Other Sexual Health Issues
Breast Self Exams/Gynecological Exams
In addition to obtaining yearly pelvic examinations, all women over the age of 18 should conduct monthly breast self exams. Don't know how to do this? Go to our page on How to Conduct a Breast Self Exam. Also, if you haven't yet had your first pelvic exam, here is information on Your First Gynecological Exam: What to Expect.
Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECP)
Emergency contraception, also referred to as postcoital contraception or the morning after pill, can prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECP) are taken within 120 hours of unprotected intercourse. The popular term "morning after pill" is actually misleading, as ECPs have a five-day window of effectiveness. The two pills, known as Plan B, are taken together and are most effective for prevening pregnancy when taken as soon as possible after an incidence of unprotected intercourse or within 72 hours.
It is important to keep in mind that ECPs are less effective than the most popular precoital methods of contraception, and in general practice, women should only turn to ECPs as an emergency back-up to their usual method of birth control. ECP is not recommended for routine or frequent use as a method of contraception because there is no evidence of safety for this amount of hormone taken repeatedly.
It is also important to note that ECP is not a form of abortion; nor is it the same as RU-486, also known as the "abortion pill." ECP prevents either fertilization or the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine lining. Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy and helps prevent the need for abortion; it itself is not a form of abortion.
ECP is available at no additional charge through Health and Counseling during regular business hours. (Please note: ECP can reduce the risk of pregnancy up to 120 hours after unprotected vaginal intercourse. However, the pills work best when taken within 72 hours; during this time, they can reduce the risk of pregnancy from 75-89%.) If you have had an incident of unprotected intercourse within the last 120 hours and would like ECP, please call Health Services at 245-5736. All requests for ECP will be handled in a professional, nonjudgmental manner by trained clinical staff. (For more information about other resources for obtaining ECP, go to our ECP Resources page).
Nausea and vaginal bleeding (ranging from brownish spotting to a normal menstrual flow) are the most common side effects of ECP. These symptoms may occur within hours of taking the pills or over the next week. Your period should arrive within two to four weeks. If you have questions about this or any other ECP side effects, call or Health Services at 245-5736.
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What If I'm Pregnant?
While a planned pregnancy is an important part of many women's lives, teenage and young adult women often face difficult decisions when a pregnancy is unplanned, particularly during the college years. This section provides a review of the choices available, information about how to determine the best choice for you, and guidelines about how to proceed if you are pregnant.
What are my choices?
You have three choices if you are pregnant:
- You can choose to have a baby and raise your child.
- You can choose to have a baby and place your child for adoption.
- You can choose to end the pregnancy.
There is no right or wrong for everyone. Only you can decide which choice is right for you. It is YOUR decision, and deciding might not feel easy, as there are many different factors to consider.
How can I decide which choice is best for me?
Consider each of your choices carefully. Ask yourself:
- Which choice(s) could I live with?
- Which choice(s) would be impossible for me?
- How would each choice affect my everyday life?
- What would each choice mean to the people closest to me?
It may also help to ask yourself the following:
- What is going on in my life right now?
- What are my plans for the future?
- What are my spiritual and moral beliefs?
- What do I believe is best for me in the long run?
- What can I afford?
Talk about your feelings with your partner, someone in your family, or a trusted friend--someone you think will be supportive. You can also speak with a counselor or health provider at Health and Counseling about your options.
How soon do I have to decide?
If there is a chance that you will continue the pregnancy, you should begin prenatal care as soon as possible. You should have a medical exam early in your pregnancy to make sure that you are healthy and that the pregnancy is normal.
If you are considering terminating the pregnancy, you should make your decision as soon as possible. Abortion is very safe, but the risks increase the longer the pregnancy goes on. More than 90% of abortions are performed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
While you are deciding what to do, take good care of yourself. If you do decide to have a child, it's important to be healthy.
- Eat enough good food, including fruits, vegetables, cereals, breads, beans, rice, and dairy as well as fish, meat, and poultry. Avoid "junk" food.
- Get plenty of sleep and engage in regular exercise.
- Do not smoke, drink alcohol, or consume drinks with caffeine (coffee and soda).
- Do not take any drugs or medications (not even aspirin) without checking with your health care provider.
For additional resources, you may want to download our Pregnancy Counseling & Options Referral List (PDF Format). To make an appointment with a Health Services provider, call 245-5736, or, to talk to a counselor, call Counseling Services at 245-5716. Finally, if you are looking for information on Safe Haven laws, visit the Helpful Sexual Health Links page.
Urinary and Other Infections
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
The symptoms of a UTI include the following: discomfort during urination, increased frequency of urination, urgent need to urinate, and blood in the urine. An untreated UTI can lead to a kidney infection, which has the following symptoms: back pain, side or "flank" pain, nausea and/or vomiting, fever and/or chills, and generalized fatigue or ill feeling.
