Did you know that your reproductive system is the one of the most fragile systems in your body? It can easily get infected or injured; if it does, you may have long-term health problems. Taking simple steps to prevent getting or transmitting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) will pay off, both for yourself and those you love. Here are some tips to lower your risk of infections or diseases:
- Know that some methods of birth control, like birth control pills, shots, implants or diaphragms, will not protect you from HIV or other STIs. If you use one of these methods, be sure to also use a latex condom or dental dam (used for oral sex) correctly every time you have sex. For more information about birth control, click here.
- Don’t share needles or IV drug equipment for legal drugs like insulin or illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine. If you get a tattoo or body piercing, make sure the needles are sterile.
- Talk with your sex partner(s) about STIs, HIV and using condoms. For information, call the National STI Hotline at 800-227-8922.
- Talk frankly with your health care provider and your sex partner about any STIs you or your partner have or have had. Talk about any sores or discharge in the genital area. If you are living with HIV, be sure to tell your partner and your health care provider.
- Have regular pelvic exams. Talk with your health care provider about how often you need them and ask them to test you for STIs.
Cervical cancer is a disease that you can help prevent. It occurs when normal cells in the cervix change into cancer cells. Before that happens, abnormal cells develop on the cervix. By detecting the presence of these cells with a Pap test and treating the cervix before they become cancerous, you can prevent future cancer. Here are some steps you can take:
- Get a Pap test. The best time to get a Pap test is between 10 and 20 days after the first day of your last period. Do not have the test when you have your period and don’t use douches, vaginal medicines (unless your health care provider tells you to), spermicide, foams, creams or jellies two days before your Pap test. Talk to your health care provider about how often to get Pap tests.
- If you have sex, stay with one partner who only has sex with you. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that can be passed on through sex. HPV can cause abnormal changes on the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. Using condoms every time you have sex may reduce your chances of getting HPV. HPV can also be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with sores or infected genital skin that looks normal.
- Ask your health care provider about an HPV test. In combination with a Pap test, an HPV test can help prevent cervical cancer by detecting the types of HPV that cause it.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet with delicious fruits and vegetables. Carotene and vitamins C and E in particular may reduce the risk of cervical cancer. Carotene is found in tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and broccoli. You can get vitamin C by eating fruits and vegetables. Load up on oranges, green and red peppers, broccoli and strawberries. Good sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds and peanuts.
- Don’t smoke. The relationship between cigarette smoking and cervical cancer is unknown, but tobacco use increases the risk of precancerous changes as well as cancer of the cervix.
For more information about your reproductive cycle, check out our women’s health information for other age groups.