Sexual health is fundamental for the overall health and well-being of individuals, couples and families, as well as for the social and economic development of communities and countries. To achieve sexual health and well-being, the ability of men and women depends on their:
- access to comprehensive and good quality information on sex and sexuality;
- knowledge of the risks they may face and their vulnerability to the harmful consequences of unprotected sexual activity;
- the ability to access sexual health care;
- live in an environment that promotes sexual health.
Problems related to sexual health are very diverse and encompass sexual orientation and gender identity, sexual expression, relationships and pleasure. They also include negative conditions or consequences such as:
- human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and reproductive tract infections (RTIs) and their side effects (such as cancer and infertility);
- unwanted pregnancy and abortion;
- sexual dysfunction;
- sexual violence; and
- harmful practices (such as female genital mutilation, FGM).
Beginning in 2000, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and WHO organized a number of expert consultations to review terminology and identify program options.
In recent years, international human rights instruments have been increasingly used to support and advance the legal claims of individuals and entire communities for national governments to ensure respect, protection and fulfillment. of their sexual and reproductive health rights. Below are listed some of the main conceptual elements of sexual health.
Key Conceptual Elements of Sexual Health
Seen in a holistic and positive way:
- Sexual health is about well-being, not just the absence of disease.
- Sexual health involves freedom from discrimination and violence, respect and safety.
- Sexual health depends on respecting certain human rights.
- Sexual health is relevant throughout an individual’s life, not only for those of childbearing age, but also for the young and the elderly.
- Sexual health is expressed through various forms of sexual expression and sexualities.
- Sexual health is influenced strongly by gender norms, roles, expectations and power dynamics.
Sexual health must be understood in specific economic, political and social contexts.