Health is so in right now.
And, in a huge shift, we’re no longer pursuing good health as a means to look better. Instead, a lot of advice for women centers around self-care practices and achieving mind-body wellness as a way to feel better.
That said, we still seem to be reluctant to talk openly and honestly about reproductive health. And, as a result, that only leads to more doubts, insecurities, and confusion. After all, it’s only natural to have questions about everything from periods to STIs, no matter your age or experience.
To help you understand your bodies better, read on to find out the answers to some of the most common questions about female reproductive health.
1. What’s the Link Between Menstrual Health and Reproductive Health?
Irregular or missed periods can be a sign that you’re not ovulating. On the other hand, if your periods are long, painful, or heavy, these can be signs of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can cause infertility.
Of course, all women experience their periods in different ways, with different flows and frequencies. But if you’re worried about your menstrual health for any reason, be sure to discuss any concerns with your OB-GYN.
2. What’s the Best Sanitary Product for Me?
When choosing between sanitary pads, tampons, and menstrual cups, the best product for you is the one which you find most comfortable and convenient.
While tampons are the most popular choice, others prefer sanitary pads, and some use both for extra reassurance. Despite this, some women seeking period advice from friends may be shamed for using sanitary pads, which are often seen as a ‘starter option’ for teenage girls.
Although still uncommon in the US, menstrual cups have become more popular in recent years. As with tampons and pads, there are few menstrual cup health risks. But, whatever your preferred sanitary protection method, it’s vital to wash your hands thoroughly before use to avoid infection.
3. Do Lifestyle Choices Affect Reproductive Health?
Lifestyle choices which have a detrimental effect on your general health can also affect your reproductive health.
Obesity, substance abuse, smoking, and heavy alcohol consumption all have a well-documented negative impact on both male and female fertility.
4. What Is the Best Birth Control Method?
Birth control methods vary according to their effectiveness at preventing pregnancy, availability, cost, and convenience. But the best choice for you always depends on individual factors such as health and personal preference.
Birth control pills are the most popular method of preventing an unwanted pregnancy. Although, side effects such as mood swings, low libido, and weight gain lead many women to seek non-hormonal alternatives such as copper IUDs.
If you’re concerned about birth control affecting your ability to get pregnant in the future, there’s no need to worry. Women who stop taking the pill after several years get pregnant just as fast as women who have used non-hormonal fertility awareness methods.
5. Does Sexual Activity Affect Reproductive Health?
As long as you always practice safe sex, being sexually active – or not – has no negative effect on your reproductive health.
For example, whether you abstain from sex or have multiple sexual partners, these choices will not harm your chances of conceiving in the future in any way.
Of course, if you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s a different story. That said, sex advice for women trying to conceive tends to encourage sex during the ovulation window. But studies show that increased sexual activity throughout the whole month, even during ‘non-fertile’ periods, increases your chances of conceiving.
6. How Can I Practice Safe Sex?
Birth control methods such as the contraceptive pill help prevent pregnancy. But they do not prevent the possibility of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV and chlamydia.
To practice safe sex, you must always use a condom. A condom is the only contraceptive method that also protects against the spread of STIs.
And, even you and your partner are in an exclusive relationship, remember that it’s only safe to stop using a condom once you’ve both been cleared for STIs.
7. Can STIs Affect My Reproductive Health?
Two of the most common STIs in women under 25 are gonorrhea and chlamydia. If left untreated, these can lead to infertility as a result of infection, scarring, and blockages in the fallopian tubes.
It’s also worth noting that many STIs have no symptoms. And others, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV), often have only very mild symptoms. As such, you should get regular checks for STIs even if there are no obvious signs of a problem.
8. What Are Common Causes of Female Infertility?
The most common cause of female infertility is PCOS, caused by a hormonal imbalance which results in small cysts on the ovaries. Symptoms include irregular or missed periods, acne, and abnormal hair growth on the face and body.
Endometriosis can also lead to infertility in women. This condition causes the tissue lining the uterus to start growing in other places, such as the ovaries, resulting in irritation, scar tissue, and in many cases, extreme pain.
Other causes of female infertility include damaged or blocked fallopian tubes, obesity or being very underweight, hypothalamic dysfunction, and premature ovarian failure.
9. How Can I Improve My Reproductive Health?
In both the long-term and short-term, you can improve your reproductive health in the following ways:
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Stop smoking
- Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day
- Limit your caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day
- Eat a nutritious, balanced diet
- Avoid toxins such as BPA, phthalates, and parabens in beauty products, and dioxin in meat, dairy, and fish
- Avoid unprotected sex unless it is with a long-term exclusive partner who is clear of STIs
By taking these steps to improve your reproductive health now, you’re less likely to suffer from infertility in the future.
10. What Check-Ups Should I Get?
Regular health screening should be part of every woman’s to-do list.
Specific to your reproductive health, this should include self-exams on your breasts every month, regular mammograms after the age of 40, a pap smear test every three to five years depending on your age, and regular STI checks.
Advice for Women: Your Reproductive Health Questions Answered
Advice for women shouldn’t be shrouded in mystery, especially when it comes to reproductive health. And those seeking such advice shouldn’t be stigmatized for wanting to know the facts.
In this modern era, that means respecting the lifestyle choices of all women, including whether they decide to have children now, later, or never.
If you’re considering starting a family later, check out this post on having children after 35.
Rachel Slifka is a freelance writer and human resources professional. She is passionate about helping fellow millennials find success with their finances and careers. Read more by checking out her website at RachelSlifka.com.