Your primary care doctor tells you to think about your heart health. They probably mention your lung health, too. Go ahead and add in your dermatologist’s warnings about the sun’s effect on your skin health. But, there’s one big health concern that isn’t discussed enough: your sexual health.
Maintaining a healthy sex life is about more than … having sex. We said it! The most important thing is taking care of yourself. If you don’t, you’ll likely see a big drop off in the quality of (and your interest in) between-the-sheets encounters.
The good news is that with a few proactive steps, you and your partner can rest — or not rest — easy. Check out these eight tips to maintain your sexual health.
1. Get Tested
One thing about sex is certain: Once you’re having it, you’re at risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). If it happens, though, remember that you’re not alone. There are roughly 20 million new STI cases annually, according to the CDC.
There’s no reason to be embarrassed, but you do need STI testing, especially since some infections don’t cause symptoms. You can test for some infections within a week of unprotected sexual activity. For others, like herpes, you’ll need to wait longer. Retest after being treated for curable infections, and practice safe sex in the meantime.
2. Use Dependable Birth Control
Does the pitter-patter of little feet make you break out in a cold sweat? Whether you’re waiting to become a parent or know it’s just not for you, be sure to choose effective birth control. Correctly implemented birth control protects you and your partner from an accidental addition.
Your doctor will help you pick out the type that’s right for you. For women, there are many different types, ranging from hormonal birth control to non-hormonal IUDs to physical barriers, like female condoms.
Remember, hormonal birth control can’t protect against STIs. Only barrier methods, like male and female condoms prevent STIs. Don’t use them together, though, because they’ll break or slip out of place (yikes!).
3. Schedule Well Visits
These appointments are like your regular doctor’s visits. In fact, you can probably lump them together to save time and a co-pay. Take the opportunity to ask all your birth control, family planning, and STI questions. Your doctor will always be your best source of information.
Face-to-face visits also present the opportunity for screening tests and are vital to your sexual health. For women, your doctor may recommend a mammogram, Pap smear, or pelvic exam. For men, at a certain age your doctor may recommend prostate screening. These tests can reveal any health issues that may need to be addressed, such as cancer.
4. Practice Good Intimate Hygiene
You shower and brush your teeth daily to keep everything clean, right? It’s probably an automatic part of your routine. Well, sex can introduce foreign bacteria to your body, causing urinary tract or yeast infections. Intimate hygiene is just as important as dental hygiene, if not more so.
The PSP (post-sex pee) is super important. During sex, bacteria can get pushed into your urethra, and you need to flush it out. This is especially true for women. Ladies, also be sure to dry yourself thoroughly, wiping from front to back. It’s also a good idea to take a shower after bedroom playtime if you can. For extra infection protection, talk to your partner about their good hygiene practices.
5. Get Vaccinated
No, this doesn’t mean your flu shot or even a COVID-19 booster. This is the HPV shot. It protects you against the human papillomavirus, which is linked to cervical and penile cancers.
HPV causes almost all cervical cancer cases, but the virus is responsible for even more diseases. Getting the vaccine (it’s a two- or three-shot series) also protects you against tongue and throat cancer. Oral sex is a great way to enhance your sexual pleasure, and getting the HPV vaccine ensures you’re protected, too!
6. Stop Smoking
You know it’s bad for your lungs and your heart, too. But, did you know that lighting up can also hurt your sex life?
Smoking narrows your blood vessels, making it harder for blood to flow throughout your body — that includes down below. For men, that means getting (and keeping) an erection is more difficult. In women, it can reduce lubrication, potentially making sex less enjoyable and increasing the likelihood of microtears.
Do yourself and your partner a favor: Ditch the cigarettes.
7. Drink Fewer Adult Beverages
That glass of wine after work is a great way to unwind. It may even lead to the desire for a little time between the sheets. But if you drink too much, you might make dangerous choices like not using protection during sex.
Having a few drinks can cause other problems, too. Alcohol numbs your nerves, so you’ll feel less of those pleasurable sensations. For women, alcohol can decrease lubrication, and for men, it can make keeping an erection difficult. Taking it a step further, long-term or heavy alcohol use is linked to a lower sex drive overall. Talk about a serious buzz kill!
8. Talk With Your Partner
Remember, you’re only 50% of the relationship or encounter. Have an open conversation with your partner about safe sex. It’s important to be on the same page before you jump into bed together.
Do you agree on condoms? What about how you would handle an unexpected pregnancy? Do you need to share any STI history? These are critical questions that have a direct impact on your sexual health, so don’t be afraid to get personal.
Your sexual health is just as important as the rest of your well-being, especially since it can directly affect your health. Taking care of yourself sexually can support better health overall. Plus, if you try these eight steps, you’ll be on track for a longer, more enjoyable sex life.