It is important to be aware of the possible consequences of sexual activity and to take on the responsibility that comes with being a sexually active person. There are positive aspects of being sexually active, including pleasure, sharing intimacy with another person and the joy of bearing a child, but there are risks as well. These risks can include sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unplanned pregnancies.

Sexual health is a topic that covers many aspects of a person's health, including reproductive health and the process of attempting to conceive, contraception (birth control) and STDs. Men's reproductive health deals with conditions such as erectile dysfunction or impotence, and women's reproductive health deals with menstruation and pregnancy, among other topics.

Reproductive health is the realm of healthcare that deals with the process of planning and proceeding to conceive a child. During this process, couples may face obstacles — such as infertility — that can interfere with their ability to have a baby.

Contraception, or birth control, is the term for preventative measures taken to avoid pregnancy while still being sexually active. Some forms of birth control include barrier methods to block fertilization — such as condoms and diaphragms — and hormonal birth control like pills, patches and vaginal rings.

STDs, or sexually transmitted diseases, are viral or bacterial infections that can occur from unprotected sex with an infected partner. While some STDs are treatable, others have no cure. It is recommended that people who are sexually active get tested regularly for STDs.

Male reproductive health: The male reproductive system can be affected by conditions that make fertilization and impregnation difficult or impossible. Such conditions include erectile dysfunction, or impotence.

Female reproductive health: The female reproductive system begins preparing early in a woman's life for the possible need to carry a child to term. Menstruation begins at puberty, and the body changes again during pregnancy. Human pregnancy typically lasts 40 weeks or nine months from the start of the last menstrual cycle to the time of childbirth.

Reproductive health: Reproductive health conditions, such as infertility, have distinct symptoms and outcomes. Infertility is the inability to become pregnant after one year of consistent trying or the inability to successfully carry a child to term. Infertility may be caused by a variety of factors — it may be a single identifiable problem or a combination of factors.

Contraception: Contraception is meant to prevent pregnancy in those who are sexually active. Certain forms of contraception are associated with side effects. Hormonal birth control — such as birth control pills, injections, skin patches, vaginal rings and implants — work by releasing hormones into a woman's body to interfere with the fertility process by preventing ovulation. This influx of hormones may cause side effects that should be discussed with a doctor before using. Possible symptoms and side effects of hormonal birth control may include weight gain, moodiness or feelings of being ill.

STDs: Because there are many different STDs, there also are many possible symptoms. Some common symptoms of STDs include unusual discharge from the penis or vagina, sores or warts on the genital area, burning while urinating, itching, redness or pain in the genital area and anal itching, soreness or bleeding. Alert your doctor about these symptoms or any other abnormalities in your genital region.

Male reproductive health: There are many possible symptoms of abnormalities in the male reproductive system. You should alert your doctor of anything that appears or feels wrong to you. The most notable symptom may be erectile dysfunction.

Female reproductive health: Menstruation is the vaginal bleeding that occurs monthly for women after the start of puberty. This monthly "period" may be accompanied by symptoms such as bloating, irritability or moodiness and abdominal cramps. The most common sign of pregnancy is the absence of a period. Other signs of pregnancy symptoms can include nausea, sore breasts or nipples, fatigue, food cravings or aversions, mood swings and frequent urination.

Most sexual health conditions can be diagnosed through a scheduled appointment with your doctor. A full physical examination will allow your physician to make a proper diagnosis and prescribe the best treatment for you.

For sexual health conditions, an accurate and honest medical history may help your doctor significantly in providing a diagnosis. Be open about sexual partners and activity as well as attempts at conceiving in cases of infertility.

If you are a woman, your doctor may recommend that you see a gynecologist for further specialized testing. A fertility specialist may be sought for problems becoming pregnant.

Tests for assessing sexual health may involve taking samples of discharge or urine for further testing. A Pap smear may be used on women to diagnose certain STDs. Blood tests may also be used to diagnose conditions like HIV or syphilis.

A home pregnancy test, available at many pharmacies and grocery stores, can be used to test for pregnancy out of the comfort of your own bathroom. These home tests are commonly seen as accurate, but you may wish to test more than once. If positive, visit your doctor as soon as possible for confirmation and further testing.

