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Sexual and Reproductive Health Glossary of Terms

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Abortion: The termination of pregnancy.

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS): The condition, due to infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), when the body’s immune system breaks down and is unable to fight certain infections.

Adolescence: The period of physical and emotional change between the beginning of puberty and early adulthood.The World Health Organisation defines adolescents as young people aged 10-19.

Age of Consent: The age at which a young person is legally considered to understand and agree to consensual sex. In Ireland, the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual sex is 17 for men and women.

Amenorrhea: When a woman does not get her monthly period.

Androgyny: A gender identity that allows expression of masculine and feminine gender roles.

Anus: The opening from the rectum from which solid waste (feces) leaves the body.

Antiretroviral therapy: The course of medications or drugs you take to fight HIV.

Areola: The dark area surrounding the nipples of women and men.

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Bacterial vaginosis: A common conidtion caused by overgrowth of bacteria normally found in the in the vagina.It is not a sexually transmitted infection.

Balanitis: An inflammation of the tip of the penis.

Barrier Methods: Methods of contraception prevent pregnancy by physically or chemically blocking the entrance of sperm into the uterus. Some, particularly condoms, help to protect against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV infection. Barrier methods include cervical caps, condoms, diaphragms, female condoms, spermicides and sponges.

Bisexual: A person who is sexually attracted to men and women.

Biopsy: The removal of a small sample of tissue for testing.

Breast Cancer: Cancerous growths that develop in breast tissue.

Breastfeeding: Feeding an infant with milk produced by the breasts.

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Candidiasis: A common vaginal infection caused by a yeast-like fungus. Also known as yeast infection or thrush. Not a sexually transmitted infection.

Cervical mucus: A thick fluid plugging the opening of the cervix. Most of the time it is thick enough to prevent sperm from entering the uterus. At the midpoint of the menstrual cycle, however, the mucus becomes thin and watery, and sperm can more easily pass through.

Cervical Cancer: Cells in the cervix become abnormal and grow at an uncontrolled rate. Caused by persistent infection of certain types of human papillomavirus.

Cervix: The narrow lower part of the uterus (womb), with an opening connecting the uterus to the vagina.

Chancroid: A sexually transmitted infection caused by bacterium that causes an ulcer to grow on the genitals.

Chlamydia: A common sexually transmitted infection caused by bacterium. If left untreated, it can cause infertility.

Clitoris: The female sex organ that is very sensitive to the touch - located between the labia at the top of the vulva.

Colposcopy: An examination that is carried out if abnormal cells have been found on the cervix. A doctor or nurse will look at the cervix using a type of microscope called a colposcope to see if the abnormal cells might develop into cancer in the future.

Combined Oral Contraceptives: Contraceptive pills that contain the hormones oestrogen and progestin.

Condom: A thin covering of latex that is worn on the penis during sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. See also female condom.

Contraception: Methods and devices used to prevent pregnancy.

Cunnilingus: Use of the mouth, teeth, and/or tongue to stimulate the clitoris, vulva, and vagina. Also known as oral sex.

Cystitis: An infection of the bladder. Also called urinary tract infection (UTI).

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Dental dam: A sheet of latex that can be used to cover the vagina or anus during oral sex in order to prevent body fluids from passing from one person to another.

Depo-Provera®: The common brand name of a progestin-only contraceptive that is injected every 12 weeks to prevent pregnancy. It is a reversible method of contraception available only by prescription.

Diaphragm: A soft rubber dome intended to fit securely over the cervix. Used with contraceptive cream or jelly, the diaphragm is a reversible barrier method of contraception.

Douche: A spray of water or solution of medication into the vagina. Not recommended by most medical practitioners, unless stated.

Dysmenorrhea: The medical term for the painful cramps that may occur during a woman’s menstrual period.

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Eclampsia: A condition that can threaten the life of women during the second half of pregnancy. It can include high blood pressure, fluid buildup, and too much protein in the urine, which can lead to convulsions and coma. Eclampsia can be prevented by careful monitoring of blood pressure and urine during prenatal care.

Ectopic Pregnancy: A life-threatening pregnancy that develops outside the uterus, often in a fallopian tube.

Ejaculation: The release of semen from the penis at orgasm.

Embryo: A fertilized egg up to eight weeks after implantation.

Emergency Contraception: Method of contraception used to avoid pregnancy after a single act of sexual intercourse that was unprotected due to lack of use or failure of a contraceptive. Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) must be taken within 72 hours and work by preventing ovulation, fertilization, and/or implantation. ECPs do not cause abortion. Intrauterine Devices (IUD) can also be used as emergency contraception and must be inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex.

Endometriosis: The growth of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus, causing pain, especially before and during menstruation.

Endometrium: The lining of the uterus that develops every month in order to nourish a fertilized egg. The lining is shed during menstruation if there is no fertilization.

Erectile Dysfunction: The inability to become erect or maintain an erection with a partner.

Erogenous Zone: Any area of the body that is very sensitive to sensual touch.

