Perspectives on women’s sexual health
As a women’s healthcare provider for over 20 years, I have grown accustomed to certain questions such as: What can I do about hot flashes? How long should I wait before having another child? and When can I stop getting pap smears? I’ve found that women’s concerns are similar despite culture, background or socioeconomic status. One of those similarities is how women view their sexuality and its level of importance in their identity. Understandably, this perspective leads to even more questions. Today, I am going to focus on certain perspectives that commonly threaten sexual health and peace of mind.
My day-to-day routine revolves around assisting women during their transitions. Most of these have been related to physiological changes but through the years my encounters have greatly enhanced my ability to provide advice that has helped women of all ages continue past unsettling forks in the road. The counsel I’ve extended often makes me reflect on the power of truth and how its clarity can salvage anything in the long run. Choosing it isn’t always easy, but the peace it provides is immeasurable if we are brave enough to seek it. This is essentially the basis of all of my advice.
With the divorce rate hovering at 50 percent, I’ve met many women who are separated or proceeding with divorce. Their outlook ranges from devastated and overwhelmed to relieved. Regardless of their state of mind, their self-identity is being altered along with their original plans. They are no longer married but are now single. They are no longer someone’s wife but are now a divorcee. They may be losing homes, possessions or health insurance. Any one or all of these results in a natural desire to restore what has been lost. One of the initial reactions that I am presented with is the urgency to establish a new sexual relationship.
The motivation for this connection may be a subconscious desire to replace affection, security or the need to feel desirable. One of the most destructive reasons that have been regularly expressed is the need to “get back at him.” Hurt is clearly running amok in this circumstance. Accepting loss is a difficult process and many people opt out of it by pursuing a replacement. Unfortunately, they may be replacing hurt with a different version of discomfort that merely prolongs their recovery.
I advise all women who are considering a new sexual relationship to proceed cautiously. Sure, cultural influences encourage us to “get your groove back” and tell us to do whatever feels good at the moment, but I suggest that women ask themselves a few questions.
First, have you been honest with yourself? This is usually the hardest for anyone to answer because often times, we are busy justifying what we desire or are doing. Being honest about why we want or are doing something is very challenging. Exploring the truth in the situation will either void our indulgence or at least provide us with a clearer idea of the potential pitfalls surrounding our choices. Avoiding the orange cone zones in our lives is an effective way to minimize life’s stressors.
Second, what is your goal? Physical gratification doesn’t always translate into affection and it certainly doesn’t end loneliness. Many times, it produces more emptiness than trying to recapture a weekend, a glance or a feeling with someone who you barely know or moves on in a short period of time. Sex alone does not provide the intimacy necessary to build a foundation. If companionship is really what you desire, take the time to establish the connection in order to reduce the potential for regret. Infatuation fades rather quickly; and if the two of you have few things in common, there might not be much left to sustain the relationship.
Third, do you see a pattern? If you are staring into the eyes of the same man with a different name, that should tell you something…It is the same man, so expect the same outcome. History doesn’t have to repeat itself. Yes, we are creatures of habit, but we also have the power of the will to change. You cannot continue to make the same choices expecting different results. Otherwise, you too are culpable if you do not grow from your experiences and learn to avoid those cones.
Fourth, have you had the sex talk? Yes, the sex talk. We are in a new era ladies and if you are old enough to have sex, you are old enough to talk about it. This is not just something designated for adolescents and young adults. The only person totally vested in protecting you during that encounter will be you. Most sexually transmitted diseases cause few symptoms in men but are quite demonstrable in women. Effects range from itching to cancer. The risks are too great to skirt around the conversation of current number of partners, history of sexual related infections and most recent test results. If you are more concerned about scaring him off, you are totally missing the picture. In my opinion, we should all aspire to have a partner that wants to protect us inside and outside of the bedroom.
A woman’s ability to make choices about who her partner will be gives her a unique power that was not always inherent. This power should not be utilized frivolously because the consequences can be life changing. The grace of peace in knowing decisions have been made with the best information available allows room for growth despite the outcome. Truth empowers you to avoid “getting caught up” and strengthens you from being let down. Because our sexual health is closely linked to our emotional and spiritual well being, we cannot live in harmony with either of them ailing. The truth, indeed, can set you free.
Dr. Stephanie Sweet is a board certified Obstetrician/Gynecologist who believes patient education is an essential component to effective healthcare. She has focused her efforts in recent years on community outreach for the prevention of sexual transmission of disease and HIV through the development of outreach programs such as SEXPOSURE and Spread the Word. Dr. Sweet has worked in an academic setting for the majority of her career and is currently practicing at UC Davis Medical Center in northern California.