Sexual Health – Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Sexual Health is ‘A state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes.’ It thus includes a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, and the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences that are free of coercion, discrimination, and violence. This simply means safety from sexual illness and violence, as well as being free to decide if, when and how to reproduce.

Correspondingly, sexuality is a central aspect of humanity that is affected by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious, and spiritual factors. It includes, sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction. Sexuality is mostly experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles, and relationships.

One can therefore conclude that sexuality is multidimensional and dynamic, that is, other than including socioeconomic, spiritual, psychological and biological components, it changes with time, place and partners. Additionally, sexuality is constructed both individually and culturally.

Sexual health is fundamental to the physical and emotional health and well-being of individuals, couples and families, and to the social and economic development of communities and countries. The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) explains being  sexually healthy as:
  • Understanding that sexuality is a natural part of life and involves more than sexual behavior;
  • Recognizing and respecting the sexual rights we all share;
  • Having access to sexual health information, education, and care;
  • Making an effort to prevent unintended pregnancies and STDs, and seeking care and treatment when needed;
  • Being able to experience sexual pleasure, satisfaction, and intimacy when desired; and
  • Being able to communicate about sexual health with others, including sexual partners and healthcare providers.
However, the ability of men and women to achieve sexual health and well-being depends on their access to:
  • Comprehensive good-quality information about sex and sexuality;
  • Knowledge about the risks they face and their vulnerability to the adverse consequences of sexual activity;
  • Their access to sexual health care; and
  • An environment that affirms and promotes sexual health.
Sexual health concerns are wide-ranging and also include negative consequences or conditions such as:
  • Infections with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), and Reproductive Tract Infections (RTIs), and their adverse outcomes (such as cancer and infertility);
  • Unintended pregnancy and abortion;
  • Sexual dysfunction;
  • Sexual violence; and
  • Harmful practices (such as female genital mutilation, FGM).
Sexual health is closely linked to reproductive health. The next blog post will look into reproductive health.
Until next time, take care of your sexual health!
Words by: Linda Bonareri @linda_bonareri (@ywli_info)
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