Sexual Health and Safer Sex
- There are many benefits to promoting your sexual health that range from increased pleasure to a reduced risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection
- Sexuality is complex and is influenced by a variety of factors that include biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, legal, historical and religious factors
- There are numerous ways to reduce the risk of getting or spreading a sexually transmitted infection that include using condoms, negotiating sexual activities, getting tested, and limiting your number of sexual partners.
- Using condoms properly and regularly is the only form of contraception that also reduces the risk of getting or spreading a sexually transmitted infection
- Being well informed is vital to promoting your sexual health; therefore, consult reliable sources of information.
Promoting your sexual health is one of the most important things you can do to enhance and maintain your overall health.
This section of our website provides basic information on sexual health and sexuality. For additional information you can follow the links as well as consult the "For Those Who Want to Know More" section below.
Sexuality is complex. Therefore, it is understandable that there is no agreed upon definition of the term. None-the-less, the World Health Organization has provided a working definition for sexuality.
The WHO’s working definition states that:
"Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses:
Sexuality is experienced and expressed in:
While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed.
Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of:
- and spiritual factors"
As with the definition of sexuality, there is no agreed upon definition of sexual health. However, one good definition comes from the United States Department of Health and Human Services. It states that:
"Sexual health is a state of well-being in relation to sexuality across the life span that involves physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual dimensions. Sexual health is an intrinsic element of human health and is based on a positive, equitable, and respectful approach to sexuality, relationships, and reproduction, that is free of coercion, fear, discrimination, stigma, shame, and violence. It includes: the ability to understand the benefits, risks, and responsibilities of sexual behavior; the prevention and care of disease and other adverse outcomes; and the possibility of fulfilling sexual relationships. Sexual health is impacted by socioeconomic and cultural contexts—including policies, practices, and services—that support healthy outcomes for individuals, families, and their communities."
Enhancing ones sexual health and expressing ones sexuality in a healthful way is associated with a number of benefits. These include:
- Positive and fulfilling sexual relationships
- Satisfying sexual experiences
- Enhanced self-esteem
- Reduced risk of getting or spreading a sexually transmitted infection
- Reduced risk of an unplanned pregnancy
- Reduced risk of mental health problems related to sexual behaviour, such as excessive guilt, shame or anxiety
- Greater peace of mind
- Enhanced quality of life
The term “safer sex” is familiar to most people. However, if asked to list safer sex practices, many would be hard-pressed to come up with more than five. We have determined that there are at least 16 ways to reduce the chance of getting or spreading a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Getting an STI can negatively affect a person’s health, and change a person’s life. Protect your health by adopting safer sex practices.
- Enjoy solo activities
- Use a barrier (e.g. condom)
- Negotiate sexual activity with your partner(s)
- Properly disinfect shared sex toys
- Participate in activities where body fluids are not shared
- Avoid contact with another person’s sores
- Limit the number of sexual partners
- Share relevant information with each other about sexual history and STI status
- Avoid sex under the influence of an amount of alcohol or drugs that would interfere with decision-making or sticking with decisions you have made about sexual activity
- Get tested for STIs
- Get vaccinated against STIs
- Inform your previous partners if you discover you have an STI
- Treat an STI
- Become informed about healthy sexuality, safer sex and STIs
- Adopt positive attitudes towards safer sex
One of the most important things to know about sexually transmitted infections is that the use of safer sex practices greatly reduces the risk of getting and spreading them!
The term "sexually transmitted infections" (STI) refers to a varied group of infections that are transmitted from person to person through sexual contact. Another term used to refer to these infections is "sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections" (STBBI). This term also includes sharing blood (e.g. through sharing used needles) as a way of transmitting these infections (e.g. HIV/AIDS).
What Causes Sexually Transmitted Infections?
Several microorganisms are responsible for STIs. These include:
STIs caused by bacteria can be treated (cured) with antibiotics. However, a person who has been treated for a bacterial STI can become infected again if they come into contact with the bacteria again. There are 3 main STIs caused by bacteria:
There is no cure for STIs caused by a virus, with the exception of genital warts, which can be removed. However, you can be vaccinated for some viral STIs (e.g. genital warts, hepatitis B). There are medications that can help reduce the symptoms of some viral STIs (e.g. genital herpes), but they are not a cure. There are 4 main STIs caused by viruses:
- Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- Genital warts, which is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV)
- Hepatitis B
- Genital herpes
There are three main STIs caused by parasites.
- Pubic Lice
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Sexully Transmitted Infection?
Often, an STI will have no noticeable symptoms. This is why it is always important to protect yourself. The signs and symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection are varied. They include:
- Discharge from urethra
- Abnormal discharge from vagina
- Itching in genital or anal area
- Burning on urination
- Lumps or growths in the genital or anal area
- Bleeding after sex or between periods
- Pain in the abdomen
- Pain in vulva or testicles
- Yellow tinge of skin or eyes
The Mayo clinic has quick list of Common STDs and Their Symptoms.
How do Sexually Transmitted Infections Spread?
Sexually transmitted infections spread when the micro-organism that causes it leaves an infected person and establishes itself within another person. This can happen during sexual activity that involves the penis, vagina, anus and mouth. It can also happen with simple skin to skin contact in the case of genital warts or genital herpes. Bacteria and virus can also be transmitted from one person to the next through sharing needles or sharing other objects (e.g. sex toys).
What are the Consequences of Sexually Transmitted Infections?
The consequences of STIs range from mild irritation, to sterility to death.
For more information
To learn more about sexually transmitted infections, consult Sex and U from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.
The risk of becoming pregnant is a real one for women. A significant percentage of Canadian women (estimated to be at 40%) will have at least one unplanned pregnancy in their lifetime.
In Canada, many contraception options are available to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. The Method Match page from the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals provides a good overview of contraceptive methods.
There are many factors to consider when choosing a form of contraception such as evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of the various methods and their effectiveness while taking into account lifestyle and personal factors (such as finances, collaboration from parther et.). The Method Match tool can help you filter your options according to criteria that are important to you to help you decide on a contraceptive method.
Book an appointment with a nurse to assess your contraception needs, teach you about your contraception options, and in certain circumstances even give you a prescription to start birth control.
- If you are doing your own research on the Internet make sure you know how to evaluate the reliability of information on the Internet
- How to effectively set, achieve and maintain your health goals
- Healthy sexuality resources
- 16 safer sex practices
- 10 steps to using a condom properly
- Guidelines for negotiating safer sex
- Talking about sex with your partner
- Painful sex
- What your penis can tell you about your health
- Why people have sex
- Human Rights Campaign "Resource Guide to Coming Out"
- Where to get condoms on campus - for FREE!!