The World Health Organization defines sexual health as “a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It 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.” Taking care of your sexual health is extremely important.
Sexual health is characterized by many different components including, but not limited to, sexuality, sexual history with your partner, sexual violence, contraceptives and barrier methods, sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STDs/STIs), and the physical aspect of taking care of your reproductive system. It’s important to visit with your primary physician regularly to maintain good sexual health.
Contraceptives and Barrier Methods
The best way to reduce the risk of pregnancy among those who are sexually active is using contraceptives and barrier methods. It’s always best to use two forms of protection when engaging in sexual activities. This should be a discussion between you and your partner. There are many different options of protection to use, but always use at least one!
- Male Condom (External): This is worn on the penis to prevent sperm from entering the vagina. Although most commonly made of latex, external condoms are made in many different materials for those who are allergic. External condoms help prevent STDs, HIV and pregnancy.
- Female Condom (Internal): Worn inside the vagina to prevent the entrance of sperm, and can be inserted up to 8 hours in advance. Internal condoms help protect against pregnancy and STDs.
- Diaphragm: Shaped like a shallow cup, this barrier method is placed inside the vagina to cover the cervix to block sperm. Diaphragms are inserted with spermicide before intercourse.
It is important to note that although hormonal methods do prevent unintended pregnancy, they do not protect against the transmission of STDs or HIV. It is important to use an additional form of contraception for to protect against STDs and HIV.
- Oral Contraceptives: Also known as “the pill”, this form of birth control contains estrogen and progestin. The pill is prescribed by a doctor and must be taken at the same time each day.
- The Patch: The patch is prescribed by a doctor, and is worn on the lower abdomen, rear, or upper body. A female replaces the patch once a week for three weeks, and then her menstrual cycle occurs the fourth week.
- Vaginal Ring: The ring releases progestin and estrogen. The ring is inserted for three weeks, taken out for a week during the menstrual cycle, and then replaced by a new ring.
- Implant: A single, thin rod that is inserted under the skin of a woman’s upper arm that contains progestin. The rod is effective for three years, and the implant has a failure rate of only .05%.
- Injection or “shot”: This is an injection of progestin that occurs every three months.
- Emergency contraception: Also known as “Plan B”, this should not be a form of regular birth control. This is used in the case of birth control failure, or no use of birth control. Emergency contraception can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex, but the sooner, the better.
Sexual Health Resources
Student Health Center Sexual Women’s Health
UA Title IX Office
Charlotte Petonic, M.Ed, CHES
Women and Gender Resource Center
Tuscaloosa Department of Public Health
National STD Hotline