Ladies, It’s Time to Spring Clean Your Health

The temperature has finally hit that beautiful 70 degree mark and the city is abuzz with that special feeling that only comes with the onset of spring. Lovers lounge in the parks and drink in the anticipation of longer days, warmer nights and those longed for sun-drenched adventures at the beach. That’s right, we’ve made it through another Philly winter and it is finally time pull ourselves out of hibernation!

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While we are all basking in the collective reawakening and increase of energy that comes with spring time, it’s a perfect time to start to think about spring cleaning. No, we don’t care about the shape of your closet or how messy your bedroom is – we are talkin’ about spring cleaning in the way of finally accomplishing all those little tasks that we think about doing.

You know, the ones we write down on post it notes and the ones that whirl around in our heads late at night, yet we struggle to complete come daytime. For many of us, at least a handful of those items are health care related. Whether it’s time for a Pap test, a tetanus booster, or to finally go for that mammogram, the majority of us are guilty of pushing these off for as long as we possibly can.

Now, let’s be clear, we’re not here for finger wagging or to shame anyone. This is not your mama’s health column. Instead, how about we get to the good stuff and talk a little bit about sexual health.

By now you might have heard about the new standard for Paps – one every three years – but why is this so important?  Well, Pap tests screen for abnormal cell growth or precancerous abnormalities on the cervix and can send up a red flag alerting your medical provider to run additional tests if necessary. We want to know about these issues as soon as possible, so the one Pap every three years guideline is a great one to follow. This advice applies to ALL folks who have a cervix, no matter how you identify, so talk with your medical provider about including this screening in your routine care.

While you are talking with your medical provider about scheduling that Pap, it’s also a great opportunity to ask about Gardasil™, the HPV vaccine.  HPV (Human Papilloma Viruses) is a group of 150+ viruses, of which approximately 40 can be sexually transmitted. While some of these strains are relatively low risk and your body can clear the virus over time, others can lead to more serious medical conditions.

Gardasil protects against the two strains of HPV linked to cervical cancer, as well as two others that can lead to genital warts. The good news is that almost all insurances cover this vaccine if you start the three-shot series prior to your 27th birthday. Folks over the age of 27 should talk with their doctor about the benefits of getting this vaccine even if insurance won’t cover it due to age.

If you’re worried about the cost of some of these screenings, you should know that the Affordable Care Act now requires insurance companies to cover many critical women’s health screenings – including PAPs and mammograms – at no additional charge or co-pay, provided you stay within your network.

Mazzoni Center, 809 Locust St., Philadelphia

And if the reason you’ve been putting this off is that you don’t have a primary care provider, or health insurance coverage, you can still access care at a community health center, such as Mazzoni Center at 809 Locust Street, which specializes in LGBT health care – or any of the City Health Centers located throughout Philadelphia (click here for the full list).

Mazzoni’s health center went through a major expansion last year to increase our capacity, and this year we’ll be adding more providers with a focus on women’s health care to our staff, as well as new equipment that will allow us to perform critical cancer screenings for women, as well as treatment of pre-cancers, without having to refer them to outside providers.

If you’re uninsured, Mazzoni offers a sliding scale payment system based on income (or lack thereof).  There are even discounted prescription drug programs available at certain pharmacies.  Mazzoni has case managers on staff who can help you navigate these programs, if needed, and check to see if you may be eligible for insurance. We’ve all got financial concerns, but don’t let them stand in the way of your health care. You might be surprised at the resources out there.

Now that we’ve gotten the public service announcement section of this article covered, let’s move on to the down and dirty fun stuff. Sexual health isn’t just about safer sex and routine screenings. There are tons of things we can do every day to protect ourselves and stay healthy.

One of those ways is learning more about safer sex. I mean, let’s get real, most of us can’t get through a day without seeing at least one public health ad about condom use, which is a great way to reduce risk, particularly if you are using sex toys. The key here is using a new condom for each partner and properly cleaning toys in between uses. Using gloves (latex or polyurethane) and dental dams can also help reduce the risk of transmitting HPV and STIs. Gloves now come in wide range of sexy colors and sizes that can be picked up at your local sex toy shop (or stop by any pharmacy for the good old fashioned white ones).

Still not sold on why to consider these ideas or exactly how to bring them into your life and bedroom? Our sexual lives and sexy health play a role in our overall wellness, so why not educate and challenge ourselves around sexuality the same way many of us work to grow as partners or professionals?

In Philly, you can’t string together the words “pleasure-based education, sex positivity or smarty pants queer sexnerds” without arriving at the ScrewSmart collective. These folks know how to put on a fun and educational workshop like no other and can help you explore broadening your sexual health horizon in a fun and pleasure-based way. Check out their calendar of upcoming workshops and performances at their website:   You won’t be sorry!

Kate Gormley is the Case Management Supervisor at the Mazzoni Health Center whose work has focused on serving adolescents & LGBTQ populations around housing, mental health services, health care & HIV.

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