SSIS advice column

September 4, 2020

Welcome back to the SSIS column, where we answer any and all of Brandeis students’

questions about sex, sexuality, identity and relationships. If you have a question you’d like answered in our next column, email ssis@brandeis.edu or leave a question in the Google Form link on our Facebook page. (Note: These answers are good-faith attempts by SSIS to be helpful to the Brandeis community and are by no means exhaustive or to be taken as universal. If these answers don’t resonate with you, either pay them no mind or reach out to us with suggestions for improvement!)

How do you define sexual health?

Thank you so much for asking this question! This is a super important question and one that is often not considered by many people who use the term “sexual health.” People throw around the term “sexual health” a lot, without ever defining it. So let’s break it down!

In everyday language, many people, when they mean sexual health, think about “health” in terms of the very clinical reference; when it comes to sexuality, this often means whether or not an individual may or may not have sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). While this is certainly an aspect of one’s sexual health, it is by no means all that there is! At SSIS, and in the sex-positive community, we feel that to consider one’s sexual health requires looking at it in very holistic terms, as we often do with health in general. Within the realm of one’s sexual health, there are other aspects—like emotional, mental, spiritual, cultural and, lastly, physical health.

Some examples of these aspects of sexual health are listed below. These are just a few of the ways one can be emotionally/mentally/physically healthier in their sex life. However, it is important to note that these are not necessary attributes, as sexual health looks different for every mind and body!

Sexual-Emotional Health:

  • Feeling emotionally safe in one’s environment when engaging sexually
  • Having or working towards a positive personal outlook on sex and sexuality 
  • Feeling joy in sexual experiences of one’s choosing
  • Allowing oneself to be vulnerable
  • Taking steps to address issues that have arisen as a result of past experiences
  • Having sexual pleasure without pain, shame, guilt or as a duty

Sexual-Mental Health:

  • Feeling affirmed in one’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation
  • Practicing effective communication with partner(s)
  • Listening to and respecting others’ boundaries and limits
  • Recognizing and respecting the sexual rights we all share
  • Realizing the consequences of sexual activity and taking necessary proactive precautions such as using barrier methods to prevent STDs/STIs and/or contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancy
  • Having access to sexual health information, education and care

Sexual-Physical Health:

  • Understanding how one’s body works
  • Feeling good about one’s body
  • Having the capacity to nurture oneself and others and accepting nurturing from others
  • Being able to experience sexual pleasure, satisfaction and intimacy when desired
  • Having one’s sexual rights respected, protected and fulfilled

While this list is by no means exhaustive, nor is it something that will apply to everyone, we hope it gives you a better understanding of what it means to be “sexually healthy.” 

“Being sexually healthy is a personal, self-defined concept,” according to Dr. Michael Krychman, executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine. “It means that you’re enjoying your individual sensuality, sexuality, and sexual expression. But, sexual health is also general health. It has far-reaching implications” that extend to the emotional, mental, spiritual and cultural, just like general health.

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