Sexual health basics

Sexuality is part of being human. Love, affection and intimacy all play a role in healthy relationships from childhood through old age.

You often hear about the importance of physical health, mental health and spiritual health, but feeling confident about your sexual health also is very important. Achieving sexual health allows for:

  • Healthy relationships
  • Planned pregnancies
  • Disease prevention

That's why it's essential to be well-informed about all aspects of sexual health and what it takes to have a fulfilling sex life. Similarly, it's important to be aware of factors that can complicate your sexual health. Don't let embarrassment keep you from bringing up concerns or asking questions of your doctor or other health care providers.

STD prevention

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are infections generally acquired by sexual contact. You can get an STD by having unprotected sex with a partner who's infected. You can't always tell if someone is infected, however, because many STDs cause no symptoms, at least at first. In fact, a person might have an STD without knowing it.

That's why you have to be vigilant about STD prevention. If you're sexually active, your best bet for STD prevention is to have just one sex partner who doesn't have any STDs and who has sex only with you. If you're not in an exclusive relationship, you can still protect yourself by learning about and consistently practicing STD prevention, such as using condoms.

Women's sexual health

Women's sexual health is an important aspect of women's health, whether you're trying to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections or you're worried about low sex drive or other women's sexual health problems.

Learn how to achieve a fulfilling sexual relationship, and know how to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections. As you get older, understand common changes in women's sexual health — and how to maintain a healthy and enjoyable sex life at any age.

Men's sexual health

Men's sexual health is an important aspect of men's health, whether you're trying to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections or you're worried about erectile dysfunction or other men's sexual health problems.

For some men, worries about penis size top the list of their sexual health concerns. However, you're probably more normal than you think — and penis-enlargement products and procedures aren't likely to be effective.

As you get older, understand common changes in men's sexual health — and how to maintain a healthy and enjoyable sex life at any age.

Sex and aging

Are sex and aging like oil and water? No! Many older adults desire and enjoy an active sex life. And an active interest in sex, as well as satisfaction with the frequency and quality of sexual activity, is positively associated with health in later life. So don't let anyone tell you that sex is only for the young.

Of course, there are some challenges when it comes to sex and aging. Physical changes, illness, disabilities and some medicines can make sex challenging or difficult to enjoy. Yet, many resources are available to older adults to help them achieve a satisfying sex life. Don't be afraid to bring up concerns with your doctor or other health care provider.

And remember, whatever your age, take precautions to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections.

Talking to kids about sex

Kids and sexuality — those words strike fear into the hearts of many parents. But talking to kids about sex is an important part of parenting. Children and adolescents need your guidance to help them make healthy and appropriate decisions about their sexual behavior.

When it comes to talking to kids about sex, there's no set script. And sex education needn't be a single tell-all discussion. Instead, look for everyday opportunities and let your child set the pace with his or her questions. Provide just the information that your child is asking for and is able to understand. As your child matures and asks more-detailed questions, you can provide more-detailed responses.

It's normal to feel uncomfortable when talking to kids about sex. But remember that by providing accurate and open communication, you increase the odds that your child will understand your values and make appropriate choices about sex.

Apr. 04, 2014