Written by therapist Megan Hanafee-Major
Sexual health oftten brings to mind disucssions of STIs, contraception, and embarrassing talks with parents or teachers. But nourishing a healthy sexuality extends farther than high school sex ed. In fact, when the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States created guidelines for comprehensive sex education for children ages K-12 grade they also included characteristics and skills of sexually healthy adults. These include having a positive view of one’s own body, respecting others, understanding one’s personal values about sex and sexuality, and joyfully living out those values in their own life.
Sexuality isn’t just sex!
A part of becoming more sexually healthy is to separate the idea of one’s sexuality from sexual intercourse. Sexuality encompasses so much more! “Sexuality is not simply a matter of what couples do but also of how they think and feel about sex within their relationship,” writes a sexuality researcher. Our sexuality consists of many complex parts like our image of ourselves, our relationships with others, and our spiritual life. To fully embrace the gift of a healthy sexuality requires that we work to become well in these areas by addressing wounds and restoring them.
What our sexuality affects:
Our sexuality affects and is affected by our view of ourselves and our bodies, our relationships, and our emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Sex therapist and educator, Dr. Marisol Westberg, suggests answering for ourselves: “I am a sexual being, that means I am ___” and, “what do I get out of sex besides physical pleasure?” to start exploring what beliefs and attitudes make up our sexuality as it is now.
Psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Levine, who has studied and written about sexuality extensively, describes sexual health as, “a potential that is realised by individuals who intuitively understand that sex is important, want to be part of the process and sense its relationship-building and rebonding capacities.” Working toward a healthy sexuality includes addressing sexual beliefs and behaviors, but doesn’t end there. Which also means that we can see benefits not only in our sex life and sexual relationships, but throughout all areas of ourselves.
What impacts your sexual health?
When you think of the things impacting your sexual health, what comes to mind? Some of our first answers are likely to be our romantic relationship, our physical body, and perhaps sexual trauma. However, when we dig deeper, we will notice that areas like our value system, pop culture’s definition of what is “sexy,” gender norms, and childhood messages about sex from parents, school, or church, play a part as well. Our sexual health is influenced by our biology and romantic experiences, of course, but also culture, emotional wellness, and spirituality. This means that a healthy sexuality will encourage and support health in all these areas. Conversely, injured aspects of our sexuality may point to unhealthy pieces of ourselves that may not seem “sexual” at first glance.
If this seems new or uncomfortable to consider, that’s okay! Explore where you are at in your own time and pacing, there is no timeline to health. “Health” is also not one, fixed end goal. It is an ongoing journey and way of relating to ourselves and others. Think of a healthy sexuality as a mindset, an attitude of acceptance, or a posture toward parts of our physical and emotional selves that are often associated with shame rather than celebration.
The journey toward a healthy sexuality may have harder and easier points, but you don’t have to brave it alone! Lean on your partner or a close friend and when you want more support the therapists here at Optimum Joy would be honored to accompany you.