Talking about sexual health can make many of us feel uncomfortable. Normalizing these conversations remains an important focus for reducing shame and stigma. To maintain a healthy sexual life, communication about your sexual needs begins with acknowledging and honoring your body. This means you choose to prioritize yourself and your body.

Whether you are sexually active or not, it is important to communicate with sexual health care providers. These conversations can help you get answers to your questions, help you understand your body and how it functions, assist with proper testing and diagnoses, and lead to effective treatment.

In 2020, many sexual health care services were limited due to the rise of COVID-19. Now that services have resumed, there has been an increase in the number of reported cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This rise in cases is a reminder of the importance of sexual health care no matter what is going on. Keep in mind that these infections are very contagious, which means they can spread quickly during sexual activity (either through skin-to-skin contact or the exchange of bodily fluids, such as vaginal secretions and semen). Also, it is important to know that many people do not have or notice symptoms and, therefore, the only way to know if an infection is present is to be tested. To be tested, you can see your primary care doctor or visit a health care clinic that offers STI testing. Some providers require an appointment and others allow you to walk in without an appointment. Be sure to check the providers in your area.

Now there’s a new option: a telehealth appointment. Telemedicine has been around for the last few years, but it has grown tremendously since 2020. This type of appointment allows you to communicate with a health care provider using technology. Telehealth may be a great option for seeking and receiving sexual health care. Here are some reasons it could work for you:

Reason 1: Telehealth can reduce barriers associated with sexual health care

Telehealth visits can reduce out-of-pocket expenses associated with attending in-person visits (e.g., transportation, childcare, hours missed from work). Telehealth visits can also help reduce the number of in-person appointments needed for testing and treatment. Providers can order lab tests based on the information shared during the initial telehealth visit and an in-person visit may only be needed for certain types of treatment. In many cases, the provider can send your prescriptions (if needed) directly to your local pharmacy.

Reason 2: Telehealth can reduce wait times in sexual health care settings

Having a scheduled telehealth visit can help reduce or eliminate the wait time associated with seeing a health care provider. With this type of appointment, there is no waiting room. You log on to a specific site and are seen at your scheduled time. In some instances, you can chat with providers (or nurses) about your concerns before and after the telehealth visit so your sexual health needs are addressed.

Reason 3: Telehealth can reduce stigma related to sexual health care

Stigma often leads to negative feelings about sexual health care. It can cause feelings of fear, anxiety, or shame. These feelings can prevent people from seeking health care or talking to their partners about sexual health. Telehealth visits may help ease these feelings. The telehealth environment eliminates the waiting room, the check-in process with front desk personnel, sitting in an empty room waiting for the doctor, and can ease patient/provider interaction.

In addition, there are several at-home STI and HIV testing options that may reduce stigma and privacy-related concerns. However, these options are often more costly than seeing a health care provider. When seeing a health care provider, your health insurance covers most (or all) of the costs depending on the nature of the appointment. If you choose to order at-home STI and/or HIV testing kits, you are responsible for the costs. Keep in mind, if an at-home test is positive, you will need to seek medical care for adequate treatment.

Whether you decide to go in-person, explore your telehealth options, or you prefer to utilize at-home testing kits, make your sexual health a priority. At least once per year, you should be having a sexual health care visit to discuss your sexual health needs (including family planning or contraceptive use, STI/HIV testing, breast exams, any pain or discomfort, etc.). Depending on your medical or sexual history, a health care provider may recommend visits every 3-6 months.

Ashley Townes

Ashley Townes

PhD, MPH, Epidemiologist at Centers for Disease Control
Dr. Ashley Townes (she/her/hers), is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio. She attended Walnut Hills High School and the University of Cincinnati, where she received both her Bachelors and Master of Public Health degrees. She received her doctorate degree in Health Behavior and Epidemiology from Indiana University.

Dr. Townes has experience working as a Community Health Educator and Disease Intervention Specialist in Cincinnati and the surrounding areas. She has worked on several initiatives related to the dissemination of national HIV prevention and care campaign materials tailored for African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, and transgender women of color. Dr. Townes has taught collegiate-level Human Sexuality courses, served as an Epidemiologist at the Ohio Department of Health, and currently works as an ORISE Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention’s Epidemiology Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA.

Ashley’s research background includes work on the sexual experiences of African American/Black women accessing health information and utilizing sexual health services. In 2018, she received grant funding from the Patty Brisben Foundation for Women’s Sexual Health to translate sexual health research data into educational materials. Her career interests are aimed at providing quality sexual education and working towards health equity.