When the only sex you have is solo, how do you keep your sexual health in tip-top shape?
Are you ignoring or forgetting about your sexual health? Many of us are guilty of neglecting ourselves, especially when we’re sexually inactive. Here’s how maintaining your sexual health may look for you.
How do you manage your sexual health when you’re celibate?
“Sexual health care can be incorporated into all health care when we think of sexual wellness as key to overall wellness. With that, it’s important to meet all of the needs of your body, including physical, emotional, mental and spiritual,” said Sophia Murphy, M.D., D.B.H., director of wellness at T.B.D. Health in Phoenix.
“This could include mindfulness activities to be present and attuned to your body, increased relaxation practice, or increased physical activity; whatever helps you be connected to your body and all it can do,” Murphy said.
Listening to our internal cues is also important to ensure we sleep well, stay hydrated and eat well,” Murphy reminded. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Pay attention to how you’re feeling and check in with your body.
What could a sexual health care routine look like?
As Lindsay Wynn, CEO and founder of Momotaro in Brooklyn, New York, puts it, there’s no singular way to manage sexual self-care, whether you are sexually active or not.
But, for anyone taking a break from the dating scene or hooking up, sexual health care routines aren’t avoidable.
Getting to know your body
Kristen Tribby, global marketing manager at sex toy maker Fun Factory, based in Los Angeles, says that just because you aren’t having sex with another person doesn’t mean you aren’t a sexual being. Masturbation is an excellent form of sexual expression.
Masturbation can help you sleep better, lower your anxiety and improve your mood. Consider self-touch as a discovery without pleasure in mind, Wynn encouraged.
Take a look at your vulva and know how a healthy vagina feels. Internal vaginal massage can bring blood flow to the area and help keep vaginal atrophy at bay.
Add in Kegel exercises
Daily Kegel exercises are an excellent way to strengthen your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor is responsible for keeping incontinence and weaker orgasms at bay. Doing Kegels can help strengthen your pelvic floor and maintain fecal and urinary continence.
Track your periods
Adrienne Ton, ARNP, FNP-BC., health medical clinician and director of clinical operations, in Seattle, Washington, indicates that keeping track of your menstrual cycle is a great way to know if anything is off in your body. Record what’s normal for you and request to see a medical professional if your periods become irregular (defined as less than 25 or more than 35 days apart), painful or heavy.
Wearing breathable cotton underwear.
Cotton is absorbent. It can help keep you dry during a workout or other sweaty activities. Since cotton is breathable, the material may help keep itching and yeast infections at bay, unlike harsh chemicals sometimes found in other fabrics (sports bras, we mean you).
Practice good genital hygiene
Wash your vulva and genital area with mild soap and water. Avoid harsh or scented products on the sensitive skin of your vaginal area so you don’t disrupt the vagina’s pH balance. Otherwise, you could run the risk of a vaginal infection, urinary tract infection (UTI), irritation or unpleasant odors.
Does a sexually inactive woman still need Pap smears?
Pap smears are important for women and all people with a uterus, whether or not they are sexually active or have ever had sex.
Schedule your first Pap smear exam at 21 years, as recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Your healthcare provider will walk you through it. Others suggest holding off on a Pap smear until age 25, as the American Cancer Society suggested.
Pap smears are not an emergency procedure, so healthcare providers should work to make you feel safe and comfortable, Ton said., advises that sexually inactive women should take advantage of the long preinvasive phase of cervical cancer. It’s a ten-year window, which can prevent the disease from ever being established.
A Pap smear is not a pelvic exam. A Pap smear is a sampling of cervical cells collected during a speculum exam using a brush or spatula. Pap smears are essential to preventative care that sexually inactive women should not ignore.
A pelvic exam evaluates your uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, rectum, vagina, bladder, vulva and cervix. It gives your doctor a better idea as to your bodily health and can help catch any issues before they become big problems.
Gynecological exams can help identify infections such as bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis and yeast infections. If left untreated, some vaginal health conditions can lead to infertility.
Can sexually-inactive women get cervical cancer?
You can get the human papillomavirus (HPV) without being sexually active. HPV transmits via skin-to-skin contact and bodily fluids. It can also cause cervical cancer, so these exams are still important. Pap smears are crucial for detecting any abnormalities in the cervix, such as precancerous or cancerous cells, Lisa Lawless, Ph.D., CEO., of Holistic Wisdom, based in Bend, Oregon, said.
It is a common misconception that only sexually active women are at risk of developing cervical cancer, Lawless noted.
HPV is the primary cause of cervical cancer, but other factors such as smoking, family history and a weakened immune system also play a part. Roughly 5.5 -11 percent of cervical cancers are HPV-negative, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).
The NIH estimates that around 80 percent of men and women acquire HPV by age 45. There are high-risk and low-risk subtypes, Deborah Lee, M.D., from Dr. Fox Pharmacy, based in Southampton, England, explained. Low-risk HPV causes visible symptoms like genital warts, but high-risk HPV is asymptomatic.
You can get HPV without having penetrative vaginal sex. The virus can spread through body fluids such as semen, saliva, vaginal fluid, skin-to-skin contact and fingertip spread. This virus may also contaminate environmental surfaces such as toilet seats.
It’s best to get HPV vaccination before you start being sexually active. CDC recommends it for adults up to ages 26 through 45. Medical professionals endorse Gardasil 9, which is the best protection against HPV.
What are potential signs of poor sexual health?
“Signs of poor sexual health include pelvic or lower abdominal pain, irregular menses or painful menses, noticing new changes in discharge, or rashes. From the mental health perspective, I think some tell-tale signs of poor health might include an unexplained change in libido (regardless of having partners or not),” Ton said.
These signs are similar to what sexually active women may experience. Contrary to what most people believe, yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis are not sexually transmitted infections. Symptoms may include a burning sensation while urinating, swelling of the vulva and soreness.
“Many factors can contribute to poor sexual health, including hormonal imbalances, medication side effects and underlying health conditions. It’s crucial to approach these issues with empathy and understanding, providing a safe space for women to discuss their concerns and seek treatment,” Lawless said.
It’s also great to know what happens to your vagina when you stop having sex.” In older women, lack of sexual activity can contribute to the narrowing of the introitus and even labial fusion,” said Lee. Your clitoris could shrink from disuse.
When should you see a gynecologist?
Whether you have a health issue or not, consult your gynecologist whenever you have questions about your sexual health. The vulva and uterus change during puberty and again during menopause.
Your vaginal lubrication may decrease and you may notice vaginal dryness as your estrogen levels fluctuate.
“It’s helpful to be comfortable seeing a doctor and being aware of how your body is changing. Many people take birth control to assist with symptoms/pain, etc., that isn’t only related to family planning (sexual inactivity) and they may need or want additional medication (hormone therapy) during menopause,” Ton reminded.
The bottom line
Sexually active or not, maintain a healthy vagina by taking care of your body. Schedule regular exams based on your health history as determined by your doctor. Get to know your body and don’t wait to make an appointment if you notice any unusual symptoms.