What is sexual health?
Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.
Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.
Definitions of Sexual Health
The definition of sexual health will continue to develop further as the cultural conversation continues to evolve. It is important to remember that any attempts to establish “norms” and an objective definition of sexual health is dangerous in that they could be used to exclude or label people as unhealthy or abnormal.
- Awareness, acceptance of and comfort with one’s own body; physiological and psychological enjoyment of one’s own body and the bodies of others.
- The ability and need to experience emotional closeness to another human being and have it returned.
- A sense of gender identity or expression that is anywhere from male to female or somewhere in between.
- Attitudes and behaviors related to producing children, care and maintenance of sex and reproductive organs, and health outcomes of sexual behavior.
Why does sexuality matter?
- Sexuality matters because our sexuality encompasses more than
- It’s an important piece of who we are as humans, and it influences and is influenced by other aspects of our lives.
- Our sexuality does not exist in a vacuum.
- The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) sees sexual health promotion as part of broader support for general health and public health. This support extends to comprehensive sexuality education. Human sexuality is lifelong and consists of more than just the absence of disease and unintended pregnancy. This lifelong process is a normal part of biological, social, mental, and emotional development.
- Sexual Health Promotion Factsheet (PDF)
Factsheet on the public health rationale for comprehensive sexual health promotion across the lifespan.
MDH support of sexual health and comprehensive sexuality education (CSE)
- MDH sees sexual health promotion as part of broader support for general health and public health. This support extends to comprehensive sexuality education. There is long-standing evidence both for CSE and interventions and activities across the lifespan that support sexual health. Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality and is not just the absence of disease. It is an important piece of who we are as humans, and it influences and is influenced by other aspects of our lives.
About the sexual health promotion fact sheet and the letter of support
- These documents are for anyone who wants to learn about the health benefits of CSE in school settings and comprehensive sexual health promotion including:
- school districts interested in the evidence-based impact of CSE;
- agencies who seek to cite the public health benefits of sexual health promotion activities for applications for funding; and
- individuals or entities wanting to understand the lifespan impact of sexual health
- From a holistic perspective, sexual health includes emotional, psychological, physical, intellectual and spiritual dimensions.
- Characteristics of Sexually Healthy Adults
- Sexual and reproductive health is more than simply what individual people experience.
- Sexual and reproductive health is shaped by factors at different levels of society:
- laws that affect what we do
- social factors such as poverty
- community norms
- and what services are available to us
- In order to improve sexual and reproductive health, we need to consider, and act on the drivers of sexual and reproductive health on multiple levels.
The different levels can be summarized in this way:
- individuals, peers, relationships and households
- community norms, social attitudes, values and beliefs
- policies and structures
- Based on learning from behavior change and health promotion theory and practice, it is helpful to think about what needs to change at these different levels in order to improve sexual and reproductive health. This helps us to organize our ideas and plans and to increase the effectiveness of our efforts.
- Most people think about their sexual and reproductive lives in a holistic way with HIV or STIs as only one aspect.
Working for broader sexual and reproductive well-being opens up many more opportunities to:
- prevent HIV and STI infection
- provide care for people with HIV
- improve sexual and reproductive health
Examples of sexual health programming:
- Women living with HIV who are pregnant, often feel worried about informing health care providers as they may disapprove of the woman having a baby.
- By accessing user-friendly family planning and prenatal services, she can enjoy sex and be able to plan whether or when to have children, and to have healthy children.
- Audiences are growing steadily for the BBC World Service Trust’s radio phone-ins on sexual health in Cambodia because they provide an opportunity for vulnerable groups to ask questions anonymously that they might not ask face-to-face.
- Surveys show that exposure to radio and TV programs increases knowledge of the benefits of condoms and creates support for discussing and using them.
- Promote safer sex that protects individuals from HIV, STIs and unintended pregnancy (dual protection).
- Provide individuals with the knowledge, attitudes, skills and confidence to enjoy safer, healthier and happier sexual lives.
- At the levels of social change, services and policy, create enabling environments for sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV education as well as broader poverty reduction.
- For example, facilitate comprehensive sexuality and life skills sessions with young people and work with community leaders and parents to support healthy behavior.
Sexual Health Resources
Information and additional resources related to sexual health.