Article by Lauren Jones, originally published in Austin Woman Magazine.
Austin Woman: In your professional opinion, what are the top sexual-health concerns for women in their 20s and 30s?
Dr. Saima Jehangir: [The biggest concerns are a] lack of knowledge of their own reproductive systems, either due to poor health curriculum, cultural taboo or lack of reliable resources. Women need to empower themselves with knowledge of how their body works. The other main concern, which is universal, is lack of access to affordable, quality health care.
AW: Explain the biggest risk factors for women in regard to sexual health.
SJ: Currently, women are exercising their sexual freedom but not taking the precautions necessary to be safe. Every week, I see sexually transmitted diseases that can be avoided by taking the appropriate precautions.
AW: Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Should women be concerned?
SJ: No, no reason to be concerned, but definitely a reason to get educated. HPV has always been there. We just now know more about it and are learning more every year.
AW: How can women protect themselves against contracting HPV?
SJ: It’s difficult not to contract HPV if you are sexually active…because 75 to 80 percent of the population has HPV. However, being selective about who you have sex with and using condoms can reduce the chance of being exposed to a particularly aggressive virus. The HPV vaccine can reduce your chance of contracting a strain…that could lead to cervical cancer or genital warts. … Often, lifestyle modification, stress reduction [and the]right supplements can help clear the virus so it doesn’t do any damage.
AW: Birth control is a widely discussed topic in women’s health. Is there a certain type of birth control you’d recommend?
SJ: There are so many great options and it really needs to be individualized to the patient. Making an appointment to discuss all of your options is a great place to start. Planned Parenthood has an amazing website that does a lot to educate patients.
AW: For those looking to start a family, are there any tests you’d recommend to check fertility, risks, etc.?
SJ: Once again, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all [test]. It’s important to know your family history. Speak with your mom about her pregnancies. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, talk to your family about any genetic issues that may run in the family, and if there is something concerning, consider preconception counseling with a high-risk-pregnancy specialist. As for fertility, we define infertility as the inability to get pregnant after one year of actually trying. Infertility specialists do have methods of identifying if you are sub-fertile, but honestly, reducing your stress, eating healthy and knowing when you are ovulating is still the best way to get pregnant. The takeaway is that your health is in your hands.