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July is International Health Awareness Month (4 of 4)


This installment in our series on health awareness discusses sexual health awareness.

The World Health Organization defines sexual health like this: “Sexual health is fundamental to the overall health and well-being of individuals, couples and families, and to the social and economic development of communities and countries. Sexual health, when viewed affirmatively, 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.”

Sexual activity is a big part of the human experience. No matter what you do, or with whom, it’s important to consider how to make it both safe and enjoyable. It’s important to have a positive attitude about sex, and to feel confident in your own person. Understanding the risks of engaging with others, and how to mitigate those risks, is vital. Finding a healthcare provider who can meet your specific needs will help you to reach your healthy best.

Approaching sex positively is important. Sex positivity means approaching sex with a positive attitude, and eliminating the negativity often associated with sex. Body positivity is also important. We all have concerns about our bodies, and about our attractiveness. American culture, and especially LGBTQ+ culture, places an exaggerated emphasis on youth, beauty, and body size. This can shake our confidence and push us to feel we’re unloved, or that we must change aspects of our appearance in order to find companionship. Sometimes, we need to take a step back and remember that everyone we meet has their own standards of beauty, and we’re bound to find someone who thinks we’re attractive, just as we are.

Having contact with other people carries certain risks, and some of these risks can be deadly. We’ve all been dealing with COVID-19, which, while not specifically a sexually transmitted infection (STI), is still something that can be passed through intimacy, and we should consider ways to reduce the possibility of COVID infection. We should also be aware of HIV and other STIs, and how to mitigate the possibility of transmission. In addition to HIV, there are other life-threatening infections, like drug-resistant gonorrhea. Some issues are more specific to men who have sex with men (MSM). Some are more specific to women who have sex with women (WSW). It’s important to understand the risks, and how to mitigate them through safer sex practices.

Transgender people face other issues that we should all be aware of. They are far more likely to be victims of sexual violence. They may have difficulty with identity documents that don’t match their outward appearance. And their access to healthcare can be especially problematic. Lack of legal protection and open discrimination add even more challenges.

Discussing issues of sexual health with your healthcare provider can be daunting. Finding the right doctor, one you can openly discuss matters of sexuality and sexual health with, is crucial. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community can add to the challenges, since there’s still so much homophobia, and we are still battling so many stereotypes. American society is still quite Puritanical when it comes to sex, and it seems like there is a steady stream of news stories of people in health care fields who successfully choose to hide their prejudices behind a shield of “religious liberty” to allow them to discriminate against LGBTQ+ patients. And access to healthcare can be especially difficult for trans people.

Below are some resources on sexual health that we think might be interesting and useful to our community. There are doubtless many more, so if you know of some that we don’t—please drop us a line and we’ll add them to our Resources page on the Web site!

  • Body Positivity: Having Sex with Confidence

  • What Does It Actually Mean to Be ‘Sex Positive’?

  • Safer Sex and COVID-19

  • How to Come Out to Your Doctor as an LGBT Patient

  • Talking to your doctor about your LGBTQ+ sex life

  • CDC’s free and confidential STD/STI testing location finder

  • LGBTQ+ Sexual Health Awareness in the age of COVID-19

  • The American Sexual Health Association

  • STD Awareness for LGBTQ Youth

  • Johns Hopkins’ Transgender Health: What You Need to Know (many resources, not just sexual and reproductive health)

  • Mayo Clinic: Health issues for lesbians and women who have sex with women

  • Kaiser Permanente Members: Gender health program

  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid: LGBT Partners

  • OutCare: Find an LGBTQ+ Competent Healthcare Provider

  • “All We Want is Equality”: Religious Exemptions and Discrimination against LGBT People in the United States

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