If you aren’t entirely clear on what sexual wellness means, don’t worry – you’re not alone.
It’s not exactly something that often comes up at the dinner table or in the breakroom (although that would be pretty amazing if it did!). Sexual wellness isn’t yet a mainstream concept that is widely discussed.
Sexual wellness contributes to your overall wellness and isn’t just about intercourse or masturbation. Its physical, mental, and emotional, and the ways in which they are connected to our sexuality. It’s how you feel in your own skin and is a part of your sexual health.
Unfortunately, sexual wellness is not often a part of the school curriculum. Many people receive little, if any, education on the topic, while some receive an unhealthy education that does more harm than good. Thankfully, an increasing amount of sexual health experts and organizations, as well as individuals from wellness communities, are advocating to make information about sexual wellness more accessible. Our sexual wellness affects many aspects of our lives and should be nurtured.
Why Sexual Wellness is Important
Sexual wellness encompasses the four major components of sexuality, including intimacy and relationships, sensuality, gender/sexual identity, and sexual health. These are all influenced by spirituality, values, experience, and culture, and our mental wellness is closely tied to our sexual wellness.
According to Emily Jamea, Ph.D. certified sex therapist and member of Healthy Women’s Women’s Health Advisory Council, “Anything that negatively affects the individual or the relationship is likely to have a spillover effect into sex.” Individuals who have experienced sexual trauma or developed feelings of shame, guilt, or anger towards sex may find sexual wellness difficult to achieve, which can negatively affect relationships, as Dr. Jamea states.
Negative or unhealthy associations with sex can harm your overall well-being, relationships, and quality of life. Everyone’s sexuality and sexual associations are unique, and it’s important for people to understand that and accept it. For example, not everyone feels sexual and should not feel pressured to “be sexual” in the same manner. The important part is to understand your personal relationship with sex and where your feelings stem from.
Research has shown us the multitude of areas sexual satisfaction has in one’s life, from your career to how long you live. An 80-year longitudinal study conducted by Harvard University found that fulfilling relationships were the key to health, happiness, and longevity. Additionally, those with the most fulfilling relationships earned the most and had more rewarding careers. Similar results were found in a study that surveyed over 200 high-earning women, most of whom held director, management, or C-suite positions, and all between 35 and 64 years old. The majority of the women believed a fulfilling sexual and relational life positively impacted their careers. But, what good are money and career success without physical health?
Fortunately, sexual wellness positively affects physical health as well. Studies have revealed that sexual pleasure can strengthen the immune system, improve sleep quality, and reduce depression and anxiety symptoms.
Despite what research has told us about the importance of sexual wellness, there is still a lack of information and conversation on the topic. In fact, a survey on women and sexual education found that pleasure was never mentioned to 77% of those surveyed, and 70% said consent was never discussed. Further, 62% of these women said they experience shame in regards to sex and their sexuality. This is a contributing factor to “the orgasm gap.” The orgasm gap is a term used to describe the fact that women experience fewer orgasms and less sexual pleasure than men. There is a movement to reduce this gap, which is also a part of sexual wellness.
To reiterate, sexual wellness isn’t solely about orgasm. Whether or not you orgasm is a small piece of it. Sexual wellness is a much deeper concept involving satisfaction, intimacy, and self-worth. If you consider these areas and feel your sexual wellness may be sub-par, there are ways to improve it.
How to Improve Sexual Wellness
Meditation is to mental wellness, as _____________ is to sexual wellness. Can you fill in the blank?
It’s actually a trick question because there is more than one right answer. Education, exploration, communication, and therapy would all be correct. Sexual wellness is multifaceted, and just as it can affect many aspects of our lives, it can be influenced by different aspects of our lives and experiences as well. Here are four ways you can improve your sexual wellness:
1. Give yourself the education you never received.
Maybe you didn’t receive any sex education at all or, the information you did receive was from your Church, and pleasure and sexuality weren’t openly discussed. Perhaps you were explicitly told that sex is strictly for reproductive purposes and not for pleasure. A distorted sex education centered around shame, guilt, and service can cause future issues with your relationship with sex.
It’s time to undo that education and do some research of your own. There are a number of books on the topic that can be ordered online from sex shops or even Amazon. For the most current, easy-to-read articles, find a reputable blog or online magazine that touches on different elements of sexual wellness.
2. Explore your body and discover what feels good.
Self-discovery is a form of education, but one that is more physical than mental. Self-exploration is a great way to learn what feels good and explore areas like your clitoris, vagina, and G-spot. For some simple G-spot directions – head inside and up. You’ll find a fleshy patch behind your pubic bone area. Each body is different; some are located higher, others are lower.
You can also try incorporating toys like a vibrator. Using toys, such as a vibrator, will help you experience pleasure without the pressure or expectations of a partner and can be used to discover new erogenous zones. You can also incorporate the toy into sex with a partner to increase sexual satisfaction. Estrogen levels drop with age, and there is less circulation, meaning it takes longer to become aroused and wet. Vibrators can increase stimulation and encourage beloved foreplay. Getting to know your body by touch will help you develop a positive attitude towards pleasure.
3. Communicate openly with your partner.
Although “communication” isn’t a word that instantly turns people on, it is the secret ingredient to amazing sex and pleasure. Mutual consent, boundaries, and an understanding of what feels good and what doesn’t will increase sexual satisfaction and improve sexual wellness.
Sex is largely emotional, especially for women, so if you are feeling there is a lack of emotional intimacy – the physical intimacy won’t be there either. You should feel comfortable communicating your needs for both emotional and physical intimacy. If you are with a new partner, speak with them before having sex. If you have been with your partner for a long time, it doesn’t mean you are off the hook with communication. Sexual needs change with time, and it’s a conversation that should be had throughout your relationship.
4. Speak with a sexual wellness professional.
If your mental health was suffering, you would probably reach out to a professional, right?
The same applies to sexual wellness. Sexual therapists are trained and experienced in helping individuals or couples when they are experiencing roadblocks or barriers. If you have any mental, emotional, or physical discomfort or uncertainty, it can interfere with your sexual wellness. For example, if you experienced sexual trauma, experience sexual pain, or have questions about your sexuality or gender.
There are different sexual health educators and professionals, including therapists and counselors. For physical concerns, you can speak with your physician, a pelvic floor therapist, or visit a sexual health clinic. Find someone you trust, and they can help you achieve the sexual wellness you deserve.
There is a promising outlook on the horizon when it comes to sexual wellness. Many individuals and organizations continue to advocate for increased awareness and education. Texdx speaker Erin Chen has launched a sexual wellness festival. The first of its kind in Asia. Chen’s vision is long-term, “We are doing this for our future children. For them to grow up in a world where sex is not shrouded with shame and embarrassment, and where they feel free to make informed choices that give them fulfilling sexual experiences and relationships – however that looks like”.
Sexual wellness is something that must be maintained and nurtured throughout your life. There’s no one-time fix or one-size-fits-all approach. Improving sexual wellness is unique, individual and continuously evolving – just like you. To increase your sexual wellness, try one or all of the four ways listed here and see what works for you. You deserve pleasure, satisfaction, and sexual wellness.