Teach Me

Should I Tell My Doctor About My Sexual History?

Although your sex life isn’t anyone else’s business, it’s important to be honest with your doctor. Otherwise, you’re doing yourself, and possibly your sexual partners, a disservice.

“As doctors, we are unable to provide the best care without knowing the complete picture, so honesty is the best policy,” said Randy S. Gelow, MD, a family medicine physician at Banner Health Center. “With accurate information, we can determine a plan, together, to help minimize risks that might not otherwise be apparent, such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) like the HPV infection.”

Dr. Gelow shared why it’s important to keep your doctor clued in on your sexual activity and what to do if you aren’t comfortable discussing with your doctor.

Why It’s Important for You … And Your Partner(s)

Before hopping off the exam table and running for the door, here are three reasons why telling your doctor can help you continue to have a happy, healthy sex life.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) and Vaccinations

No matter your sexual orientation or preference, everyone is susceptible to contracting an STI. Most assume you can only get an STI from penetrative sex, but it can be contracted through any type of contact with bodily fluids.

“Surprisingly, upwards of 80% of STIs don’t have any symptoms and are identified on screening rather than by symptoms,” Dr. Gelow said. “This may be why STI rates are continuing to rise at an alarming rate. However, there are some things we can do now to help prevent those risks if we are made aware of our patient’s sexual history.”

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of getting HPV. Even scarier, you may not develop symptoms until years after you have sex with someone who’s been infected.

To lower your chances, Dr. Gelow recommended getting vaccinated, women getting routine cervical cancer screenings and everyone using safe sex practices like condoms and monogamous relationships. The vaccine also protects against some cancers and most genital warts.

“In 2019, the CDC expanded recommendations for the HPV vaccine to include all males and females ages 9 to 45 and recommended giving it to anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated regardless of sexual history,” Dr. Gelow added.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP): Using preventative medications, like PrEP, along with safe sex practices reduces the risk of contracting HIV by 99%. The pill, taken once daily, can help stop HIV from taking hold and keep it from spreading to others.

Hepatitis A and B: Depending on your sexual activity, your doctor may also recommend you receive vaccinations for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

Birth Control Options

If you want to avoid pregnancy, your doctor can help you find a contraceptive option that is right for you. Pills, patches, injections, implants and condoms are just a few options.

Dr. Gelow added, “Condoms are also the only thing that prevent STIs, oral contraceptives (the Pill) do not. It is a common misconception with youth that they do. If you are sexually active, make sure you are using condoms and getting tested every 3 months to a year, depending on your sexual activity.”

I haven’t had sex in a while. Does that matter?

You may not have had sex in a while, but your past sexual encounters could be affecting your health, and you may be blissfully unaware. The most common STI, HPV, can remain dormant for years with no symptoms. If left untreated, however, it can progress to warts and cancers in the infected areas. Other STIs may never show symptoms but can lead to infertility and other long-term complications if left untreated.

What do I do if I just don’t feel comfortable sharing with my doctor?

“If you aren’t comfortable sharing sexual health-related information with your doctor, they may not be the right fit for you,” Dr. Gelow said. “No topic should be off limits or make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, nor should you feel judged by disclosing information of any type.”

Ultimately, if you don’t share with your doctor, they can’t help you. Getting the most accurate care and treatment will help you feel the most empowered to make informed medical decisions.

Need help finding a doctor who is right for you? Check out doctor profile videos and patient reviews.

Sexual Health