…and we think that’s something worth celebrating! While Sexual Health Month used to mostly be just about preventing STIs and unplanned pregnancy, it has evolved a lot. After all, there’s a lot more to sexual health than that! While those things are still an important part of the observations, World Sexual Health Day on September 4th and Sexual Health Month now bring a more holistic & sex-positive approach to sexual health and wellness. Read on for some of the many activities to do and topics to discuss to make sure your own sexual health is on the right track this month!
Sexual Health Awareness Month is meant to bring awareness to and understanding of the incredibly important topic of sexual health. But what IS sexual health? Thankfully, we’ve come a long way in that understanding, so the focus has shifted to this broader definition; not just preventing STDs and pregnancy. The World Health Organization offers this thorough definition of sexual health:
“Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related 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. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”
Sexual health is inextricably tied to sexual well-being, and does not exist in a vacuum. It’s a person-centered health focus and an umbrella category that incorporates all of these concerns:
Sexual Health Concerns:
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Having safer sex
- Birth control/contraception/preventing unplanned pregnancys
- Sexual pain
- Sexual violence & sexual trauma
- Gender-based violence
- Erectile dysfunction & other sexual conditions
- Pregnancy options counselling
- Maternal healthcare from conception to post-partum
- Cancers of the reproductive organs, such as cervical cancer
- Sexual pleasure and wellbeing related to intimacy
- And more!
Regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, or sexually active status, sexual health is something that affects everyone, and something everyone needs to be concerned with and proactive about. One of the easiest things you can do this September is to make any doctor’s appointments you’ve been putting off. The New Jersey Family Planning League offers this great list of things that are important to discuss with your doctor pertaining to sexual health, especially for younger adults. Most doctors can address many of the other above sexual health concerns, and if they can’t, can refer you to someone who can help.
YOU, sexually healthy.
So, how does sexual health pertain to you? Being sexually healthy means different things to different people, but it definitely involves more than STIs & pregnancy/contraception. It’s an umbrella of topics related to sex, relationships, and our bodies & minds, and sexual health is relevant for people from adolescence all the way through old age – not just while we’re most sexually active or of childbearing age. Use Sexual Health Month as an opportunity to check in with yourself and make sure YOU are indeed living a sexually healthy life. For everyone, here’s what ASHA (the American Sexual Health Association) states that being considered sexually healthy means:
- Understanding that sexuality is natural and involves more than sexual behavior.
- Recognizing and respecting the sexual rights of everyone.
- Having access to information, education, and care for sexual health.
- Actively making an effort to prevent unplanned pregnancy and STDs, and willingly seeking care or treatment when necessary.
- Being able to experience sexual pleasure, satisfaction, and intimacy when desired.
- Being able to communicate about sexual health with others, such as sexual partners and healthcare providers.
Individuals who are considered sexually healthy also approach sexuality and sexual relationships with positivity and respect. They are also able to have sexual experiences that are free of coercion, discrimination, and violence, and can enjoy sex that is pleasurable and safe. And speaking of pleasure…
Make pleasure a part of sexual education.
Pleasure is a key aspect of overall sexual health, so Sexual Health Month is a good time to strive to make discussions of pleasure a part of basic sexual education. As we discussed a little bit in “May is Sex Ed for All Month: Here’s Why It Matters“, there is a lot wrong with sexual education, especially in the good ‘ole US of A. One of the glaring problems with many sex ed programs in this country is that, when they are offered at all, they often provide an abstinence-only approach or harp on STI and pregnancy prevention only. This creates a curriculum focused on risk, shame, stigma, and fear. It’s about time to flip that script and start including discussions of pleasure in Sex Ed for adolescents and beyond. And if your adolescent’s school doesn’t offer thorough and sex-positive sex ed, you may need to step in and help them learn it yourself.
It doesn’t have to be awkward. Use books like Sex Positive Talks to Have With Kids from Sex Positive Families, websites like Scarleteen that don’t shy away from any topic, and just be there to answer their questions yourself…after doing research if needed; there’s no shame in that! This helps your teen learn what’s really going on with their bodies and feelings, and how to deal with things in a healthy way.
And before anyone throws out that older-than-the-hills argument of, “but won’t teaching comprehensive sexual education make kids have more sex at a younger age?!?”…the answer is a resounding NO. Study after study has shown that adolescents receiving well-planned & well delivered comprehensive sexuality education programs actually experience the opposite. They wait until they are older to begin having sex, make better informed decisions surrounding sex which leads to fewer STIs & unplanned pregnancies, have a better understanding of their rights and the concepts of consent & responsibility, and go on to have healthier (and more pleasurable) intimate relationships throughout adulthood. After all, enjoying good sexual health – which includes a sex-positive mindset and approach to sexuality based on healthy learned attitudes and behaviors – is a central aspect of being human.
And have the pleasure discussion yourself!
If you have not thought about your own sexual pleasure or haven’t discussed pleasure with your partner in a long time, there’s no time like the present. Pleasure and the ability to experience it is a key aspect of your overall sexual wellbeing. It’s why we enjoy having sex, why we desire our partners and want to keep having sex with them, and it’s what triggers all those great happy hormones in our bodies and brains when sex feels good.
Think about what you need for sex to feel good. You can explore this with your partner, or on your own through masturbation. Explore various parts of your body and your genitals and see what sensations on what parts can bring you the most satisfaction. Journal about it if that’s helpful to you, so you can look back on it and add to it in the future; what’s pleasurable to you may change over time, so this isn’t just a once & done forever task. Read books or do online research to find new things to try you might find pleasurable. If you discover you love g-spot stimulation during masturbation, read all about it and new ways to enjoy it, and don’t shy away from sex toys that may improve your pleasure, either. Check out ASHA’s ’30 Days of Pleasure’ for plenty of reading materials, podcasts, and activities to help you infuse more pleasure into your sex, thereby improving your sexual health this month.
If you are partnered, make sure to have the pleasure discussion with your partner, and listen to their needs and desires as well. Make a sexual bucket list if you’d like, or just find individual goals to tackle together. Being able to have healthy communication about sex is a key aspect of overall sexual health. Making sure to keep pleasure alive in your relationship by talking about it ensures a strong intimate bond as you grow together and enjoy your sexual journeys throughout life.