We are all aware of the universal definition of health. The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined health as the mental, physical, emotional, and social well-being of a person. Similarly, WHO in a meeting with Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) defined sexual health in 2006. The definition is as follows: “Sexual health is the physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality.”
The WHO further elaborates, that sexual health and well-being does not merely refer to the absence of any disease or dysfunction alongside the absence of any infirmity. Sexual health and well-being is meant to shed positive light on sexual relationships. Furthermore, sexual well-being means the experience of pleasurable sexual activity without any violence, coercion, or force.
On the other hand, the American Sexual Health Association chooses to define sexual health as the ability of a person to accept and enjoy the physical aspects of their personal life. It goes on to say that being sexually healthy means recognising and respecting the act of sex and the sexual rights everyone shares. Of course, it goes without saying that a part of sexual health and wellness means access to information and education pertaining to the same. It encapsulates the knowledge about preventive measures to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and avoiding unwanted pregnancies.
Sex, is a complex topic to be discussed, especially as it is a public health concern and is viewed differently by every community. But that is one of the factors that make it even more important to be able to discuss sex and sexual health without any stigma. Read on to find out why exactly is the knowledge of sexual health and wellness important and should be accessible to the society as a whole.
Why is it important?
When discussing the importance of sexual health and wellness, it is essential to note that an individual’s sexual well-being can have a direct impact on their overall health. The sexual wellness of a person goes beyond prevention of pregnancies and STIs. As seen in the definition it is a package of things as opposed to just one aspect. Here are some key reasons why everyone should look after their and their partner’s sexual health and wellness:
- Affects overall health
The human body is a symphony of various systems that are internally interconnected. This connection means one system can and does impact other systems. It sanctions as a well-oiled machine until one of these systems misfires and then causes repercussions to the others. For example, a stressed person is more prone to fall ill as opposed to a person who is at ease. Similarly, something as common as stress can also affect the sexual and reproductive well-being of a person or vice versa. Or, did you know that an unhealthy diet too can be a contributing factor to disruption of sexual health and wellness?
- Better choices
Maintaining good sexual health can contribute a great deal to a person’s future. Gaining appropriate knowledge of sexual health can help an individual in making more informed decisions about some important choices in their life. Without proper information, there are chances that a person can make ill-informed decisions about certain things like the importance of protected sex and family planning. The wrong decision about condoms can lead to transmission of STIs, including HIV – a price an individual might not have planned on paying. With the proper information, comes the ability to make the right choices and avoid any unforeseen complications.
- Healthier views about physical relations
No matter what society says, it should be noted that sexual activity is a natural phenomenon and needs to be treated with the respect it commands. But, at the same time, if a certain sexual decision makes a person uncomfortable, the person should know how to speak up about it. A better understanding of sex, sexuality, and the sexual health of a person puts them in a better position to make decisions that will align not only with their physical health, but also with their emotional and mental health. Being open about one’s own and their partner’s sexual preferences can even help strengthen the relationship.
- Acquaints an individual with their rights
How many people are aware that there exists something like sexual or reproductive rights? Or that a set of rights are in place to protect our bodies and our sexual health and wellness? A considerable benefit of learning about and being aware of the true meaning of sexual health and wellness is that we get to learn the rights associated with our bodies. The knowledge of these rights can play a key role in the matter that one cannot be discriminated in favor of or against based on their sexuality. It also lets us know how much importance a simple word like “no” holds in protecting our physical, mental, emotional, and sexual wellness.
Now that we know the importance of sexual health and wellness for the sake of our own and the ones around us, let us move on to the means by which we can achieve this crucial information.
Thankfully, in the country sexual education is a mandatory subject while in school. The kids are taught about sex, sexuality, and their physical aspects while growing up. Although some might argue it is unsafe to expose kids to such information at a young age, it is,in fact, effective in avoiding unwanted risks. Since, the children learn early on about the risks related to unprotected sexual activity, unwanted sex, and the risk of transmission of sexual infections, the information helps them make better judgements in life when the time arrives. Additionally, and importantly, sex ed also grants children the necessary information to fight against physical and sexual abuse and teaches them the importance of consent. When the kids are aware of the presence and absence of consent, they are in a better place to prevent and raise their voice against any misconduct or violation.
Communication is a significant part of our lives and our well-being. It is also important when it comes to sexual health and wellness. When an individual attains sexual awakening or considers themselves to be sexually active, they should consider getting in touch with a healthcare professional. A healthcare professional or a doctor is an individual’s best source of information and can help provide their views and solve a person’s doubts. A doctor can further help a person, basis their lifestyle and health, in selecting a means of birth control and provide non-judgemental input.
