Sexual health problems shouldn’t be embarrassing, so why does society continue to stigmatize an open and honest discussion around ‘sexual health’ as though we are still living in the dark ages? Sure we talk about sex more openly than before and our perceptions around casual dating, one night stands and sex before marriage has become increasingly relaxed in recent years, but in that case why are we still weirded out by the mention of sexual health issues like contraception or the difference between an STI and an STD? Hint one is a disease and the other is an infection, but do you know which one is which?
But back to sexual health; the majority of us might associate sexual health as being related to STD’s like genital warts or STI’s like Chlamydia, when in actuality, like mental health, sexual health encompasses more than just the physical symptoms that we get, but also relates to our state of mind during sexual activity, how we react to sexual health problems or even learning how to have a ‘healthy relationship’ with all the different factors that sex is comprised of. Whether you are sexually active or not, learning to be comfortable around sex is so important because it not only allows us to form an intimate connection with our partners but also with our own bodies, which in a society that body shames men and women who do not adhere to their ‘cultural definition’ of the perfect body shape, is a powerful tool of appreciation to hold on to.
So why is it so important to talk about sexual health? Well it allows us to feel connected to our bodies, it liberates us from societal oppression and most of all you should realize that it is ok to talk about sexual health because our bodies are natural and noone should make us feel otherwise. I remember one particular incident around sexual health, where someone from my class had seen me at the sexual health clinic with my boyfriend and she had spread rumors about me the very next day, so that my whole school year thought I had ‘Chlamydia’ and made a series of pointed remarks about ‘what a slut I was’ and was sniggering behind my back, like the childish idiots that they were. Well obviously I was mortified to say the least, especially since I was 17 and was still quite uncomfortable with discussing my sex life with other people, whose only intention would be to make fun of me and spread rumors.
You see what had actually happened was that I was being a responsible adult, who wanted to make sure that I was not pregnant and that the contraception I was using was proving to be safe and effective. And my boyfriend at the time went with me as moral support, so the irony of that particular childish girl going around spreading rumors about me at school when she was at the clinic herself was quite rich to say the least. So without further ado, allow me to explain exactly why I think it’s ok to talk about sexual health.
Educating Ourselves About Sexual Health Allows Us To Be More Mindful Of Practicing Safe Sex
It goes without saying that most of us have not always practiced safe sex and this is nothing to be ashamed of either. But what if I was to tell you that educating ourselves about sexual health, would allow us to be more mindful of practicing safe sex, because we have taken that time to understand our bodies and our sexual needs? Whether you are entering a new relationship, have been with your partner for years or are into sexual hook ups, being sexually active means that we need to take the time to get clued up on sexual health and how it can affect our physical, psychological and sexual wellbeing. Because let’s face it, I wouldn’t be the first person to say that Britain is not a ‘sexually healthy nation’ and even my own university that I went to, had the highest rates of ‘pregnancies’ because there was no contraception on site or education surrounding sexual health, which is something that academic facilities should really improve on.
So how can we educate ourselves on sexual health when there are clear barriers in place that prevent us from protecting our bodies and stigmatize the need to use ‘sexual health services’?
- By Making Sexual Health Part Of Your Health Care Routine: It goes without saying that part of teaching ourselves about sexual health, is centered around not only normalizing it as a ‘topic of discussion’ but also making it as part of our self care programme. Just as we would pamper our feet and paint our nails, we should give our intimates the same undivided attention as we would the rest of our body. Take the time to time to get to know your vagina or penis and not just in an anatomical sense either. Do regular sexual health checks if you are sexually active, speak to your GP if you have any questions surrounding sex and sexual health and be open with others about your own sexual health. After all the more that we talk about it, the more open others will be to listen.
- By Building Positive Relationships Around Sex: to some people sex might not be a big part of ‘their relationship’ but for others like myself, while I am not dependent on sex and can go without it for long periods of time, at the same time when I am in a relationship, I do need an intimate connection. And part of that intimate connection is allowing each other to be sexually communicative (especially in new relationships) and being open not just about about previous partners and sexual history but also making sure that you are both ‘sexually healthy’ before having sex with each other. Because we all know that the key to good sex is to build a positive relationship around sexual health. So get yourselves checked out, use contraception and be honest with each other about your sexual health.
So why else is it ok to talk about sexual health?
Talking About Our Sexual Health Can Often Give Us A More Satisfying Sex Life
Of course this might be a generalization because I am speaking about my own sexual experiences, but in the past when I and my partner have been sexually communicative with each other about what we want from sex and our sexual health, it has given us a mutually beneficial sex life, because we were honest from the get go. Now as someone who has a high sex drive (it’s ok I am not ashamed to talk about my sex life), there have been times where my partner might not have been as sexually active as I was, and this was not an issue for me because there is more to a relationship than just sex. But when neither of us talk about the elephant in the room, eventually I am going to start feeling like I ‘am undesirable’ or unwanted, which as we all know, these insecurities can definitely lead to a breakdown in a relationship, as it has done in the past. But when someone is open with their partner about what they like sexually- whether that be discussing turn on’s, positions or anything else- and the other person is honest in return, you will both want to be able to please each other, without compromising your own desires.
For example even if I liked something and my partner didn’t, I would never expect them to do it, just like when I don’t like something, I would hope my partner would not expect me to do it, because that is not the way that the cookie crumbles. But at the same time, if there is something that my partner really likes sexually, I would also want to ‘satisfy them’ but I don’t pressurize myself into doing anything that I am not comfortable with and neither should you. After all the key to a satisfying sex life is being open and talking about our sexual health, but also being mindful of what we want, as well as what our partner wants.
