This is the slogan that World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) uses for World Sexual Health Day, which is celebrated every September 4.Historically there was a fair amount of shame, discomfort, and stigma in discussing sexual issues. Sexual health only addressed disease and unwanted sexual outcomes. In 1975 the World Health Organization (WHO) developed and published a definition that went beyond the focus on the absence of disease or unwanted sexual outcomes.
“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.” –WHO, 1975
Thinking about sexual health as something to enhance communication as well as being positively enriching was new. World organizations followed with definitions that added to the WHO definition. The Pan American Health Organization and the World Association of Sexology (WAS/now the World Association for Sexual Health) provided a longer version. In part:
“Sexual health is the experience of the ongoing process of physical, psychological and social-cultural well being related to sexuality. Sexual health is evidenced in the free and responsible expressions of sexual capabilities that foster harmonious personal and social wellness, enriching individual and social life.” WAS/Pan American Health Organization
The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) is an organization that had its inception during the social hygiene in the twentieth century. At that time venereal disease (VD) or what we now call sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STDs/STIs) was a prevalent concern for social health organizations. Sexuality was not considered an acceptable topic to discuss in the prevailing Victorian attitudes. Early work of ASHA concentrated on education and awareness among the armed forces. As ASHA developed it expanded its efforts to network with organizations like Federal Council of Churches, White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, National Organization of Public Health Nursing, National Congress of Parents and Teachers. Education and public awareness of sexual issues began to be more openly discussed.
The Kinsey reports published in 1948 and 1954 created controversy on a national level. ASHA organized a national conference that brought together leaders in the field of psychology, medicine, law, religion, anthropology, education, sociology, and law to exchange views about the significance of Kinsey’s information. The goal was to look at the information as scientific data rather than pornography. Walter Clark, ASHA president from 1937 to 1951 commented, “The truth never harms…And it seems reasonable to hope that when today’s older generation, conditioned against frankness in sex matters passes away and today’s youth takes over tomorrow’s world, the truth about sex shall indeed make them free- free of the diseases, the exploitation, the ignorance and superstitions which for ages have burdened and blighted society.”
Fast forward to 2006 and beyond. WHO broadened their definition of sexual health to include statements that addressed human rights safety, violence, or coercion free sex, sexuality expression and gender identities.
In 2013 the American Association of Sexuality, Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) revised their vision of sexual health. The Vision of Sexual Health affirmed the rights to:
The World Association of Sexual Health (WAS) is a multidisciplinary, worldwide group of scientific societies, non-profit and professionals in the field of human sexuality. Their Declaration of Sexual Rights was revised in 2014. These sexual rights address diversity, freedom to choose sexual expression, equality and non-discrimination, privacy and rights to education, scientific progress, justice, rights to form, dissolve marriage and other types of relationships.
Modern society has an opportunity to embrace sexual health in a manner not seen before. It starts simply.
World Health Organization (WHO), 1975 and 2006 www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/sexual_health/sh_definitions
World Association for Sexual Health (WAS)
American Sexual Health Association (ASHA)
American Association of Sexuality, Educators, Counselors, and Therapists Revised by AASECT Board of Directors January 2013