Health

Sex Education 101: Contraception, Menopause and Sex Therapy

We tackle your burning questions.
Loading the player...

Many of us have memories of poring over magazines during our teens as we looked for advice from health and sex ed gurus like the Dolly Doctor.  

As the years have gone by, a whole set of new questions have entered the mix. Whether you’re re-entering the dating scene, grappling with “second puberty” or simply want to stay on top of your sexual health, we’ve got the answers!

Watch Below: Sex Education: Season 4 | Official Teaser | Netflix

What does sexual health mean in 2023? 

While many of the same messages around safe sex remain, Dr Sarah Cavanagh, a GP from InstantScripts, says there has been an increased focus on discussing consent and setting boundaries. 

“We are seeing a much more nuanced discussion around consent,” she explains. “It should be freely given, clear, informed and ongoing.”

What should I know about STIs? 

Common STIs including chlamydia, herpes, human papillomavirus, gonorrhoea, HIV and hepatitis A, B and C, mean that safe sex remains as important as ever.  

“Testing requires a simple blood test and a urine test or swab,” Dr Cavanagh says. “If you have any symptoms that worry you (genital rashes, pain, discharge, burning, itching), chat to a GP or sexual health clinic ASAP. Don’t delay.”   

“For those without symptoms, it’s also time to get tested if you are at increased risk of an STI. That could be because you have a new partner or partners, you have been contacted by a previous partner who has returned a positive STI result, or you’ve had an STI yourself in the last 12 months.” 

sex education
(Credit: Netflix)

Is it true that syphilis is back? 

Once considered a modern rarity, this STI has made an unfortunate comeback. “Syphilis cases have been on the rise in Australia since 2011. We are seeing more syphilis in the general population, including women of reproductive age,” says 

Dr Cavanagh. “This has implications for pregnancy, with the re-emergence of congenital syphilis, where a mother with undiagnosed and untreated syphilis passes the infection to her baby during pregnancy or at birth. The good news is that with timely testing, syphilis can be cured.” 

Do I still need to use contraception? 

Until you officially reach menopause, Dr Cavanagh says the answer is yes. “Though your chances of falling pregnant naturally decrease until menopause, if you’re ovulating, pregnancy can still occur, so you need to work out what the right contraceptive option is for you,” she says.  

It could also be time to chat with your GP about your options. “The risk of complications for the combined oral contraceptive pill increases as we get older, particularly in women who smoke or are overweight,” she advises.

“Women might consider switching to a safer progesterone-only option like a progesterone-only pill, IUD, implant or use a barrier method over hormonal. Barrier options like condoms also reduce the risk of STI, which is a win-win.” 

mindy project
(Credit: Hulu)

Will menopause alter my sex life? 

Dr Cavanagh says it’s common to notice a few differences as we reach what’s lovingly known as “the change”. 

“The years before and after menopause can significantly impact your sex life,” she explains. “Hormonal changes can cause vaginal dryness, thinning of vaginal tissues, and reduced natural lubrication, causing some women discomfort or pain during sex. Your libido or desire for sex can also take a hit because of all the hormonal changes.”  

“But it’s not all doom and gloom. Communication is key, both with your partner and your GP,” she adds. “Focus on foreplay, use a water-based lubricant, try different positions or even toys. Don’t be afraid to seek medical advice if you’re struggling. Hormone replacement therapy, sex therapy or other medications may help.” 

Should I see a sex therapist? 

If you’ve been thinking of taking the plunge, Dr Cavanagh says go for it. “Our sexual wants and needs can change through the different seasons of life, and sometimes we need a little help from the experts,” she explains.

“Counsellors and sex therapists can help you to achieve the best physical and emotional outcomes of a relationship. A happy sex life can mean better physical health, reduced stress, and improved self-esteem. With increasing access to telehealth doctors and therapists, you can even get help from the comfort of home. Speak to your GP about a referral.” 

sex, love, and goop
(Credit: Netflix)

Goodbye to dryness

Don’t let dryness and discomfort get in the way of intimacy. Aci-Jel Restore is a non-hormonal water-based gel formulated to provide relief from vaginal dryness, itching, irritation and discomfort. It doesn’t contain parabens and is suitable to use with latex condoms. Ask your pharmacist about this product. Always read the label and follow the directions for use. 

Buy it here.

Related stories