Promoting Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior: An Introduction
Coleman, Eli, The Journal of Sex Research
We are at a unique juncture in history and have a rare opportunity to develop global, national, and community strategies to promote sexual health for the new century. This opportunity has been created by the fact that the world is experiencing a new sexual revolution and a public health imperative. Much like the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, it is a revolution fueled by incredible scientific advances, as well as dramatic social and economic change (Coleman, 2000; Inglehart, 1997; Reiss, 1990; Reiss, 2001; Reiss & Reiss, 1997). We also face a myriad of sexual health problems, which is creating an enormous burden on societies. These two factors are putting pressure on health ministries to develop comprehensive approaches to sexual health promotion.
The last major attempt at developing global strategies for promoting sexual health was fueled by the previous sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1975, the World Health Organization (WHO) produced a document Education and Treatment in Human Sexuality: The Training of Health Professionals (WHO, 1975). This historic document called upon societies around the world to develop the necessary sexuality education, counseling, and therapy to promote sexual health and to provide the necessary training for health professionals. This document also served as a stimulus for the development of the field of sexology and sexual resources centers throughout the world.
In order to promote sexual health, a basic definition of sexual health was needed and articulated in this document. Although the authors recognized the difficulty of arriving at a universally acceptable definition, the following definition was presented:
"Sexual health is the integration of the somatic, emotional, intellectual, and social aspects of sexual being, in ways that are positively enriching and that enhance personality, communication, and love" (p. 6). The authors further state that fundamental to the concept of sexual health is the right to sexual information and the right to pleasure.
The document went on to cite Mace, Bannerman, and Burton (1974) who described sexual health as containing three basic elements: (a) capacity to enjoy and control sexual and reproductive behavior in accordance with a social and personal ethic; (b) freedom from fear, shame, guilt, false beliefs, and other psychological factors inhibiting sexual response and impairing sexual relationship; and (c) freedom from organic disorders, diseases, and deficiencies that interfere with sexual and reproductive function. In spite of difficulties at arriving at this definition, this definition has endured and has been used throughout this last quarter century.
In 1983, the European Region of the WHO held a technical consultation meeting to further clarify sexual health strategies that could be implemented in Europe and to develop overall objectives of health for all by the year 2000. The report was published in 1986. In this report, there was an attempt to define sexuality, as without that basic definition promoting sexual health would be difficult (Langfeldt & Porter, 1986). At that time, the WHO defined sexuality as follows:
Sexuality is an integral part of the personality of everyone: man, woman and child. It is a basic need and an aspect of being human that cannot be separated from other aspects of human life. Sexuality is not synonymous with sexual intercourse, it is not about whether we have orgasms or not, and it is not the sum total of our erotic lives These may be part of our sexuality, but equally they may not. Sexuality is so much more: it is in the energy that motivates us to find love, contact, feel warmth, and intimacy it is expressed in the way we feel, move, touch and are touched; it is about being sensual as well as sexual Sexuality influences thoughts, feelings, actions and interactions and thereby our mental and physical health. …