6 Principles of Sexual health (and how they relate to your sex life)

6 Principles of Sexual health (and how they relate to your sex life)

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.

#198 – Racism and Sexual Health – Kristian Holmes

#198 – Racism and Sexual Health – Kristian Holmes

Listen to “198 – Racism and Sexual Health – Kristian Holmes”

Racism and Sexual Health 

In this episode we talk to Kristian Holmes, a therapist who is a person of color. We dive deep into racism and emotional and mental health, especially for people of color and/or disadvantaged people in general. We’ll discuss what these groups of people are up against in terms of seeking care, the kind of experiences they have and what they can do to potentially advocate for themselves and find resources to support them. We will also talk about what therapists can do to make sure that they are providing a safe space for them. 

How does racism impact people’s sexual health and wellbeing in general? 

Sexual health involves physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing. With systemic racism, biases are inherent in a lot of medical practices, and trying to seek quality care or resources in terms of sexual health becomes difficult for people of color. The stress brought about by racism on a day-to-day basis impacts people’s relationships and sex life. 

How do you advise people of color to seek out help that will be responsive? 

Communication is key. Do not hesitate to seek information in a community amongst people who are struggling or dealing with similar issues, regardless of whether it’s medical or therapy. It is important to ask questions and be transparent and open to people about what you’re seeking for in a doctor or a therapist. Kristian Holmes also recommends some groups that she considers to be safe spaces where black people can go to explore their sexuality and discuss issues that they may be having. 

How can therapists create a safe space for people of color? 

Therapists have to make sure that they are aware of their inherent biases or stereotypes. It is necessary to educate yourselves outside the office and self-reflect to know who you are comfortable dealing with and the different issues that you are comfortable talking about. If you are struggling in dealing with clients who are of color, seek supervision and consultation. Holmes also goes into dismantling specific stereotypes associated with black people in general. 

How can therapists make it clear that they are offering a safe space for people of color? 

There are a number of factors that can help convey this message. It could be the training that you are attending, what you are posting on social media, and just really showing that black lives and black people’s mental health matters. 


Kristian A. Holmes is the founder of Stepping Stones Counseling & Wellness Center. She is a licensed mental health counselor, National Certified Counselor, qualified supervisor for registered mental health interns and certified Florida School Guidance Counselor with experience working with adults, children, adolescents and families in various settings such as schools, day treatment programs, the criminal justice system, and as a private psychotherapist. Kristian obtained her Bachelor’s, Master’s and Specialist degrees from the University of Florida. 

A holistic, strength-based, and sexological approach that is tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual is utilized in therapy along with other techniques and approaches that are complementary to the client’s presenting concerns. Kristian is fully dedicated to helping her clients realize their potential through support and empowerment. 

Resources and links: 

More info and resources:
How Big a Problem is Your Sex Life? Quiz – https://www.sexlifequiz.com
Access the Free webinar: How to make sex easy and fun for both of you: https://intimacywithease.com/masterclass
Secret Podcast for the Higher Desire Partner: https://www.intimacywithease.com/hdppodcast
Secret Podcast for the Lower Desire Partner: https://www.intimacywithease.com/ldppodcast




#108 – Out of Control Sexual Behavior – Doug Braun-Harvey

#108 – Out of Control Sexual Behavior – Doug Braun-Harvey

Listen to “108: Out of Control Sexual Behavior – Doug Braun-Harvey”

Out of Control Sexual Behavior 

My guest, the sexuality educator, author, trainer, and psychotherapist Doug Braun Harvey is here to share his knowledge on an important distinction in the sexual health realm: Out of Control Sexual Behavior (OCSB). Within this interview, there are discussions about classifications of sexual health, advice for psychotherapists on how to let patients present their own vision of sexual health, and an overall fruitful discussion on the nuances of the field. 

Spoken eloquently and drawing from his wide experience in the field, Doug Braun-Harvey makes this a must-listen.   (more…)

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