Why You Should Be Totally Honest With Your Doctor About Your Sexual History

Talking to your doctor about your medical history can be scary, and being asked about your sexual history can feel even more uncomfortable. Your sex life may not be something to discuss with just anyone, but the one person you should consider discussing it with is your doctor.

"As doctors, we are unable to provide the best care without knowing the complete picture, so [with regard to sexual history] honesty is the best policy," Dr. Randy S. Gelow, a family medicine physician, tells Banner Health. He goes on to say, "With accurate information, we can determine a plan, together, to help minimize risks that might not otherwise be apparent, such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) like the HPV infection."

While STIs aren't the only reason to open the dialogue with your provider, they're an important one. In fact, they're the first reason on our list of why it's important to share your sexual history with your doctor.

You can treat STIs early

As it turns out, roughly 20% of the U.S. population had an STI at some point in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, there can be serious consequences that come from untreated STIs. Thus it's critical to seek medical attention right away.

STIs are sexually transmitted infections. As the name suggests, these infections transfer to people during anal, vaginal, or oral sex. Currently, 30 different bacteria, viruses, and parasites have been found to be transmittable, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). However, many times these infections are asymptomatic, meaning they present no alarming symptoms, and you may not be aware you have one.

Thankfully, many STIs can be either managed or cured, according to Healthline. In discussions with your doctor, you may review your sexual history, current sexual activity, and the frequency of practicing safe sex, including the use of condoms. Depending on your unique risk factors, your doctor may then recommend testing for certain STIs and discuss ways to best protect yourself in the future.

You can learn about safer sex practices

Another benefit of discussing your sexual history with your doctor is learning more about what constitutes safe sex. Ultimately this will provide you with the knowledge you need to stay healthy and protected. Certain factors that may be discussed are things like protection methods, barrier methods, lubricants, and positions, according to Healthline

In addition to knowing which methods work best, your doctor can explain how best to utilize these methods in order to further reduce your risks. For example, receptive anal sex is the riskiest type of sex for getting or transmitting HIV, according to HIV.gov. This involves being the receiving partner in the act of anal intercourse since rectal tissue is thin and more amenable to a passing infection. Vaginal and oral sex may be less risky in terms of HIV transmission, and sexual activities sans body fluid contact carry no risk of HIV according to HIV.gov. However, it's important to note that other STIs may be transmitted. If you start a new relationship and have concerns of safe sex practices, it may be worth a call to your doctor.

They can help you address body image issues

As it turns out, body image can greatly affect your sexual satisfaction and your health in general. It may not be easy to make a connection between our body image and sexual health, but experts suggest it exists and it can take a toll on our relationship with ourselves and others, according to Psychology Today. If you feel dissatisfied with how you look, you may believe your partner does as well, which can lead to sexual dissatisfaction. This may even lead to destructive behaviors in order to meet what you believe to be an ideal body type.

You should discuss with your doctor how you feel about your body and how it's affecting your sexual and mental health. They may be able to make recommendations in order to improve these behaviors or refer you to a mental health specialist, according to Healthline. Remember, your physician cares about your physical and mental well-being.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

You can learn about various birth control options

Proper birth control is an incredibly important part of a healthy sex life. However, it can be confusing knowing which birth control option is right for you, especially when there are so many options. There are condoms, birth control pills, birth control shots, IUDs, and abstinence, just to name a few, according to Planned Parenthood.

Your past and current sexual history can help determine the best birth control option for your situation, whether you're married with kids, in a long-term relationship, or have multiple casual partners, according to WedMD. All sexual histories are valid and need to be shared with your physician so they can prescribe proper birth control that not only helps you to prevent pregnancy but also regulate your menstrual cycles, hormones, and more. It's estimated that over half of birth control users take it for both pregnancy prevention and other reasons, while 14% take it for reasons that don't include pregnancy prevention at all.

They can help you address substance use disorders

It may seem like using drugs, such as alcohol or marijuana, wouldn't affect your sexual health, but that couldn't be further from the truth. These substances can affect your sexual health in significant ways, according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation. Mixing drugs and sex is not a new trend, but it can lead to serious and negative consequences, like an increased risk of STIs due to lowered inhibitions and various impacts on mental health. Taking drugs can also lead you to engage in riskier sexual behaviors, such as intercourse without proper protection, resulting in unplanned pregnancies or contracting STIs, according to Healthline

Additionally, drinking large amounts of alcohol can cause erectile dysfunction during sex which in turn can affect orgasms and increase one's risk of erectile dysfunction, according to Health Service Executive. Further, copious amounts of alcohol can affect a male's testosterone levels leading to various impacts on sexual functioning.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).