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Fallopian Tube: One of two narrow tubes that carry the egg from the ovary to the uterus.

Family planning: The voluntary planning and use of contraception by individuals to decide if, when, and/or how many children they would like to have.

Fellatio: Use of the mouth, teeth, and/or tongue to stimulate the penis. Also known as oral sex.

Female Condom: A polyurethane sheath with flexible rings at each end that is inserted deep into the vagina like a diaphragm. It is a reversible barrier method of contraception that may also provide protection against many sexually transmitted infections.

Female Genital Mutilation: A practice involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Fertilization: The joining of an egg and sperm that forms a zygote.

Foetus: A fertilized egg implanted in the womb that has grown beyond eight weeks.

Foreskin: A retractable tube of skin that covers and protects the glans (head) of the penis. In some cultures and countries, the foreskin is removed at a very young age, this is called male circumcision.

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Gay: Sexual attraction to people of the same sex.

Gender: The socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

Genitals: External sex and reproductive organs - the penis and scrotum in men, the vulva in women.

Genital Herpes: An infection of herpes simplex virus types 1 or 2 in the area of the anus, buttocks, cervix, penis, vagina, or vulva. Very often there are no symptoms, while the most common symptom is a cluster of blistery sores.

Genital warts: Soft, flesh-colored growths caused by several types of the human papilloma virus. They may look like miniature cauliflower florets and are usually painless, but may itch.

Gonads: The organs that produce reproductive cells — the ovaries of women, the testes of men.

Gonorrhea: A sexually transmitted infection that can cause sterility, arthritis, and heart problems.

Gynaecology: Specialist medical care relating to women's reproductive health.

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Herpes: An infection that can be sexually transmitted and cause a recurring rash with clusters of blistery sores on the vagina, cervix, penis, mouth, anus, buttocks, or elsewhere on the body.

Hepatitis B: An infection that can be sexually transmitted and may cause severe liver disease and death.

Heterosexual: Someone who has sexual desire for people of the opposite sex.

Homophobia: Irrational fear and hatred of people who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Homosexual: Someone who has sexual desire for people of the same sex.

Hormonal Contraceptives: Prescription methods of contraception that use hormones to prevent pregnancy. These include the pill, implants, inter uterine devices, patch, vaginal ring and injectables.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): An infection that weakens the body's ability to fight disease and can cause AIDS.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV): A common, highly contagious virus spread by sexual activity and skin-to-skin contact in the genital area. Certain subtypes of HPV are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer; others cause genital warts.

Hymen: A thin fleshy tissue that stretches across part of the opening to the vagina.

Hysterectomy: An operation in which the uterus and cervix are removed.

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Implant: An implant is a small flexible tube which is placed just under your skin. It releases a progestogen hormone to prevent pregnancy.

Implantation: The attachment of the embryo to the lining of the uterus.

Intrauterine Device: A small device made of plastic, which may contain copper or a natural hormone, that is inserted into the uterus by a clinician. A reversible method of contraception available only by prescription.

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Labia Majora: The larger, outer lips of the vulva.

Labia Minora: The smaller, inner lips of the vulva.

Lesbian: A woman who is sexually attacted to women.

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Mammogram: X-ray photographs of the breasts that can detect cancerous tumors.

Marital Rape: Coerced sexual intercourse within marriage.

Masculine: Characteristics and ways of behaving that a culture associates with being a boy or a man.

Mastitis: An inflammation of breast tissue due to infection that may cause fever, redness, and pain.

Menarche: The beginning of cycles of monthly bleeding. Occurs during puberty after girls start producing oestrogen and progesterone.

Menopause: The time in a woman’s life when monthly bleeding stops permanently. A woman is considered menopausal after she has had no bleeding for 12 months.

Menstrual Cycle: A repeating series of changes in the ovaries and endometrium that includes ovulation and monthly bleeding. Most women have cycles that each last between 24 and 35 days

Menstruation: The flow of blood, fluid, and tissue out of the uterus and through the vagina that usually lasts from three to five days each month.

Mini-Pills: Contraception pills that contain only the hormone progestin.

Miscarriage: Natural loss of pregnancy during the first 20 weeks.

Molluscum Contagiosum: A virus that can be sexually transmitted, causing small, pinkish-white, waxy, round, polyplike growths in the genital area or on the thighs.

"Morning-After" Pill: See Emergency Contraception

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Oestrogen: Hormone repsonsible for female sexual development. It is also used in contraceptive pills to prevent pregnancy.

Oral Sex: Sex play involving the mouth and sex organs.

Orgasm: The peak of sexual arousal when all the muscles that were tightened during sexual arousal relax, causing a very pleasurable feeling that may involve the whole body.

Ovarian cyst: Fluid-filled sac that develops in the ovary or on its surface. Usually disappears on its own but may rupture and cause pain and complications.

Ovaries: A pair of female sex glands that store and release eggs and produce the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

Over-the-Counter: Available without a prescription from a pharmacist.

