The Facts about Sexual Health
What is Sexual Health?
According to the current working definition, 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.” (WHO, 2006a)
What is 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. (WHO, 2006a)
What is Sexuality?
Sexual health cannot be defined, understood or made operational without a broad consideration of sexuality, which underlies important behaviours and outcomes related to sexual health. The working definition of sexuality* is:
“…a central aspect of being human throughout life 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, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.” (WHO, 2006a)
According to the National College Health Association survey of GVSU students:
- 74% of students are sexually active
- 49% of students that had vaginal sex within the last 30 days used a condom or other protective barrier
- 14.5% of students who had anal sex within the last 30 days used a condom or other protective barrier
- 59% of students (or their partners) used contraceptives the last time they had vaginal sex
- 23% of students had unprotected sex within the last 12 months when drinking alcohol
Just a Few Topics
We can't possibly share all the information you might need for your sexual health while at GVSU and beyond. But, here are some content areas and resources we trust!
General Sexual Health
- The Kinsey Institute - A premier research institute around human sexuality and relationships.
- Guttmacher Institute - Provides a wide range of resources around sexual and reproductive health.
- Scarleteen - Inclusive, comprehensive, supportive sexuality and relationships info for teens and emerging adults.
- Planned Parenthood - The For Teens page has information about sex, relationships, your body and more.
- Safer Sex Practices - Check out our page on how to engage in safer sexual activity, physically, mentally and emotionally.
- Free Condoms - Partnering with Ottawa County Department of Public Health, you can get free condoms on campus. There are also limited numbers of dental dams and finger cots with RecWell.
- Abstinence can be a safe option for people when it comes to sexual health. Abstinence can have a variety of definitions, so what is it, how do you do it and are there any risks?
- Bedsider.org (Bedsider) - is an online birth control support network for women 18-29 operated by Power to Decide, which works to ensure that every young person has the power to decide if, when, and under what circumstances to get pregnant—increasing their opportunity to pursue the future they want.
- Ottawa County Department of Public Health - offers many sexual health services including birth control options, STI testing, breast and cervical cancer screenings and other sexual health concerns. No parental consent is required and all services are confidential.
- Yoppie's Contraception & Your Cycle explores how each contraceptive impacts your menstrual cycle
- HIV.gov - Learn basics and history of HIV/AIDS, prevention, testing, treatment and living well with HIV.
- AVERT a UK-based charity that has been providing accurate and trusted information about HIV and sexual health worldwide for over 30 years.
- Grand Valley Family Health Center - Among other services, offers PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis).
- Need a pregnancy test? Some local resources include the GV Family Health Center near Downtown GR campuses, Campus Health Center or Ottawa County Department of Public Health (Holland, Grand Haven or Hudsonville)
- Refresher Course in Human Reproduction - Scarleteen does it again with a great blog on how pregnancy happens with reliable resources at the end of the blog.
- College Guide for LGBTQ Students - The guide offers materials for students transitioning from home to college life. The article covers information on LGBTQ+ statistics, financial aid resources, legal rights, as well as mental health concerns the community may face.
- Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center - This on-campus resource offers resources for prospective and current students along with many programs and events to create an informed, cohesive, and just campus where community members of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender presentations are supported and welcome.
- University Counseling Center - This on-campus resource houses many professionals trained in LGBTQ clinical services.
Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence
- GVSU's Victim Advocate: Here to listen to your story, provide you with options and resources, and support you with whatever choices you make.
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network): is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org y rainn.org/es)
- YWCA -West Central Michigan: Transforming lives with leadership programs for girls and our community’s most comprehensive prevention and intervention services for all to address domestic and dating abuse, sexual assault, stalking, and child sexual abuse.
Sexual Decision Making
- Ready or not? - Scarleteen offers a comprehensive checklist to consider if you are ready to engage in sexual activity.
- Options for Sexual Health is a Canadian based organization that cares about the healthy sexuality of all and offers these questions for sexual decision making.
- Communication is Key - Check out our list of communication topics (and starter questions) as you talk about sex with your partner(s).
COVID-19 and Sexual Health
Here are some quick tips to have a healthy sex life in the time of COVID-19:
- The CDC recommends social distancing (minimum of 6 feet / 2 meters) as your best defense against COVID-19.
- You are your safest sex partner. Self-pleasure is a great option and doesn't spread COVID-19.
- Communicating with our partner(s) virtually (known as cybersex or sexting) is a great alternative that follows the social distancing recommendation. Learn how to do it safely! *Also, a note on sexting under 18 in MI.
- Talk with your partner(s) and create a game plan on how you can limit your risk for COVID-19.
- And, don't forget to check out our tips for safer sex always.
COVID-19 and Sexual Health Resources
Here are some trusted resources to understand the risks of sex and intimate contact during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Intimacy, sex, and COVID-19 from Harvard Health
- COVID-19 and Your Sexual Health from Planned Parenthood
- COVID-19 and Your Sexual Health from Fenway Health
- Sex and Coronavirus (COVID-19) from Avert
- Prevention, Relationships, and Accessing Services from the National Coalition for Sexual Health
- Sex and COVID-19 from the American Sexual Health Association