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Taking Care of Your Sexual Health

If you're sexually active, it's important to regularly visit a health care provider, like a doctor or nurse, to have sexual health checkups and discuss sexual health issues. Various topics are covered below in the following sections:

About Your Sexual Health 
Condom Myths 
Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Myths 
Myths about Sex 
Useful Facts and Information

About Your Sexual Health

Topics covered in this section include: 

What is a sexual health check-up?   
Who needs a sexual health check?   
What happens during a sexual health check-up?   
Asking questions   
Important questions to ask during your check-up   
Feeling comfortable  
Forms of birth control   
Think you could be pregnant?  

What is a sexual health check-up? 
A sexual health checkup is an examination by a doctor or nurse for sexual health issues like sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). During your sexual health check, you can also ask any questions you have about reproductive and sexual health.
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Who needs a sexual health check? 
Anyone who is sexually active should have a sexual health checkup. How often and when you need to have a check-up depends on your lifestyle and sexual activity, so a sexual health check is advisable sooner rather than later if any of the following circumstances apply to you:

  • If you think you may have an STD
  • If you've had unsafe sex, including vaginal, oral and anal sex
  • If you've had a condom break or fall off during sex
  • If your partner has another sexual partner
  • If you have more than one sexual partner
  • If you've shared injecting equipment like needles
  • If you're starting a new sexual relationship
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What happens during a sexual health check-up? 
A health care provider will usually begin a check-up by talking with you about your sexual history. Some of the questions your doctor or nurse will ask you might seem personal. Here are some examples of questions:

  • How many sexual partners have you had?
  • What kinds of sexual activities have you engaged in?
  • Have you had sex with men, women or both?
  • Do you have any symptoms?
  • Have you injected any drugs or shared needles?
  • Do you have tattoos or body piercings?

You might feel uncomfortable telling the truth when answering these questions. But if you don't give your health care provider accurate information, you might not get the best advice or be given the appropriate tests. As a result, your health could be seriously affected. Some STDs can lead to long-term health problems if they're not treated properly.

During your examination, with your consent, your external genital area might be examined for any signs of STDs. A variety of tests might be conducted, including:

  • A urine sample or blood test
  • Swabs, where a sample of fluid or discharge from your genital area will be taken and examined under a microscope. Sometimes it might be necessary to take extra swabs from the throat or inside the anus
  • For women, a vaginal examination, like a Pap smear, might also be performed. A Pap smear is a routine swab of the cervix that all sexually active women are advised to have. You should talk with your doctor about how often you should have a Pap smear.

Regardless of your test results, your medical records are private according to the law if you're 18 years or older. Any information that health providers receive or discuss with you at a clinic is completely confidential and cannot be shared with your parents or people you know. Regardless of your age, health care providers are also bound through ethical practices to keep your health records confidential.

If you do test positive for an STD, your doctor is obligated to report cases of certain STDs to the government so the disease can be monitored throughout the United States. Identifying information like your name will not be used. They don't need to know who you are; they only want to keep track of how many people are getting the infection across the country.

You might also want to consider telling your previous sexual partners about it so that they can get tested, and treated if necessary. There are several ways that you can tell them: face-to-face, over the phone, or even in an email. It's important to their sexual health that they are informed.
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Asking questions 
Consider a sexual health checkup a good opportunity to ask any questions you have about your sexual health or discuss anything that's worrying you. A good health care provider will encourage you to ask questions.

It's important that you feel like you are able to ask any questions you have. It's equally important that your provider answers your questions and explains all procedures in a way that you're able to understand.
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Important questions to ask during your check-up 
Some of the questions you might want to ask your provider before your sexual health check-up include:

  • Can you be seen by a provider without a parent or guardian present?
  • Will you be able to pay for the services?
  • Will you be able to get a free or low-cost Hepatitis B vaccination? (This is a vaccination that is recommended for young people).
  • Will you be able to receive written documentation on the tests you were given and your results?
  • Will your provider keep your information confidential?
  • Will the provider allow time for urgent visits for issues like pregnancy and emergency contraception?

