Defining sexual health

Sex-healthWHO has been working in the region of sexual health since at least 1974, when the deliberations of an expert committee resulted in the publication of a technical report entitled Education and treatment in human sexuality (WHO, 1975).

In 2000, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and WHO convened a number of expert consultations to review terminology and identify programme options. In the course of these meetings, the functioning definitions of key terms used here were developed. In a successive meeting, planned by PAHO and the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS), a number of sexual health concerns were addressed with respect to body integrity, eroticism, sexual safety, sexual orientation, gender, emotional attachment and reproduction.

 Working definitions


Sex refers to the biological characteristics that define humans as female or male. While these sets of biological individuality are not jointly exclusive, as there are persons who have both, they tend to distinguish humans as males and females. In general use in many languages, the word sex is frequently used to mean “sexual activity”, but for technological purposes in the situation of sexuality and sexual health discussions, the above definition is favored.

Sexual health

 sexual healthAccording to the current functioning definition, sexual health is:

A state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the deficiency of disease, dysfunction or illness. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the opportunity of having enjoyable and safe sexual experiences, free of compulsion, inequity and aggression. For sexual health to be attained and preserved, the sexual rights of all people must be respected, sheltered and satisfied (WHO, 2006)


Sexual health cannot be defined, understand or made ready without a broad consideration of sexuality, which specifies important behaviors and outcomes related to sexual health. The working description of sexuality is:

A central aspect of being human throughout life encompasses sex, sexual orientation, gender identities and roles, eroticism, intimacy, pleasure, and reproduction. Sexuality is practiced and expressed in behaviors, thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, roles, values, practices, attitudes and relationships. Although sexuality can comprise all of these proportions, not all of them are always capable or exhibit. Sexuality is prejudiced by the communication of biological, social, psychological, historical, political, economic, legal, cultural, religious and spiritual factors (WHO, 2006).

 Sexual rights

There is a growing consensus that sexual health cannot be achieved and maintained without respect for, and protection of, certain human privileges. The running definition of sexual rights given below is a contribution to the continuing dialogue on human rights related to sexual health .

“The fulfilment of sexual health is tied to the extent to which human rights are appreciated, protected and satisfied. Sexual rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in international and regional human rights documents and other consensus documents and in national laws.

Rights dangerous to the awareness of sexual health include:

1.Rights critical to the realization of sexual health include:

2.the rights to equality and non-discrimination

3.the right to be free from suffering or to brutal, inhumane or humiliating treatment or punishment

4.the right to privacy

5.the rights to the highest attainable standard of health (including sexual health) and social security

6.the right to marry and to found a family and enter into marriage with the free and full consent of the conscious spouses, and to equality in and at the suspension of marriage

7.the right to decide the number and spacing of one’s children

8.the rights to information, as well as education

9.the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and

10.the right to an effective remedy for violations of fundamental rights.

The dependable work out of human rights requires that all persons respect the rights of others.

The application of existing human rights to sexuality and sexual health constitute sexual rights. Sexual rights defend all people’s rights to fulfill and express their sexuality and enjoy sexual health, with due regard for the privileges of others and within a framework of protection against discrimination.

It should be noted that this definition does not represent an official WHO position and should not be used or quoted as such. It is presented in its place as a contribution to ongoing discussion about sexual health.

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