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September is Sexual Health Awareness Month

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Each September, the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) declares a World Sexual Health Awareness Day to raise awareness about the importance of sexual health, rights, justice, and pleasure for all. Blue-ribbon-sexual-health-awareness-month The 2023 theme for World Sexual Health Day is consent. Society has come a long way in recognizing the fundamental importance of sexual health, equality, and justice. Still, there is work to be done in recognizing the centrality of consent.  Consent is a central element for any beneficial and healthy sexual encounter. The theme of consent encourages people to reflect on their behavior and highlights the need to create a social environment where everyone can feel safe, respected, and empowered without regard to gender or sexual orientation.

What are the different ways sexual health concerns can change?

Sexual Health Awareness Month spotlights the steps people can take to promote sexual health in their lives, no matter their stage of life. For both women and men, aging brings physical changes that can affect sexual function. Some of the transitions that each age group should consider when it comes to managing their sexual health are:

For young adults

Once a person begins sexual activity, the most important precaution to take is the practice of safe sex. This is even more important for younger adults because, at this age, there is a higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) because of a combination of multiple factors. Almost half of new cases of STDs occur in young adults. To avoid being one of those, a person should adopt safe-sex practices, such as having a frank conversation about sexual history before entering into a sexual relationship with a new partner. Regardless of the outcome, using a condom without fail is the best way to protect against STDs. For college students, use campus health centers offering laboratory services testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Be honest with the doctor when going in for a checkup. They can’t give the necessary care if they don’t know the truth.

For people going through midlife transitions

Aging brings more than a few complications related to sexual health, but adults at every age have every right to enjoy a healthy sex life. One of the biggest challenges to sexual health is menopause. Before this change, the transitional period saw fertility hormones such as estrogen, progesterone (and even testosterone) start to decrease, and symptoms like hot flashes, irregular periods, and urine leakage when coughing or sneezing. Once in full-blown menopause, a woman’s desire for sex (libido) can decrease as the production of hormones bottoms out. Along with age, other factors that can cause this decrease in libido include body image, other medications, or chronic health conditions.  Men also experience declining hormonal levels, primarily in testosterone, during midlife, although not as pronounced as women. A decrease in testosterone can result in symptoms like fatigue, weakness, depression, and a lower libido, just as in menopausal women. Middle-aged men and women should talk to a doctor about their troublesome symptoms. Help is available to restore hormonal levels and relieve the worst of these symptoms.  We have written elsewhere about the myth of declining sexual pleasure after menopause and how to make sure that menopause doesn’t put an end to sexual pleasure. In the case of women, there are also treatment methods, such as hormone therapy and medications like Vagifem that reduce the symptoms of menopause that make sex uncomfortable. For men, testosterone creams

How did Sexual Health Awareness Month get started?

In 2010, the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) in the USA joined with their associated organizations in other countries to celebrate World Sexual Health Day (WSHD) to promote greater social awareness of sexual health across the globe.  World Sexual Health Day has been celebrated in 60 countries with a wide range of activities, from round tables of discussions to conferences and art exhibitions. In each country, organizers have taken WSHD activities to schools, hospitals, libraries, universities, public squares, art halls, and theater groups and publicized them in print and online media. WAS wants to ensure that sexual health issues are discussed everywhere! Past topics of World Sexual Health Day have been wide-ranging, including:
  • 2022 – Let’s talk about pleasure
  • 2019 – Sexuality Education for all: a bridge to sexual health
  • 2018 (celebrating 40 years of the WAS) – Sexual health and sexual rights are fundamental for well-being
  • 2017 – Love, bonding, and intimacy, a possibility for all
  • 2016 – Sexual health: Eliminating the myths
  • 2015 – Sexual health for a fairer society
  • 2014 – Sexual health: The well-being of sexuality
  • 2013 – To achieve sexual health, picture yourself owning your sexual rights!
  • 2012 – In a diverse world, sexual health for all!
  • 2011 – Youth’s sexual health: Shared rights and responsibilities.
  • 2010 – Let’s talk about it!

Questions people ask

What are the basic concepts of sexual health?

Sexual health promotes sexuality as a positive force, enhancing many other dimensions of a person’s life. It includes psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions as well as the physical aspects.

What are the six principles of sexual health?

The Harvey Institute, which specializes in psychotherapy for sexual health, defines a set of six principles of sexual health that provide a map to balance couples and family conversations about sexual activity, sexual functioning, and sexual relationships before it becomes a problem or hurts someone.  The six principles for sexual health are that sexual activity:
  1. Requires full consent
  2. Requires for sex to be non-exploitative
  3. Has open and direct communication with every sexual participant
  4. Allows people to build a sexual values system of their own
  5. Allows anyone engaged in sexual activity to use contraception, prevent acquiring  STD or acquiring or transmitting HIV
  6. Provides for the giving and receiving of pleasure between sexual partners.

What is the concept of sexuality?

As explained on the Australian State of Victoria’s government website Betterhealth, sexuality is about “sexual feelings, thoughts, attractions and behaviors towards others. You can find other people physically, sexually, or emotionally attractive.” All of those things are a part of a person’s sexuality.

How does the WHO define sexual health?

The World Health Organization‘s website defines sexual health as fundamental to the overall health and well-being of individuals, couples and families, and communities and countries social and economic development. “Sexual health, when viewed affirmatively, requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships and the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences free of coercion, discrimination, and violence. The ability of men and women to achieve sexual health and well-being depends on their:
  • access to comprehensive, good-quality information about sex and sexuality;
  • knowledge about the risks they may face and their vulnerability to adverse consequences of unprotected sexual activity;
  • ability to access sexual health care;
  • living in an environment that affirms and promotes sexual health.”
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