Talking sex with your doctor
Posted on: October 19, 2021
It’s true, some conversations are tougher to have than others. For most of us, talking to our doctor about sex and how to prevent an unplanned pregnancy can be awkward, nerve-wracking and even embarrassing. But while the experience may place us outside our comfort zones, it’s important to have an expert guide us on how to take charge of our sexual health and help us make informed choices. Here are some guidelines to help ease you into this intimate discussion with your doctor…
First, a reality check
Doctors are trained medical specialists who haven’t only heard it all and seen it all, but in most cases, have also successfully treated it all. If there is anyone who can best advise you in a non-judgmental way on how to keep yourself safe while being sexually active or how to safeguard against falling pregnant, it is your doctor. Your doctor will know about the latest developments in contraceptive health, will be able to provide recommendations based on your lifestyle and needs, and will be able to give you all the information on the different contraception choices available so you can make an empowered decision.
Second, another reality check!
Each year, 41% of pregnancies around the world are not planned for1. Here in South Africa, 56% of young people surveyed said they had unprotected sex1 – with the most common reason being that they did not have any form of contraception available1 . If you are not using contraception, you not only risk falling pregnant, but you could also contract sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is scary to think that around 11 million cases of STIs are treated each year in South Africa2. Your doctor can explain which contraceptive options will best protect you against STI’s and unwanted pregnancies.
Before visiting your doctor, do some homework about the different types of contraception available. If you find the information on the internet too overwhelming, there is a simple quiz on www.yourlifenow.co.za that will give you options based on your lifestyle and needs. Write down any questions you have3 so you can make the most of the consultation. Remember, no question is too silly or simple. Most healthcare specialists will appreciate the time you have taken to prepare before coming in. It also saves time because the doctor can concentrate on the things you want to know rather than have a general discussion. Being prepared makes the consultation more productive.
As soon as you walk in, be honest with your doctor about how nervous or awkward you may be. Medical specialists are trained to put patients at ease4. Also, be honest about your medical history, as your doctor will need to carefully consider this when discussing contraceptive options. If you are on medication or plan to take any medication, let the doctor know too, as this may have an impact on the best contraceptive option for you.
Openly discuss what your plans are. Do you want to be a parent? If yes, then when would you like to fall pregnant? There are contraception choices available that contain essential vitamins that help prepare your body for pregnancy5. Would these work for you? What, if any, implications will there be if you want to change your contraceptive method down the line? Your doctor will provide you with trusted answers for all these questions.
Pros vs Cons
All medicines have a leaflet in the pack, outlining potential side-effects. The same applies to contraceptives. Be sure to ask your doctor about the advantages and disadvantages of each option so you can confidently decide which choice will work for your lifestyle and needs.
When you have decided which contraception method to go for, it’s important to remember that you can explore other options if your lifestyle or needs change. You may, for instance, want to start a family and want to ensure that your body is ready for pregnancy. A follow-up consult with your doctor will allow you to talk through whether your current contraceptive choice still works for you.
So, while talking sex and contraception with your doctors may take you out of your comfort zone, the experience doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can make the most of the consultation by following these guidelines, and in doing so, make meaningful decisions about your sexual health.
1: Bayer AG. Youth and contraception report: a survey of global youth perceptions of sex and contraception. Berlin (DE): Bayer AG; 2017:5-8
2: James S, Reddy SP, Taylor M, Jinabhai CC. Young people, HIV/AIDS/STIs and sexuality in South Africa: the gap between awareness and behaviour. Acta Paediatr. 2004; 93: 264.
3: Sexualwellbeing.ie [Internet]. Ireland: Sexual health & crisis pregnancy programme; 2015. Talking to your GP or doctor. Available from: https://www.sexualwellbeing.ie/sexual-health/contraception/talking-about-contraception/talking-to-your-gp-or-doctor/
4: World Health Organization Department of Reproductive Health and Research (WHO/RHR) and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs (CCP), Knowledge for Health Project. Family Planning: A Global Handbook for Providers (2018 update). Baltimore and Geneva: CCP and WHO, 2018: 370-371p
5: Diefenbach K, Trummer D, Ebert F, et al. EE-drospirenone-levomefolate calcium versus EE-drospirenone + folic acid: folate status during 24 weeks of treatment and over 20 weeks following treatment cessation. Int J Women's Health 2013;5:149-163