A state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It’s 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 and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.
– World Health Organization’s definition of sexual health
If sexual health was just about the absence of infections, it would be somewhat simpler to achieve. There is a growing consensus that sexual health can’t be achieved and maintained without respect for, and protection of, certain human rights. The responsible exercise of human rights requires that all persons respect the rights of others.
Rights critical to the realization of sexual health include:
- the right to equality and to non-discrimination
- the right to be free from torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment
- the right to privacy
- the right to the highest attainable standard of health (including sexual health) and to social security
- the right to marry and to found a family and to enter into marriage with the free and full consent of the intending spouses, and to equality in and at the dissolution of marriage
- the right to decide the number and spacing of one’s children
- the right to information and to education
- the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and
- the right to an effective remedy for violations of fundamental rights.
This means that sexual health does not happen in a vacuum. We need to also focus on causes, not just effects. Political, economic, social cultural, environmental, behavioural and biological factors can all be good for our health and on the flipside, be harmful to it. If we want to achieve universal health, it’s important to understand the factors that get in the way.
This section provides some important food for thought on securing supportive environments, access to information, promoting life skills and maximizing opportunities for making healthy choices.
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