Sexual Health is a large term. When we see or hear the word “sexual health,” it is common to focus on the word sex, but did you know that sexual health is so much more than the act of “sex”?

(Disclaimer: please note that the following terms are not fully encompassing of everything that the specific term might include. To learn more about a specific term, please contact Sex Sense, our information and referral service).

Sexual health includes:

Sexuality includes how someone thinks about and expresses themselves as a sexual being, including thoughts, actions, fantasies, sensuality.

Sexual Orientation is who someone is attracted to sexually, emotionally, romantically, including how they identify themselves and express their attraction whether in thoughts and/or behaviours. It also includes asexuality or experiencing no sexual desire and/or attraction which can fall on a spectrum. Sexual orientation can be different from sexual behaviours. Sexual orientation is fluid, and can change over time. 

Gender Identity is how you feel and identify yourself: as a woman, man, both, in between, neither, as two-spirit, transgender or anywhere along the gender spectrum). To learn more visit Trans Care BC

Gender Expression is how someone expresses their gender identity or identities. This can be consistent, or change often, depending on the individual. 

Body Image is how someone sees and what they feel and believe about their body.

Sexual Self-Esteem is how someone sees and what they feel and believe about themselves as a sexual being.

Sexual and Reproductive Health Care includes care, access, and experiences of medical health relating to sexual and reproductive areas such as: STIs and HIV, pap testing, prostate exams, pregnancy testing, birth control, abortion, birth, transgender care, etc.

Reproduction relates to reproductive organs, puberty, menstruation, menopause, pregnancy, birth, adoption, and parenting. This includes trying to prevent pregnancy, birth control, abortion, difficulty becoming pregnant, use of reproductive technologies, miscarriage(s), or other losses of pregnancy or child(ren).

Experiences of unwanted violence and coercion include sexual abuse, sexual assault, consent, abusive power dynamics, legalities and ability to experience sex/sexual health without intimidation, fear of violence, actual violence whether in relation to personal sexual lives and/or sex work. The term “unwanted” is used to differentiate when violence is unwanted and abusive versus those who may engage in sexual activities that may involve some level of pain and/or playing with power but are doing so from a place of mutual consent and want.

Consent and Boundaries includes topics such as legal age of consent, understanding consent, and personal boundaries. It also includes knowing how to give and receive consent, as well as knowing how to recognize when consent is not given, whether verbally or non-verbally, and how to respond when consent is not given.

Relationships and Intimacy is the part of sexual health that looks at different types of relationships, relationship dynamics, as well as recognizing when relationships are helpful and/or hurtful. Intimacy is a critical part of intimate relationships, but doesn’t always include sex.

Sexual and Reproductive Anatomy is how the sexual and reproductive parts of our bodies work including any gender-based surgeries, and being intersex.

Pleasure is our ability to receive and experience sexual pleasure whether in our bodies and/or minds. Click here for more information on pleasure. 

Sexual Activities are the types of things we do sexually and the sexual communities we may belong to. There are a wide range of sexual activities, and what is enjoyable and pleasurable varies from person to person.

Employment within the sexual health context relates to sex work and the working conditions surrounding sex work.

Our bodies have a major role to play in our sexual health! Our physical and mental abilities, including the physical changes with puberty, aging, surgery, and illness that impact our experience of sexual health and overall wellbeing. Our sexual bodies evolve from birth until death. Illnesses such as cancer for example may impact our sexual selves.

What other topics can you think of that fit under sexual health?

SEXUAL HEALTH IS A TYPE OF HEALTH

There are many types of health including physical health, mental health, spiritual health, cultural health, social health, financial health, environmental health, etc. Plus all these types of health can impact each other. For instance, if you are trying to prevent pregnancy and are able to access the birth control you need (physical health), this may help to create a more positive mood (emotional health), which may also positively impact your sense of sexual confidence and sexual self-esteem (sexual health).

Sexual health is as valuable as any other types of health. How important it is will be different for each person. Sometimes depending on where you are in the world and your upbringing, sexual health may not be as recognized as other types of health and there may even be shame, embarrassment, fear and confusion with sexual health. This is very common as there unfortunately can be a lot of shame attached to things associated with “sex”. For example, it might feel more comfortable to talk about a common cold or flu with family, friends or a doctor than it might be to talk about questions around sexual health. On the other hand, you may be very comfortable talking and learning about sexual health. Take a moment to think about how the topic of sexual health makes you feel?

No matter where you are coming from, WE ARE HERE to help bring Sexual Health into a more positive and empowering place. A place where hopefully you can learn the sexual health information you would like, see or speak to a professional in the field whether on the Sex Sense Line or at one of our many clinics throughout BC, and come away knowing that sexual health is a natural part of being human.

Options for Sexual Health champions and celebrates sexual health including an individual’s freedom of sexual expression, the diversity of human sexuality, and a positive sexual self-image for individuals throughout life. 

What influences Sexual Health?

How we define sexual health will be different for each person. The reason is because sexual health is influenced by many personal and social factors such as:

  • Our values and beliefs 
  • Upbringing
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Indigenous Status
  • Spirituality
  • The people around us
  • Our personal experiences
  • Societal expectations
  • Legal and/or sexual rights

Think about what factors influence your sexual health? What messages have you been given about sexual health from…(if applicable)…..your family? friends? society? culture? religion? spirituality? What are some of your own values and beliefs?

How we experience our sexual health is also part of how we experience the world. For example, there are many factors that health researchers have identified that can impact our health including sexual health. These are known as the ‘social determinants of health’ and include how health is affected by: income, education, employment, childhood development, food, housing, health services, gender, race, disability, Indigenous status, social marginalization and social services. (adapted from: http://www.purposesociety.org/health-programs/)

If someone’s gender identity/identities are not recognized this can impact their sexual health and experiences of social marginalization. Another example is if someone is a newcomer to Canada and may not speak the language or have the health care card that will allow them to access the sexual health services they need.

As you can see, our sexual health is as individual and complicated as the various dynamics of our lives.

Human sexuality rarely falls into neat categories or lends itself to simple labeling, but rather is a rich and complex area of human experience.

Sexual health is personal, psychological, relational, cultural, spiritual, physical and emotional.

So what does “sexual health” mean to you?

Have a question about sexual health?