Importance of Sexual Health
Sexual health is just as important as any other type of health, but sexual health is often ignored. What makes it ignored, and what can we do to fix it?
By Caitlyn Huebner
Sexual Health More than Sex, Genitalia; Sexual Health involves Healthy Sexuality
Take a second and think of the phrase “sexual health.” Think about what it is, what it means and what it does. What came to mind? Did you think about sex? What about a penis or vagina? Did you think about sexually transmitted diseases? Teen or unintended pregnancies? Or something as simple as having a healthy reproductive organs, whatever that means?
If any of these were what you first thought of, you are at least on the right track. Sexual health, however, is far more complex of a topic than just the working parts of sex.
“[Sexuality is] a central aspect of being human throughout life encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). “Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles and relationships.”
So, in a way, sexual health does include sex, sexual orientation, reproduction, birth control and sexually transmitted
diseases. It also includes topics such as healthy relationships and the absence of sexual health diseases, not only STDs.
“Being healthy sexually includes our body being healthy, but it also includes pleasure,” Crane said. “I feel that’s the least mentioned aspect of sexual health.” Crane also emphasized that pleasure includes both pleasures from a sexual partner and self-pleasure through masturbation. She added that arousal is a good thing.
An aspect of sexual health and sexuality that WHO and Crane both agree with is desires and being able to express and obtain such desires.
“What’s so important is being able to know what it is that we desire, to know what we enjoy physically, psychologically, socially with a partner and being able to communicate that,” Crane said.
She also mentioned that negotiation with a partner is important since there is no guarantee you and your partner will like and enjoy the same things.
“I think sexual health in a relationship is about mutually negotiating I like this, do you like this? How do you like it? Do you like it soft; do you like it hard? Who are you sexually?” Crane said. “If you can communicate that, we can have a much healthier sexual relationship.”
If these definitions of sexual health and sexuality are readily available to the public, why are there still these misconceptions that sexual health is all about sex and genitalia? Experts believe that it is because of the lack of comfort this topic brings.
Research has found that many individuals grow up in an environment where it is bad or even shameful to discuss sexual health and sexuality. Conversations about sexuality, in particular, usually occur in a negative manner. This, in turn, creates misconceptions and even stigmas surrounding the broad term sexual health.
“I think that we tend to have a lot of moral panics about sexuality,” Natalya Mason, education outreach coordinator for Saskatoon Sexual Health, said. “It’s not that we don’t ever discuss sexuality, but when we have conversations about sexuality…very often people [freak] out basically about what’s happening and saying like, ‘Oh you’ll never believe what the kids are doing now.’”
Jacob Glickman is a therapist at Child Guidance Resource Centers. He specializes in empowering those in the LGBTQ community to make the best decisions possible. He sees that this uncomfortableness around sexual health and sexuality can also be brought on by healthcare professionals.
“I think so often the uncomfortableness that healthcare professionals feel sort of eliminates the capacity of people to say, ‘Yes I practice kink with my partner or partners,’ or ‘I am in a relationship with multiple people at once,’” Glickman said. “I think so often there’s a misconception that there’s additional risks in these communities.”
What can be done to combat these misconceptions about sexual health? The answer, according to experts, is easy. It is as simple as talking about it.
“Everybody that can just needs to open their mouth and speak about it,” Elna Rudolph, medical doctor and sexologist at My Sexual Health Clinic, said. “By talking about it you get to sensitize people. So I really think it’s the responsibility of every individual to get this topic out there.”
This conversation needs to include talking casually about sexual health. The most important conversation though needs to be had about sexual health. These experts believe that sex education is crucial when it comes to eliminating the stigmas and misconceptions about sexual health.
By Caitlyn Huebner