Sexual Health: Physical, Mental and Social well-being
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as a state of physical, mental and social well-being in reference to sexuality. It basically involves an approach to sexual relationships that is both positive as well as respectful, and also includes the possibility of having a sexual experience that is safe, pleasurable and without any coercion, discrimination or violence.
Sexual health is not just about preventing diseases and avoiding unplanned pregnancies; it, in fact, has a lot of deeper meaning to it. More importantly, it is a crucial part of an individual’s physical and emotional health.
If put into clearer words, being sexually healthy involves:
- The ability to understand that sexuality is a natural part of life and has many more aspects other than sexual behavior.
- Being respectful of the sexual rights of all individuals.
- Having appropriate availability and access to sexual health education.
- Being openly conversant about sexual desire, experience, and satisfaction with your partner.
- Discussing sexual health with people especially your partner and healthcare providers.
- Being able to make a conscious effort of preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs.
- Seeking appropriate diagnosis and treatment of STDs as and when required.
Sexual health: Benefits of being sexually active and healthy
The sexual activity works as a moderate level exercise for the body and some it’s most important benefits are as listed below:
- It helps in burning calories.
- Strengthens your heart and takes care of your cardiovascular health thus, reducing the risk of various heart-related diseases.
- It helps in lowering blood pressure.
- Aids in increasing the strength of muscles.
Sexual health: Most Common Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are the ones that spread mainly via sexual contact. An affected individual transmits the disease-causing organism to his/her partner during sex (oral, vaginal, or anal.) Some of the most common STDs are listed below:
- It is caused by an overgrowth of a variety of bacterial species such as Gardnerella Vaginalis (most common), Bacteroids and Mycoplasma hominis.
- It is found to be associated with having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners.
- Characteristic features include:
- White, thin and watery discharge
- A fishy or musty odor
- Accompanied by mild irritation or itching.
- It is a common STD caused by bacteria (Treponema pallidum).
- It can be transmitted by direct contact with syphilis sores that are seen in the external genitals and mouth.
- Small painless sores (chancres) seen in the early stages of syphilis may heal by themselves, but that does not indicate a complete cure.
- Cervix in females and the penile urethra in males are the sites commonly infected.
- Usually, a “silent” infection and may remain asymptomatic for months.
- May lead to PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease), if left untreated.
- Latex condoms are of great help in preventing it.
- It is a sexually transmissible disease and occurs when the vaginal pH is raised (5-6) during the menstrual period.
- More common in females, as compared to males.
- Males are most often asymptomatic.
- Copious, greenish, frothy discharge
- May be associated with a foul odor and vulvar itching
- Caused most commonly by Herpes Simplex Virus(HSV)
- Symptoms usually noticeable within 7 days of sexual contact.
- Herpes can spread from the mouth to the genitals and vice versa.
- Affected individuals can transmit the virus even when they are asymptomatic.
- A condom does offer some protection but it is not 100% effective in the prevention of herpes as this disease can also spread via skin-to-skin contact.
- It is also known as “the clap,” and is a common bacterial STD.
- Characteristic symptoms include:
- A sensation of burning during micturition. Yellowish or greenish penile discharge in males.
- Most of the patients are asymptomatic. It can also be transmitted via oral sex.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
- Most of the HPV infections resolve spontaneously without causing any symptoms.
- If untreated, some specific types might lead to cervical carcinoma.
- The HPV vaccination is highly recommended for 11-12-year-old children, in order to prevent infection in the future.
- HIV is a virus that is linked to the occurrence of AIDS.
- Transmission is through the exchange of various bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions, breast milk, and blood.
- Hepatitis -B is most commonly linked with sexual transmission, however, hepatitis-C might also be transmitted via this route.
- Chronic cases of hepatitis B lead to scarring of liver, cirrhosis and increased incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma.
- Hepatitis-B vaccine is available in order to prevent this infection.
Sexual health: Do’s and Don’ts
- Do use a condom while having any type of sexual contact (oral, vaginal or anal).
- Discuss each other’s sexual history and about multiple sexual relationships, if any.
- Always use water-based lubricants only. (If at all needed)
- Discuss sexual health with your partner and get STD tests done.
- Do consider getting yourself and your partner vaccinated well in advance.
- Wash your private parts, before and after having coitus.
- Develop the interest of gaining knowledge about sexual health and diseases that might be transmitted by the sexual route.
- Don’t consume alcohol or drugs before having sex.
- Don’t share undergarments or towels.
- Never ever get yourself into doing sex, against your will.
- Don’t reuse condoms or use any, without checking the expiry date.
- Don’t use both male and female condoms at the same time.
- Avoid breastfeeding if you are suffering from STDs or HIV.