Most UK adults moan – and rightly so – about the state of sex education when they were young. We hear horror stories of people who were given only a cursory intro to condoms, or people who weren’t even told about them.
But despite having had a somewhat patchy sex education, how many of us regularly think about our own sexual health? If you’re having a lot of casual sex, it may be at the forefront of your mind. But while sexual health has become synonymous for ‘not getting an STI’, there are some broad sexual health issues that all adults should be aware of.
Sexual health – STI checks
Regardless of how recently you’ve had unprotected sex – or even if you have at all – sexual health checks are freely available to everyone in the UK. Whether it’s through a specialist clinic or arranged through your GP, having one of these checks is very easy to arrange.
They usually involve giving your details and answering a few questions about your sexual activity (how recently you’ve had sex, number of sexual partners, that kind of thing). Then you give a couple of samples which can be tested for some common sexually transmitted infections. Usually a urine sample, a blood sample, and sometimes a genital swab.
Yeah, it doesn’t sound particularly fun, but it’s usually over very quickly. And the good news is that now we’re in the 21st century, many clinics offer you the chance to get your results by text – so no waiting for a letter to drop onto your doormat.
If you think your sexual health could do with this kind of check-up, head to the NHS Choices website and use their free tool to find the nearest sexual health clinic to you.
While most people think of sexual health as purely the prevention of STIs, there are other issues which – while not directly related to sexual activity – are worth checking as part of an overall health M.O.T.
Sexual health – the prostate
Prostate health is something which men are encouraged to think about as they start to get older, but in reality a healthy prostate is something you can start thinking about way before the doctor invites you for an exam. In the UK there is no compulsory prostate cancer screening programme, but any man over the age of 50 can ask their doctor for a PSA test. This involves a blood test, which can be used to measure Prostate Specific Antigens in the blood – one of the causes of higher PSA is prostate cancer. If there is a history of prostate cancer in your family, or if you have any symptoms that are worrying you, chat to your doctor about it.
One of the most commonly held beliefs about prostate health is that it can be improved by regular masturbation. Is this true? Well, so far the only thing we know is that more research is needed. While some work has suggested that men in their fifties who ejaculate regularly may have a lower prostate cancer risk, other work has suggested that more frequent ejaculation in young men may indicate a higher risk. However, the latter could be to do with naturally occurring levels of PSA, so we’ll defer to the NHS advice on this one:
Men should not be overly concerned by this research. Sexual functioning is a normal part of healthy adult life. The causes of prostate cancer are not known for certain. Increasing age is the most established risk factor and more research is needed.
So if you’re worried about your sexual health when it comes to your prostate, have a chat with your doctor.
Sexual health – testicle examination
The good news is that testicular cancer is one of the less common forms of cancer, and once diagnosed it is usually treated successfully. However, one of the things that may well have been lacking in your sex education at school was how to properly examine your testicles – checking for lumps and bumps that you might need to ask a doctor about.
The NHS (again – we know we keep citing them but they’re awesome) has a great guide on testicular cancer, along with a checklist of symptoms for you to keep an eye out for.
General sexual health
Without wanting to sound like your Mum, eating your greens and getting regular exercise is as important to your sex life as it is to your life in general. What’s more, it helps stave off some of the more serious health problems such as high blood pressure, that can lead to erectile dysfunction.
Ultimately, while sexual health is something we usually associate with condoms, maintaining a healthy sex life is as much about knowing your own body really well as it is about taking the right tests. Not only should you get regular check-ups if you’re having sex with multiple partners, but you should be aware of any changes in your testicles or prostate, and visit your doctor if anything changes. Whether it’s trouble getting or staying hard, or a lump in a place where you don’t think it should be. If you want to have a happy, exciting sex life – whether in a couple or on your own – remember that your sexual health is an important part of your health overall.