Sexual Health is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as ‘…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.’ WHO, 2006.
This definition plays a crucial role in emphasising that sexual health in a public health context is not just about the management and treatment of sexual ill health – through providing people with the tools and knowledge to maintain healthy sexual development and negotiate safe sexual relationships, we can hopefully help to prevent incidences of sexual illness and infection.
From a public health perspective, work on this topic is aimed at:
Helping to prevent:
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV
- Unintended pregnancies, especially under the age of 18
- Sexual assault and exploitation (of children or adults)
- Psychosexual dysfunction
Promoting the health benefits of:
- Mutually supportive partnerships
- Comfort in one’s own sexual identity
Sexual health is linked with a number of other public health issues, such as alcohol and the impacts of intoxication on risk-taking behaviour. Achieving improvements in sexual health will contribute to major priority targets, such as reducing incidence of low birth weight.
A person’s sexual health is very intimate to them, and many will be reluctant to actively seek out support or information. Services and interventions must strive to be accessible, friendly and supportive to encourage people to take action to improve their sexual health. Increasing opportunities to access sexual health services is vital to improving the sexual health of the nation.
It is important to recognise that a person is a sexual being throughout the life course. From the biological changes of puberty through to the challenges of ageing, sexual health has a significant impact on a person’s social development. Good sex and relationships education is crucial in this – through giving people the knowledge and information they need to maintain good sexual development from puberty to adulthood, they should be empowered to negotiate and develop healthy, happy and fair relationships through their life, and take responsibility for managing safe and satisfying sexual relationships.
An empowered, informed individual will also have the knowledge and responsibility to make decisions on having children. Pregnancy and maternal health have obvious links with good sexual health – prevention of, or treatment of, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the mother prevent their onward transmission to the child. Giving a child the best start in life begins with giving the mother the best maternity experience possible. Thus, the promotion of good sexual health isn’t just important to the generation alive today – it is crucial to the healthy development of future generations.
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