What is Sexual Health?Sexual health is a broad and loosely defined term that encompasses several extremely different areas of medicine. Sexual health not only includes physical health related to the act of sex, but also emotional, mental, or identity issues that can interfere with healthy sexuality. Because this scope is so broad, a huge number of health care professionals can accurately say they work in the sexual health specialty. Some of the many varied conditions included in sexual health include intimacy disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, reproductive health, LGBTQ issues, and sexual violence. Sexual intimacy disorders are those that cause problems with the act of sexual intercourse, such as erectile dysfunction or vulvodynia. Erectile dysfunction, the inability to get or maintain an erection hard enough for sexual intercourse, is extremely common. It affects fully half of men over 40 to some degree. It is treated with medications, devices, or surgery. Vulvodynia, burning pain in the vulva that can be made worse with sexal activity, has no known cause. It is treated with oral or topical medications. Sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, are bacterial or viral infections that are contagious in the bodily fluids exchanged during sexual contact. Barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms, help prevent the spread of STDs. HIV is a virus that can be caught from an infected person's sexual fluids or blood. When the virus infects the body, it interferes with the immune system and causes the disease known as AIDS. There is no cure, but anti-viral medications can help people with AIDS live a long and healthy life. Herpes is also a virus found in sexual fluids, called HSV-2. It causes blisters that come and go on the genitals. There is no cure for herpes, but anti-virals can minimize outbreaks. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are both bacterial infections. They are extremely common and often have no symptoms. The most common signs of an infection are burning pain and discharge. Gonorrhea and chlamydia can be treated with medications. Reproductive health refers to both contraception and infertility treatment. Contraceptives prevent and plan the timing of pregnancy. Some, such as a vasectomy or tubal ligation, are extremely effective at preventing pregnancy. Others, such as spermicides, are less reliable. Popular contraceptives include condoms, birth control pills, IUDs, and diaphragms. On the other side of reproductive health, infertility is the inability to carry a pregnancy to term after one year of trying. It can be due to problems in either the man or the woman, and both genders are affected equally. In total, about 15% of the population suffer from infertility. Infertility treatments include medications and surgery. Gay and transgender people are as healthy as anyone else, but they have a few specific health care needs that may sometimes fall under the sexual health umbrella. First, many LGBT people still face discrimination from healthcare providers, so providing supportive and appropriate care is an issue. Because of social attitudes surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity, many gay and transgender people struggle with their identities. Rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide are all higher in this group. Providing mental health support and counseling to those in transition is critical. Finally, transgender patients who are undergoing gender affirmation require sensitive medical health care, including surgical and hormonal treatment. Sexual violence can be defined as any unwanted or non-consensual sexual activity. It ranges from sexual harassment to touching to rape. It affects women more than men and is widespread: 1 in 4 women report being victims of sexual violence at the hands of a partner, and as many as 1 in 3 girls report their first sexual contact as being violent. Sexual violence has lasting physical and emotional consequences for victims, but educating both girls and boys can prevent violence. Care for those who have endured sexual violence includes counseling and mental health support, medical care, and legal support. Humans are sexual creatures from the time we reach puberty through the rest of our lives. Sexuality is more than a reproductive requirement -- it is a form of expression and identity. Sexual health blends all these aspects of our experience together and helps us lead sexually fulfilling lives.
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