Sexual health includes maintaining physical health, but it extends much farther than that. Good sexual health includes a healthy mental and social outlook with regard to sexuality. This means understanding sexuality and sexual rights and approaching the topic with respect and maturity.
Sexual Health and Society
Societies around the world take many different approaches to sex. Even in the United States, the discussion of contraceptives and sexual activity is heavily influenced by the political and religious leanings of a demographic. An individual who engages in sex could be lauded as “empowered” or criticized for being “loose.” Someone who abstains from sex can be deemed “pure” or can be accused of being “repressed.”
The important thing to remember is that the choice of every individual about their sexual expression and identity is entirely valid and entirely up to them. There is no “right” way to be sexual, and no one should ever feel pressured to conform to someone else’s sexual expectations. Becoming sexually active does have an impact on an individual’s emotions, and only that individual can determine when they’re ready to deal with the responsibility. There are risks to becoming sexually active, such as unplanned pregnancy or the contraction of sexually transmitted infections, but there are also plenty of ways to reduce those risks.
One of the risks of sexual activity is unplanned pregnancy. Abstinence, or the decision to not engage in sex, is 100% effective since pregnancy cannot occur if a sperm is not introduced to an egg. For those who do engage in sex, there are a variety of options for contraception. One of the most commonly used is male condoms, which are latex sheaths placed over an erect penis to provide a physical barrier during sex. Female condoms, which are inserted into a vagina, also provide a physical barrier between sperm and eggs. Condoms should be put on before any contact between genitals, and they can only be used once.
Spermicide comes in many forms, such as a gel, foam, or suppository, and kills sperm on contact. It is frequently used along with a condom or a diaphragm, which is a rubber dome that can be inserted to provide a barrier at the cervix. Some individuals may prefer hormonal birth control, which prevents ovulation and thickens cervical mucus, making pregnancy much less likely to occur. Hormonal birth control comes in several forms, including a daily pill, a wearable patch, a vaginally worn ring, or a shot.
For those looking for a long-term form of birth control, IUDs and implantable contraception are available. An IUD (intrauterine device) is a small, T-shaped device that is inserted into the uterus and can be used for anywhere from three to ten years, depending on the construction. Implantable contraception is a small, matchstick-sized device that is inserted under the skin on the upper arm and releases progesterone over a three-year period. If sex does occur without protection, emergency contraception pills can be taken within 72 hours to prevent pregnancy. It’s best to seek professional medical advice to determine which contraceptive option is best for you.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are also known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and they are spread through sexual contact. They can be painful and annoying, but if left untreated, STIs can also be extremely dangerous. Latex condoms are the only form of contraceptive that also protects against STIs. Dental dams, a stretchable latex sheet, can be used to protect against STIs while engaging in oral sex. If you are sexually active, see a doctor for regular checkups and to treat any contracted STIs.
Engaging in sex can be enjoyable, but as with any other activity, it’s important to know about the physical and emotional risks. Some people may not be emotionally ready for sex, and that’s OK. If someone decides they are ready, then they need to make sure they act responsibly. Responsible sexual behavior includes protecting yourself and your partners against STIs, using a form of contraception to prevent accidental pregnancy, and respecting your right and the rights of your partners to comfortable, enthusiastic, safe sex.