Sexual Health

Sexual Health

This month’s topic is powerful and complex, there are a lot of different angles to view it from, so allow yourself the time to see all sides.  Through this article turn2me is going to try to shed some light on some of these angles, different aspects will resonate with different people.  Remember no two of us are the same, we are all different, we come in different shapes, sizes, and sexual preferences.  We are all human and deserve to live our true and authentic lives.  Aspects of humanity have been divided into Physical, Emotional, Social, Spiritual, and Intellectual.  ‘Sexual’ could be included in that line up because our sexuality is a huge part of who we are.

To some, sexual health is straightforward, for some, it’s a minefield to be avoided. To others, it's almost mystical and for a proportion of people there is no personal understanding.  What is clear these days is that it is complex and not something to be assumed.

What is sexual health?  The most traditional explanation is that it covers consent, contraception, functioning, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). What if we include sexual orientation and gender identity?

The World Health Organization has defined sexual health as: ‘a state of physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality; that 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’. (WHO, 2006).

Consent:

Sexual consent is defined in Irish law in Section 48 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017:

“A person consents to a sexual act if he or she freely and voluntarily agrees to engage in that act”.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre urges people to look at the grey areas when talking about consent and force.   Consent is the voluntary agreement in a relationship where there is equal power, to engage in a sexual act.  Compliance is pressure from within, doing what I believe the other wants, what I think will happen if I do/don’t.  Coercion is being compelled to do what others want.  Pressure from outside, what will happen if I don’t?  Force is NOT consent.  Psychological, physical force or blackmail leaves the person no choice. 

If you feel that any of the above resonates with you, turn2me would urge you to look at the DRCC resources available to you. If concerned, speak to your sexual partner, press pause, take a deep breath and communicate honestly.

Contraception:

For a lot of people contraception is straight forward - the practice of safe sex.  We can spend a lot of time in our early adult years where our biggest fear is falling pregnant or getting someone pregnant.  The onus for appropriate contraception to be present is on everyone engaging in the sexual act.    Also, safe sex is not only for contraceptive purposes, it also ensures there is no spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Condoms stop STDs.  There are more contraceptive options available now than there ever was from the pill, patches, vaginal rings, diaphragms, and condoms to some longer-term options like implants, injectables or the coil.  For a female it is about finding what works for you and your body, it is an individual choice.  Go to your GP or local family planning clinic to discuss your options.  Arm yourself with the appropriate knowledge and then make an informed decision, your body, your choice. 

Sexual Functioning:

The six domains of sexual functions are desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain/discomfort.  To understand functioning lets quickly look at arousal.  It’s the bodies response to your desire for sex, it can be an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing.  Women have an increase in vaginal lubrication, men get an erection.  Arousal can be a reflex to sensual touching, or from psychological sexual sensations, thoughts, sights, smells and sounds that turn you on sexually.  With a man, for an erection to occur there is a complex interplay of psychological, neurogenic, vascular and hormonal factors.  If one or more are not working, it can result in difficulty gaining an erection.  For women the most talked about issue is infertility.  However, there can also be pain and discomfort, previous bad sexual experience, unsure of what turns you on, lack of sexual experience, fear of intimacy, lack of confidence in yourself or your partner’s ability.  Chasing the elusive orgasm, fear of an orgasm.  The list is endless, however, what will assist with all is honesty both with yourself and your sexual partner.  If you are unsure where to start, consider going to your local GP or therapist to explore things further.  Turn2me offers free and anonymous support via instant chat and video.

It is important to remember that if we experience a problem with our sexual functioning it can have a big ripple effect on other aspects of our lives, for the purpose of this article our mental wellbeing, our view of ourselves.  If you or someone you know is facing infertility challenges, reach out to the National Infertility Support and Information Group. Support is available. 

Sexual Orientation:

Who are you attracted to emotionally, romantically, or sexually? Who would you like to be in a relationship with? Someone of the opposite sex, or the same sex? This is your sexual orientation, there is no wrong or right orientation there is just your way.  If you are confused regarding these questions, there are several organisations who specialise in supporting and assisting people on their journey of self-discovery and also family and friends of someone who is struggling to come out.  Visit LGBT Ireland or Belong to if you are under 18.  Sexual orientations include gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, and asexual.  It is important not to try and make yourself fit a label, it is extremely important that you are true to yourself and brave to be your authentic self.

Gender Identity:

This is different from sexual orientation; in that you may not identify with the body you were born into.  You could be born a boy but identify as a female or vice versa.  It is your innermost concept of self, male, female, a blend of both or neither.  It is important to mention transgender within this paragraph also, it does not imply any specific sexual orientation it covers a wide range of gender identities and expressions.  Transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual etc however their gender identity/expression is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.  To explore this further there are many supports around the country, start with Transgender Equality Network Ireland

Emotional Intimacy:

This is allowing your partner in further, letting them know your innermost self, your vulnerabilities.  It is more than sex, more than physical intimacy and, for a lot of people, a terrifying thought.  However, it creates a deep sense of security in the relationship, you show your true self, even the aspects you don’t like, without the fear of risking the relationship. Ultimately without emotional intimacy a relationship will falter and fail to grow beyond a certain point. 

In conclusion we are not just physical creatures; we are also emotional.  In some cases, the two are linked, studies have shown that if you are sexually satisfied with your partner, you are more likely to have a deeper emotional connection.  Both are required to have a satisfying relationship.  However, the most important relationship you need is your relationship with yourself.  If you are comfortable with yourself, honest about your own sexual needs, desires you will find that you will be better able to communicate it.  Feel free to explore your own sexuality safely, find what works for you. We all have a personal responsibility to try and be happy, the first step to this is to be honest with yourself.  If you are struggling to know who that person is, if the face staring back at you from the mirror is not recognisable then there are supports you can avail of to help you navigate your journey.  Take the first step… turn2me is here for you.


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