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What does sexual health entail?

For a lot of Nigerian teenagers and young adults, when they hear sexual health, they think condoms. They believe that once they or their partner has a condom strapped up, they are fine, protected and safe.

While condom use is part of the larger conversation on sexual health, it, however, doesn't sum up its entirety. Condoms aren't also the only contraceptive that can guard against unplanned pregnancy. Other options are either not as available or affordable or as popular as condoms. But this isn't entirely surprising; society and religion do not allow conversations around sexual health prevail. They preach for abstinence and paint sex to be an exclusive benefit for married couples or something for procreation, even though time and again, life has proven that this mendacity does more harm than good. If conversations surrounding sex do not hold, how then can conversations around sexual health happen?

What is sexual health?

Young people curious about sex, go into it without ample knowledge on what sex is, how much more know how to keep themselves and their partner(s) safe. To get an understanding of what sexual health is, we'd take the definition by WHO. 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. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.” (WHO, 2006a)

From this definition, we can all agree that sexual health means more than just strapping up a condom. It involves more than just the physical. Sexual health encompasses physical, emotional, and mental well-being in relation to sex and sexuality.

The physical aspect of sexual health mostly involves awareness about the risks of sex, how to prevent them and be safe. This is where protection against pregnancy or STIs come in.  While abstinence only guarantees 100% protection, contraceptives like condoms, contraceptive pills,  diaphragm, intrauterine device (UID)  are known to help prevent unplanned pregnancy. Condoms also help guard against STIs, and there is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PREP) and Post-Exposure prophylaxis (PEP) pills to guard against HIV.

While it's commendable and right to advice young ones to be protected or seek safety measures to sex to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and infections, it's also imperative that young people are sensitised and informed about the mental and emotional needs of sex. The importance of ensuring that sex is consensual. The importance of good sex communication with a partner, through which they can have conversations on their expectations and boundaries, and how best they can find pleasure in sex. Sex education goes farther than just telling young ones what their genitals do.

The importance of sexual health

Young people might sometimes be laden with guilt over even consensual sex. This stems from the puritanical censoring sex gets from religion and society. It thus becomes necessary that such religious guilt is managed. Teenagers and young adults need to see sex as normal, human, and an expression of their bodies and sexuality and to look at it with positivity.

It also then becomes crucial that young ones know that sexual health isn't something they can manage on their own. They need to consult with a doctor or a trusted sexual health adviser on the contraceptive that's right for them. They also need to be able to talk about how they feel about sex (their boundaries and expectations, or if they are not ready for sex at all.) Doctors and sexual health advisers also need to emphasise the importance of consensual sex and provide help and assistance in cases of sexual abuse.

The consequences of poor sexual health are adverse, it thus becomes necessary that young ones are educated on sexual health as early as possible. This is how they can guard against unplanned pregnancy, STIs, and experience good and pleasurable sex. It is also through knowledge of sexual health that they can avoid abuse and avoid abusing their partner.

Do you need more information on what sexual health is about? Drop your questions below or reach out to our Moderators on our Facebook Page and we will respond.

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