This month marks the Sexual Health Awareness Month, recognized by the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA). September 4, 2020 was also celebrated as the 5th annual World Sexual Health Day, by the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS). This year’s theme was titled, “Sexual Pleasure in Times of COVID-19.”
According to the World Health Organization, sexual health is defined as “a state of physical, emotional, mental, & social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires…the possibility of having pleasurable & safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination & violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual health of all persons must be respected, protected & fulfilled.”
This definition of sexual health expands on prior definitions of the terms that mostly just focused on reproductive health and disease prevention, to one that includes broader concepts related to physical, emotional, mental and social well-being.
And as the world is faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital to keep this understanding of sexual health in mind. The WAS states in their planning for this year’s “Sexual Pleasure in Times of COVID-19” theme, “in each region of the world, the infection with COVID-10 has come at a different time, with a different incidence and with different governmental measures, but in society there will be significant social effects on sexual health, in couple relationships, in family relationships, in social relations and in mental health.”In New York State, there have been many efforts to provide guidance for the community, and to those working in the field of sexual health, HIV/STI/VH prevention, and infectious disease prevention, related to safer sex during this current pandemic. Indeed, the New York City Department of Health released in June of this year—in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic—their “Safer Sex and COVID-19” guidelines with harm reduction strategies to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 during sexual intercourse.