What is Sexual Wellness? with Dr. Philippa Kaye

Sexual health, it conjures up an image of a sexual health clinic waiting room doesn’t it, with doctors, swabs and tests? Perhaps that’s why there’s been a move away from the term ‘sexual health’ towards the phrase ‘sexual wellness’, which seems to imply something more user friendly and inclusive of attitudes towards sex and relationships. The definition of sexual wellness itself seems to be quite fluid, rather like sexuality and libido themselves, as it means different things to different people, cultures and perceptions. If you have a condition it doesn’t mean you are sexually unwell, for example you can have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and be sexually well, getting regular STI checks and taking appropriate treatment. Even if you don’t have a disease or other condition it doesn’t mean that you’re sexually well, you could be totally unsatisfied and unhappy with your sex life, which doesn’t sound healthy at all. Add to this all the stigma and taboos about sex and women’s health, multiple myths and long held, often incorrect ideas about sexuality which have all contributed to ideas of sexual health or wellness, which may or not be healthy!

Health is not as simple as not having disease, rather it’s being physically, mentally and socially healthy and this applies to sexuality as well as other forms of health. Just as your physical or mental health are interlinked with each other, so too is your sexual health. Think about it, your libido drops away if you have the flu or if you are feeling low and sex is not only great exercise but gives a psychological boost as well. Sex and sexuality are important part of who we are as humans, and we need to look after our sexual health just as we might look after other areas of our health.

The global coronavirus pandemic made us all focus on our health in new ways over the past year, from wearing face masks to trying to protect our mental health and social connections. There was a real shift towards self-care and social media was full of images of candle lit bubble baths, home manicures and chocolate brownies. But self-care starts at a more basic level, are your most fundamental human needs being met? By that I mean, are you warm, not hungry and do you have a roof over your head? Have you remembered to take your medications? Once we have met those goals and feel safe we can move on, have you moved your body, have you protected and nurtured your mind, do you feel connected?

We can take the same attitude to your sexual wellness – you need to look after your physical health from a sexual standpoint, have you had an STI check, thought about contraception, had your cervical screening, got that itch or pain or discharge checked over? If not, then let’s start with those. If yes, then we can move on to the emotional side of things, which starts off by understanding and respecting every individual’s sexual rights without discrimination or prejudice. From there we can progress to learning about yourself, your body and your sexuality and what that means to you – and it will be different for everyone. Good sex is about communication, whether that’s with yourself or a partner and you can only communicate what you like when you know what you like!

Sexual wellness does not mean that you have to have loads of sex, orgasms and masturbate frequently, you can be satisfied and well sexually with a little, a lot or none at all. It isn’t just about the sex, it is about every part of you, how healthy you are in all areas of your life, your relationship with yourself and then how you communicate all of that to other people – if that sounds complicated and a lot to take in and take on, that is because it is!

So how do we start, how do we become sexually healthy in order to achieve a state of sexual wellness? By knowing your own body, what it looks like (grab a mirror, take a look!), what’s normal for you, what isn’t so normal and seeking help and advice if something does not feel right. It involves the practical things like contraception and sexually transmitted infection screening. It means learning about what you like and what you don’t sexually and being able to talk about those things to a partner. At its very core it means feeling safe in who you are with regards to your sexuality and sex life.

But don’t be intimidated, at the Pleasure Positivity Project and Ann Summers we are here to help. The Ann Summers Sexual Wellbeing advice section is filled with useful guides that help you explore and understand your body. Let’s learn together, look after ourselves and each other and end up with great sexual wellness, whatever that means to you!