Sexual health is key to a great sex life. If you’re in a committed relationship but struggling with sex, you’re going to want to make sure you’re checking all 6 of these boxes.

I’m going to talk about the 6 aspects of sexual health as described by Mr. Doug Braun-Harvey after the Pan-American Health Organization, in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the World Association of Sexual Health published their report. This may sound academic, but each principle applies to your sex life. In fact, without all 6, your sex life cannot thrive over time. And the last one is the most taken for granted!

Healthy sex is Consensual

Sexual health requires sex to be consensual. This is the most universal sexual health principle on the planet. Consent means “voluntary cooperation” and communicates permission to be sexual with willing partners. Establishing consent throughout each step of a sexual interaction provides each sexual partner space for sexual safety and pleasure that is consistent with their sexual desires. When consent is given, one is saying, “I want this, I want you to give me something that I desire.”  You want to seek enthusiastic consent along the way. It should be clear and unmistakable.

And you may be thinking “I’m in a relationship. Aren’t we beyond needing to seek consent?” Couples often develop a repertoire of “consented activities” but consent incidents can still occur if you take that for granted. What we want can change over time. Just because we consent to something Tuesday doesn’t mean we really want it on Thursday. Make sure your partner is enthusiastic in their participation and err on the side of checking in.

Healthy sex is Non-Exploitative

Sexual health requires sex to be non-exploitative. Exploitation is when a person leverages their power and control to receive sexual gratification. Exploitation compromises a person’s ability to consent to sex. Intentional exploitative sex is ruthless and insensitive to the feelings of a partner and family members. But it’s also possible to have much more subtle forms of exploitation: pressure, emotional consequences to saying no, power dynamics in the relationship leading one person to feel like they don’t have as much choice.

Again, in a committed relationship, you may think exploitation can’t happen. But it can. You could have more power in your relationship, and that could play out in sex. You could react badly when your partner doesn’t want sex, and that creates a consequence they want to avoid. Even if you don’t mean to put that kind of pressure on your partner, they may believe it’s there and end up going along with sexual acts. Watch for cues that they are not enthusiastically choosing sex.

Healthy sex is Honest

Sexual health requires open and direct communication with oneself and every sexual partner. Honesty with oneself involves being open to sexual pleasure, sexual experience, and sexual education. Without honesty, sexual relationships will not be able to have effective communication or be able to uphold any of the sexual health principles. Honesty encompasses sexual health conversations about pleasure, sexual functioning, eroticism, gender and/or sexual relationship diversity. Each person has the responsibility to determine their own standards of honesty about sex and sexuality as it relates to their partners, medical providers, community, and themselves.

Honesty certainly applies in your relationship. Honesty with your partner involves letting them know what you like and what you don’t, how you feel about what you’re doing, and telling them if there are things that are disturbing or blocking you. And they need to be honest with you about the same things. Even though sex can be a tricky subject to talk about, honesty is the only way to make it something you both enjoy.

Healthy sex is based in Shared Values

Throughout the lifespan, sexual values play an important role in motivations for sex. Values are a source of identifying one’s sexual standards and ethics. Values differences, when honestly and vulnerably shared between partners, can lead to closeness or painful distance. Either way, it is a conversation that brings reality and clarity where couples may have previously chosen avoidance and deception.

Have you ever considered the values you and your partner have around sex? Specific sexual acts or turn-ons may have very different meanings for each partner. Being sexual can have different meanings for different people. People value different parts of a sexually intimate encounter. It’s not that the two of you have to enjoy or value the same things, but there needs to be a shared value of making sex a win/win, making it sure it hits the values each of you has.

Healthy sex is Protected from STI, HIV, and Unwanted Pregnancy

This sexual heath principle addresses the need for anyone engaged in sexual activity to implement a contraception plan so they have a choice about whether to get pregnant/impregnate, prevent acquiring a sexually transmitted infection, and take precautions to prevent transmission of HIV. The ability to test for and treat STIs is essential for sexual health. Knowledge of and access to birth control is essential for sexual health. Healthy sex is safer sex.

This may or may not be an issue in your relationship. But it’s hard to relax and enjoy sex if you’re afraid of getting pregnant (or getting someone pregnant). It can be hard to enjoy sex if you’re concerned about passing on an STI. You have to tackle these issues, if they’re there, so the two of you can focus on what sex is all about. Which leads to the last principle:

Healthy sex is focused Pleasure

Pleasure is a primary motivation for solo-sexual activity (masturbation) and partnered sex. It is one of the two key reasons to have sex: pleasure and connection. Too often, pleasure is left out of the conversation about healthy and safe sex, as if it’s an afterthought. All people are deserving of pleasure, and healthy sex centers the pleasure of both partners. It is hard to have pleasure in sex if the other 5 principles are not met. Throughout all stages of life from pre-teen to the final years of life, sexual health is the art of balancing one’s sexual safety and responsibility with the lifelong curiosity of pleasure, exploring sexual interests and remaining curious about the ever-changing sources of sexual pleasure.

Pleasure needs to be a focus in your sex life with your partner. Pleasure for both of you. What pleases us changes over time, and it changes when our bodies respond differently. Often, someone with a decreased desire for sex is having trouble finding pleasure in it. Seeking ways to make any intimate encounter enjoyable for both of you is crucial if you want your sex life to thrive over time.

Apply these 6 principles and you are on your way to a sex life that can be fulfilling for both of you over your life together.

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