With so many different dimensions of our health to worry about, sexual wellness often takes a backseat. Topics such as diet, exercise and sleep get a lot of attention in popular books and online sources, while our overall sexual health gets short shrift.
What Is Sexual Wellness?
It might be tempting to define sexual wellness as a lack of sexually transmitted diseases or infections, but the truth is that the topic is more complex than that. The best way to think of sexual wellness is as a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being concerning sexuality.
Understanding sexual wellness means acknowledging that sex is not limited to intercourse or masturbation. In conversations about overall wellness, the term ‘sex’ also encompasses your intimacy and connection with your partner and your self-confidence in your body.
Sexual wellness encompasses three different areas: sexual health, sexual pleasure and sexual justice. For us all to achieve the greatest possible sexual wellness, all three of these areas of sexuality must work in harmony. For one or two, or even all three areas to be imbalanced does not mean that you can’t achieve sexual well-being, but this framework helps provide a place to start.
What Do I Need to Know about Sexual Health?
One of the basics of sexual health is preventing and treating sexually transmitted diseases. Unfortunately, this issue has taken on public health risk proportions. Instead of a private issue affecting only the fringes of society, sexually transmitted infections saw an explosion of 26 million new cases as recently as 2018. While this issue affects many different age groups, it disproportionately impacts those aged 15 to 24-year-olds, who represented almost half of the new STIs in 2018.
Although these numbers are concerning, despair won’t help the situation. Instead, it would be best if you asked what you could do. The first step is to educate yourselves and your loved ones about the realities of STDs and STIs. Understanding these health risks and how best to prevent them is critical to keeping yourself safe. Medically speaking, vaccination can be an effective way to protect yourself from STDs. Your risk is also, of course, affected by lifestyle decisions.
A few ways to limit your chances of contracting an STD are practicing abstinence, mutual monogamy or safe sex. The resources provided by the CDC are an excellent way to dig deeper into this vital dimension of sexual health.
Another critical aspect of sexual health is reproductive health, and a holistic understanding of reproductive health must include knowledge of contraception. Various contraceptive methods are available to women, including intrauterine contraception, hormonal and barrier methods and sterilization. While this range of options can be intimidating, a conversation with your physician will help you determine which is the right approach for you.
How Can I Start My Sexual Wellness Journey?
With the essential medical considerations already covered, let’s take a moment to discuss how you can take control of your sexual wellness. Start with a simple step: strengthening your pelvic floor. You may have heard of Kegels, an exercise that works the muscles surrounding your pelvic floor. A few minutes of Kegels per day is a great place to start!
Next, make sure you understand your STI status. The best practice is to get tested either once a year or more frequently, depending on the frequency of your sexual activity. Understanding your status and developing the ability to have honest conversations about your status is critical to keeping yourself and your loved ones safe.
Finally, take the time to make self-pleasure a habit. In the same way that we are not automatically skilled at sex with a partner, we should not assume that we will automatically be skilled when it comes to masturbation. Practicing relaxation and mindfulness of your self-pleasure will not only contribute to greater self-esteem — it will lead you to a greater overall sexual wellness!!