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What is Sexual Health?

By Alan Rankin
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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Sexual health, sometimes called reproductive health, is the body of knowledge surrounding health issues related to human sexuality. Depending on the source, sexual health sometimes refers specifically to issues involving sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or reproduction. Experts in sexuality, however, maintain that this area of health involves a wider range of knowledge, including mental and emotional health. Some people consider these issues to be improper, controversial, or outright offensive and seek to limit the dissemination of sex health information.

Human sexuality is a highly complex subject. The sexual history and health of any given individual can be as unique as fingerprints. There are some issues, however, that apply to all persons, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or other factors. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these include a state of well-being with regard to one’s sexuality, whatever it may be. This is separate from the prevention or treatment of sexual diseases, although of course that is a large part of healthy sexuality.

The methods used to prevent the spread of STDs are sometimes the same as those used for birth control and family planning. These topics remain controversial in many areas of the world. Studies have shown that simple education is highly effective in increasing all aspects of sexual health, but even this measure is hotly debated for religious and political reasons. The WHO estimates that 20 percent of world health issues involve sexuality. This includes reproductive issues and STDs as well as sexual violence.

One of the most prevalent sexual health issues involves HIV/AIDS, an incurable and potentially fatal STD. Since its discovery in the 1980s, HIV has become a global pandemic and a severe health crisis, particularly on the African continent. Many other STDs, by contrast, are treatable with modern medical resources. Exceptions include herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV), which are both viral infections. Many people use safe-sex procedures to reduce the chance of catching STDs.

Many sexual health initiatives began in the 20th century. Pioneers such as Alfred Kinsey and Margaret Sanger openly discussed issues of sexuality, reproduction, and birth control, which previously had been considered improper. The social upheavals of the century’s late decades included a global sexual revolution that brought many previously taboo issues into the public consciousness. By the 21st century, information about sexuality and health was widely available. Controversy regarding all aspects of human sexuality continues, however, and seems unlikely to be easily resolved in the near future.

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Discussion Comments

By browncoat — On Nov 06, 2014

@clintflint - It does depend on what culture you are talking about though. There are societies where it's considered quite normal for some people to abstain from having children.

Unfortunately, I think there are very few human societies where sexuality is still encouraged in people who, for whatever reason, aren't going to have children, which made sense back in the days when there was no reliable contraception.

By clintflint — On Nov 05, 2014

@irontoenail - There is something to that, but you've also got to remember that ideas about sex are all tied up into ideas of heritage as well. Sexual health issues are often seen as a threat to the very basis of masculinity or femininity because society still clings to the idea that having children is the ultimate purpose of life.

And it can be very important, of course, but I don't think it should be seen as universally important.

By irontoenail — On Nov 05, 2014

I've always thought that the reason sexuality is so controversial is because it's one of the easiest means of controlling the population. If someone tells you that breathing is a sin, you can easily see through the lie, because without breath you will quickly die. The same goes for drinking water or eating (although eating is used somewhat as a tool of control). But sex is something that our species intrinsically needs, without an individual needing it to survive, so we have a strong urge towards it, but won't die if we don't get it.

Sexual urges, therefore are something that you can shame people for and use as a means of control and that is what different religions have been doing for thousands of years to the detriment of the sexual health and education of the human race as a whole.

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