The Sexual Health Survival Kit for Women
For women, maintaining optimal sexual health requires work, specifically, preparation and education. Who knows when you may receive an appealing invitation from a sexual partner or when troubling symptoms could strike?
One doctor-recommended solution for life's unpredictability—and the subsequent impact on a woman's sexual health—is to create and maintain a sexual health survival kit, both for home and on the go.
Shaghayegh M. DeNoble, M.D., is a gynecologist and minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon practicing in Wayne, New Jersey. She said maintaining sexual health is particularly important for women because of its critical ties to overall health.
"Achieving sexual health will ensure that a woman can fully participate in and enjoy sexual activity in a way that also ensures her physical, mental, emotional and social health," DeNoble explained.
Mitzi Krockover, M.D., is a senior partner at SSB Solutions, a consulting group working in healthcare in Scottsdale, Arizona. She's also a physician trained in internal medicine and led the creation of the Iris Cantor-UCLA Women's Health Center. Krockover said there's never been a more important time for women to take control of their bodies and health.
"In light of the overturn of Roe v. Wade, protecting yourself from pregnancy is as important as it's ever been, and it's also important to protect yourself against STIs, which, if left untreated, can impact fertility and lead to more chronic infection," Krockover said. "You can't rely on someone else to provide the protection, and if it's someone you don't know well, you need to know that you've done all you can to protect yourself."
What you need
Stock your women's sexual health survival kit with these physician-approved choices:
"Having condoms handy at all times will make it that much more likely that you will use them. Spontaneity is sexy," DeNoble said. "You don't want to be caught off-guard without a condom handy."
Krockover agreed and recommended using condoms even if you're currently utilizing other forms of birth control, because they also help prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
"STIs are on an upswing and can lead to longer-term issues such as infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease," she explained.
If the condom breaks, the next item you'll need to pull from your survival kit is a form of emergency contraception, such as Plan B One-Step or ella, the latter of which Krockover recommended for women who weigh more than 165 pounds. She said this is one part of your kit that needs to be replaced over time. "Check the expiration date and always ask the pharmacist for the box with the latest date if you're not going to use it right away," she said.
Dental dams or Lorals
"Yes, you can get STIs in your mouth or throat; things like chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and HPV, which can cause mouth and throat cancers," DeNoble said. "Lorals for protection is a recently FDA-approved underwear that is more sexy than using a dental dam and it provides protection from STIs during oral sex."
Dry sex isn't just unpleasant, it also increases health risks.
"Lube also reduces the likelihood of a condom breaking since there will be less friction during sex," DeNoble said.
She and Krockover both recommended a water-based lubricant compatible with condoms, while DeNoble also encouraged using silicone-based lubes. Note that oil-based lubricant can degrade latex condoms.
UTI dipstick test
When you're not sure if the post-sex irritation you're experiencing is a urinary tract infection (UTI) or just sensitivity, at-home dipstick tests can come in handy.
"Sometimes just the friction during sex can leave you with irritation," DeNoble said. "Dipsticks can help you figure out if you have an infection and reduce the use of unnecessary antibiotics."
Cranberry supplements and pain relievers
DeNoble said taking a cranberry supplement may help prevent a UTI or reduce symptoms if one is brewing. She and Krockover also recommended stocking your kit with pain relievers such as Tylenol, Advil or Aleve for painful periods.
"Taking an NSAID [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug], especially when the pain is still mild, will best treat your pain before it gets severe," DeNoble advised.
Both physicians agreed sex toys are critical parts of a sexual health survival kit, whether you're single or partnered. "Vibrators can help you and your partner learn what feels good and help relieve the anxiety and pressure of sex if you have conditions or are using medications that make it harder to achieve orgasm," DeNoble said.
"Periods can be unpredictable and appear when least expected or desired. Being prepared will make all the difference," DeNoble said.
In addition to the time-honored arsenal of pads and tampons, consider including a menstrual cup, some of which can be worn during oral and penetrative sex.
To keep things fresh, Krockover recommended wearing cotton or natural fiber underwear, which reduces sweat that could contribute to a vaginal infection. She also recommended washing your garments in a gentle, non-fragranced soap. DeNoble agreed, noting the fabric's postcoital benefits.
"The vulva area is very sensitive, especially after sex, and cotton underwear will be the least irritating," she said.
Krockover noted that creating a women's sexual health survival kit can save time and hassle in moments when every second counts.
"If you're prepared, it's less likely you'll take chances because you don't have an item such as a condom readily available," she said. "It's not always easy to get to a drugstore, and with the current supply chain issues, inventory is sometimes spotty. Having these items at home can provide what you need when you need it."