Sexuality and sexual health play a major role in the life of every adult human being. To anybody, love, affection, and sex are irreplaceable parts of a healthy relationship. These aspects have a direct influence on our happiness, well-being, and feelings for one another. According to the World Health Organization (2018), sexual health can be seen as a physical, mental, and social well-being related to sexuality. Sexual health covers all aspects of sexuality including having a positive and respectful approach towards sex and relationships. Added to that, sexual health emphasizes the importance of having safe and pleasurable sex. This does not only mean the importance of safe sex by means of using protection, it also means that sex should be safe in the way of it being free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.
What is sexual health?
Sexual health concerns itself to all aspects of sexuality in general. Hereby you should not only think about enjoying sex, but also about safety, sicknesses, body integrity, sexual violence, and sexual rights. Below, we’ll have a brief look at the most important definitions related to sexual health.
Naturally, sexual health is all about sex related aspects. When mentioning the word ‘’sex’’, most people will directly think about engaging in sexual activity. In the case of sexual health, however, the word ‘’sex’’ mainly refers to the gender of a person.
Sex, as a gender, refers to the biological characteristics of a person that defines this person as a male or female. There are rare occurrences in which a person can have both male and female genitalia. Nevertheless, this is an exception to the rule. As of such, most countries in the world only recognize two sexes – male and female.
Before you can understand sexual health, you first have to know what sexuality means. Sexuality broadly underlines the importance of sexual behavior and outcomes. Without knowing what sexuality stands for, it will be impossible to understand sexual health – let alone make it operational.
The world health organization (2006), defines sexuality as a central aspect of being human. It includes aspects related to sex, gender, erotics, intimacy, and reproduction. There are different ways for a person to express and experience their sexuality. Hereby you can think about sexual thoughts, believes, and values – but also about fantasies, desires, behavior, gender roles, and having a relationship. In general, sexuality can include anything related to sex and relationships. Nevertheless, not every person experiences or expresses these all of these aspects.
Sexuality is experienced and expressed differently by each person. Each individual’s experience depends on a large number of internal and external factors. These factors can be biological, social, economic, psychological, cultural, political, religious, legal, spiritual etc.
Although sexual health is all about sex, it is so much more than simply engaging in the act of sexual intercourse itself. As mentioned earlier in this article, sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being related to sexuality in general. Not only does this include having sex, but also people’s view and approach towards sex. Sexual health is all about enjoying sex, being safe, and having respect. Therefore, sexual rights are essential to sexual health. In order to have and maintain sexual health, the sexual rights of each individual have to be followed, respected, and protected.
Sexual health plays an important role in our lives yet it has to be understood that it can never be achieved without having respect for one another and their basic sexual and human rights. It includes basic human rights that have been locally or internationally enforced and recognized to protect a person’s sexuality. Below, you can find a list of the most essential human and sexual rights:
1) Every person has the right of equality and non-discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality, etc.
2) People have the right to be free of mental and physical torture including rape
3) Everybody has the right to privacy
4) All people have the right to the highest standard of (sexual) health and security
5) Male and female have the right to pick their own partner and to get married
6) Adults have the right to found a family and have as many children as he pleases
7) Every person has the right to information and sexual education
8) Everybody has the right and freedom to express himself sexually
The rights stated above are in place to protect the people and to allow them to express their sexuality and enjoy sexual health. This should be achievable without any discrimination regardless of somebody’s nationality, gender, or sexual preferences.
In the following sub-chapters, a brief look will be given at the most important factors that affect our sexual health and sexuality during our lives besides our sexual rights listed above.
Re-productivity and birth control
Sexuality is not only about having fun and having rights, it’s also about our biological aspects and the possibility to reproduce. After all, the main purpose of sex is reproduction. Reproductive health relates to the human reproductive processes, systems, and functions that are present at all stages of life. It mainly states that people should be free in having safe and responsible sex and that, by doing so, they are free to reproduce and start a family.
Reproductive health is not only about the ability and freedom to reproduce. It also relates to the right of information, education, and access to safe and affordable fertility regulation and health care. Hereby you can think about having access to products such as condoms to prevent birth and education on how to use condoms. Added to that, people also have the right to safe health care and guidance during pregnancy and child birth. This provides couples with the best chance to reproduce, start a family, and have a healthy baby.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
Sexually transmitted infections and diseases pass between two people during sexual intercourse. There are many different types of sexually transmitted diseases and infections. These include viruses, bacteria, parasites, and yeast. The most well-known ones include AIDS, Herpes, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis.
According to the World Health Organization (2018), there are more than 1.000.000 sexually transmitted infections on a daily basis. The four most common infections alone account for more than 350.000.000 infections per year. Around the globe, more than a billion people have an STI or STD. The symptoms of these infections are not always visible and they are not always a threat to one’s health. Most infections and deceases are affect both men and women. STDs that have been caused by a virus can not be cured. There are, however, medicine that keep the decease under control.
Knowing how to use a condom significantly reduces your chances on getting an STD or STI. Nevertheless, they do not completely eliminate the threat of getting sick.
Violence and genital mutilation
Sexual violence comes in many different ways. Naturally, the most common type of sexual violence one can think of is harassment and rape. According to the Department of Justice (2015), there are over 320.000 victims of sexual assault every year in the United States alone. When taking the whole world into consideration, this number runs in to the tens, if not hundreds, of millions people every year. As such, we can all understand that sexual violence is a major problem still today.
Studies have shown that females between the age of 18 to 34 are most likely to encounter sexual harassment. In the United states, one out of every 6 women will encounter a type of sexual violence in their life. For men, this percentage lies significantly lower at merely 3%. (National Institute of Justice (1998).
Although we are likely to directly think about rape and harassment; there are numerous different ways in which sexual violence can occur. One example of this is (Female) genital mutilation. In this practice, the genitalia of girls is mutilated in order for them to reduce their sex drive and take away the pleasure they can experience during sex. There is no medical reason for doing so and all practices are solely based on local or religious believes and traditions. It is estimated that there are more than 200 million girls and women alive today who have undergone genital mutilation. (World Health Organization, 2018). Female genital mutilation mostly occurs in North and East African countries where in some countries up to 98% of women have undergone genital mutilation.
Sexual health includes all our daily aspects related to sex, gender, and relationships. Not only does it affect adults, but every human being during all stages of life. Although sex plays a big part in sexual health, it is not the main subject. Sexual health is about protection, rights, respect, and enjoyment. It includes topics such as human rights, birth control, child birth, sexual intercourse, sexual transmitted diseases, and violence. All together, these aspects make up sexual health and well being. Only by respecting each others freedoms, rights, sexuality, and believes – we are able to have a good sexual health.