It’s important to understand some basic definitions of communication that can impact sexual health.
Communication is talking openly and honestly about your preferences, ideals, values, and more! It’s important to communicate with your partner(s) in order to set boundaries. Communication is important before, during and after all sexual activity.
Boundaries are limits or guidelines that you would like others to follow when interacting with you. It can be helpful to set and communicate boundaries in order to let others know what is and is not okay for you. Boundaries can be established before, during, and after sexual activity.
When agreeing to any sexual act, it is important for all parties involved to communicate their preferences. It is also important that all parties involved consent to any and all sexual acts.
Coercion is defined as pressuring others into doing something they do not want or wish to do. This can include talking someone into a sexual act they were previously unsure about.
According to ASHA, consent is defined as the following:
"Consent is an agreement that is willfully given without any external pressure or factors. In order for someone to consent to sexual activity participants must continuously communicate before, during, and after sexual activity- this is the only way to establish clear boundaries between participants and allows for a relaxing experience."
Remember ASHA’s 5 criteria for consent to count:
- Consent must be given voluntarily and without coercion.
- Consent must be given while all parties are sober.
- Consent must be maintained continuously throughout.
- Consent must be given with enthusiasm.
- Consent must be informed, as in those consenting must know what they are consenting to.
Talking to Your Doctor
Your doctor is an important partner in your personal health but talking to them about sexual health and STI testing can feel intimidating, especially if they don’t bring it up! There are some things you can do to help make things easier.
When talking to your doctor about your health, make sure to be open and honest about your sexual history, because that is how they will determine appropriate care. And when we say sexual history, we’re not talking about the number of sexual partners that you’ve had. What we mean is that you need to tell your doctor what behaviors you’ve engaged in, how you protected yourself, and if you’re experiencing any type of symptom that is out of the ordinary for you.
To help prepare for your appointment, see if there’s anything you need to do in advance. This could include fasting (if you need blood drawn) or making sure you’re able to give a urine sample. Creating a current list of medications, vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter products is helpful for your doctor to have.
It may be helpful to construct a list of questions beforehand to help keep the appointment focused. These could include:
- Based on what I've shared about my sexual history, should I get tested for any STIs?
- How do I talk to my partner about getting tested?
- How can I protect myself from STIs? What methods should I use and where can I get them?
- Are there any vaccines that I could get to help prevent STIs?
If you are diagnosed with an STI, the following are some sample questions to ask your medical provider:
- How is it transmitted?
- Can I contract this infection again?
- Can I give this infection to someone else if we only have sex one time?>
- Should I abstain from sex during treatment?
- Should my partner get tested?
- Do I need to finish all treatment as prescribed?
For more information on talking to your doctor, check out these resources.