Every September, the (opens in a new tab) celebrates Sexual Health Awareness Month. Relationships both old and new can benefit from honest, open conversations about sex, and we know these can be nerve-wracking. To celebrate the month and do our part, we wanted to answer some questions you may have about sexual health, as well as help you learn how to talk about sexual health with your partner.
What is Sexual Health?
Sexual health encompasses a lot more than you might think. According to the (opens in a new tab), sexual health covers physical, emotional, mental, and social wellbeing as they relate to sexuality. Good sexual health requires a positive, respectful, non-coercive, non-violent, non-discriminatory approach to sex, sexuality, and sexual relationships, ensuring safe and pleasurable sexual experiences for all involved.
In other words, sex that results from violence, force, or intimidation, or is otherwise unpleasurable for one or both parties, goes against good sexual health. Also, good sexual health isn’t simply about not having diseases or dysfunction, though practicing safe sex and getting tested regularly are still important. All this is to say that sexual health can be a complicated topic, and that’s exactly why you should be talking to your partner this month about it.
What is There to Talk About?
Before you have sex with a partner, there are several questions that should be asked. For instance, what do you want the relationship to look like? There are many kinds of relationships that could result in sex, including long-term or short-term relationships, friendly or romantic relationships, and monogamous or non-monogamous relationships. Making sure you’re on the same page about what your relationship is will help you avoid confusion in the future.
There are also precautions to keep in mind. When talking to your partner before you have sex, make sure you know both of your STI statuses, including the last time you were tested, the results of that test, and how many sexual partners you’ve had since your last test. Depending on various factors of the parties involved, like fertility and biological sex, it may also be necessary to talk about birth control. Even if pregnancy isn’t a possibility, it’s still worth discussing prophylactics like condoms and dental dams to help avoid possible STIs.
Lastly, keep in mind that pleasure is another important factor in good sexual health. Have a discussion with your partner about how each of you likes being touched, or what desires or fantasies each of you may have. As part of that, also talk about your boundaries; what things are you willing and not willing to try? Sex should be both fun and safe, and these conversations can help you and your partner ensure this.
When Should I Have These Conversations?
You’ve probably heard, or maybe learned, that communication is key in a healthy, happy relationship. When a relationship is new, these conversations might be a little awkward, but they’re important to make sure you and your partner are safe and enjoying yourselves. Keep in mind that any awkwardness, for as uncomfortable as it may be, is worth overcoming for the sake of your sexual health, and might even be something your partner can help you through.
If you’ve been in your relationship for longer, having these conversations is still important! Over time, you and your partner’s interests, desires, boundaries, or other thoughts may change, and these conversations give you a chance to check in with each other. Perhaps one of you wants to try something new, or one of you wants to try for kids; whatever it may be, these conversations are just as valuable throughout a relationship as they are in the beginning.
How Can I Get Tested?
One of the easiest ways to participate in Sexual Health Awareness Month is by getting tested for STIs. STIs aren’t always noticeable and can go undetected and untreated, leading you to accidentally pass them on. Whether you go by yourself or with your partner, STI testing is a great way to ensure that you know your STI status, allowing you to get treatment for and prevent transmission of any existing STIs, or reassure yourself and your partner that no STIs are present.