Sexual health involves physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. Sexuality is the experience and/or expression of a person as a sexual being. It is different for each individual and can change over the course of one’s lifetime.
Someone who is sexually healthy understands and accepts his/her sexuality and chooses to engage in sexual relationships that are safe, respectful and consistent with his/her values. In addition, a sexually healthy person is knowledgeable and aware of the potential risks of sexual activity (such as unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections) and takes precautions to minimize negative consequences.
Why is Sexual Health important?
Sexual health is an essential component of overall well-being. In addition to being vital for reproduction, sex can also promote intimacy in relationships and be a source of immense pleasure and satisfaction. Furthermore, sex has many other positive health benefits, including stress reduction, improved self-esteem, enhancement of cardiovascular health and improved quality of life.
When you have concerns….
People often have concerns about their sexual health. It has been estimated that 43% of women and 31% of men have experienced a sexual complaint at some time during their life. Common concerns include a decrease or loss of interest in sex, the inability to become sexually aroused, difficulty getting and/or maintaining an erection, a delay or absence of orgasm and pain with sexual activity.
Sexual problems have many different causes. Medical conditions including cancer, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis can negatively impact sexual function. Hormonal changes associated with events such as menopause, pregnancy and lactation may also alter sexual response. Medications, especially particular types of blood pressure medications and antidepressants, are notorious for decreasing sex drive. Psychological factors, including the presence of anxiety, depression, stress, abuse, and poor body image are also known to cause sexual difficulties . Memories of a sexual trauma can greatly influence how a person functions sexually. Social and interpersonal factors such as relationship problems, religious beliefs and cultural beliefs can also affect sexual function.
Help is available
No matter what your sexual concern is, it is important to know that help is available. You should share your concerns with your health care provider, who may address them or refer you to a specialist trained in the diagnosis and treatment of sexual problems. This specialist may be a physician, psychologist, social worker, or physical therapist. You may also find it helpful to discuss your concerns with your sexual partner.
Because they are complex, sexual concerns are treated in many different ways. Often, multiple types of treatment may be required and are used together to treat a problem. Examples of interventions include: education, lifestyle modification (i.e., stop smoking, consume a healthy diet, engage in aerobic exercise), medical therapy, physical therapy and in rare cases, surgery.
Achieving a healthy sex life
Sexual health is important and sexual concerns should be taken seriously. Because they are complex, sexual problems are often treated using a variety of therapies. With the appropriate diagnosis and treatment, everyone can achieve the healthy and satisfying sex life that they deserve.
By: Dr. Terri Woodward
Dr. Woodard is the Medical Director of the Center for Comprehensive Sexuality and Wellness at Wayne State University Physician Group.