UTIs develop when bacteria gets into the urinary system, a part of the body which normally has no bacteria. Women are more susceptible to UTIs because their urethras are shorter; women also appear to be more prone to UTIs once they become sexually active. UTIs in men are rare and may be a signal that there is an underlying problem.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Evaluation of someone with symptoms of a UTI requires a urine specimen. The evaluation may also include tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which can produce symptoms that resemble a UTI. UTIs are treated with antibiotics; a bladder anesthetic may also be prescribed to alleviate discomfort.
A high fluid intake is recommended to help treat UTIs. Water is the best fluid to drink, but cranberry juice can also be beneficial for its ability to acidify urine, which discourages the multiplication of bacteria.
Candidiasis (also known as yeast, fungus, monilia) is a vaginal infection caused by yeast organisms. These yeast buds are normally present in the vaginal flora and sometimes they exist in the vagina without causing irritation. However, when the yeast overgrows, the fungus may causes discomfort (see symptoms below). This problem can occur at any age, regardless of sexual activity.
The fungus known as Candida Albicans grows readily in women. The condition is enhanced by other factors, such as the following:
- When the acid balance of the vagina has been disturbed. This can result from taking antibiotics, birth control pills, or overloading the system with too much sugar.
- When a woman is pregnant.
- When a woman has a systemic illness or conditions such as diabetes, alcoholism, hypoparathyroidism and obesity.
- 2.5% of male partners can be infected and be the source of reinfection.
- Candida can also be spread during sexual contact (oral, anal, penile, and/or vaginal).
- There is also a possibility of passing yeast to a partner's throat by oral genital sex. Oral candidiasis is known as thrush.
- Not washing hands before and after tampon insertion can be a source of yeast transfer.
Symptoms of a yeast infection may include the following:
- Severe itching, redness, and swelling at the vaginal opening.
- A white discharge, ranging from light to heavy and thick, sometimes resembling cottage cheese
- A strong vaginal odor
- Soreness during intercourse
Diagnosis and Treatment
The clinician will make the diagnosis by individual history, a pelvic examination, and by examining a sample of the discharge under a microscope. A Pap smear or candida culture will also confirm evidence of a fungal infection.
The usual treatment consists of vaginal cream or tablets or an oral anti-fungal (Diflucan). Other preparations can be applied to the outer vaginal area, which may relieve the itching and inflammation. Warm sitz baths may be used or baking soda diluted in warm water. If treatment is during the menstrual time, continue the prescribed medications. Sanitary napkins should be used in place of tampons. Sometimes the clinician will recommend testing for diabetes if there are recurrent yeast infections. Condoms can also be used.
Fungus flourishes in warm, moist places. The yeast organism is encouraged by tight clothing and nylon fabrics which prevent air circulation and keep the vaginal labia moist. Cotton underpants and loose clothing are considered best. Good nutrition includes deleting soda pop and sweets from the diet. Although not medically proven, some women feel it is helpful to eat cultured yogurt daily.
Bacterial vaginosis (also called Gardnerella, Corynebacterium nonspecific vaginitis or Haemophilus) is an infection of the vagina. It is a very common type of vaginal infection and can be caused by several types of bacteria. The cause is unknown. It may be related to sexual activity, but also can be related to lifestyle habits (hygiene, clothing type, stress, douching).
The symptoms of BV may include the following:
- White or gray watery vaginal discharge
- A bad odor from the vagina, sometimes with a fishy smell, which may increase after sex
- Pain with urination
- Pain with intercourse
- Itching in and around the vagina (less common)
- May be asymptomatic (40%)
Diagnosis and Treatment
The clinician will make the diagnosis by individual history, a pelvic examination and by examining a sample of the discharge under the microscope.
There are several medications used to treat BV. You may take or use a vaginal cream. Treatment for partners is primarily indicated for those of women with recurrent infections, ask your provider.
- Do not have sex while you are being treated for the infection.
- Be sure to take all of the medication.
- Wear cotton underwear.
- Avoid tight pants and pantyhose.
- Wipe from front to back after urinating and bowel movements.
- Do not douche or use feminine hygiene products (sprays/powders).
- Use white toilet paper and non-deodorant tampons or pads. (However, it is best to avoid use of tampons altogether when symptoms are present.)
- Change condoms between anal and vaginal intercourse.
Lesbian Sexual Health
Lesbian women are still at risk for cervical cancer, STIs, and HIV/AIDS. The Office of Women's Health in Washington provides an excellent Lesbian Health Fact Sheet which reviews these risks in greater detail.
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