Sexuality is an integral part of being human. Love, affection, and sexual intimacy contribute to healthy relationships and individual well-being. But along with the positive aspects of our human sexuality, there also are illnesses, mixed emotions and unintended consequences that can affect our sexual health. An open discussion of sexuality issues is important to promoting sexual health and responsibility.
More attention has been placed on sexual health since the World Health Organization (WHO) issued the following statement more than 25 years ago. WHO declared: “There exist fundamental rights for the individual, including …freedom from organic disorders, diseases and deficiencies that interfere with sexual and reproductive function.”
However, challenges to achieving this vision remain. In many cases, the underlying causes of sexual disorders continue to be poorly understood, and, often, few treatment options are available. The unwillingness of individuals to discuss their sexual problems may be the greatest barrier to achieving the WHO’s vision of sexual health and to promoting responsible sexual behavior. It is important to address your sexual health issues with your health care physician and partner.
What is meant by “sexual health”?
Sexual health refers to the many factors that impact sexual function and reproduction. These include a variety of physical, mental, and emotional factors. Disorders that affect any of these factors can impact a person’s physical and emotional health, as well as his or her relationships and self-image.
What are the issues that affect sexual health?
Common sexual health disorders include:
- Reproductive system disorders, including cancer
- Infertility problems
- Gynecologic problems, including endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, and premenstrual syndrome
- Urinary system problems, including incontinence and urinary tract infections
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction (ED), painful intercourse, and loss of sexual desire
Other sexual health issues include:
- Concerns regarding “normal” or acceptable sexual behavior and lifestyles
- Birth control
- Teen sex
According to the American Sexual Health Association, sexual health must go beyond outdated views of simply avoiding disease or unplanned pregnancy and should include experiencing pleasure and intimacy when desired, along with respecting the sexual rights we all share. As you think about what sexual health means, you should try to think about your own definitions of sex and how that relates to your body. Much like general physical and mental health, sexual health is just as important to your overall well-being. Educating yourself on your body and knowing what you need is important to being healthy. Your body, your mind, and your desires all matter when it comes to self-care.
Knowing and understanding sexual health means understanding what safer sex looks like. Some good questions to consider are:
- What does safer sex look like for diverse bodies?
- How can we make sure we’re being safe and taking care of ourselves?
- What are your needs and what are your desires?
As you delve into sexual health, it’s about being aware of not only your particular body, but also your potential partners! Whatever your gender or sexual orientation may be, it’s important to embrace your sexuality, educate yourself on safer sex, and respect others’ boundaries. Talking to medical professionals about sexuality might be daunting, but you deserve the support for your needs around sex and sexuality.