Some questions you might want to ask during your visit:

  • What STDs are you being tested for?
  • Will the test be a blood test or urine test? How often shoul you undergo these tests?
  • if any of the tests are positive, do you have to tell anyone? Will the provider tell anyone?
  • If the test is positive, how will you be treated?
  • Will your infection affect your future fertility, pregnancy or general health?
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Feeling comfortable 
Stay in touch with how you're feeling. It's normal to feel uncomfortable discussing these topics. If you're your doctor or nurse makes you feel uncomfortable in how they respond to you, you may want to try seeing someone else.
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Forms of birth control
Click here for helpful information about forms of birth control. Also, visit South Carolina DHEC's Birth Control website or contact USC Upstate Health Services at (864) 503-5191.
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Think you could be pregnant?
Visit South Carolina DHEC's Pregnancy website for more information or stop by USC Upstate Health Services to talk with a nurse. For family planning needs, visit South Carolina DHEC's Family Planning website or call (864) 345-1020.
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Condom Myths 

Test your knowledge of common condom myths below.  

The best way to avoid getting pregnant is to use a condom.
False.The best way to avoid getting pregnant is through abstinence. Abstinence (not having any kind of sex) is the only 100% effective form of birth control. If abstinence isn't an option, using a condom in combination with a hormonal form of birth control is a close second. For example, this could be a condom used together with the birth control pill.

A condom will protect me from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
False.
There are some STDs that can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, like genital warts and genital herpes, and a condom will not provide 100 percent protection against these.

There is no wrong way to wear a condom.
False.
Each package of condoms will have instructions on how to put one on. Make sure you unroll the condom over the penis when it's hard and leave a half-inch of room at the tip of the condom to collect semen.

A condom can get lost inside you.
False.
If a condom comes off during sex, it won't get lost inside, but sometimes it can be difficult to get out. It's also important to make sure that after a guy has ejaculated, someone holds the base of the condom as he withdraws his penis; otherwise, there is a chance the condom might fall off and spill semen into the vagina.

You can use a condom more than once, if you wash it properly.
False.
A condom should NEVER be used twice under any circumstances.

Baby oil and Vaseline® are okay to use as lubricants with latex condoms.
False.
Oil-based lubricants (like baby oil, Vaseline®, handcreams, Crisco) can break down latex and allow STDs/STIs to pass through. Instead, water-soluble lubricants like K-Y Jelly®, Glide®, Aqualube®, most contraceptive jellies, saliva, or even water are good lubricants to use with condoms.

My penis is too small/too large for the condom.
False.
Condoms are made in many different sizes. The key is to find the right size for you. If a condom doesn't fit properly, there's a higher chance that it could slip or break during sex. Condoms should fit snugly on your penis, leaving a small gap at the tip of penis and the end of the condom.

It's possible that my penis won't fit.
False.
The vagina is a muscle that can expand and contract. The vagina can fit comfortably around the penis whatever its size. Just take your time, try to relax and use extra lubricant if you think it might help.

Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Myths

Test your knowledge of common STD myths below. 

You can get an STI from oral sex.
True.
 During oral sex, you can give your partner your STI and you can get theirs. Not all STIs are transmitted through oral sex, but some are. For example, if your partner has a cold sore (oral herpes) and performs oral sex on you, you could become infected with herpes in your genital area.

You can't get an STI if your partner is a virgin.
False.
Depending on how your partner defines being a virgin, it is possible for them to have contracted an STI. Your partner might not have had vaginal sex, but may have had oral sex with someone (and still consider themselves a virgin), putting themselves at risk for an STI. Also, there are other STIs (herpes and HPV) that are passed through skin-to-skin contact, even if no penetration has taken place. It is important to discuss with your partner all sexual activity they have participated in and to always practice safer sex.

You can get a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) from a toilet seat.
False.
You get STIs by having vaginal, oral or anal sex or by skin-to-skin touching -- not from toilet seats.

I can't get an STD if I'm on the pill.
False.
The pill will only help protect you from pregnancy, not STDs.

You can get HIV or a STI from getting a tattoo or through body piercing.
True.
There can be a risk for HIV or another blood-borne infection (like hepatitis B or C) if the instruments used for piercing or tattooing either are not sterilized or disinfected between clients. Any instrument used to pierce or cut the skin should be used once and thrown away. Ask the staff at the parlor about their equipment. They should show you what precautions they use. If they won't, don't get pierced or tattooed there.

