health

Starting a conversation about sexual health can be tough. Maybe you’re nervous or embarrassed, or perhaps you’re just worried about being told you might have an STI. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to make talking to your doctor about sexual health waaaaay easier.

1. Write it down

Whether it’s in the notes app on your phone or jot something down with pen and paper, make a note of what you want to talk to the doctor about before you go to your appointment. That way, if you get nervvy in the moment you won’t forget anything important. Here are some things you might want to make note of before your appointment:

  • When was the last time I had sex (vaginal, oral, or anal)?
  • Have I had any symptoms? What are they, and when did they start?
  • What STI prevention and/or contraceptive methods am I using (if any)?
  • When was my last sexual health checkup?

2. Set the scene

Talking about things that can be awkward or uncomfortable is literally part of the job for doctors. We know it probably doesn’t make you feel less anxious in the moment but try to remember that your doctor has likely seen and heard it all before. Try setting the scene with an opener like:

  • I need to speak about my sexual health, but I’m a bit embarrassed
  • I want to speak to you about something, but it’s quite personal and I’m a bit nervous

That way the doctor knows how you’re feeling and can help put you at ease.

3. Don’t be shy

Once you’ve done the hard part and told your doctor that you want to have a conversation about sexual health, it’s time to get into the details. Take a deep breath and don’t hold back, the more information you provide, the better your doctor can help you.

Doctors might need to ask you about your personal circumstances to make sure they give you the right advice so be prepared to answer some personal questions too. These questions could include:

  • Have you had any unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or anus?
  • How many sexual partners have you had in the past three months and did you use condoms?
  • If you’re having sex that can result in pregnancy, do you use contraception? If so, what do you use?
  • Do you have any pain, itching, or discomfort on or around your genitals?

 4. Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions or get clarification if you don’t understand something your doctor says. Your doctor is there to help you, so there’s no such thing as a silly question. Plus, learning more about your sexual health and body is always a good thing and an important part of your overall well-being.

5. Follow up

If your doctor recommends any follow up tests or appointments, make sure to follow through with them. It can be easy to forget or put them off remember, looking after your sexual health not only helps you, but your partner/s too.

It’s important to get a sexual health checkup every 6-12 months, or sooner if you have multiple casual partners/change partners, experience any symptoms or have unprotected sex.

Hate making appointments or just never get around to it? Make your next appointment while you’re at the doctors so you don’t forget. 

Why it’s important to speak with your doctor about sexual health

Your sexual health is an important part of your overall health and happiness. Talking to your doctor about sexual health can help clear up any questions or issues you might have about your body, STIs, reproductive health, pain or discomfort during sex and more!

Besides, stressing out about these issues can have a real impact on your emotional and physical health so it’s honestly better to just get it done.

Not quite ready to talk to your doctor about sexual health?

We get it, it’s a lot. If you’re not ready to speak with your doctor about your sexual health, here are some resources that will help until you feel ready to have that conversation.

  1. NSW Sexual Health Infolink is a free telephone advice line, staffed by experienced sexual health nurses.
  2. Nurse Nettie is an anonymous Q&A service available right here on the Play Safe website. Ask a question you should get an answer within 48 hours.
  3. NSW Family Planning also offers sexual health services. Check your area to see what services are available near you.

Remember, regardless of whether you feel ready to speak with your doctor, it’s important that if you’re sexually active (that includes giving or receiving oral, vaginal and/or anal sex) that you practice safe sex and get regular STI tests.

Frequently asked questions about talking to your doctor about sexual health

Will my sexual health checkup be confidential?

Everything you talk about in your sexual health checkup is 100% confidential. Doctors follow a strict code of conduct, and your privacy is their priority. The only time information is shared is if someone is at risk of being harmed.

How do I know if I need an STI test?

It’s important to get a sexual health checkup every 6-12 months, or sooner if you have multiple casual partners/change partners, experience any symptoms or have unprotected sex.

Remember, many STIs don’t have symptoms, so it’s important to get tested regularly.

What happens at a sexual health check up?

A sexual health check up typically involves a doctor or nurse asking you questions about your body, the kind of sex you have and what kind of safe sex practices you use to determine what STI tests you may need. Most STI tests involve a simple blood test and urine sample and sometimes a genital or throat swab. Depending on the type of sex you’re having, your doctor may also want to discuss contraception options with you.

If you haven’t had a sexual health check before, click here to view a handy factsheet that covers everything you need to know and gives you more information around what to expect.

Do you have questions about sexual health? Why not join the conversation on the Play Safe sex and relationship forum or ask Nurse Nettie a question. Or find out more about STI testing and STI treatment in Sydney and NSW.