Visiting a health care provider for sexual health services can feel intimidating. While health care providers have training and certain expertise, you are the person best equipped to make decisions about yourself - you are the expert on your life, your circumstances, your communities, and what you want.
Additionally, not all health care providers have specific training related to sexual and reproductive health. The most important thing is finding a provider who listens to you, makes you feel safe and accepted.
This section shares some tips and strategies to make the most out of your appointments with health care providers.
It can be helpful to do some thinking in advance so you feel prepared to get all the info you want and need from your health care provider. Here are some quick tips:
- If you can, gather important documents ahead of time, like your health card and/or a list of medications, supplements, or hormones you’re currently taking.
- If you don’t have access to your health card, call the clinic ahead of time and ask if they will see you without one.
- Write a list of goals or questions for your appointments. This can include getting tested for all STIs, topics or concerns that you want to focus on, and information or referrals that you need. It is more than okay to bring tools to support you getting the services or answers you need.
- Plan to bring a family member or friend with you if it will make you feel safer or feel helpful.
You have a right to disclose as much or as little information as you feel is comfortable and necessary during your appointment. Info that might be relevant and helpful to share includes:
- Current health issues and whether you are being treated for them.
- Symptoms – how long have you had them? Have you done anything to make them better? What has worked?
- Any recent changes in your life or routine (e.g., change in diet, sleep habits, a break-up, the death of a loved one, etc.)
- Any allergies, especially to medications or foods, as some vaccines or medications may contain traces of allergens).
- Medications you are taking.
- Whether you have ever been hospitalized or had surgery (also for what and when).
- Any family members who have or had major health issues.
- Tobacco/alcohol/drug use.
- Personal circumstances or preferences that are important to share (e.g. any cultural or religious beliefs that may influence treatment options).
Conversation Prompts To Support Your Visit
Your health care provider might not bring up a particular topic that may feel important for you to discuss or you might feel uncertain about sharing something they have asked. Here are some prompts to support these conversations:
- "Can I tell you a little bit about myself? It might be helpful for you to have context."
- "You should know this about me: "
- "One thing I’d really like to discuss with you is X."
- "I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t forget anything, so I wrote a few things down."
- "I didn’t understand that. Would you explain it to me another way?"
- If a question feels uncomfortable, invasive, or unnecessary: "May I ask why you are asking me that question?"
- During or before an exam: "Could you explain what you are doing? It would be very helpful to me."
- "Would you mind telling me how the exam will happen?"
- "Is there anything I, or you, can do to make this more comfortable for me?"
- "Could you tell me why you have to do that procedure/test?"
- "What can I do to prevent this issue in the future?"
You always have the right to stop what is happening, ask questions before, during or after, and also to ask for clarification if something a health care provider is saying doesn’t make sense to you.
Here is a list of things to think about, ask, and track during your appointment:
- If you get a diagnosis, write down its name (scientific terms and in plain language).
- If you get any medications write down their names, and the clinician's instructions on how to take them safely and effectively.
- If you are planning a treatment, a follow-up, or a surgery, write down the next steps.
- Some questions you can ask
- "What are the risks and benefits of this medication/treatment/surgery?"
- "How soon will I start seeing results from the medication/treatment?"
- "Are there alternatives to using this particular treatment/medication?"
Here are some questions that can help to you to get all the information you need after the appointment:
- "Do I need follow-up tests? If so, what are they? Where can I get them done?"
- "How soon do I need to decide to get a test or start a treatment?"
- "What might happen if I delay or decline treatment?"
- "What should I watch out for in terms of symptoms?"
- "Do I need to schedule an appointment with someone else or fill a prescription?"
- "What can I do at home to care for myself? Are there supports I can access?"
- "Can you recommend any resources about this diagnosis/test/medication?"
- "Do I need to come back for a follow-up appointment? If so, when?"
- "When or who should I call to report any new or continuing symptoms?"
In between your appointments, it might be helpful to write down any questions that come up, status of referrals, or dates to get prescriptions filled.
A sex-positive health care provider places no moral value or judgement on issues related to sex and sexuality and takes a neutral stance. All health care providers have a duty to be informed and capable, however it can feel more supportive to have a sex-positive health care provider.
Some ways to assess whether your health care provider is sex-positive and supportive:
- They're comfortable handling questions about sexual or reproductive health, without judgement or defensiveness.
- They don't make assumptions (e.g., heterosexual, monogamous) and ask open-ended questions.
- They take your lead and use the right terminology (e.g., your pronouns, how you refer to your loved ones or your body).
- They provide info to explore what is best for you, with a range of unbiased options, without pressuring or coercing you.
- You feel safe disclosing important information about yourself and your sexual health to them.
You can also ask your health care provider specific questions during or before an appointment to determine whether they are the right service provider for you when it comes to your sexual and reproductive health care. Here are some sample questions you can ask your clinician in the room, to staff at the front desk, or on the phone while making an appointment:
- Do you/do clinicians at this practice have experience providing:
- Birth control
- STBBI testing and treatment
- Pregnancy options support, including both abortion and continuing a pregnancy
- Gender-affirming care
- Have you/have clinicians at this practice worked with 2SLGBTQIA+ people? (Feel free to use whichever identities feel most relevant or important to you.)
- Do you/do clinicians at this practice make referrals to other providers if you can't address my concerns around [insert desired healthcare service]?
- If yes, who do you refer to?
- What is your complaints policy/procedure?
- What are your privacy/confidentiality policies?