Let me tell you a little story, I had a good friend at university who was not the most comfortable about being ‘open with sex’, as they had not had it and was worried as to what people would think if they found out that the person was ‘a virgin’. To me there is no shame as to what age you lose your virginity but it should be with someone special and this particular person had not found the one just yet. They were a little older than I and was uncomfortable whenever anyone had mentioned sex and even confessed that they did not ‘masturbate’ as though it was something to be ashamed of. But let me tell you something, sure masturbation or ‘wanking’ as I like to call it, is healthy but at the same time if you are not comfortable with it, there is no shame in not doing it either. I will tell you this though, at the end of university, this friend was more comfortable speaking about ‘wanting to have sex’ or wanting to masturbate, because I had encouraged them and reassured them by saying that it was ok to talk about sex and that it was ok to talk about sexual health. Because it is.
It Shows Us That Everyone Has The Right To Enjoy Good Sexual Health
Sexual Rights Are Human Rights and in many countries where women are stripped from their right to use contraception, seek abortion for unwanted pregnancies or even fight back against rapists and those who sexually assault and harass their victims, their right to ‘good sexual health’ is often denied. And it makes me so mad; why should society control how we treat our bodies, why should they be so quick to blame the victim when they have been sexually abused and why should they prohibit women from using contraception? Regardless of whether you are religious or not, I don’t think that your God would be vindictive enough to stop you from exercising your free will, even when you live in a country or state that might not be as emancipated or liberated around the concept of sexual freedom. After all without being granted our sexual rights we cannot realize our rights to self-determination and autonomy and regardless of gender, we all deserve the right to enjoy good sexual health.
Societies aim to control women’s bodies is a form of abuse and when it relates in us being silenced through gender based violence, prohibition of sexual rights or anything else, it begs us to ask why. Why should we be forced into marriages, why should we be blamed if we are victims of sexual assault and why should what we wear have an effect on how someone of the opposite gender should treat us? I remember one incident very clearly, I was walking through my local village with my friend, unaware that we were being followed by someone who was spying on us and reporting back to my family, and these were the exact words they had used I kid you not ‘ They said that you were dressed looking like you wanted to get raped’ and needless to say I was absolutely horrified.
First of all this sentence makes the assumption that ‘if you look or dress a certain way’ that does not give you the right to ‘enjoy good sexual health’ because it gives someone else the ‘express permission to violate your body’ which clearly is a load of bullshit and secondly it reinforces the archaic archetype that women should be ‘modestly dressed’ so that men can’t get over excited, because god forbid you show your ankles which will result in the men being unable to control their dick. Oh and it’s your fault if they can’t control themselves? Give over, what you are wearing does not give someone the excuse to violate your sexual state of wellbeing.
When we are open about our negative sexual health experiences, we show others that it is ok to come forward and take a stand against violence, harassment and stereotypes. Because no matter who you are, what you look like or where you are from, sexual rights underpin basic human rights. And that is something that we are all entitled to.
It Teaches Us To Value And Cherish Our Own Bodies
When I am naked I wince, struggling with accepting this boyish body that I see before me, because I am still trying to overcome body dysmorphia. I don’t like looking at myself in the mirror when I am naked because I am not entirely happy in my own skin, and don’t even get me started on the thoughts that are running through my mind when I am having sex, worried that my partner is looking at the same flaws that I see, that are so visible before me. And I am not the only one, many have admitted that they have failed to value and cherish their bodies, because it is rooted in an insecurity of what other people will see them as, and in other cases is associated with having little knowledge on sexual health. I mentioned my friend who had never had sex before and would deny themselves the right to ‘wank’ because they did not feel comfortable with their own body or their lack of experience. So because of that insecurity around their sexual health, they would choose to ignore their sexual urges as they were worried about getting judged. And it’s the same with our bodies, we are attuned to a ‘hyper-sexual world’ where pizza boys deliver ‘pizzas’ around random women’s houses before having passionate sex, and young people are vulnerable to this porn-like image of sex, without realizing that porn is a fantasy as opposed to a reality.
But even I have compared myself to ‘pornstars’ admiring their ‘perfect bodies’ fueling my anxiety around my body during sex, which in the past has affected how I am with sexual partners, because I was worried that I would not hold up to this ‘porn like image of the perfect woman’ but guess what, she doesn’t exist. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others because doing this will limit our sexual satisfaction, will make us less likely to try new things in the bedroom and be worried about being naked in front of our partners.
Learning to cherish and value our own bodies is so difficult, especially if like me you are your own worst critic and find it hard to silence your inner voice, who is always so quick to insult and bring you down. Which is why we need to start thinking about positive affirmations about our bodies that can allow us to have a positive relationship with our sexual health. For example you might list ‘all the things that you like about yourself’ (in an intimate aesthetic sense) that can allow you to have a better sexual health experience. It might be that you like your ‘butt’ or ‘boobs’ or you think you have a pretty ‘vagina’ , whatever your positive affirmation is, hold onto it and use it have a better relationship with your intimate body parts.
Of course cherishing your body is more than just being ‘kind to it’ but you can also be open to ‘treating yourself ‘ and by treating yourself, I mean masturbation. Or you know sex toys, why not have both? I remember the first time that I had (as Kendall Jenner had said in Lil Dicky’s song ‘Freaky Friday’) ‘explored the inner workings of a woman’ and how good touching myself had felt, after being curious to try it before, And since then, its safe to say that I know my vagina pretty well and you should too. Or your dick if you’re a guy reading this. Because if we don’t know our own bodies how can we get to know someone else’s?
Why Do You Think That It Is Important To Be Open And Talk About Our Sexual Health?
Please note this is a collaborative post but all thoughts and research are my own and are not affected by monetary compensation.
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