By Tiger Devore, Ph.D.
For many, spring is the time to come back into life, get out, exercise and enjoy the body again after the slowness that comes on for so many in winter. It’s natural that feelings of renewed interest in sexuality come along with spring. Some scientists say this happens because of the changes in light and temperature that are associated with mating behavior not just in animals, but also in us. Another less scientific reason is that people are just wearing less as the winter chill gives way to warmer spring temperatures, exposing more skin, and increasing arousal as a result for both men and women. Also, some lose the winter weight that comes along with winter cold, enjoying their bodies more, feeling that clothes fit differently and better, and as people like how they look, they tend to feel more sexual as well.
I am hopeful that women will remember that this is also a time to check in on their own sexual health. I know, this topic isn’t sexy, and some may feel it is a downer just when I was talking about sexual enjoyment and the rites of spring. However, enjoying our bodies responsibly also means taking great care of our bodies, and making sure that, as part of overall health, we have good sexual health.
Here are a few important reminders:
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Breast cancer screening has become a part of our cultural awareness, but women still need to remember to get this testing regularly scheduled. The American Cancer Society recommends that women 40 to 44 can start annual mammograms, women 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year, and after age 55 can switch to every other year. If breast cancer is a greater risk for you, such as when it is common in your family, you may choose to have a genetic test for the BRCA gene, but this is only indicated in 5 to 10 percent of cases in the U.S.
Many women also should have a regular schedule for getting a pap test to screen for cervical cancer, and now HPV (human papilloma virus) is also co tested for, as it is a risk factor for cervical cancer (and several others). The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force recommends screening for cervical cancer in women age 21 to 65 every three years, or co-test for HPV every five years. For the last six years a vaccine for HPV has been available. HPV vaccination is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old children. It is also recommended for men and women ages 13 through 26 years who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series.
There is also uterine cancer, which is not screened with a pap test. One test that used to be a part of women’s health regimen was the D and C, nicknamed by many women as “dusting and cleaning” but actually stands for dilatation and curettage. In the last several years, D and C has been largely replaced by in-office endometrial sampling, a small biopsy of the uterine lining that is much less involved than D and C, which is a surgery that usually requires anesthesia. If endometrial sampling yields cells that have changes that are associated with precancerous conditions, then a D and C may be indicated. Other reasons women may need a D and C include removal of polyps (an overgrowth of uterine tissues) or fibroids (typically non-cancerous tumors) or extra tissue associated with miscarriage. The most common symptom is unusual bleeding or bleeding after menopause.
Do not allow fear of a possible diagnosis to stop getting tested. Prevention as well as being proactive is the best way to achieve great sexual health.