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 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 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 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 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.