Consider this: If someone were to ask you and your friends to describe sexual health, what answers would you give? I bet you would say sexual health involves preventating sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancy. And you would be correct, sexual health includes those things along with some other very important details. Most organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American College Health Association (ACHA) quote the World Health Organization (WHO) when defining sexual health. The WHO defines sexual health 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. 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.” (WHO, 2006a)
I’m so happy that the WHO removed the negative connotations that we often think about when we hear the term sexual health by not focusing on illness, but on wellness. We will now all think about how are sexual lives contribute to us being well physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and socially. We can’t forget that our sexual behaviors are intended to bring us pleasure, but we MUST also discuss STI and unwanted pregnancy prevention. Anxiety around possibly contracting a sexually transmitted infection or even HIV, will definitely diminish overall wellbeing, therefore conversations around consistent condom use actually promote wellness. A discussion about birth control options among partners and with healthcare clinicians gives us greater control over our bodies and also reduces anxiety.
Our colleges should foster inclusivity so that all student feel comfortable accessing healthcare and discussing how they can best maintain optimal sexual health in their current stage of life. College administrators, student leaders and clinicians should be aware that many have experienced past sexual trauma and create safe and comfortable spaces that won’t re-traumatize. We should all be working towards having safe campuses where no one is afraid of experiencing sexual trauma. Maintaining confidentiality should also be a top priority for campus leadership, and students should never fear humiliation or retaliation when it comes to their sexual experiences.
My challenge to you is to not look as sexual health as taboo, but to begin to think about any gaps there may be in how you protect your body, mind and soul while living YOUR best sexual life. Find a trusted healthcare professional and freely discuss STI and unwanted pregnancy prevention as applicable. Mental health professionals can also help you work through traumatic past experiences. This school year plan to engage with your college administration about their role in providing comprehensive and non-judgmental sexual healthcare, providing mental health services, promoting campus safety and ensuring that sexual health on your campus looks the way the WHO says it should. At Kiira we have experienced clinicians who can help you maintain both your physical and mental health and also sexual wellness. We are also available to support any campus with resources and workshops as to how to promote sexual wellness on campus.