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A healthy attitude towards and perception of sex and sexuality is vital for our mental, emotional, physical, and social well-being.

Let’s talk about Sex | February 4, 2019

We think about it many times a day – both men and women – sometimes as often as, if not more than, we think about sleep and food. Advertisements use it blatantly to sell us anything, flaunted all over the wide landscape of modern media, but spoken about in hushed tones behind closed doors.

Here’s the truth of the matter – it’s a fundamental and natural need. A healthy attitude towards and perception of sex and sexuality is vital for our mental, emotional, physical, and social well-being. So, let’s talk about sex.

The Centre for Disease Control and WHO define 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.” [1]

Most of us are in agreement that societal sexual health cannot be defined, understood, and adhered to unless there is a healthy respect for, and the safekeeping of, some human rights. These rights that are vital for the achievement of sexual health are:

  • the right to marry and to found a family and enter into marriage with the free and full consent of the intending spouses, and to equality in and at the dissolution of marriage
  • the right to decide the number and spacing of one's children
  • the rights to information, as well as education
  • the rights to freedom of opinion and expression,
  • the right to an effective remedy for violations of fundamental rights
  • the right to equality and non-discrimination
  • the right to be free from torture or to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment
  • the right to privacy
  • the right to the highest attainable standard of health (including sexual health) and social security[2]

In addition to these rights, to consider and look at the bigger picture of positive sexual health and its benefits, there are some important concepts that we need to keep in mind and take into consideration. These concepts relate to sexual health as:

  • Being about how one expresses it by being of various sexual expressions and orientations.
  • Being activated by societal gender roles, norms, power dynamics, and expectations.
  • Being about more than just the absence of disease, but one’s entire wellness.
  • Being about freedom, respect, and safety from violence and discrimination.
  • Being important throughout one’s life, whether young or old, not just during the years of reproduction.

It also needs to be understood with the context of different economic, social, and political environments.

Including an individual’s holistic well-being, sexual health has numerous benefits for the society as a whole and an individual’s positive relationship with society.

  • Sexual health is associated with an individual’s positive image and worth of self, acceptance of one sexual orientation, the involvement and conversion of sex and sexuality into consensual positive relationships, achievement of one’s reproductive health.
  • The concept of one’s self is important to how the youth handle their emotions and behaviour related to sexuality. Positive sexual health involves the youth having better self concept and skills to cope increases their skills and capability to take informative decisions rather than impulsive will-be-regretted-later decisions.
  • The youth need correct and appropriate sexual education. They need the involvement of both men and women for healthy nurturing of their sexual health. If information from both sources is not present, the chances of male and female role stereotyping occur.
  • Positive sexual health accepts youth as sexual beings. The development of one’s sexual identity is very important and the youth have the right and responsibility to make decisions pertaining their sexual behaviour, ethics, and values.

When there is a lack of positive sexual health we as individuals and society pay a heavy price. We are at risk of emotional and economic damage. Unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and infections, increase in the rate of babies with low-birth weight, and sexual violence, are just some signs of poor societal sexual health.

As mentioned earlier, sexuality is integral and innate to being human. The love, intimacy, respect, and affection we see around us and experience is key to forming healthy relationships from childhood through old age. It is important to be aware of sexual health and factors that contribute to it.

Some of the ways in which parents can help their children with the awareness of sexual health are:

  • Begin talking to your child at a young age. Start by encouraging them to ask questions and by providing simple answers
  • Ensure that your chat about sex is not a rarity. Make it a part of everyday life and continue having informed talks as your kids grow older, thus not making it awkward especially during puberty
  • Educate them about the importance of considering other’s feelings in relationships
  • Keep an open mind
  • Talk to other parents on how they deal with the ‘birds and bees’ talk
  • Talk to them about teenage pregnancy
  • Take the help of media. Try talking about programmes you see on TV or songs you hear to start a conversation
  • Use information: there are many books, informational materials, and the world wide web if you require information or conversation prompters
  • Regard your children’s right to privacy especially as they grow older and may not want to talk about it

Informed discussions cultivate a healthy attitude towards sex and sexuality. So, get talking.

References 

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/sexualhealth/ and http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/sexual_health/sh_definitions/en/index.html

[2] http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/sexual_health/sh_definitions/en/index.html

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