What Is Sexual Health?

Sexual health is not an absolute construct and has a few black and white parameters; there is not a single definition of sexual health because it varies from person to person. What may be healthy for one person, may in fact be less healthy, or even dangerous, for another person.

Sexual health is defined less by actual behavior and more by motive and impact. No one can define your sexual health for you, although there are a few basic guidelines that can assist you in developing your own definition of sexual health. In a nutshell, healthy sex occurs between consenting adults who are aware of their desires, boundaries and limits and are able to communicate them with one another.

Healthy sex does not abuse, deceive or exploit another person’s vulnerabilities. Rather, it brings out the best in oneself and with whomever you are sharing the experience.

Marriage and committed relationships are not necessary for sex to be healthy because there are many configurations of relationships and, therefore, many configurations of healthy sexual experiences.

Sex is considered healthy when it’s spiritually nourishing, shares vulnerabilities, is honest, broadens our horizons, connects us, feels good and, most importantly, when it’s genuinely fun.

What Role Does Shame Play In Defining Sexual Health? (Healthy Shame vs. Toxic Shame)

A general definition of sexual health would include behaviors that are life-affirming, that support and align with who you are as a person, that bring out the best in you, that demonstrate trust and are free of shame.

Sexual health would generally not include shame, harmful or destructive behaviors, promote secrets and/or lying, or compromise your integrity as a person.

However, there are two types of shame: healthy and toxic.

Healthy shame keeps us safe, informs us that what we are doing or have done goes against our values. An example of healthy shame is feeling badly if you have stolen from someone. In this example, the bad feeling is produced by an internal compass that informs you that you have harmed another person.

Toxic shame is destructive and tells us we are a basically bad, unworthy person. An example of toxic shame would be feeling badly about enjoying masturbation if you were told at a young age that masturbation is “dirty.” Another example of toxic shame is internalized homophobia – feeling badly about being gay for no other reason that you believe being gay is “wrong.” Feeling badly in these two examples is produced by a distorted belief that masturbation or being gay is morally wrong, when in fact, there is no intrinsic harm created by either of these two examples.

Healthy shame can be very useful and guide us in defining our sexual health. However, toxic shame is destructive and will warp our definition of healthy sex.