What it means when your doctor asks you if you’re ‘Sexually Active?’ – YEP Crew Blog Post (2018)

April 26, 2018

So you visit your local GP for whatever reason, and they’re asking routine questions:

  • How are you?
  • How’s school/work?
  • Are you sleeping well?
  • How is your diet?

And then DUN-DUN-DUUUUNNNNNN they ask “are you sexually active?”

Some answers that might go through your mind include:

  • “please, I’m not even physically active”
  • “umm… not lately”
  • “I’m still a virgin”
  • *sigh* “I’m trying”

I personally find this question quite vague. I want to answer with another question, “uhhh… could you elaborate?”

A lot of people assume “sexual activity” is referring to penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex.

But it’s totally not the only kind of ~sexual activity~ people engage in – being sexually active can include a variety of sex acts and behaviours.

PIV sex is also not the only kind of sex that carries risk of transmitting an STI.  C’mon people, are we talking Oral? Vaginal? Anal? Manual (as in, giving or receiving hand-jobs or fingering)?  What about masturbating, does that count?

To illustrate why it’s not only about PIV sex, here’s a short list of what risks can be presented from those basic categories of sexual activities (thanks Scarleteen.com!):

Let’s clear this all up: When your doctor asks you about your “sexual activity” they are asking specifically from a sexual health perspective. What this question is really asking is if you have ever had any physical contact with another person that involved genitals (mmmm sexy!).

Essentially, these are the things your doctor is trying to figure out:

  • Does this person need birth control/contraception?
  • Does this person need a pap smear?
  • Does this person need to be tested for STIs?
  • Could this person be pregnant?
  • Does this person engage in sexual behaviours that have greater risk?

So, your doctor asks you “are you sexually active?”

Rather than saying “yes” or “no”, you can be more specific about the behaviours you engage in, including masturbation, so that they can determine any risk to your health:

  • Yes, I am, but only manual and oral sex
  • Yes, I’ve had sex before but I’m not in a relationship right now – the last time I had sex was about six months ago
  • No, I haven’t been physically intimate with another person before
  • No, but there’s a chance I might be soon

They will probably ask you some follow up questions. This is your chance to ask any questions you might have about STI risk and testing, condoms, contraception, or about sexual health in general.

I know it can feel awkward to talk about sex, but it’s important to communicate honestly and openly with your doctor. Remember, they want you to be the healthiest you can be, it’s their job, and that includes your sexual health. If you’re nervous, try writing your questions down on a piece of paper beforehand and bring it with you to your appointment. Anything you talk to your doctor about will be kept completely confidential (private, not to be shared with anyone else).

It can be especially nerve-wracking to talk sex with your doctor if you are lesbian, gay, bi, trans or queer. It may be hard to come out to your doctor, but it’s still a good idea to do so if you feel safe and comfortable. Sharing this information with your doctor helps them figure out what your risk is for STIs, if they should talk to you about contraception options, as well as other aspects of your health.

Side notes:

  • Virginity – Telling your doctor that you’re a virgin actually doesn’t give them very much information, because people define “virgin” and “virginity” in many different ways, and leaves a lot of room for misunderstandings.
  • Masturbation – In this context of talking to your doctor about your health, you may not be considered sexually active if you’re exclusively masturbating. But do keep in mind that this isn’t a bad thing – masturbation is a super sexy solo activity that obviously has no pregnancy risk, and no risk of STI transmission. If you do use sex toys, be sure to keep them clean.
  • Want to know what it’s like to go get an STI test at a clinic? Here’s a video of me (woo!) going to SHQ in Northbridge for my own STI test: http://theyepproject.org.au/blog/how-to-get-an-sti-test-full-video-the-yep-project-shq/