Did you also know that September is Sexual Health Awareness Month?
More importantly, do you know what sexual health means and how to explain it to your teen? We want to make understanding this term simple for parental caregivers and youth. When most people hear the term ‘sexual health’, they think of S-E-X, the birds-and-the-bees, pregnancy, and sexual diseases. But, sexual health means so much more than that.
We really like two definitions provided by major national and international health organizations, because they connect the idea of sexual health to the overall health of a person. The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) defines sexual health as “the ability to embrace and enjoy our sexuality throughout our lives. It is an important part of our physical and emotional health. Being sexually healthy means:
- Understanding that sexuality is a natural part of life and involves more than sexual behavior.
- Recognizing and respecting the sexual rights we all share.
- Having access to sexual health information, education, and care.
- Making an effort to prevent unintended pregnancies and STDs and seek care and treatment when needed.
- Being able to experience sexual pleasure, satisfaction, and intimacy when desired.
- Being able to communicate about sexual health with others including sexual partners and healthcare providers.”
The World Health Organization defines sexual health as “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 [meaning illness]. 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 and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled”.
The take away message for parental caregivers and youth is that sexual health goes beyond the traditional sense of having safe sex or preventing pregnancy. It is about understanding how sex (the physical act) and sexuality (how we feel about our bodies and our physical and emotional attraction to others) are part of our every day lives. It includes reproduction (having children), avoiding diseases (such as getting the HPV vaccine), self-pleasure (also called masturbation), and knowing how to have healthy sexual relationships with others.
As teens mature, they may begin to explore their sexuality and take control of their own sexual health. As a parent or caregiver, you can help support the youth in your live by giving them the knowledge and skills needed to make smart, healthy, decisions, and maintain an open and inviting environment for questions – be an askable parent. Providing youth with information and skills can ultimately help reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies by empowering them to make good decisions.
The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) has a lot of great resources related to sexual and reproductive health. This month, in honor of Sexual Health awareness month, we recommend a podcast from 2017 on the ASHA website by Eli Coleman, director of the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota and a former member of ASHA’s board of directors. Dr. Coleman discusses how sexual health goes beyond merely having sex and touches on topics such as intimacy and emotional bonding, gender identity and sexual orientation, and the different dynamics within romantic relationships.
To listen to the podcast by Eli Coleman, click here: https://soundcloud.com/asha_sexual_health/world-sexual-health-day
To read about the resources that ASHA has to offer, click here: http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/celebrating-sexual-health-september/
To read more about sexual health and your teen, continue to check back to ParentsAreTALKING this month for new articles written by our experts, parents, and even a teenager from a local Philadelphia high school!