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Traditional sexuality education in schools tends to focus on reproduction and the risk of unplanned pregnancy for young women. This isn’t the only aspect of sexual health that affects young women, so let’s re-visit some women’s health basics. While a lot of these topics are specific to women who have vaginas/get periods, we absolutely acknowledge that this is not everyone, and these are just some of the important health issues to consider.
As we said earlier, pregnancy prevention isn’t the only sexual health issue affecting young women. STI prevention is hugely important, especially considering 75% of STI transmissions in Australia occur amongst young people. Whilst most STIs are treatable, not all of them are curable and some can have serious health consequences if left untreated. Using barrier methods such as condoms and dams during sex is an important step in preventing the transmission of infections. It is important to remember that although some sexual activities are higher risk than others, all of them carry some risk, so even if you are having non-penetrative sex, it is still a good idea to use a barrier such as a dam or glove. Part of preventing the spread of STIs is making sure you and your partner/s are getting regular STI tests, and you’re communicating with partners about when you last both got tested. Tests are pretty simple, and may involve a simple swab test, a urine test and sometimes a blood test, depending on what STIs you are being tested for. STI testing can be done at your regular GP or at any of the youth friendly sexual health clinics listed on our website. (www.redaware.org.au/clinics)
The main purpose of contraceptives is to prevent unplanned pregnancy, but they can be used for a whole host of other reasons such as regulating or controlling menstruation, reducing period pain, relieving hormonal acne or alleviating the symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis. They can have short (the pill, morning after pill, injections, the patch), medium (the rod, IUDs) or long/permanent (sterilization) terms of effectiveness. There are so many options available so it’s important to find a contraception method that works for you and your body. Remember that condoms (both internal and external) are the only form of contraception that also protects against STI’s.
A pap smear is a test that looks for changes in the cervical cells that could indicate or lead to cancer. It involves the opening of the vagina using a speculum, so that the pap smear provider can take a sample of the cervical cells. Whilst this process shouldn’t be painful, it can be uncomfortable but it is still a necessary part of looking after your health. Current guidelines recommend that anyone aged 18-70 who has been sexually active (including non-penetrative sex) should get a pap smear every two years.
The Gardasil or HPV vaccine is designed to protect against the four types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer and genital warts. It is given to young people of all genders in their first year of high school, but is also available at your GP. Whilst getting the vaccine at your GP can be expensive, it’s definitely worth it!
Periods generally occur once a month, although this can vary from person to person (you know your body best). We’re often told that periods are supposed to hurt, but this isn’t necessarily true. A little cramping or back pain can be normal but anything that prevents you from continuing with your normal daily activities may be a sign of a bigger health issue (for example, endometriosis). Next time you’re at the doctor, chat to them about your period patterns and any pain you’re experiencing.
This is just a break down of some of the sexual health considerations that many young women are faced with. More details on these subjects can be found on our website, or get in touch with YEAH if you’d like more info on a particular topic.