Ovulation: The release of an egg from an ovary.

Ovum: Reproductive egg cell produced by the ovaries.

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Pelvic Exam: Physical examination of the vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, and ovaries — usually includes taking cervical cells for a Pap test and a manual exam of the internal pelvic organs.

Penis: A man's reproductive and sex organ that is formed of spongy tissue and fills with blood during sexual excitement, a process known as erection. Urine and seminal fluid pass through the penis.

Period: The days during menstruation.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: An infection of a woman's internal reproductive system that can lead to sterility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pain. It is often caused by sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.

The Pill: Common expression for oral hormonal contraception.

Pre-Embryo: The ball of cells that develops from the fertilized egg until after about nine days, when it attaches to the lining of the uterus and the embryo is formed.

Premature Ejaculation: Ejaculation occurring before a man wants it to occur.

Progesterone: A hormone produced in the ovaries of women that is important in puberty, menstruation, and pregnancy.

Progestin: A synthetic version of progesterone used mainly in contraceptive pills.

Prostate: An internal reproductive organ below the bladder that produces a fluid that helps sperm move.

Puberty: A time in life when a girl is becoming a woman and a boy is becoming a man. Puberty is marked by physical changes of the body such as breast development and menstruation in girls and facial hair growth and ejaculation in boys.

Pubic Lice: Tiny insects that can be sexually transmitted. They live in pubic hair and cause intense itching in the genitals or anus.

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Rape: Coerced sexual intercourse.

Rectum: The lowest end of the intestine before the anus, where solid waste (feces) is stored.

Reproductive Cell: The unique cell - egg in women, sperm in men - that can join with its opposite to make reproduction possible.

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Safe Sex: Ways in which people reduce the risk of becoming pregnant and getting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Scabies: Tiny mites that can be sexually transmitted. They burrow under the skin, causing intense itching - usually at night - and small bumps or rashes that appear in dirty-looking, small curling lines, especially on the penis, between the fingers, on buttocks, breasts, wrists, and thighs, and around the navel.

Scrotum: A sac of skin, divided into two parts, enclosing the testes, epididymides, and a part of the vasa deferentia.

Semen: Fluid containing sperm that is ejaculated during sexual excitement. Semen is composed of seminal fluid from the seminal vesicles, fluid from the prostate, and fluid from the Cowper's glands.

Sexism: Discrimination based on a person's gender.

Sexual Abuse: Sexual activity that is harmful or not consensual.

Sexual Assault: The use of force or coercion, physical or psychological, to make a person engage in sexual activity.

Sexual Harassment: Unwanted sexual advances with suggestive gestures, language, or touching.

Sexuality: The interplay of gender, gender role, gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual preference, and social norms as they affect physical, emotional, and spiritual life.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): Infections that are often or usually passed from one person to another during sexual or intimate contact.

Smear Test: A procedure used to examine the cells of the cervix to detect any abnormal smears that may develop into cervical cancer.

Speculum: A plastic or metal instrument used to separate the walls of the vagina so the clinician can examine the vagina and cervix.

Sperm: The reproductive cells in men, produced in the seminiferous tubules of the testes.

Spermicides: Chemicals used to immobilize sperm to help prevent pregnancy.

Statutory Rape: Sexual intercourse between an adult and anyone who is below the age of consent, whether or not it is voluntary.

Stereotype: An overly simplified judgment or bias regarding a person or group.

Sterilization: Surgical methods of contraception that are intended to be permanent — blocking of the fallopian tubes for women or the vasa deferentia for men.

Straight: See heterosexual.

Syphilis: A sexually transmitted infection caused by bacterium.

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Testes: Two ball-like glands inside the scrotum that produce sperm. Also known as testicles.

Testosterone: A hormone that is produced in the testes of men and in smaller amounts in the ovaries of women.

Thrush: See candidiasis

Toxic Shock Syndrome: A rare but very dangerous overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. Symptoms include vomiting, high fever, diarrhea, and a sunburn-type rash.

Tubal Sterilization: Surgical blocking of the fallopian tubes that is intended to provide permanent contraception.

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Urethra: The tube and opening from which women and men urinate. The urethra empties the bladder and carries urine to the urethral opening. In men, the urethra runs through the penis and also carries ejaculate and pre-ejaculate during sex play.

Uterus: The pear-shaped, muscular reproductive organ from which women menstruate and where normal pregnancy develops; the womb.

Urinary Tract Infection: See cystitis

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Vagina: The passage that connects a woman's outer sex organs - the vulva - with the cervix and uterus.

Vaginitis: An inflammation of the vagina that is caused by a change in the normal balance of vaginal bacteria.

Vasectomy: Surgical blocking of the vasa deferentia in men that is intended to provide permanent contraception.

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Withdrawal: Pulling the penis out of the vagina before ejaculation in order to avoid pregnancy.

Withdrawal bleed: The monthly flow of bloody fluid that women have while using hormonal contraceptives

Womb: See uterus.

Yeast infection: See candidiasis.

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