In recognition of Sexual Health Month, Dr. Jamie Rempe, OB/GYN with St. Francis Women’s Center, is sharing important information in regards to women and their sexual health.
Sexual health is much more than sexually transmitted illnesses and practicing safe sex. Sexual health is an important part of the physical and emotional aspects of any intimate relationship. Allowing for open and honest conversation, taking care of your body and letting yourself experience safe and pleasurable sexual experiences can create a foundation for future sexual experiences.
“It’s extremely important to raise awareness about sexual health, especially for women,” said Rempe. In American society, women seem more uncomfortable than men about discussing sexual health. I want women to feel like they can discuss their sexual health with me and know that there a variety of options available if they need help. It’s good for women to be in a healthy sexual relationship and to be happy in their sex lives. Although sex is just one part of a relationship, we know that women are happier if they feel like that part of their relationship is good.”
“Sexual health in general is a complex and multi-faceted issue,” said Rempe. “It isn’t a ‘one treatment fix all’ type of situation, so it’s important for everyone to feel comfortable speaking to her physician about any concerns. So many things contribute to how a women feels when it comes to sex, such as libido or hormones. For example, during perimenopause or menopause, the body is experiencing many changes that can affect a woman’s vaginal pelvic tissue and therefore cause discomfort during intercourse.”
Proper communication with your partner is another significant part of sexual health. “Oftentimes, there might not be any physical issues,” said Rempe. “If appropriate communication isn’t taking place between and female and her partner, it can drive a wedge between them and affect how she is feeling emotionally. If a woman is not totally invested in the relationship, couples therapy or individual therapy is a great place to work through issues that might be affecting the sexual health of a relationship.”
Past sexual history can also affect relationships and sexual health. “A history of sexual assault or molestations can trigger issues in current sexual relationships,” said Rempe. “Patients sometimes don’t even realize that their past is affecting their current relationship, so it’s important to discuss any previous abuse.
Sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs) are another important topics for women to understand. “How to protect yourself from STIs is something every woman should know,” said Rempe. There can be long-term consequences of STIs, such as fertility problems later in life. I spend time talking with my patients about protection, especially if they are not ready to have children. Not all contraceptives offered to women protect against STIs, therefore condoms should always be used during intercourse to prevent pregnancy.”
If there is any concern that a potential partner could have an STI, Rempe recommends that both partners be tested before becoming sexually intimate to protect themselves in case there is an infection, so they can be treated appropriately.
“For protection from the human papillomavirus (HPV), the Gardasil vaccine is the best we have,” said Rempe. “HPV can lead to cervical cancer for some women, and we are also seeing links to throat, tongue and anal cancers that are linked to HPV. There are numerous ways in which HPV can be spread, so ultimately the best thing to do is practice safe sex.”
Genital herpes is another STI that can be spread through sexual activity. “Even when there is not current active outbreak, genital herpes can be contracted,” said Rempe. “Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to get rid of genital herpes, so it’s something you will carry with you for the rest of your life. This is a prime example of why previous infections and sexual partners should always be discussed prior to becoming intimate with a new partner. There are ways to treat genital herpes, but the ideal situation is to prevent contracting the disease altogether.”
Seeking professional help is the best route to take when dealing with sexual health. “If you are having concerns about anything regarding your sexual health, try talking to your primary care physician, urologist or OB/GYN,” said Rempe.
“Don’t be embarrassed to talk about your sexual health or to seek help, because by finding the root of the issue at hand, you will have a much happier and healthier relationship moving forward,” said Rempe. “There might not be a one-time fix or a certain medication that solves all of your problems, but working with your doctors is the best way to address any issues.”
Dr. Rempe also recommends pelvic floor physical therapy to some of her female patients. “I have seen significant improvement in patients that I have referred to physical therapists who specialize in pelvic floor dysfunction,” said Rempe. “This type of therapy helps with pain and problems during intercourse. I encourage patients to keep an open mind and try alternative treatments methods. You might be surprised by the benefits and how well it can work for you.”
Even with complex issues, honest conversation is the most important contributor to sexual health. For more information about women’s services at The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus, please call 785-295-5330.