Sexual health, as defined by the World Health Organisation, is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.
Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination or violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.
Sexual health is an important aspect of overall health - whether you choose to be abstinent or are thinking of having sex or you are currently sexually active.
Maintaining good sexual health mean understanding your sexuality, speaking to your partner, making decisions such as birth control and protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
It also involves negotiating with your partner and being aware of your sexual rights.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for an informed discussion with a health care professional.
Make an appointment with the University of Melbourne Health Service to find out more about your sexual health.
Thinking of having sex
Here are a few things to consider if you are thinking about becoming sexually active.
- How do you feel about your partner? Do you respect and trust her/him?
- Are you comfortable talking openly with your partner? Are you able to tell your partner what pleases you, and also what doesn't?
- Do you feel pressured to have sexual intercourse by your partner or social standards?
- Are you self-confident enough to clearly express your wishes or to say "no" when you don't want to do something? Low self-esteem often contributes to poor decision making about sex and the inability to communicate about your needs.
- Why do you want to have sex? Are you concerned that your partner will find someone else, or that you are the only virgin you know?
- What are your moral viewpoints on sex?
- Have you considered various methods of contraception?
- Do you understand male and female anatomy, especially the functions of the reproductive organs?
- Are you aware of how sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are transmitted and how to recognise symptoms?
- Are you willing to risk unplanned pregnancy and have you considered what you would do if you or your partner became pregnant?
Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.
Speaking to your partner
After you have sorted out your own feelings about sex, discuss them openly with your partner. Remember not to feel pressured when making this big decision-not everyone is having sex. There is less harm done by waiting than by rushing into a sexual relationship too soon.
When deciding whether or not you want to have sex, it is important to feel confident that you are not putting yourself at risk of contracting a STI. You have the right to ask your partner questions about her/his sexual history. Approach these questions with your partner sensitively.
- How many sexual partners have you had?
- Have you ever had unprotected sex with a partner?
- Have you ever been tested for STIs?
- Are you willing to be tested for STIs?
- Have you ever used injection drugs? Did you ever share needles?
- Have you considered what you would do if sexual activity resulted in an unplanned pregnancy?
Birth control options
- Oral contraceptives ("the pill")
- Natural family planning
- Intrauterine device (IUD)
It's best to speak to your doctor and discuss these options. More information on birth control options is available at the Health Service.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that are commonly transmitted through sexual activity. Many STIs have no symptoms and can remain undetected without testing. Most STIs can be easily cured. Some that are incurable can be controlled. STIs require medical treatment.
Because most STIs have no symptoms they are easily and unintentionally passed from partner to partner. It is very important for your health and the health of your partner(s) that you have regular check up with your doctor.
Sexual rights embrace human rights that are already recognised in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus statements. They include the right of all persons, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, to:
- Receive respect for bodily integrity
- Decide to be sexually active or not
- Choose their partner for consensual sexual relations
- Say no at any point
- Decide whether or not, and when, to have children
- Pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life.
The responsible exercise of human rights requires that all persons respect the rights of others.
More information on sex and sexual health
- Archive for sexology: Multi lingual archive which offers free online courses in sexual health, WHO reports, and an online library on sexology.
- Sexquest: Links to full text articles on sexuality, sexuality and gender, birth control, womens and mens rights, LGBT issues, and educational resources.
- Liveabout.com: All About Sexuality and Sexual Health
- The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Canada: Sex & U
- Columbia University: Go Ask Alice!
- Male Health Center: The Male Health Center was the first centre in the United States specialising in male health. The centre was created because there was a need to provide men with an integrated system of care that addressed all their needs.
- Royal Women's Hospital: A free, confidential service for all women offering advice, support and referral. The service recognises that women's health and well-being may be affected by social, emotional and cultural influences.
- Love: The good, the bad and the ugly: Being in love is supposed to feel great. But sometimes it just feels confusing. What can you do if you are being hurt, controlled or treated badly in a relationship?
If you'd like more support, come along to one of our workshops or make an appointment for individual counselling.