From blogs and articles to healthcare and government websites, it is hard to decipher what information one truly needs. From adolescence to adulthood, sex education can be inconsistent and basic at best. In my experience, sex education consisted of teaching girls about their menstrual cycle and/or teaching the class about the physical anatomy of a women or a man. But, nowhere did they discuss the risks of having unprotected sex, such as: Contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), how you can be exposed to specific STDs, or the long-term effects of untreated STDs. Once you actually start seeing different providers to address sexual health issues or for prevention/wellness, the information given can vary. Multiple healthcare providers can provide sexual health services, such as a primary care provider (PCP), a urologist, or a gynecologist. One visit you may receive detailed information about your test results, what they mean, your treatment plan, and education on prevention, where another visit you may only get a script with minimal explanation and an educational pamphlet for you to read through yourself due to time constraints in a physician office setting. This can also be the difference between a provider who is a sexual health expert, versus a provider who is deemed competent in this area but not an expert.
Sex education starts in early childhood but continues across the lifespan. According to The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG, 2016), sex education should be medically correct and vetted by evidence. Topics covered should include: The benefits of waiting to have sexual intercourse, normal reproductive development, contraception methods to prevent unintended pregnancies, and barrier protection to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is also important to provide education on what a healthy sexual relationship looks like, gender identity, and how to recognize and prevent sexual abuse (ACOG, 2016).
Sex education can happen in a variety of settings, but it is most commonly seen in grade school, college, or in a health care setting. The first time I had an appointment with my gynecologist as a teenager, I received a pelvic exam, was given instructions to not have unprotected sex without an explanation to why, and received a prescription for birth control. That was it, and there was no time to ask questions. It was one of the most awkward experiences I have ever had. Fast forward, I see that for many adults, they are not being educated on sexual health until they have tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease (STD), or they have heard about a friend or family member's experience.
So what does this lead to? It leads to people turning to the internet to gain the information that they are seeking when it comes to their sexual health. Which we all know can be overwhelming. When seeking information for your sexual health, it is best to speak to a sexual health expert. They are trained to have conversations about sensitive health topics. If you want to educate yourself or find answers to your questions on the internet, make sure you are using trusted websites that are reviewed by clinicians and updated regularly. Journals and articles should be no more than five years old or at least reviewed within 5 years. This is because medical research is constantly evolving, so you want to make sure the information you are reading is up to date. Although some aspects of a disease may not have changed since its discovery, treatment recommendations may have changed.
When reviewing a website, you want to look for an author of the information you are reading as well as a date. The date may be listed at the top of the page next to the author's name or found at the bottom. You should also see when the last time the page was updated or reviewed. A copyright and contact information for the site are also other characteristics that can assure you that the information you are reading is accurate.
Well known organizations that provide education on sexual health topics are also a good go-to for information. Some of the organizations that Beyond|Med uses to stay up to date are: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), and The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG). Information from federal or state regulated websites, colleges, and non-profit organizations also provide information that can be trusted.
It is a great habit to stay informed, but if you think you may need help, it is best to speak with a sexual health expert to answer your questions, get tested, and possibly get the treatment you may need for a sexual health problem.
Be safe out there and if you ever need us we are here for you. Virtual consults available in Washington, D.C.
Written By: Lonnie Jones, MSN, APRN, CNL, AGNP-C
Comprehensive Sexuality Education (2016). The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Retrieved from https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2016/11/comprehensive-sexuality-education