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Sexual Health


The “official” sexual health definition that get’s used most often was first adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1975. In 2001 the WHO collaborated in a revision of the definition and in 2002 they began using the following working definition:

“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.”

There are a few interesting things to note about this definition. First, only the first sentence actually describes what sexual health is. The rest of the definition describes the conditions required for sexual health to exist. Second, the definition relies entirely on how one defines sexuality.

Is our sexuality something we're born with?  Is it something we develop?  Is sexuality primarily physical or emotional or intellectual or spiritual?  It would be nice to know what they mean when they talk about sexuality.  For this and other reasons this definition has been critiqued by some.  But the benefit of it is that it arguably offers the broadest starting point for any conversation about sexual health. It certainly doesn’t include all aspects of what we might think of as sexual health, but neither does it actively exclude them.

I might add that sexual health is always a concept that is tied to a particular time and place and culture.  There is no one objective and universal definition of sexual health.


Report of a technical consultation on sexual health 28–31 January 2002, Geneva.


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