Men's health

What is Sexual Health?

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Medically approved by Dr Earim Chaudry
Chief Medical Officer
iconLast updated 16th February 2024
In 30 seconds…

Officially, sexual health is defined as: “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality.” But what does this mean for our sex lives in reality?

While an important aspect of sexual health is the prevention of STIs and unplanned pregnancies, it also means thinking more broadly about our sexual identity and relationships.

When you look after your sexual health, you’re developing a positive attitude towards yourself, showing respect for your partners, and embracing the pleasure of sex to the full.

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “sexual health”? Probably one of the first things is STIs (sexually transmitted infections). Good sexual health means not getting a disease, right?

Well, preventing STIs is one important aspect of sexual health for men, but there’s so much more to it than that. When you look after your sexual health, you’re also looking after your mental and emotional wellbeing, learning how to be a caring and respectful sexual partner, and – of course – getting the most enjoyment out of sex!

In this article, we take a holistic view of men’s sexual health. We consider the official definitions of “sexual health” and break them down into key principles for a safe and fulfilling sex life.

Definition: What is Sexual Health?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as: “a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It 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.”

In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) adopts a similar but briefer definition: “Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality.” It’s interesting that they broaden the psychological aspect of sexual health to include not only “mental” but “emotional” wellbeing.

But how can we actually apply these definitions to our own individual sexual health? What does it mean to make your sexual health a priority in your day-to-day life? Let’s take a look.

Embrace Your Sexual Identity

The first principle of good sexual health is to accept who you are as a sexual being. It means being comfortable with your sexual orientation – whether straight, gay, or anything in between – and the role sex plays in your life.

Also important is your overall self esteem and sense of self-worth. If you’re going to safeguard your sexual health and enjoy good relationships, you need to acknowledge your value as a human being and believe that you have something unique to offer a partner. That might involve rejecting unhelpful stereotypes about what an attractive or desirable man must look or act like.

Finally, good sexual health means learning what you like sexually and having the confidence to be open about that with your partner or partners. They might not be up for the same activity (and that’s their choice) but at least you’ve had the opportunity to be honest about your preferences.

Build Positive Relationships

When sex involves one or more partners, it’s crucial that you demonstrate respect for them and their own sexual health and wellbeing. Consent is non-negotiable. Before and during sex you should be regularly checking that your partner is still happy and comfortable with how things are progressing. If they’re not, that’s where it stops. End of story.

You might be looking for a casual encounter or a long-term relationship (or you might not be totally sure); whichever it is, it’s important to be open with potential partners so you can make sure you’re on the same page. However long the relationship lasts, you should be aiming to treat the other person with kindness and consideration, focusing on their sexual enjoyment as well as your own.

Protect Your Physical Health

An essential part of sexual health is, of course, keeping yourself safe from STIs in order to protect your physical health. The most effective way to defend yourself against STIs is to use a condom when you engage in vaginal, anal, or oral sex. That’s because STIs are typically passed on through infected bodily fluids or genital contact.

If you do become infected with an STI, catching the infection early will help prevent long-term health problems. It’s particularly important to get tested if you’ve had unprotected sex with a new partner. Public Health England recommends annual testing for HIV and STIs for men who have sex with men, and annual screening for chlamydia if you’re under 25.

You should also be conscientious about telling sexual partners if you’ve been diagnosed with an STI, in case they have become infected too. That way, you and they can receive treatment in good time, and prevent the infection spreading.

Be Responsible About Contraception

If you’re a man who enjoys sex with a female partner or partners, and you’re not ready to become a dad any time soon, it’s important to take some responsibility for contraception. As a guy, you can help by providing the condoms (up to 98% effective with perfect use). 

You might also want to openly support and show interest in your partner’s decision to use another method of contraception as well, such as the pill or IUD.

Experience Pleasure

At the end of the day, as well as approaching sex with an eye on safety, responsibility, and respect for your partner, it should also be fun! In fact, once you’ve got those other considerations in hand, it should be easier to relax and enjoy yourself.

Looking after your everyday health, including a balanced diet and moderate exercise, will also help you keep in shape and experience more pleasure from sex. In addition, if you’re struggling to get satisfying erections during sex, a treatment for erectile dysfunction could be a solution.

But, of course, pleasurable sex is about so much more than intercourse (penetrative sex) – try experimenting with different activities, touches, and settings for sex. You never know what else you might discover about your body…

Key Takeaways…

What is sexual health? It means a positive attitude to sex that involves: taking care of your own mental and emotional wellbeing, respecting your sexual partners, practising safe sex to avoid STIs and unplanned pregnancies, and – last but not least – enjoying the pleasure of sex to the full.

Sounds pretty good to us…

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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