Reproductive health: When it comes to problems related to reproduction, your doctor may refer you to a specialist, one who exclusively works on issues of fertility who is able to address your questions and concerns about your ability to become pregnant. When a couple hasn't been successful getting pregnant, the woman may be prescribed certain medications to boost the chances of pregnancy. They also might turn to artificial insemination (injection of prepared sperm into the woman) when sexual intercourse has not led to pregnancy.

Contraception: Every form of contraception may not work for every man or woman. Talk to you doctor to figure out which option might work best for you. Certain types of contraception may trigger side effects in some. For example, hormonal birth control may lead to weight gain or mood swings, and condoms may trigger a latex allergy in some. If you are experiencing side effects from your contraceptive method, ask your doctor about all your contraception options. You may need a change in condom brand or sizing, or a change in birth control types (such as pill to patch or injection to vaginal ring). If a man or woman decides to never have children, there is the option of sterilization, which permanently prevents a woman from getting pregnant or a man from fathering a child. Sterilization involves surgical procedures that usually cannot be reversed.

STDs: Many STDs are caused by bacteria and can be treated successfully with antibiotics prescribed by a doctor. Although, in some cases, infections have developed antibiotic resistance. Some STDs are caused by viruses, which cannot be cured, but instead must be managed. Examples of viral STDs include HIV/AIDS, genital herpes and hepatitis B. Ask your doctor on how to manage a viral STD.

Male reproductive health: Doctors often suggest that treatment of male reproduction issues, such as erectile dysfunction, begin with the least invasive form of treatment, and that efforts should increase if there is no success. To address erectile dysfunction, some men may first try to quit smoking, reduce alcohol intake and lose weight before seeking advanced medical treatment. Oral and injected medications can be used to treat erectile dysfunction. Examples of oral medications for erectile dysfunction include Viagra (sildenafil), Levitra (vardenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil). Vacuum devices may also be used to draw blood into the penis.

Female reproductive health: Menstruation is a normal part of life for women. As such, there is no "cure" for menstruation. Women experience their monthly period until they reach menopause. However, many hormonal birth control methods can cause a woman's period to occur much less often or even stop completely. Over-the-counter products such as tampons and sanitary pads may be used to control bleeding and for cleanliness purposes. Mild pain medication may be used to treat and control menstrual symptoms such as abdominal pain. Pregnancy requires proper prenatal care, which includes frequent visits to the doctor or gynecologist as well as dietary changes and increased vitamin intake. It is often recommended that pregnant women get 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day to prevent many types of birth defects.

Reproductive health: There are many reasons people run into trouble trying to conceive, and the cause of that difficulty can lie in either the man or woman. Most cases of infertility in women result from ovulation problems. Such problems may include premature ovulation failure, which is when the ovaries do not release an egg at regular intervals or do not release an egg that is healthy enough. Blocked fallopian tubes, physical issues with the uterine wall, a woman's age, stress, poor diet, weight or genetic conditions may also contribute to problems with fertility. Male infertility may involve similar factors such as age or weight, but also may include physical problems such as testes that do not produce enough sperm to fertilize a female's egg.

Contraception: The reason for using contraception is to prevent pregnancy while remaining sexually active. Barrier methods work because they physically prevent sperm from entering the female uterus. Other forms of contraception are effective because they release hormones into the female body that prevent ovulation. Hormonal birth control can be delievered through pills, patches and other devices.

STDs: STDs are caused by different bacteria and viruses that enter the body through unprotected sexual activity and sharing needles. STDs can be passed along through vaginal, oral and anal intercourse. There are over 20 types of STDs, some caused by bacteria that can be treated by antibiotics and some by viruses that have no cure. Certain viruses can turn to more deadly diseases later. For example, HIV may progress to AIDS and HPV can cause certain types of cancers.

Male reproductive health: Male reproductive issues can result from a variety of factors, including weight, diet and nerve damage. Even psychological factors may be involved in conditions like erectile dysfunction. Anxiety, guilt, depression, low levels of testosterone, injured nerves, obesity and conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis and heart disease are all linked to erectile dysfunction.

