Talking About Sexual Health: Why Are We Not Doing This More?

erectile dysfunction
credit: Ketut Subiyanto

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Your sexuality is a central part of who you are. It stands to reason, then, that your sexual health can have a significant impact on your life. Sexual health is an indicator of wider health and well-being physically, mentally, socially emotionally. Yet so many of us are reluctant to talk about it.

Our sexual identity is intertwined with our physical and mental well-being. It seems extraordinary that sexual health issues such as infection concerns, erectile dysfunction, or reduced libido can have such a catastrophic impact on individuals, their relationships, and their lives, especially when the problems can usually be resolved by talking about them and getting the right treatment. In a time when it is easy for people to head to a trusted online pharmacy or access medical advice from a GP or sexual health clinic, it is remarkable and unacceptable that so many continue to suffer in silence.

So, why aren’t we talking about sexual health, and why is it so important that something changes?

Overcoming the Stigma of Talking About Sex and Sexual Health

eriectile dysfunction
credit: Ketut Subiyanto

Somehow the concept of sexuality being “private” has evolved into it being something that we should be embarrassed about or ashamed of. In a time when sex can be wielded as an object of power, where young people are warned not to do it too early, and people of all ages are often shamed for their sexual activity, it is easy to see how we have evolved to this position of stigmatizing sex. But maybe now is the time for us to overcome a stigma that is the legacy of hundreds of years of oppression and stereotyping.

If we can get beyond the shame of talking about sex and sexual health, imagine how liberated we would all be.
Instead of continuing with an unwanted pregnancy or termination, imagine if women didn’t feel ashamed to ask for a morning-after pill.

Instead of pretending that they are not aroused for fear of enduring the shame of erectile dysfunction, imagine if a man felt comfortable talking about his inability to maintain an erection. They would discover it is normal and find sildenafil online.

Instead of suffering in silence and discomfort, ultimately leading to more serious complications, imagine if men and women of all sexual orientations felt comfortable speaking to a medical professional about their concerns – before it turns into something more serious.

Imagine a world where we are not embarrassed for someone to know that we have had sex in the last day, week, month, or year. Or a world where we are not embarrassed for someone to know that we have NOT had sex in the same period. Where instead of feeling embarrassed buying condoms, we feel proud that we are taking responsibility for our sexual health.

Doctors Are Only Human

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One major problem is our reluctance to talk to a medical professional about our concerns. An unwillingness to talk to your general practitioner (GP) is understandable: they are in a position of authority, and you may feel marginally intimidated by them. If you don’t feel as though you can talk to your friends or even sexual partners, airing concerns to a near stranger, especially a figure of authority might seem unimaginable. But here’s the news flash: GPs have sex too. And guess what? They are just as likely to suffer the same sexual health problems as you are. From lumps and bumps to lack of sex drive and inability to maintain an erection, the chances are that your GP will have an idea of what you are going through.

Drugs May Not Be Enough

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Life would be much easier if all we had to do is take a pill. Lack of motivation? Struggling with weight loss? Got an itch? Low libido? Erectile dysfunction? No problem: take a pill or apply a cream and it will all be solved. While there are medical treatments for most problems, where psychological and mental health are involved, sometimes a pill alone isn’t enough.

It is empowering and a great first move to head to an online pharmacy to get a prescription or arrange an appointment with your local GP or sexual health clinic. But the pills, patches, or gels will only treat one element of your symptoms. Where sexual health is concerned, talking is an essential part of your treatment, both from a psychosocial and a practical perspective. On a practical note, if your symptoms are the result of a virus, you have a moral obligation to inform sexual partners; destigmatizing sex and normalizing talk about sexual health will make that conversation a whole lot easier to have which, in turn, could reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

You Are Not Alone

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One of the biggest factors stopping people from talking about sex and sexual health is that they worry they will be seen as unclean or abnormal. However, if you talk to a room of fifty people about your worries, you can bet that at least one will have had the same concern at some point. And when it comes to sexual health issues that are inextricably linked with mental health, this knowledge can be as effective as any other medical treatment.

Talking about sex doesn’t just have the potential to help you to address your worries. It may help you to enjoy it more, too! Although sexual desire is completely natural, knowing what to do and how to do it is something that has to be learned, and which will vary from partner to partner. By talking about sex, you can tell your partner what you enjoy, what you don’t enjoy, and what you would like to try without shame or embarrassment, and vice versa. That kind of discussion has the potential to unleash a whole new version of you and your sexuality and discover more about yourself and your body.

Breaking the Mold

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credit: Ketut Subiyanto

It is easy to read or write about destigmatizing sex and sexual health, but that is not something that is going to happen overnight. Start small: there is no need to open up to all of your friends about every aspect of your sex life but steer the conversation that way occasionally; you may be surprised at how readily friends share with you once that dialogue is started. If you are concerned about your sexual health, it is essential that you speak to a medical professional, and useful to speak to your partner. It can help if you practice what you want to say; for some reason, many of us become five-year-olds when it comes to saying “penis”, “vagina” or “sex” out loud.

Yes, sex should be as private as you want it to be. Of course, you don’t have to talk about it to everyone. However, private should not mean shameful. Sex is a normal part of life and sexual health is as inextricably linked to our physical and mental well-being as any other element of our health. You wouldn’t hesitate to seek medical help if you had a suspected broken ankle; the same should apply if your sexual health isn’t quite right.

The stigma around sex and sexual health has evolved over centuries as the result of limited healthcare and the absence of safe birth control. But in a time when we can easily access birth control, we need to do what we can to break down that stigma. It may not happen overnight, but if we all talk a little more about sex, hopefully, it won’t take centuries, either.