‘Wellness’ has become a big deal within the last decade or so.
There’s physical wellness, which promotes using nutrition and movement to keep our bodies healthy; there’s mental wellness, which involves challenging our brains with study, hobbies, and work; and emotional wellness, which can include getting in touch with our feelings by journaling, meditating, or speaking with a professional.
But what about sexual wellness? What is it—and how can we prioritise it?
“I would define sexual wellness as an overall sense of excitement and joy across the many landscapes of human sexuality,” says sex coach Georgia Grace. “Sexual wellness is about feeling pleasure and connection to your body's wants, needs, and desires; as well as anyone else who you choose to engage with.”
The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as, ‘the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health’. So if we combine this with Georgia’s definition of sexual wellness, we can picture sexual wellness being about making conscious choices that meet our desires and contribute to our overall sexual health and enjoyment.
But, Georgia says, “Defining sexual wellness is individual. It’s so individual that I will often ask clients: what does sexual wellness mean to you?”
If you don’t know what sexual wellness means to you yet, that’s okay. Read on! Today we’re going to show you how to come up with your own definition of sexual wellness; and we’ll also suggest some practical, actionable steps you can take to increase your sexual wellness.
As Georgia says, wellness is a very individual thing, and your idea of ‘sexual wellness’ might be totally different to someone else’s. But we read a paper in The Lancet, a popular and well-respected medical journal, that talks about four different spheres of sexual wellness and wellbeing. We think they’re really useful to consider when defining sexual wellness, so we’re going to talk about them here.
- Firstly, there’s sexual health. This category includes things like fertility management and being able to make your own reproductive choices; prevention of sexual violence; prevention and management of STIs, and access to contraception.
- Next, there’s sexual pleasure. This includes concepts like consent, privacy, safety, and communication. These things are often reliant on a broader culture around sex and gender, so this category also includes things like freedom of expression, equality and equity, and bodily integrity.
- Third is sexual justice. This category includes things like our access to public health services, and to cultural and legal systems that support our sexuality and gender.
- Last is sexual wellbeing. This includes things like being comfortable with our own sexuality, self-determination, sexual self-esteem, and our relationship to our past sexual experiences—even if they were negative ones.
When put together, these four categories combine to create an overall sense of sexual wellness. And you can use these categories to consider what sexual wellness looks like for you: perhaps it means a high level of access to fertility management and reproductive healthcare, with a lot of freedom of expression and self-determination. Or maybe it’s all about feeling supported and seen by the wider community, and knowing that there are great public health services you can access when necessary.
When we feel like something is missing from one category—for example, if we have trouble accessing contraception or can’t get reliable information from public health services—our overall sense of sexual wellbeing can fall.
But don’t worry: there’s a lot we can do to improve our sexual wellness, even if there are structural or cultural barriers in place that prevent us from accessing everything we need. Here are five suggestions from us of how to make some positive changes:
Make a to-do list
Using the four categories above, we can take stock of our current sexual wellness and decide whether we want to make any improvements. Are we happy with the healthcare we’re receiving, or do we need to find a new GP? (Telehealth is always an option!) Do we feel accepted in our broader community, or do we want to find a new community online or in-person? Are we well-represented by our politicians and the legal system, or is it time to lobby for a change? And are we satisfied with the way our needs are being met in our current relationship—even if that relationship is with ourselves?
Hit the books
Take the time to read up on sex and sexuality. Not just the practical stuff like contraception and sexual hygiene, but topics like pleasure, anatomy, and even the history of sexology. Giving yourself a well-rounded education in sex will not only make you more informed about something that’s a big topic in almost all of our lives, it’ll help you to make smart choices inside and outside the bedroom.
Get in touch with yourself
It’s great to know how to pleasure someone else, but it’s just as important to know how to pleasure yourself. What turns you on? What turns you off? What are your fantasies, kinks, and absolute no-go zones? Having an idea of what you enjoy will hopefully help you find greater enjoyment in all forms of pleasure, whether it’s solo play or partnered sex. And once you know what you like, you can start asking for it. Which brings us to our next idea…
Being able to communicate in the bedroom and set boundaries is highly important. But that’s not the only kind of communication that’s important to your sense of sexual wellness. We’re also talking about having healthy conversations on dating apps, being able to share information with your friends, asking for help when you need it, and advocating for yourself in a situation where you might feel like it’s hard to speak up. Good communication can go a long way to making you feel respected, safe, and comfortable; and you deserve that.
And if all else fails…
Remember that sexual wellness is a journey.
It takes time and work to even define sexual wellness, let alone start improving it. Learning about our sexual needs and wants can be tricky because most of us have been raised in a society where we’ve been taught not to have sexual needs—and certainly not to talk about them out loud. But the changes that can occur when we focus on improving our sexual wellness are worth making, and it’s always worth putting in the work to get us one step closer to living as our ideal sexual and sensual self.