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Why is sexual health important?

Defining Sexual Health

Here are some basic definitions related to sexual health, adapted with permission from the World Health Organization (2006):

Sexual health

“…a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is 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.” (WHO, 2006a)


Sexual health cannot be defined, understood or made operational without a broad consideration of sexuality, which underlies important behaviors and outcomes related to sexual health. The working definition of sexuality is:

“…a central aspect of being human throughout life encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.” (WHO, 2006a)

Sexual rights

There is a growing consensus that sexual health cannot be achieved and maintained without respect for, and protection of, certain human rights. The working definition of sexual rights given below is a contribution to the continuing dialogue on human rights related to sexual health (1).

“The fulfilment of sexual health is tied to the extent to which human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. Sexual rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in international and regional human rights documents and other consensus documents and in national laws.
Rights critical to the realization of sexual health include:

Rights critical to the realization of sexual health include:

  • The rights to equality and non-discrimination
  • The right to be free from torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment
  • The right to privacy
  • The rights to the highest attainable standard of health (including sexual health) and social security
  • The right to marry and to found a family and 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 rights to information, as well as education
  • The rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and
  • The right to an effective remedy for violations of fundamental rights.
  • The responsible exercise of human rights requires that all persons respect the rights of others.

The application of existing human rights to sexuality and sexual health constitute sexual rights. Sexual rights protect all people's rights to fulfill and express their sexuality and enjoy sexual health, with due regard for the rights of others and within a framework of protection against discrimination." (WHO, 2006a, updated 2010)         


At the Office of Health Promotion, we want you to have the skills to SexWellExcel.  Safer sex is healthier sex.  Safer sex is consensual sex with an enthusiastic “yes” not the absence of a “no.”  A maybe is not a yes.  It involves clear, truthful, and open communication. It’s impossible to know what others want, need, like, dislike, or have as triggers unless we communicate those things and ask for them communicated to us. Studies also prove (Babin, 2011) that people who communicate about sex with their partners have much more fulfilling sexual experiences.

For more information on how to talk to your partner about what you want and don’t want, see this guide at Scarleteen for a conversation starter:

Are you sexually healthy?