Sexual Health Awareness Month
September is Sexual Health Awareness Month, and it’s an annual occurrence organized by the ASHA to spread awareness and non-stigmatized knowledge towards one’s sexual health. It is important to note that sexual health can mean different things for each individual and does not stop at avoiding STDs/STIs or unwanted pregnancies. Instead, it extends to the overall health and wellness of individuals, couples, families, and economic & social policies throughout the world. ASHA defines sexual health as having the “ability to embrace and enjoy our sexuality throughout our lives” and recognizing that it is an important aspect of one’s physical and emotional health. Being sexual healthy also includes
- Understanding that sexual health involves respect, safety, and freedom from discrimination and violence.
- Recognizing that everyone has sexual rights and respecting them (and recognizing them as being part of human rights).
- Making an effort to ensure everyone has access to non-stigmatized sexual health information, education, and care.
- Having secure and good-quality information towards the topics of sex, sexuality, relationships, and sexual health.
- Living in an environment that promotes sexual health and non-stigmatized knowledge (or creating such an environment for yourself and others).
- Understanding that sexual health is part of life and that it goes beyond sexual activity. This also means recognizing that one does not only have to be in their reproductive years to take an interest in their sexual health.
- Having the freedom to experience sexual pleasure, satisfaction, and intimacy when the individual desires it.
- Being able to openly communicate about sexual health with others. This includes sexual partners, people you trust, and healthcare providers.
- Being aware of how sexual health is influenced by gender norms, roles and expectations, and power dynamics.
- Understanding that sexual health needs to be approached with an understanding of the social, economic, and political contexts.
All-in-all, even though we have come a long way from the past, there is still lots of stigma and myths that surround the topic of sexual health. We must all help in the effort of spreading awareness- and take a positive approach towards sexuality, health, and sexual relationships. We must also collectively work together to address issues involved within social, economic, and political aspects. After all, sexual health should be a topic that is free of coercion, fear, discrimination, stigma, shame, and violence.
These are some ways you can ensure that you are taking care of your sexual health:
Understanding and establishing your value and knowing what feels good/right for you.
Sex is a natural part of life, and whether you want to engage in it is up to you. It is crucial that your decisions to participate in sexual activity line up with the goals and wants you to have in life. Your choice (if you choose to be sexually active) should be based on your personal goals, desires, and boundaries. Take the time to establish what you are okay with doing and what your limits are. It is also essential to understand that these things may change throughout your life, and that is okay!
Work to educate yourself about your body and how you can protect it and practice self-love.
It is important that you understand your own body functions and have a space to safely explore your sexuality. Take the time to establish your boundaries and educate yourself on how to practice safe sex to protect yourself against STIs/STDs and unplanned pregnancies.
Having a positive view of your body is also part of being sexually healthy. Of course, we don’t expect everyone to just automatically love everything about themselves- but there are many activities and resources that can help you reach body neutrality and even body positivity. The entire point is to do things that bring joy into your life and ultimately help you attain a positive outlook on your sexual health.
Treat partners with respect and expect that they will treat you with that same respect.
Seek partners and relationships that make you feel safe, secure, and comfortable. All boundaries and limits should be respected, and 100% verbal consent is crucial.
Work on building positive relationships.
Actively participate in having open and honest conversations about your relationships, desires, boundaries, and sexual health. Communication and transparency can go a long way in building a positive relationship with your partner (whether they be more committed or just causal). Any problems that either individual may have should be discussed openly and calmly. If you find yourself in a situation where the relationship is detrimental and violent, we encourage you to seek help. Talk to your health care providers, friends, family members, and other organizations within your community. You can also seek help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Make sure sexual health is a normal part of your health care routine.
Your overall physical and emotional health are important aspects when it comes to your sexual health. We encourage you to choose a provider that makes you feel respected and comfortable discussing any questions or concerns you may have about your sexual health. Some other things to keep in mind are:
- If sexually active, it is recommended that you also get tested for any STIs/STDs just to be safe.
- Remember to schedule your breast exam or a pap test.
- Do a regular self-breast exam every month to look and feel for any changes.
- Speak to your doctor if you have issues with pain, mental/emotional health, libido or energy, etc.
- Keep track of your hormones and physical wellness.
- Discuss with your doctor any issues, concerns, or questions about fertility or menopause.
Having proper protection when engaging in sex.
Make sure protection is worn properly and correctly to ensure that everyone involved can be protected from STIs and/or unwanted pregnancies. Understand all the options for contraceptives. Have an open conversation with your partner to decide the best/preferred method for each individual.
Opening conversations that step away from traditional binary views.
As we move forward, gender identity is moving away from the traditional binary view, and it is becoming more inclusive for people of all sexual and gender identities. Many factors must be considered when it comes to developing an all-inclusive approach towards sexual health. This includes a range of topics from sexual transition treatment to mental and physical health to relationships with others. Having a discussion on these topics with a trusted physician or partner(s) can help you in your path of sexual health, awareness, and empowerment that suits your identity and needs.
As we have discussed before, sexual health is not only about the physical aspect. It is also about emotional health, communication, and mutual consent. Consent means that each partner clearly communicates to the other if they want to engage in any form of sexual activity and establish their limits/boundaries. One must also ensure that each partner is of the legal age for consent. Communication is crucial- and it is essential to understand that consent can be revoked at any moment (and you have to be ready to respect that decision). Sexual activity performed on anyone without consent, under the legal age of consent, or against someone’s will is abuse/assault. If you or a loved one has gone through this situation, reporting it to the authorities is a step that can lead to justice. If that is too difficult, we recommend you reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or organization within your community. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline for further help. We must all do our part to ensure that everyone’s sexual health and freedom thrive in a positive environment free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.