If you've googled "sexual health" recently, you know the only results are how to improve sexual performance. Well, you can't improve anything until you know you're educated on what you like and are being true to yourself. But what does that really mean?
Sexual health is the state of being mentally, physically and socially comfortable with your sexuality. Everyone's definition of sexual health is personal, but here are a few universal tips anyone can practice:
Value who you are and what you want.
If you know yourself, you'll understand exactly what you want for you and your relationships with others. This means treating yourself like you're important and appreciating who you are. Start off by asking yourself these questions: What is my best quality? What is one thing that I do better than anyone else? What makes me unique? Once you begin answering these questions, really embrace your positive attributes. Valuing yourself helps others learn how to value you and helps you hold them accountable when they don't!
Make those uncomfortable conversations comfortable.
Being able to discuss what you want sexually and to talk about your experiences with health care providers is a vital part to practicing sexual health. This is a critical step in building and maintaining healthy relationships. Don't be afraid to ask questions and discuss any concerns you may have. At times, it can feel uneasy to simply talk about sex with close friends or partners. Certain conversations may feel like you're interrogating a person or that you're being interrogated -- don't worry; you're doing great! Sometimes simply acknowledging that these conversations can be awkward makes the conversation easier. Keep in mind your partner's communication styles and the best way to navigate the conversation to make your good intentions known.
Need specific tips for talking about your HIV status? Check out some thoughtful ideas here from our friends at POZ.
Add sexual health to your wellness routine.
This step is one of the most important! Sexual health needs to be a part of your wellness routine just like drinking water and exercising. That means going for a regular checkup with your doctor and being tested for STIs, including HIV, as often as you need depending on your sexual activity. Check out some guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for STI and HIV screenings recommendations. Then, find a testing site near you at aidschicago.org/testing.
Figure out what ways you prefer to protect your body.
There are so many ways to practice a sexually healthy lifestyle, including internal condoms (a.k.a. female condoms), male condoms and PrEP. You know your sexual habits best. Explore what you like and educate yourself on all the opportunities out there.
Remember, sexual health and happiness are inextricably linked. There is no better time than now to stop being ashamed of sex and start having real conversations about sexual health! Celebrate the month of April (and forever) by pledging to have at least one shame-free and inclusive conversation about sex this month. Commit at aidschicago.org/pledge. Use these tips to help you get started.
[Note from TheBody: This article was originally published by AIDS Foundation of Chicago on Apr. 13, 2018. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]