Today, September 4, 2022, marks the 12th anniversary of World Sexual Health Day! 

World Sexual Health Day was created in 2010 by the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS). The organization wanted to promote awareness about sexual health, and thus, their first theme was “Let’s talk about it”, in order to start breaking down the shame and fear that surrounds sexual health. 

But what is sexual health?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO): 

“Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health 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. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”

What this means is that sexual health is not just about wearing a condom or getting tested for STI’s and STD’s. It’s about having a healthy relationship with yourself and with others. Sexual health enables people to be confident and happy with their own sexuality and creates the space to have positive experiences. It is the acknowledgment that people do not have sex just for reproductive purposes, but also for enjoyment and pleasure. 

Enjoyment and pleasure is at the forefront of this years World Sexual Health Day with the theme ‘sexual pleasure’.

The WSA chose this theme after creating the Declaration on Sexual Pleasure for 2021’s World Sexual Health Day and define sexual pleasure as “the physical/psychological satisfaction and enjoyment derived from shared or solitary erotic experiences, including thoughts, fantasies, dreams, emotions and feelings”. Sexual pleasure can be found with a single or multiple partners or just on your own, using toys or your hands, books, movies, or just your own imagination. It’s about what brings you joy!

Focusing on pleasure is necessary when it comes to sexual health because across the world and across all cultures, sex is synonymous with shame. From pop culture to healthcare to education, how we are brought up and taught to think about sex is often deeply rooted in moralistic ideas of right and wrong, causing anxiety and fear.

When you are taught sex through the lens of fear and shame, pleasure can become nearly impossible. It makes it significantly more difficult to talk to your partners about your needs and desires, especially for women resulting in the infamous ‘orgasm gap’. In fact, you may not even be aware of what your desires are, as this shame can be so pervasive, many women don’t masturbate. If you don’t know what you want or have the confidence to say it aloud, this can result in people depending on others for their sexual pleasure, which can result in people staying in unhealthy and even abusive relationships.

Breaking the stigma of shame surrounding sexual pleasure can bring people the confidence they need to communicate in clear and healthy ways. It enables people to take control of their lives and set boundaries. Plus, it’s good for your mental, physical, and emotional well-being

No matter who you are, you’ve probably got some kind of shame surrounding sex. Or maybe you want to explore more ways of having pleasurable sex with a partner or yourself. If so, check out some of these great resources: 

Thank you to our volunteer Dakota G. (she/her) for writing up this post!