Taking Control of Your Sexual and Reproductive Health

Three healthy young women taking care of their sexual and reproductive health

In the realm of maintaining health, women often contend with more intricate challenges than men. Sexual and reproductive health is a key component of your overall health and quality of life. It is central to your ability to make choices and decisions about your life, including when, or whether, to consider having children.

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the enactment of extreme laws in certain states, now is a good time for you and your partner to discuss your sexual and reproductive health, both individually and as a couple.

Sexual and reproductive health is not solely about physical wellness; it encompasses the right to nurturing and respectful relationships, access to inclusive and safe healthcare services, accurate information dissemination, availability of effective and affordable contraception methods, and prompt assistance and support in the event of an unplanned pregnancy.

Here are five tips to help guide your goals for better sexual and reproductive health in a post-Roe world.

Schedule regular checkups

Make sure that you’re on track with annually scheduled checkups at your OB-GYN that should include a pelvic exam, a Pap smear to screen for cervical cancer and HPV, and a breast exam. Women ages 21 to 29 should, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, start getting Pap tests at age 21. If your Pap test result is normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait three years until your next Pap test. Women who are 30 and older can consider Pap testing every five years if the procedure is combined with testing for HPV. During your appointment be sure to talk to your doctor about any concerns, issues or questions you may have.

Know your birth control options

During your routine health checkups, it’s important to keep up to date with the latest contraceptive methods—there are many—and determine which option aligns best with where you and your partner are in life and your lifestyle choices. Ensuring you are well-informed about birth control methods that suit you is especially important in busier periods filled with social engagements like your wedding and related festivities.

Emergency contraception

For those unexpected moments that catch couples off guard, IUD’s and morning after pills (also known as “Plan B”) can be used after sex to stop a pregnancy before it begins. Getting an IUD inserted within five days after unprotected sex is, according to Planned Parenthood, the most effective type of emergency contraception. The morning after pill is not the abortion pill and will not end a pregnancy. Safe and effective, the morning after pill needs to be taken within 120 hours (five days) after having sex, However, it is highly recommended to take the pill sooner than later for greater efficacy. Many brands can be purchased over the counter or you can get a prescription from your doctor or health center for Ella. As of this writing, morning after pills are legal across the country. However, being able to purchase them may be more restrictive in some states, according to The National Women’s Health Network (NWHN), a non-profit that represents the health interests of women across the continuum.

Educate yourself

Medicine is always offering new insights into preventive health measures through improved hygiene, nutrition and exercise, as well as evolving treatments for various conditions. Become your own advocate for sexual and reproductive health by keeping abreast of the latest advancements in technology, science and medicine that can impact your health. Speak to your doctor, read credible health-focused magazines like Prevention and check out websites like NWHN and other trustworthy websites established by medical and healthcare organizations and academic institutions.

Open communication with your partner

Maintaining a healthy relationship means being comfortable having regular, open and honest communication with your partner. Sharing concerns and feelings about your physical relationship can lead to improved intimacy and enhance your overall well-being. Remember, taking good care of your overall health is an ongoing practice that can help you lead a fuller, happier and more joyful life. If there’s any unease or tension in your relationship, discussing these issues should be seen as an opportunity for growth and better mutual understanding.