Care Resource addresses a woman’s overall wellness as an issue of holistic healthcare, acknowledging the link between social determinants of health and physical well-being. Providers create a judgment-free and welcoming environment, empowering women and girls to make the best choices concerning their sexual health in light of the challenges they experience.
Women often struggle with the shame surrounding female sexuality, which further affects their ability to advocate for their sexual health. This shame coincides with limited disclosure between women and their health providers, potentially leading to adverse health effects. Providers serve as an indispensable source of information about sexual health, and a lack of communication means a missed opportunity for essential screenings and intervention. Additionally, some providers assume that a young woman is not sexually active or has not been exposed to HIV, limiting the knowledge they can share. Lesbian and bisexual women may encounter barriers to quality care when providers cannot understand their sexual health risks.
“Many people have grown up in homes that did not discuss sex. They receive misinformation from friends or the internet. Patients should be able to open up to a provider, disclose information, and ask questions. All patients need to have a provider who will listen. My first meetings are often a conversation because I want my patients to feel comfortable with me. When patients are comfortable, they will speak about their concerns, and the provider can make the appropriate recommendations. If they exhibit any symptoms, then we can proceed with exams. If not, we can just talk about birth control, the HPV vaccine, and more.”
–Dr. Lauren Abern, Gynecologist at Care Resource
The stigma around sex follows women throughout their lives.
Sanique Olkuch, DNP, APRN, Nurse Practitioner at Care Resource, provides primary care to adult cisgender and transgender women living with HIV. Olkuch cites her experience working with cis heterosexual women who suffer from shame if given HIV due to a partner’s infidelity. Additionally, Olkuch counsels patients concerned about pregnancy, advising them to continue antiretroviral therapy (ART) and maintaining an undetectable status. When an individual living with HIV adheres to a daily medication regimen, they suppress the virus and become undetectable. Once undetectable, they cannot transmit the virus to their partners and have a low risk of transmitting it to their children.
Olkuch recommends pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), to women throughout the age continuum. PrEP is a biomedical HIV prevention strategy for those at high risk of acquiring HIV. Although Black/African American and Latina women are disproportionately affected by HIV, every woman, regardless of socio-economic status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion, is vulnerable. Therefore, everyone — women, men, community organizations, health care professionals, HIV-negative, and those living with HIV — has a role to play in HIV prevention.
Olkuch adamantly reminds her patients that HIV is just one part of their lives, reminding them that they can still have a whole and healthy life. She advocates vaccination as assurance that those whose immune systems are compromised suggest smoking cessation and regular screenings.
These issues do not affect only cis-heterosexual women, and inclusive care recognizes the distinct needs and experiences within the transgender community. Often, transgender women who visit the health center for essential wellness services are simultaneously facing housing insecurity.
Care Resource offers housing services to address further the social determinants of health that affect the lives of trans women.
In creating safe spaces for women and girls to speak about sexual health and providing compassionate and competent HIV/AIDS care, Care Resource supports women. This March, Care Resource encourages the local community to observe National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD) on March 10.
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