You can tell if a person has an STD.
False.
A lot of STDs are asymptomatic, which means they don't show any signs. You probably won't be able to tell if a person has an STD just by looking at him or her. Sometimes people don't know they're carrying an STD. The only way to be 100% sure is to have an STD screening and to keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Ask that person if he or she has been tested before having sex. Never assume anything. Call (864) 345-1020 to schedule STD testing.

If I get an STD, it means that I'm dirty.
False.
Getting an STD is just like getting a cold. Go to the doctor and find out what treatments are available. Most importantly, a doctor's visit should give you a peace of mind.

Myths about Sex

Test your knowledge of common sex myths below. 

Sex never hurts.
False.
 Sometimes sex does feel uncomfortable. If this occurs, it could be a result of one or more the following:

  • More lubrication is needed
  • Your partner is going too fast
  • Your partner is using too much pressure
  • You're nervous

If you're in pain, stop and talk to your partner. Try some more lubrication, a different position or ask your partner to go slower. If that doesn't help, then stop. Sex shouldn't be painful.

It's important to talk with your partner about these issues and find ways to make sex more comfortable. If you find that sex still hurts, you should consider visiting your doctor to see if there is a medical reason for your pain. 

It is normal to get erections often.
True.
Because everyone is different, there is no way to determine a "normal" amount of erections. It's perfectly normal to have a lot of unexpected erections when you're younger. Since they are uncontrollable, there's little you can do to prevent them. However, as you get older and your hormones settle, chances are that you'll get unexpected erections less often.

There is something wrong with me, since my vagina stings when I go to the bathroom after sex.
False.
Sometimes the thrusting motion during sex can rub the outer lips of the vaginal area, making it sensitive when you are urinating. In some cases, burning when you go to the bathroom can indicate a bladder infection or urinary tract infection, so it's important to have a checkup with a doctor if you're concerned.

If I withdraw before ejaculating, she can't get pregnant.
False. Withdrawing early does not prevent pregnancy, because sperm can enter the vagina before ejaculation. It's also possible for semen on the outside of the vagina to work its way inside as long as the sperm is fluid.

A girl can't get pregnant the first time she has sex.
False.
It doesn't matter if it's your first time having sex -- it is possible to get pregnant. Abstaining from sex altogether is the best ways to prevent pregnancy, but if you decide to have sex, condoms and other birth control methods can help prevent pregnancy.

You can get pregnant while on your period.
True.
It's very uncommon, but it is possible. Having your period does not predict when you will release an egg which has to be present for sperm to begin the process of conception. Additionally, since sperm can live inside your uterus for up to five days, if you release an egg during that time you run the risk of getting pregnant. Due to the unpredictability of your cycle, if you want to avoid pregnancy it's important to use contraception even when you are menstruating.

Peeing or douching after sex protects against pregnancy.
False.
When a male ejaculates, the sperm travels through the vagina into the cervix and then into the uterus. Urine is released from the urethra not from the vaginal opening, so urine does not come in contact with sperm. Washing or douching will not prevent pregnancy due to the speed of which semen travels into your cervix and the fact that water can't reach the uterus. In fact, douching can actually push sperm up farther into the vagina. Douching also causes an imbalance of healthy bacteria on your vaginal walls and can put you at an increased risk of contracting a vaginal infection.

I have to wait until I skip a period to tell if I'm pregnant.
False.
You can tell if you're pregnant as soon as 10 days after you've had sex by taking either a urine or a blood pregnancy test.

Woman can only get pregnant during sexual intercourse.
False.
It's possible to get pregnant if a man ejaculates on or near the opening to the vagina because the sperm can enter the vagina and swim up the fallopian tubes where it can fertilize an egg.

Useful Facts and Information

From Carolina Teen Health

Did you know that in South Carolina:

  • Teens 19 years and younger account for 1 in 3 Chlamydia cases and 1 in 5 Gonorrhea cases.
  • Teens 19 years and younger account for 1 in 20 HIV/AIDS cases.
  • South Carolina ranks 8th in the nation for the rate of new AIDS cases annually.
  • The rate of reported new HIV/AIDS cases among African-American South Carolinians is eight times that of White South Carolinians.
  • As of 2005, 15 percent of HIV/AIDS cases are among teens, 80 percent of which are among African Americans.
  • Youth under age 19 account for 38 percent of Chlamydia cases; 32 percent of Gonorrhea cases; 7 percent of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses.

To schedule your STD screening appointment, visit the SC DHEC website or call (864) 345-1020. 

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