I wanted to spend this month’s editorial taking about an aspect of health that is very close to my heart. This particular topic is not often openly discussed, especially among adults and yet, at its core, is strongly linked to both our mental and physical wellbeing.
A lack of open dialogue and access to accurate information on this topic can lead to misinformation, confusion, shame and even illness. Have you guessed it yet?
Let’s talk about sex.
In my life outside of UBC, I am a community sexual health educator. I feel passionately about empowering society (particularly children and youth) with accurate, informative and non-judgmental sexual health information. According to the World Health Organization, sexual health is “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.”[Source]
There are myriad of different elements related to sexual health that can impact our overall wellbeing including reproduction, sexuality, infection and disease prevention, intimacy, pleasure, relationships, safety, body image, and more. The presence of a challenge or a decline in one area of our health can impact other areas of our life in ways that we perhaps do not realise.
Sex and sexuality are very personal and discussing them openly can be challenging. Knowing where to access accurate and unbiased information can also be a frustrating task that may lead to additional stress and anxiety.
Like other aspects of our wellbeing, there are valuable benefits that can be had from caring for our sexual health! There are also some interesting facts to be aware of that may normalize (self-imposed or societal) feelings of inadequacy.
Facts about sexual health:
- Emotions can impact libido or levels of sexual desire.
- Levels of sexual desire differ from person to person and from day to day. Do what is right for you, not what you think or hear is ‘normal’.
- Overall sexual satisfaction is linked to overall quality of life.
- Certain medications (particularly those used in treating mental health conditions) can decrease your libido or levels of sexual desire.
- Though some physical functions may diminish over time, sexuality does not disappear with age. Good health has been found to be a strong predictor of being more sexually active later in life.
Health benefits of sex:
- Intimacy (sexual or emotional) fosters wellbeing and its absence may be psychologically and physically harmful to our health.
- Knowing and confirming that you are free of infection or illness can alleviate stress and anxiety.
- Sexual activity has been linked to lower blood pressure.
- The hormone oxytocin is released during orgasm. Oxytocin can result in better sleep, enhanced feelings of optimism and can promote a sense of bonding.
- In men, more frequent ejaculation has been linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer.
- Experiencing a non-consensual or unwanted sexual experience can have negative impacts on mental health and wellbeing. If you are in need of support, options include counselling, advocacy and support services. Options include your EFAP at 1-800-361-5676 or the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (604-876-2622).
Have you ever heard the expression that ‘the sexiest body part is the brain’? That is why is it important to keep learning and to remain critical of where you access information. When we don’t know enough about our sexual health or if we are ashamed to talk about it, there is a chance of putting our health (or the health of others) at risk.
Though the physical act of sex occurs behind closed doors, our sexual health needn’t exist surrounded by silence. I am opening the door to a conversation around sexual health today and I invite you to think about the role that it plays in your life. Everyone deserves accurate sexual health information in order to lead safe, pleasurable and fulfilled lives.
All my best,
Looking for trusted and credible information and resources?
Videos, reading lists and websites for youth, adults, parents, seniors and more:
Chao, J-K., Lin,Y-C., Ma, M-C., Lai, C-J., Ku, Y-C. , Kuo, W-H., Chao, I-C. (2011) Relationship Among Sexual Desire, Sexual Satisfaction, and Quality of Life in Middle-Aged and Older Adults. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy 37(5).
Frappier, J., Toupin, I., Levy, J.J., Aubertin-Leheudre, M., Karelis, A.D. (2013). Energy Expenditure during Sexual Activity in Young Healthy Couples. PLoS ONE 8(10): e79342. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079342
Rathus, S.A., Nevid, J.S., Fincher-Rathus, L., Herold, E.D., McKay, A. (2013). Human sexuality in a world of diversity (4th ed.). Toronto, ON: Pearson Education Inc.
Rogers, P. (2014, 07/21) The Health Benefits of Sex. Healthline. Retrieved from: http://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sex-health-benefits#Overview1