If a person has an underlying sexual health condition or disease that they are unaware of, doctors can help detect the same. In case the issue has already been identified the medical professional can help chart out a treatment plan and help the individual with their knowledge and guidance. Instead of jumping to conclusions and keeping the issues under wraps, communicating with a doctor helps find a solution to the problem.
Apart from the doctor, communicating with the partner is also necessary. Both the individual and their partner must communicate openly about their expectations, preferences, and their current individual and combined sexual health and wellness. Being in a relationship with someone who is disrespectful or ignorant of their partner’s wishes can not only be stressful but can also lead to trauma in certain individuals. The interconnectivity of various aspects of well-being makes it all the more important for individuals to speak up in favor of their own choices of sexual health and wellness.
What can the term “sexual safety” encapsulate? When talking about sexual safety, one does not just refer to the avoidance of STIs and accidental unwanted pregnancies. The sexual safety of a person also includes safety from assault, abuse, exploitation, and/or rape.
Today, there is a range of birth control methods available to everyone. While most of these methods are usually effective in preventing pregnancies, they do not do much to prevent the transmission of STIs between sexual partners. A major contributing factor being the transmission of STIs can occur through various types of sexual activities. What is more worrisome is that some of these commonly transmitted infections do not initially show any signs or symptoms. The absence of a safe and effective preventive and control measure during sexual activity could mean that an asymptomatic individual can unintentionally infect their unsuspecting partner.
The complications related to these sexually transmitted infections include pains, infertility, and even fatality if left untreated. Therefore, in order to avoid the risk of contracting an STI it is essential to make use of physical barriers while participating in physical activity.
Despite the immense efforts put into the prevention and awareness of sexual health and wellness, the spread of STIs is still prevalent. Following are some of the most commonly transmitted STIs in the country:
- Genital Human Papillomavirus (GHP)
GHP is probably the most common STI in the country. It is believed that every sexually active person contacts this disease at least once during the sexually active period of their life. The infection can be spread via various sexual activities as well as by skin to skin contact. Most HPVs are asymptomatic. However, some can cause genetic warts or affect the mouth and throat. While, some others, can lead to cancer of throat, mouth, cervix, or penis.
Another one of the most common viral STIs in the country is genital herpes. The virus has two types, and one is usually associated with cold sores and the other with genital sores. Along with sexual transmission and skin to skin transmission, herpes can also spread from mouth to genitals and vice versa. Although the symptoms associated with herpes can be treated with antiviral medications, the virus itself cannot be cured.
A commonly known sexually transmitted infection causing virus, HIV is prevalent all across the world. The HIV virus can only spread through the exchange of bodily fluids with an infected person. A couple of therapy options can hold off the virus from progressing into AIDS, but there are no treatment options available till date for the virus.
Hepatitis has various types. However, the most common sexually transmitted type is the hepatitis B virus. Sometimes, hepatitis C can also be transmitted sexually. However, all types of hepatitis infections lead to damage to the liver. Exposure to hepatitis B for a long time can lead to complications with the liver like scarring, cirrhosis, or cancer. Hepatitis disease does come with a vaccine making it possible to avoid all of those issues.
- Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis represents a condition in which the healthy bacteria of the vagina is replaced, making the vaginal area unhealthy. The symptoms related to BV include itching and burning around the vagina, strong fishy odor, and/or gray or white discharge.
Although there are antibacterial medications that can help remedy the situation, it is often noticed that the bacterial infection repeatedly occurs. The infection is frequently attributed with having a new sexual partner or the possibility of multiple sexual partners.
Trichomoniasis spreads via sexual promiscuity by the passing on of a parasite from one person to another during sex. In women, the infection is usually seen to develop in the vagina or the urethra. Whereas, in men, trichomoniasis occurs in the penis. The infection is usually found in the genitals of the person.
Trichomoniasis mostly manifests in people asymptomatically. However, in some rare cases, people can experience inflammation and itching during urination. Another indication of trichomoniasis includes discharge from the genital organs in both male and female patients. There are antibiotics available to deal with this infection.
The presence of gonorrheal infection can be detected in the reproductive tract lining of women, and in the eyes, mouth, throat, urethra, and anus of both men and women. The infection can spread through various sexual activities with the infected person or be passed on from mother to child during childbirth.
The presence of symptoms in Gonorrhea infection is mild. When present, the warning signs include green, yellow, or white discharge from the genitals, testicular pain, painful urination, and sometimes even vaginal bleeding. If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to severe consequences and can possibly lead to infertility in both men and women.