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Here are five essential facts that every woman should know about her sexual and reproductive health.
We rely on our contraception to prevent us from getting pregnant, but it’s important to be aware of the limitations. No form of contraception can prevent 100% of pregnancies and there can be a lot of variation between different types. Hormonal contraception such as the pill can be more than 99% effective when used perfectly, while male condoms are 98% effective with perfect use. Since none of us is perfect in reality, the real effectiveness can be lower. The pill is about 91% effective with typical use and condoms are about 82% effective for most people. Making sure that you know how to use your contraception correctly can help you to get the best protection from it. Ask a doctor for contraception advice if you need more information.
Sexually transmitted infections can cause obvious symptoms such as itchiness or unusual discharge, but they can also remain hidden. Just because you haven’t spotted any symptoms, it doesn’t mean that you are STI free. A symptomless STI could be causing serious problems, including infertility, so it’s important to get screened if you are sexually active. As a general guide, it’s best to have an STI test as often as you get a new sexual partner. You should encourage your partners to get tested too.
The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is so common that almost everyone who has been sexually active has been infected with it. The virus doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, but it can trigger changes in cervical cells that can eventually develop into cancer. The HPV vaccine can protect against certain strains of this cancer, so it’s important for girls to get vaccinated before they start having sex.
You will be invited for regular cervical smears after you reach the age of 25. The smear test is a simple procedure that takes a sample of cells from your cervix. It won’t hurt, and it will be over in less than a minute. The cells will be checked for any abnormalities that could be signs of developing cervical cancer. If any pre-cancerous cells are detected, then you can be treated before you develop cervical cancer. Getting the smear test can prevent cervical cancer, so it is a life-saving test for women.
Emotions are a big part of sex, whatever kind of sex life you lead. Sex is something that should always be enjoyable and consensual, so make sure that you’re looking after your emotional wellbeing and relationships as well as your physical health.