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Sexual Health, More Than Just The Act of Sex

Introduction

Oftentimes, when we hear the term “sexual health,” our minds immediately conjure images of sexual activity. However, it’s important to recognize that sexual health extends far beyond mere intercourse. It surrounds a spectrum of well-being that touches upon diverse aspects of sexuality, from physical and emotional aspects to social and relational dimensions.

Sexual health is as prime and important as any other health, be it physical, mental, and emotional, because complete wellbeing doesn’t just have one aspect to it.

Sexual health has received minimal recognition compared to other aspects of well-being, while other issues are voiced on mountain tops, sexual health related issues have been in the hush from quite a long time and it’s not uncommon to encounter feelings of shame, embarrassment, fear, or confusion when it comes to addressing sexual health topics. 

This discomfort often stems from societal taboos and stigmas surrounding discussions about sex. For instance, individuals may find it easier to talk about common ailments like the cold or flu with close ones or even a healthcare provider than to raise subjects related to sexual health, on the contrary of this there are individuals who are comfortable not just about talking, but actively listening and even learning about sexual health.

Factors Influencing your Sexual Health

The definition of sexual health can vary from person to person due to the influence of numerous personal and social factors which include a vast variety of subjects concerning one’s values, culture, upbringing, spirituality and experiences. Research proves that there are countless factors affecting one’s sexual health, some of them are stated below.

  • Our values and beliefs 
  • Upbringing
  • Culture
  • Spirituality
  • Personal experiences
  • Societal expectations

Values & Beliefs

Values and beliefs are integral components that significantly influence our sexual health. They shape our attitudes, behaviours, and decisions regarding relationships, intimacy, and sexual activity. 

Additionally, they can impact our perceptions of consent, pleasure, and overall well-being in sexual encounters. Understanding and reflecting on our values and beliefs allows us to navigate sexual experiences in a way that aligns with our personal principles and fosters a healthy and fulfilling sexual life.

Upbringing

Our upbringing plays a crucial role in shaping our understanding and approach to sexual health. From the earliest stages of childhood, we absorb messages and cues from family members, caregivers, and other influential figures in our lives. These individuals serve as our primary sources of information and guidance, imparting their beliefs, values, and attitudes towards sexuality through explicit conversations and subtle cues.

Family dynamics, cultural background, and societal norms within our upbringing environment all contribute to the formation of our sexual identity and perceptions. Apart from that care-givers also play a pivotal role in providing education and guidance related to sexual health. 

Their attitudes and behaviours towards sexuality can shape our own beliefs and behaviours, influencing how we approach intimate relationships, consent, and sexual activity.

Culture

Cultural norms, traditions, and practices related to sexuality are deeply rooted in the fabric of societies and communities worldwide. These cultural factors encompass a broad spectrum of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours that shape how individuals perceive and engage with sexuality.

One significant aspect of cultural norms surrounding sexuality is the definition of acceptable sexual behaviour, which is different in various cultures and also the role of one’s gender plays a significant role in cultural perceptions of sexuality. 

Spirituality

Spiritual beliefs and practices often play a significant role in shaping individuals’ perceptions of sexuality, intimacy, and connection. For many people, spirituality provides a framework for understanding the deeper meaning and purpose behind their sexual experiences.

Spiritual teachings may emphasise concepts such as love, compassion, and sacredness within intimate relationships, guiding individuals to approach sexuality with reverence and respect. This perspective can enhance the emotional and spiritual dimensions of sexual encounters, fostering a deeper sense of connection and fulfilment.

Personal Experiences

Personal experiences play a profound role in shaping one’s perceptions of sexuality and influencing our approach to sexual health. These experiences encompass a wide range of interactions, from past relationships and sexual encounters to moments of trauma and success.  

Positive experiences, such as fulfilling relationships and enjoyable sexual encounters, can contribute to a sense of confidence, pleasure, and well-being in relation to sexuality.

Conversely, experiences of trauma, abuse, or neglect can have lasting effects on individuals’ perceptions of sexuality and their ability to engage in healthy intimate relationships. Past traumas may lead to feelings of fear, shame, or guilt surrounding sexuality, hindering individuals’ ability to establish trust, intimacy, and vulnerability with partners. 

Our personal experiences serve as the lens through which we interpret and navigate our sexual lives. By reflecting on these experiences, acknowledging their impact, and seeking support when needed, individuals can cultivate greater self-awareness, resilience, and empowerment in relation to their sexual health and well-being.

Sexual health encompasses various dimensions ranging from personal, psychological, relational, cultural, spiritual, physical, and emotional.

Societal Expectations

Rigid gender roles can create unrealistic expectations among individuals about sexual behaviour. Men might feel pressured to perform or initiate, leading to anxiety and Women might feel they can’t express desire or say no, increasing risk of unwanted sex. Also societal views on things like premarital sex or abortion can lead people to make choices that go against their own desires, impacting their sexual well-being.

Traditional gender roles might discourage women from seeking sexual healthcare or discussing sexual concerns openly. This limits access to preventive care and treatment. Not only that but societal pressure for a certain type of sex life like frequent, athletic, etc can lead to feelings of inadequacy and sexual dysfunction.

Conclusion

By challenging societal expectations and fostering open communication about sex can improve sexual health outcomes for everyone and assist in creating a healthcare system free from stigma and judgement, ensuring that everyone has access to the sexual health services they need ultimately fostering overall well being.

Resources: https://www.optionsforsexualhealth.org/facts/sex/what-is-sexual-health/

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