Sexual health is an important topic, no matter your gender, relationship status, or experience level. But what is sexual health, and what can we do to make sure we’re staying sexually healthy?
The definition of sexual health is ever-evolving, but the most recent definition, provided by the World Health Organization in 2002, still stands as the most widely accepted. They express that sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being related to sexuality.
It is important to note that, by this definition, sexual health is not only related to disease, as one commonly associates the term “health” with, but encompasses all aspects of a healthy sex life, both mental, emotional, and physical.
The American Sexual Health Association includes all of the below aspects within the broad category of sexual health.
- recognizing and respecting each person’s sexual rights
- having access to sexual health, education, information, and care
- understanding that sexuality is natural and involves more than sexual behavior
- the ability to experience sexual pleasure, intimacy, and satisfaction when desired
- open communication about sexual health with others, including healthcare providers and sexual partners
- trying to prevent unintended pregnancies and STDs and receiving treatment when needed
The Importance of Communication
To maintain good sexual health, it is important to have strong communication. This means interacting with people of all genders in appropriate and respectful ways and being able to communicate and negotiate sexual limits. It is also important that you can express your desire to have sex or not have sex, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, be able to accept refusals of sex without feeling insulted or hostile.
It is also essential for anyone having sex to understand their partner’s limits and boundaries and respect them, as well as be sensitive to any non-verbal cues of their boundaries and limits.
Sexual health also extends to self-esteem and self-worth. To have good sexual health, you should appreciate your own body and be able to touch yourself without feeling shame or disgust. You should also feel confident in your ability to set appropriate boundaries with your partner and allow yourself to be vulnerable with yourself and your partner. Always know your self-worth, and don’t be afraid to stand up for what you are comfortable with.
Tips for Maintaining Proper Hygiene
When it comes to maintaining good sexual health physically, proper hygiene is one of the most important aspects to prevent disease and infection. Sexual hygiene involves the health-focused behaviors that sexually active individuals should do before, during, and after sex.
Here are some tips for maintaining proper hygiene:
A condom can be used to not only prevent pregnancy but to also prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during oral, vaginal, and anal sex. While it is important to use a condom, it is also essential to change the condom and wash genitals when going from anal to vaginal sex because bacteria from the anus can travel to the vagina and cause an infection.
Get Regular Checkups
Just like with the rest of your body, it is crucial to get regular checkups and STI testing. Getting tested for STIs typically comes with a bit of stigma, but it is important for your health, and that of your sexual partner, to be tested regularly. It is also recommended to communicate openly with your sexual partners about when you and they were last tested. This can help prevent a lot of STI transmission and help everyone involved make an informed decision.
Wash Your Hands
When it comes to sexual activities, you and your partner should always wash your hands before you let yourself get carried away. You never know if you have bacteria on your hands that can then get into the vagina, urethra, mouth, or anus. It is also important to clean well under the nails and to keep them trimmed to avoid scratching and creating possible infections.
Clean Your Sex Toys
Whether you are using a sex toy with a partner or by yourself, it is important to clean it after every use. Planned Parenthood explains that if sex toys are shared without being washed first, an infection can spread from one person to another. In addition to STIs, bacteria or dirt can accumulate on the sex toy, so always be sure to wash them.
What you wash your sex toy with will depend on the toy’s material, but it will either be soap or a special sex toy cleaner. Some products can even go in the dishwasher, but it is always best to check the instruction of each sex toy to find how to properly clean it without damaging it.
You’ll also want to make sure the toys are completely dry before placing them in a pouch specifically dedicated for them, keeping them clean for their next use. If the toys are still wet when stored, the moisture creates an excellent breeding ground for bacteria.
Urinate After Sex
Vaginal sex is one of the many risk factors of urinary tract infections (UTIs), so it is recommended to pee after sex or any type of genital stimulation (even with toys or hands). Since the urethra and anus openings are so close, it is easy for bacteria to reach the urinary opening. By urinating immediately after, and ideally immediately before as well, you help flush the bacteria from the urethra, which significantly reduces the risk of getting a UTI. And this advice is not solely for those with a vagina; it is also recommended for those with a penis to urinate after sex, especially following anal penetration.
When you don’t drink enough water the genital skin can become dehydrated, which can lead to itchiness and painful sex. So, drinking enough water is essential for maintaining the vagina’s natural lubrication, in addition to all the other benefits it provides to our bodies.
Sexual health encompasses more than just proper hygiene, although that is an important aspect. Sexual health also involves strong communication between yourself and your partner and the mental capacity for sex through solid self-esteem.
It is important for anyone having sex to be properly educated on sexual health, and all its aspects, in order to practice safe sex in all regards. And remember, having good sexual health will make your sex life all the more enjoyable.