By: hers team
We’ve all heard the term “sexual health,” but what does caring for our sexual health actually look like? Despite how it is taught in school, maintaining good sexual health is more than just preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unwanted pregnancy. It is also not a one-size-fits-all concept. Each culture, sub-culture, physical ability and disability, gender, and orientation has different needs and standards.
In addition to the physical health of one’s reproductive system, sexual health also encompasses the social and mental wellbeing between an individual and their sexual partner(s). This is why the World Health Organization defines sexual health as:
“A state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.”
If you are part of the bisexual+ community, you know that LGBTQ+ individuals face many societal challenges every single day, especially when it comes to health care. Below, we’ve compiled a guide detailing common bisexual+ sexual health concerns to keep in mind.
Bisexual Invisibility and Bi+ Antagonism
The bisexual+ community faces notable rates of health concerns ranging from cancer to obesity and mental health issues. There is even research that suggests bisexual+ adults are more likely to have general health problems such as high cholesterol and heart disease than heterosexual adults.
Such health disparities are believed to stem in part from bisexual invisibility, which is “a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright,” leading bisexual+ individuals to avoid receiving regular health care altogether out of fear of judgment and not being taken seriously.
In a recent survey of bisexual individuals, it was found that only 33 percent felt comfortable being open about their sexuality with their general care provider, and almost half admitted experiencing a degree of biphobia when seeking health care. Furthermore, the study revealed that bisexual+ people are less likely to disclose their sexual orientation with a medical professional than homosexuals.
Search for a clinic that that promotes themselves as LGBTQ+ friendly. The best way to find such clinics is by word of mouth or by Google search. Search “LGBTQ healthcare finder” for a list of options. Be sure to pay close attention to Yelp ratings and other feedback for each clinic and doctor. If you can, ask trusted friends where they receive general care and if they would refer that medical center to a bisexual+ individual.
For addtional information, vist the CDC’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health Services page.
Sexually transmitted diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are diseases spread from person to person through sexual contact — including oral, anal, and vaginal sex. This also includes skin-to-skin genital contact. Though condoms significantly reduce the chances of spreading STDs, genital herpes, syphilis, human papillomavirus (HPV), and herpes simplex virus (HSV) can still be spread by skin-to-skin contact with the area surrounding the genitals. Common STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV are passed from person to person through bodily fluids like semen. Other STDs like Hepatitis B are spread through blood. The only way to know if you have contracted an STD is to get tested since most do not present any signs or symptoms.
Did you know that having an STD makes it easier to get HIV or give it to others? Getting tested regularly will help protect the health of you and your partner. If fear of biphobia is preventing you from getting checked regularly, check the resources listed above to find LGBTQIA friendly healthcare or consider picking up an at-home STD testing kit from your local pharmacy or order one online. For more affordable options, call your local Planned Parenthood, as many locations do provide STD testing. It is normal to be nervous or scared when getting tested for HIV or an STD. Consider bringing a trusted friend, family member, or partner with you to your appointment if it will help you feel more comfortable.
Additionally, it is important to lighten the stigma around being HIV+. If you, your partner, or a potential partner is HIV+, know that antiretroviral treatment taken as prescribed can lower the level of HIV virus so greatly that it is undetectable in blood tests. Undetectable = Untransmittable. Remember, however, that being undetectable is not a constant state. If you stop taking the medication, your viral blood count will rise and become detectable in blood tests.
Condoms are great for preventing unwanted pregnancy and STD’s. However, if they aren’t used correctly every time, their effectiveness drops from 98% to 85%. For optimal protection, use a condom before it touches your partner’s mouth or genital area, and keep it on the entire time you’re having sex.
During sex, if there is not enough lubrication, the friction against the condom can cause it to snap or tear. To prevent this, have lubricants nearby. Water-based lubricants are safe to use with condoms.
Though they last a long time, there is a chance a condom will become less effective after the expiration date. Always open the package carefully, and avoid using your teeth or scissors to prevent puncturing the condom. Check the Planned Parenthood site for detailed information on how to properly put on a condom and to obtain affordable or free condoms.
Other barrier methods, like internal condoms and dental dams, can also be used to prevent STDs. Internal condoms are worn on the inside of someone’s body for penetrative activities with body parts or toys. Dental dams are usually flavored pieces of latex that can be used to prevent STD’s during oral sex.
When purchasing condoms, you may notice several different types and variations. For example, many condoms offer options with spermicide. These condoms differ from traditional condoms because they are coated with the sperm-killing chemical, spermicide, preventing active sperm from reaching the uterus.
If you notice that you experience itching and discomfort after having sex with a condom, you may be allergic to latex, spermicide, or any other added ingredient — though latex is most often the culprit. Thankfully, for those who are allergic, most condom brands provide latex-free options that are just as effective as latex condoms. They can be found in the same section of the store or pharmacy as latex condoms, just be sure to read the label carefully.
Believe it or not, using sex toys has been proven to benefit your overall health. Vibrator use, for example, has shown to improve sexual function in individuals and increases one’s willingness to be proactive about sexual health. According to the web publication Patient, “Using sex toys to enhance sexual pleasure and orgasm can help you to sleep, boost immunity, relieve pain, reduce stress and boost your brain power.”
