7 Keys to a Sexual Health Check-Up

You're vigilant about scheduling an annual physical, and you pay attention to your cholesterol, blood pressure and weight. But did you know you should also have regular sexual health check-ups? At these appointments, your doctor not only can pinpoint any physical conditions early on but may be able to help with certain problems keeping you from enjoying a satisfying sex life. These include everything from vaginal dryness in a woman to erectile dysfunction in a man. At a checkup, your doctor will not only order certain screenings, but will ask: "How's your sex life?"

Here's what happens at a sex check-up, and why you need one.

● Why a sex check-up? "The best treatment for anything is prevention," says Gary Rogg, MD, an internist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.  "So don't put off getting a sexual health check-up."  

●Women will be screened by a gynecologist for cervical cancer with a Pap smear about every year. "After a certain age, you may be able to space these out to every three years," says Jennifer Wu, MD, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "But that is based on whether you are monogamous and your age." Also, the doctor does a breast exam and check the uterus and ovaries for any abnormalities. Sexually active women with multiple partners may be screened for the presence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

● A sex check-up for women includes questions about her sex life. Among the medical conditions that can decrease libido are hypothyroidism, depression, and anxiety, explains Wu.  "These are all treatable," she says. Women will be asked about vaginal dryness and can be prescribed a lubricant if necessary.

● Men need an annual screening for prostate cancer each year beginning at age 50, says Elizabeth Kavaler, MD, a urology specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Since testicular cancer is not uncommon in men between 20 and 30, health care providers will instruct younger men in how to do regular self-checks, Kavaler says.

● At a checkup, men will be asked how they're doing sexually, Kavaler says. "We ask how their libido is, and about sexual function," she says. "A lot of men won't volunteer that information if you don't ask." Medications may be prescribed for men who are diagnosed with Erectile Dysfunction (ED), she says.

● Men who report ED should have their thyroid levels checked, as well as their levels of B12, magnesium and vitamin D, Rogg says. "They're all easy to check with a routine blood test," he explains, and all are treatable.

● Since there's a link between obesity and ED, men who report the condition are also counseled to lose weight. "Very often, losing weight, exercising and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol will help the erectile dysfunction," Kavaler says.