LET’S TALK ABOUT SEXIf those words grabbed your attention, it may have more to do with the reality that our nation doesn’t normalize the conversation about sex and sexual health. Verbal and visual references of sex saturate our culture through music, TV and social media, but constructive discussions about it are a different story. “We are a very sexualized nation, but we cannot talk about it,” says Olivia Catalano, Director of Reproductive Health for Finger Lakes Community Health. “The act of discussing sex is considered more intimate than actually having sex.”
Integrated CareIn Upstate New York, Finger Lakes Community Health (FLCH) is a federally qualified health center that provides comprehensive health care, everything from dental care to annual health checkups. At FLCH, sexual health, which covers family planning and reproductive health, is integrated into primary care. Pap smears, breast and testicular exams, and contraception can be incorporated into a routine physical. The health center also treats and tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), eliminating the need for the patient to see a specialist. By treating sexual health as a normal part of your life and body, the stigma can be broken down. At the health center, sexual health conversations are specific to our different needs and based on where we are in life.
Pre-pubescentMany areas provide confidential access to sexual health services starting at age 12. This access is helpful, but it’s also important that younger patients have trusted family members or adults in whom they can confide their questions and feelings. This trusted resource helps promote healthy development in youth.
Teens and Young AdultsThis age group ranks highest for number of new STIs, so it’s important for sexually active teens and young adults to be tested regularly. Depending on who you have sex with, it’s important to have preventative conversations not only about STIs, but also about pregnancy. During 2017 in Ontario County, 14.3 teens per 1,000 became pregnant. “With so many online sources, there is so much misinformation at the touch of your fingertip,” Catalano says. “It can be challenging for an educational consumer.”
AdulthoodFor adults, the conversation shifts more to pre-conception and lifestyle changes that promote good health, for the sake of not only the parents but the children to come. Equally important is helping people who don’t want children explore their birth control options.
MenopausePersons between 45 and 60 years old are typically finished having children of their own. Those in this age group often believe getting tested for STIs isn’t necessary because they’ve often been with the same partner for years or don’t have risk of pregnancy.