Though the health benefits of using a sex toy during intercourse or masturbation are staggering, choosing the wrong toy can actually negatively impact your sexual health. Be sure to choose toys that are considered “skin safe,” like silicone, toughened glass, metal, or ABS plastic. Additionally, make the effort to clean your sex toys regularly. Poor sex toy hygiene not only causes infections, but it can decrease the life span of your toy. Toys should be cleaned after every use, though properly cleaning it is just as important as frequently cleaning it. Check out this post on Self.com for specifics on how to clean your sex toy.
Though properly cleaned sex toys are fun and healthy to use by yourself or with a partner, avoid sharing them with others. Though thorough cleaning greatly minimizes the risk of transferring STDs, studies have found that even after cleaning, some traces of infection were still left behind. To keep yourself and your partner safe, keep your toys stored safe and out of reach from others.
Hypoactive sexual desire disorder
Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) occurs when a person experiences a persistent lack of sexual interest for six months or more. Unlike experiencing periods of feeling “not in the mood” due to situational stress and other outside circumstances, HSDD involves having a very low or almost absent sex drive that hinders one’s ability to maintain a relationship and can take a toll on self-esteem and confidence.
The symptoms of HSDD include a lack of interest in sex, the absence of sexual thoughts and dreams, and avoidance of masturbation.
HSDD can be caused by other medical issues such as diabetes, heart disease, hormonal imbalances, certain medications, or most commonly, anxiety and depression. There are outside factors, too, that may induce HSDD in an individual, like a traumatic event with their partner involving abuse or mistrust.
HSDD does not have to be permanent. Finding the root cause of one’s lack of desire coupled with HSDD medication (Addyi) and lifestyle changes, many are able to restore their sex drive.
It is important to note HSDD is completely different than asexuality. HSDD is a medical condition and those who suffer from it typically experience distress as a result and want to increase their sex drive. Asexuality, on the other hand, is an orientation characterized by a lack of sexual attraction. It is not a condition to be treated (like HSDD) or an active choice like celibacy.
Erectile dysfunction (ED), or the inability to get and keep an erection firm enough for sex, is a common condition affecting nearly 40 percent of all individuals with a penis by the time they reach 40. Most will experience erection trouble from time to time, so there is no need for grave concern unless this issue is experienced frequently over an extended period of time.
Usually, it is routine to make a doctor’s appointment to get a prescription for ED medication. However, for bisexual+ individuals, this experience can be embarrassing, nerve wracking, and very personal due to the nature of the topic and the fear of biphobia.
Fortunately, there are option sto purchase erectile dysfunction medication online without having to talk face to face with a doctor.
Birth control is an important factor in the sexual health of those who were assigned female at birth. Not only can it help control pregnancy, but birth control is also used to combat the symptoms of a multitude of sexual health issues such as uterine cysts, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), painful and irregular periods, and hormone imbalances. It even helps those suffering from chronic or cystic acne and can reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Unfortunately, obtaining a birth control prescription can be timely, costly, and discouraging if you have not yet found an LGBTQ friendly clinic. Fortunately, there are LGBTQ+ friendly online services that allow you to purchase birth control online with a doctor’s guidance via email, video chat, or a phone call at a low, flat monthly rate. Check with your local Planned Parenthood for more options. Some locations prescribe birth control and other medications through their app.
Unfortunately, abuse can happen in any type of relationship. Whether it is physical abuse that involves rape or other violence or emotional abuse that harms one’s self-esteem or causes shame, relationship abuse can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, or duration of the relationship.
The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control presented striking statistics. In the United States alone, more than one third of the population has experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking in a relationship. Even more alarming, the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence suggests that 1 out of every 2 transgender individuals will experience one of these forms of abuse in their lifetime.
The biggest sign of abuse is the general fear of your partner. If you feel like you may be in an abusive relationship, consider the following:
- Are you often afraid of how your partner is going to react to certain situations?
- Do you avoid specific topics out of fear of angering your partner?
- Do you feel as though you can not do anything right by your partner?
- Do you believe you deserve to be physically hurt or verbally abused?
- Does your partner humiliate you, criticize you, and put you down?
- Does your partner ignore or put down your accomplishments?
- Does your partner have a bad and unpredictable temper?
- Does your partner threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
- Does your partner force you to have sex?
- Does your partner hurt you or threaten to?
The more you answered “yes,” the more likely it is that you may be in an abusive relationship.
Abusive relationships affect your sexual health in regards to sexual abuse, which is defined by HelpGuide.org as “any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity,” even if it is by a spouse or partner with whom you previously have had consensual sex.
If you believe you may be in a physical, mental, or sexually abusive relationship, confide in a trusted friend or family member as soon as possible and contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for counsel on the next steps to safely remove yourself from the relationship.
It may seem like there are many moving parts to maintaining good sexual health, but making the effort now will pay off immensely for your future. What are your favorite resources and sexual health tips? We’d love to hear your thoughts — comment below!