Female reproductive health: The menstrual cycles is typically lasts 28 days but can range from 21 to 35 days. At the start of a woman's menstrual cycle, hormone levels rise, which causes the uterine lining to grow and thicken. An egg then begins to mature in one of the ovaries and travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus. If this egg is fertilized by a male sperm cell via sexual intercourse, the result is pregnancy. If it is not fertilized, the uterus does not need this extra thick lining and sheds that lining. This shedding results in the menstruation women experience each month.

It is very important to be safe and cautious if you are a sexually active person. While there are many benefits to being intimate with a partner, there also are many risks, including STDs.

Monogamous couples who have been tested and are shown to be free of STDs are not likely to contract disease. For people who choose to have multiple sexual partners, it is essential to practice safe sex to reduce the risk of contracting an STD. If you choose to be sexually active with people whose STD status is unknown, or choose to be sexually active with a person who has a known STD, take precautionary measures and practice "safe sex." Safe sex includes the dedicated use of condoms and dental dams, possibly along with hormonal contraception to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Condoms block the transmission of bacteria via semen. Use a condom for vaginal, oral and anal intercourse. Know your partner and his/her STD status. Have regular medical check-ups and ask your doctor about testing for STDs, especially if you have more than one sexual partner.

If you notice something irregular about your sexual health, talk frankly with your doctor, even if discussing the subject may feel uncomfortable or embarrassing. Discussing your problem with a medical professional is the only way to ensure proper treatment.

What is a high-risk pregnancy?
Each and every pregnancy carries risk to both mother and child. However, certain factors can add more risk to a pregnancy, and women may need further monitoring in these situations. Very young women and older women who are pregnant are considered high-risk, as are those who are underweight or overweight. Other factors that may increase risks during pregnancy include problems with past pregnancies such as miscarriages, stillbirths and preterm labor or births. 

What are some more methods of contraception besides the daily pill and condoms?
While conventional condoms and the daily birth control pill are popular contraceptive devices, they are not the only options available. There are other barrier methods, such as a cervical cap, which also physically prevents sperm from entering the uterus. An intrauterine device (IUD) is another option. An IUD is a small device inserted into the uterus and is 99 percent effective in the prevention of pregnancy. One IUD can stay active in the body for up to 10 years. There are also more hormonal birth control options besides the daily pill. Skin patches, vaginal rings and implants also release hormones in a fashion similar to the daily pill. Sterilization is another option for contraception, albeit more permanent. Sterilization involves a surgical procedure that typically cannot be reversed.

How do I know if I've spread an STD to a sexual partner if I am unaware of my status?
It is your responsibility to know your STD status, especially before engaging in sexual acts with another individual. If you have never had an STD screening or testing, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Testing will may involve drawing blood for further testing, a urine sample and a vaginal swab (for women). Once you know your status, you should inform past partners if you have passed an illness onto them. Quick notification can allow for proper and necessary treatment and prevent the continued spread of the STD. Once you are tested, stay free of new STDs by practicing safe sex every time. Safe sex includes using a condom for vaginal, oral and anal intercourse, knowing your own and your partner's STD status and continuing to have regular medical check-ups.

Being sexually active takes caution and responsibility. Besides consistently practicing safe sex, a change of diet and habits may allow for a healthier and more satisfying lifestyle. Such changes may also address infertility issues.

If you are pregnant, take steps to get proper prenatal care. Pregnant women should talk to their doctor about folic acid supplements to lower the risk for birth defects. They should also ask about vaccinations against diseases like chickenpox and rubella that could harm the fetus. Pregnant women should try to maintain a healthy weight and varied diet and stop smoking, drinking and all drug use. See your doctor or gynecologist for regular and frequent check-ups.

If you are having fertility problems, try a change in lifestyle. Start an exercise regimen and avoid stress in whatever ways you can. Stop taking unnecessary medications and avoid smoking, drinking and drugs. Eat a healthy diet and do your best to steer clear of environmental toxins.

Review Date: 
September 4, 2012