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Navigating Sexual Health

By Kajal Radia, junior doctor and Sex Ed Matters advisor

 

Sexual health is a unique and personal experience for each of us. I grew up in a community where contraception and sexual health was rarely discussed and I felt left in the dak about my options. In fact, at one point, I didn’t even know I had options. As I grew up I learned the transformative power of informed decisions and the importance of choice. Here are the key lessons I’ve learnt during my journey, which I hope can help others navigate theirs and feel empowered.

 

1.     The power of speaking up

 

Like myself, many people have grown up in communities where discussions around sexual health are considered taboo.

 

I come from a South Asian background, where traditionally, menstruating is considered ‘dirty’ and would prohibit you from attending community events. This created an aura of shame around menstruation and reproduction.

 

I remember once, a relative of mine was showing us photos of his proposal to his now wife. One picture showed their double bed in a hotel room covered in rose petals. I remember my traditional grandmother horrified to speak about sharing a bed.

In such an environment, vital information is frequently withheld, particularly regarding contraception that isn’t abstinence, leading to a profound lack of awareness about options available. 

This lack of education can result in unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and other preventable health issues. For me, this silence led to a long period of suffering from heavy menstrual periods, as I had no idea that contraception could help alleviate this problem.

 

This experience taught me the importance of speaking up about sexual health and fostering an environment of open discussion and debate. The more we can speak to each other openly about our anxieties, experiences, and successes, the more we can learn, grow, and find the right path for us.

 

2.     Being informed about contraception changed my life

 

Heavy menstrual periods are a common issue, and they can be incredibly debilitating. I remember being unable to sit on a plane without bleeding through my sanitary products. If I was on my period, I had to plan my days around where I could access a toilet to change items. This was not something I was aware I could discuss. 

 

In fact, having never discussed contraception with anyone at home or at school, I didn’t know that some contraceptive methods can regulate and lighten periods and have many other functions as well as simply being a contraceptive.  

 

Once I began to learn about contraceptive options available to me, I started a combined hormonal pill in the hope it would allow me to be able to sit for the 3 hours I needed to complete my exams, without having to go to a bathroom. It worked, amazingly.

My life was changed. I wasn’t ruled by my periods. 

I was upset that no one had told me about it before, that I had lost years of my life to worrying about bleeding through. A tiny little pill was my saviour and I would continue this forever, or so I thought. 

I believe my experience highlights a wider point: education and open discussions surrounding contraceptive choices are crucial.

Many individuals remain unaware of the multifaceted benefits that contraception can offer beyond its primary purpose. It’s not just prophylaxis, it can also be treatment. 


3.     A Lesson in Options

 

Furthermore, the danger of considering contraceptives solely as contraceptives means that they may not be considered seriously as a medication, and side effects that might be brought on are overlooked.

When working in A&E myself and my colleagues often have to ask whether patients are taking medications. Most people neglect to mention using a hormonal form of contraceptive because they may not consider it a ‘true’ medication, despite the fact it may have big impacts on their health. 

I’ve seen people suffer from debilitating low mood, unmanageable vaginal bleeding, severe acne and a myriad of other conditions such as bloating, headaches and low libido as a side effect from the contraception they were using. 

 

A few years after I started ‘the pill’ and was convinced that this was the option for me, a close relative of mine suffered a severe blood clot in her brain that left her hospitalised. Your risk of this occurring can be increased by combined hormonal contraception. (However, the risk of a blood clot developing is higher in pregnancy than when on the pill! My relative is also now completely well). This event meant that I should no longer continue on the combined pill due to my increased family risk.

This journey emphasised to me we have to treat contraceptive options with respect.

Choices around contraception can be life-changing. They can prevent pregnancy, and they can also treat or improve your health in life changing ways. However, they also have negative side effects and health consequences that can be significant. The ‘right’ contraceptive is highly individualised. 

 

Therefore, it is crucial to empower ourselves with the knowledge about contraceptive choices. This knowledge allows you to make informed decisions that align with your health and lifestyle. When it comes to contraception, one size does not fit all and we are lucky to live in a world where there are numerous options available.

Now, let’s make sure we break the silence around discussing contraception (and discussing it as an important medical and social choice) so that individuals know about all their available options. 

 

If you have any questions about what you’ve read, don’t hesitate to get in touch by emailing us at info@sexedmatters.co.uk. You can also sign up to our newsletter here to stay up to date with our work.

 

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