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Women's Healthcare Q3 2023

Healthcare for a safe and satisfying sex life

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Caitríona Henchion

Medical Director, Irish Family Planning Association

People have sex for different reasons and enjoy different kinds of sexual experiences. Sex is about pleasure, desire, passion, and intimacy. It can involve genital to genital contact, vaginal or anal penetration, oral to genital or anal contact, and the sharing of sex toys.

Whatever kind of sex you like, there is a risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This risk increases with multiple sexual partners, but it is possible to get an infection the first time you have sex.

The uncomfortable truth

STIs can cause discomfort and pain. Symptoms include lumps, sores, ulcers or blisters in the genital area or mouth, and vaginal or anal discharge. You might need to pass urine more often, feel a burning sensation when doing so, or feel pressure or pain in the lower abdomen. There may be discharge from the urethra or pain in the testicles. Left untreated, STIs can cause long-term problems, such as infertility, and you could spread the infection to someone else.

The good news

Using condoms and dental dams during sex significantly reduces the risk of an STI. However, no method provides 100% protection, and some infections can be passed by skin contact alone. Regular screening is important for everyone who is sexually active, as many people have no symptoms following infection. Testing is easy and all STIs can be treated.

Using condoms and dental dams during sex significantly reduces the risk of an STI.

Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis can be cured with antibiotics. HIV treatment can reduce a person’s viral load to the point where they are healthy and can’t transmit the virus. Hepatitis can be cured fully. The body’s immune system eventually clears the wart virus, and treatment can speed this up. Herpes virus remains in the body, but outbreaks can be treated and usually become less frequent and painful over time.

Dr Caitríona’s advice

If you are sexually active, get tested regularly. Inform all recent sexual partners if you are diagnosed with an STI. If a past or current partner tells you they have an STI, attend a doctor for testing and treatment.

Remember, if someone refuses to use a condom with you, it’s possible that they’ve had unprotected sex before. The best way to reduce your risk of STIs is to talk about your sexual health and to make sure that you both agree to use condoms.

Most GPs and sexual health clinics provide STI screening, free testing is available from GUIDE or GUM Clinics. However, if you are symptomatic, you should see a doctor.
You can order a free STI home testing kit from SH24.ie

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