Think back to what you learned about sex in school or in your family. You likely heard about pregnancy, diseases, and morality. And you likely did not hear about the pleasurable aspects of sex. Yet, pleasure is one of the main reasons people engage in sexual activity, both with themselves and with others.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sexual health is one of the four main dimensions of human health, along with the physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions. According to the WHO, “Sexual health is a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It 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.”
Most of us did not grow up with a positive approach to sexuality. We were exposed to pictures of genital sores, but not to the ideas that sexual activity is pleasurable, and completely normal. As a result, we can experience unhealthy sexual behaviors as adults.
One way people use sex in an unhealthy way as adults is to leverage power in relationships. This is not only harmful to the relationship, but it is also harmful to both parties in the relationship. When we say we will not give the other person sex because we do not have what we want, we are also denying pleasure for ourselves. To get out of this unhelpful pattern, we can examine if we are getting pleasure from our sexual behaviors. If we are not experiencing pleasure, we can investigate how can we begin to enjoy sexual activities. Sometimes, we need to start with solo sex, and by exploring our own bodies to see what we like and do not like.
According to Doug Braun-Harvey and Al Killen-Harvey of The Harvey Institute, one way to promote sexual health is to have sexual health conversations early and often, both with our children, and with our partners. The Harveys have identified six pillars of sexual health: Consent, Non-Exploitive, Honest, Shared Values, Protected from Sexually Transmitted Infections, HIV, and Unplanned Pregnancy, and PLEASURE. Remember the pleasure!
If you are unsure about how to have conversations about sexual health, book a session with Brandie Sellers, M.S., LPC-Intern, who studied under the Harveys and would love to help you.