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Healthy Sexuality

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What is healthy sexuality?
According to the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force Sexual Health Work Group, healthy sexuality is defined as “the expressed capacity to understand, enjoy, and control one’s own sexual and reproductive behavior in a manner that enriches one’s self, relationships, and communities. Sexuality is an integral part of the human experience with physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual dimensions. Helping people to identify and create opportunities to explore their own sexuality in a positive and healthy manner is crucial to achieving a culture in which sexuality is regarded as a normal and healthy component of our lives.” (from the SATF Sexual Health Work Group website).

The Oregon SATF also emphasizes an important aspect of healthy sexuality, saying that it is not simply the absence of sexual violence or coercion, “but the active presence of self-determination and the ability to choose when, how, whether, and with whom to make sexual and reproductive choices.”

Healthy sexuality also “includes approaching sexual interactions and relationships from a perspective that is consensual, respectful, and infomred. Healthy sexuality is free from coercion and violence.” (NSVRC SAAM 2012 Overview on Healthy Sexuality and Sexual Violence)

Sexuality, generally speaking, includes “the feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors associated with one’s gender identity, being attracted and attractive to others, being in love, as well as being in relationships that include sexual intimacy and physical sexual activity[…] promoting healthy sexuality would by definition mean working to create a world free of sexual violence.” (VSDV Alliance October 2005 issue of “Moving Upstream.”)

Healthy sexuality has also been defined according to the following principles (adapted from the WHO, Planned Parenthood, and the World Association of Sexologists):
1) Healthy sexuality means that sexuality is experienced in a state of physical, emotional, social, and cultural well-being.
2) Healthy sexuality is demonstrated by voluntary and responsible sexual expressions that enrich individuals and their social lives.
3) Healthy sexuality includes, but is not solely, freedom from coercion, dysfunction, disease, or infirmity.
4) Healthy sexuality means having the capacity to enjoy and control one’s own sexual and reproductive behavior in accordance with personal and social ethics. It also means freedom from fear, shame, guilt, false beliefs, and other psychological factors that inhibit sexual response and impair sexual relationships.
(all principles above from VSDV Alliance October 2005 issue of “Moving Upstream”)

What is unhealthy sexuality?
The belief that sexuality is a weakness in humanity is a social norm that shames people and keeps them from “accepting/embracing their sexuality as a positive part of their own humanity.”
“The result is a pervasive disconnect with the emotional, spiritual, social, and intellectual aspects of our sexuality, and an atmosphere of silence, anxiety, and fear about sexual expression, since saying or doing anything outside of the realm of permissibility could be seen as flawed and shameful.” (VSDV Alliance October 2005 issue of “Moving Upstream”)

Gender Norms
Gender-based norms for both males and females distort sexuality.

Male Norms & Sexuality:
“Males learn that their sexuality is characterized by action, control, and achievement. They are taught that sexual interaction is a ‘game,’ which has certain rules.
1. Sex with females of a certain quality is the objective.
2. Overt violence is not allowed in most cases, though subtler forms of violence and coercion are often accepted.
3. Controlling numerous aspects of any given sexual interaction is imperative, including frequency, duration, setting, use of contraception, and sexual acts performed, etc.
(from page 3 of “Moving Upstream, October 2005)”

Female Norms & Sexuality:
1. Females are taught that their sexuality involves learning how to balance being a ‘good girl’ [chaste] with pleasing men.
2. A female’s sexuality is defined by her ability to make men sexually desire her.
3. However, if men perceive her to be granting sexual ‘access’ to easily or frequently, or if they perceive that she never grants sexual access, they will no longer value or desire her. Thus a woman’s sexuality becomes tantamount to her ability to regulate the valuable ‘commodity’ of sexual access.
4. Female norms make women the sole bearers of responsibility for any negative outcomes of sexual interaction
(from pages 5-6 of “Moving Upstream,” October 2005)

Articles from relevant to the topic of healthy sexuality:
Healthy sexuality & caring connections: Foundations for prevention
Healthy Sexuality Fact Sheet
Heathy sexuality for sexual violence prevention
Introduction to Sexual Health eLearning module
Oregon’s youth sexual health plan receives national attention for expanding the lens on sexual health
Question of the month: How can I talk about sexuality to prevent sexual violence?
The role of rape myth acceptance
Start with Healthy Sexuality
What is healthy sexuality and what does it have to do with sexual violence prevention?
Working toward a world free of sexual violence: Virginia’s primary prevention guidelines

Additional resources:
CDC: Sexual health topic page
National Coalition for Sexual Health
National Sexuality Education Standards Tools
NSVRC: “Healthy sexuality: a guide for advocates, counselors, and prevention educators”
NSVRC “SAAM 2012 Healthy Sexuality Resource List”
NSVRC “It’s Time…to talk about gender norms”
NSVRC “Healthy Sexuality glossary”
NSVRC “It’s time…to talk about consent”
NSVRC “It’s time…to talk to your children about healthy sexuality”
Office of Adolescent Health: Info on reproductive health and healthy relationships
Oregon SATF “Recommendations to Prevent Sexual Violence in Oregon: A Plan of Action”
Population Council: It’s All One Curriculum — sexuality, gender, HIV, and human rights
Scarleteen: very popular resource for young people
SEICUS: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States
World Health Organization: Sexual health topic page