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Defining sex, sexuality, sexual health and sexual rights

To start with, I decided to share with you some of the definitions that we will be constantly refering to as we discuss sexual rights issues.

These working definitions were elaborated as a result of a WHO-convened international technical consultation on sexual health in January 2002, and subsequently revised by a group of experts from different parts of the world.
They are presented here as a contribution to on-going discussions about sexual health, but do not represent an official WHO position, and should not be used or quoted as WHO definitions.

Sex
Sex refers to the biological characteristics that define humans as female or male. While these sets of biological characteristics are not mutually exclusive, as there are individuals who possess both, they tend to differentiate humans as males and females. In general use in many languages, the term sex is often used to mean “sexual activity”, but for technical purposes in the context of sexuality and sexual health discussions, the above definition is preferred.

Sexuality
Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.

Sexual health
Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.

Sexual rights
Sexual rights embrace human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus statements. They include the right of all persons, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, to:
• the highest attainable standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services;
• seek, receive and impart information related to sexuality;
• sexuality education;
• respect for bodily integrity;
• choose their partner;
• decide to be sexually active or not;
• consensual sexual relations;
• consensual marriage;
• decide whether or not, and when, to have children; and
• pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life.

Comments

efe's picture

ON SEXUAL RIGHTS

THANK YOU FOR EXPLAINING IT ALL IN DETAIL. I GET CONFUSED SOMETIMES WITH THE TERMS.SEXUAL RIGHTS ARE INDEED IMPORTANT FOR EVERY INDIVIDUAL, SADLY PEOPLE SOMETIMES TRY TO COERCE OTHERS TO BEHAVE IN A MATTER THAT IS ACCEPTABLE TO THEM OR THE LARGER SOCIETY.IN AFRICA THE RIGHT NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN IS ALMOST NON-EXISTENT. THE RIGHT TO CELIBACY IS ALSO CONSIDERED AS UNIMAGINABLE FOR QUITE A NUMBER OF PEOPLE BUT I BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO MAKE THEIR CHOICES ON MATTERS OF SEXUALITY.

cad_communication's picture

I agree

Indeed, Sexual rights are violeted in many countries. From the work that i have been doing in Zimbabwe, I observed that many women do not understand the definition of sexual rights and how these rights can be advanced.
One of the major challenge that i have encountered include challenging cultural and religious beliefs.For instance, most women find it difficult determine the number of children they want to have. This is because when a husband pays lobola (the bridal price) they have total control of the woman's body. She is more of his property than his wife. A woman cannot say no to having sex with her husband. Many people in ZImbabwe still do not recognise marital rape and no case has been reported to the police.
Do you also have these challenges in your country? How have you or other people tried to overcome these challenges?

Gertrude

efe's picture

the Nigerian experience

I am in Ghana at the moment but i have only been here for less than two months so i cannot say much about what happens here but in Nigeria,though things are improving, There is still of psychological repression. Women allow themselves to be defined by the needs of others and their societies. They are willing or unwilling participants to love-less marriages, sexual abuse in relationships.

on the outside,things seem to be improving but many women have sexual needs that they suppress or deny in order not to be seen as different.Quite a number of women who sometimes feel overwhelmed by such desires, engage in extra-marital affairs because they feel that they have been shortchanged in their marriages but they do a good job of hiding it because the society frowns as such kind of women and label them as prostitutes . The majority of women who engage in such affairs do so because they are pressurized into such marriages so they do not give themselves time to be sure of themselves or even their partners. Once they get married, they are encouraged to endure any act that their husband's takes.

nadine laughlin's picture

suppressed needs

I am interested to read what you write about the sexual - and I am sure emotional, as well - needs of women in these love-less relationships, and how they work with those needs. What kind of support systems are in place to help women choose a different path - refusing coerced marriages?

efe's picture

suppot systems

Well, they are NGO's that are dedicated to preventing women from contracting hiv/aids and other STI's. There are also organizations that help empower women financially but you hardly have organizations that deal with psychological empowerment. it is not an African thing. Religious organizations are doing their part but i think it will be better to have specialized centres that help young people build themselves up psychologically so that they can handle future relationships.

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