Use these principles to define sexual health in your relationship.
How we discuss sex with our partner is, perhaps, more important than the sex itself. After all, communication sets the tone for our sexual experiences. Sharing a common understanding; defining a pleasurable, positive experience with your partner is the center of sexual health.
Pay close attention! The six principles of sexual health can change the way you and your partner communicate and connect.
Why do we have sex? It seems like an obvious question, but we have many motivations. Yes, of course it feels good and connects us with our partner, but that’s not the traditional interest of science.
If you study history and science, sex is about procreation, control, and power. And the study of sexual behavior has been mostly about protection and safety.
Understanding the difference between a healthy relationship with sex and an unhealthy approach is central to good sexual communication and mutual satisfaction with your partner. It’s the science of pleasure.
Sexual health is often discussed in clinical terms, missing the main point.
In academia, there’s relatively little discussion about the pleasure of sex.
Babies, safety, and power are important of course, but they leave out the crucial part of being sexual as a factor that drives most of our sexual decision making: pleasure.
Respecting the complex role sex plays in our lives is worth the effort. Instead of having the treating clinician define healthy sexuality for the client in binary terms – “healthy” or “not healthy” – the client should define sexual health for themselves.
Enter the six principles of sexual health
The six principles of sexual health are important because they respect both the clinical and the sensory. The genius of this approach is it’s holistic embrace of our human need to understand and feel.
- Consent: This means voluntary cooperation. The FRIES model of consent helps us understand the components of consent. Freely Given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific.
- Non-exploitation: Not taking advantage of someone or having control over them in order to get sexual gratification
- Protection from unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections
- Shared Values: What are your sexual standards and ethics? What meaning do you attribute to sex and certain sex acts and turn-ons?
- Honesty: Open and direct communication with one’s self and one’s partner
- Pleasure: One of the biggest driving factors in how one makes a sexual decision; does it feel good?
Defining sexual health allows us to define the terms of satisfying, meaningful sex
These principles allow for a more nuanced definition of sexual health and allow for the client to take ownership of their own sexual health rather than leaving the definition to a clinician. These principles come from places like the World Health Organization.
Putting energy into genuine sexual health balances the need for safety with the pleasurable parts of sex, making the conversation more complete (and accurate).
The principles of sexual health as a therapeutic tool
A therapist can introduce the principles during a session, using them to help clients define what sexual health means to them. That definition can then serve as as a guide for making more informed and complete sexual decisions.
“Does this decision fit within my principles and values as an individual?”
“How does this sexual decision serve me?”
“How does it not serve me?”
Addressing sexual health within the relationship
These principles are also helpful in allowing for in-depth discussion within a sexual partnership. What are our shared values as a couple? What if our values differ somewhat? What if my partner finds a certain sex act pleasurable and I do not?
A trained sex therapist can help a couple navigate and explore those differences.
For more information about the six principles, read Doug Braun-Harvey’s post on the subject.