|Healthy Sexuality and the Elimination of Harmful Practices|
Sexuality is a central aspect of people's lives and encompasses gender
identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, and
intimacy as well as reproduction. WHO's work on sexuality, which is a
new thematic area of work for the Department of Reproductive Health and
Research, emphasizes the positive aspects of healthy sexual development
as well as the need for protection from physical and emotional harm.
Initial work has focused on the development of working definitions of
sex, sexuality, sexual health, and sexual rights and on the context in
which they are to be studied and understood (see www.who.int/reproductive-health/gender/sexual-health.html):
Healthy Sexuality and the Elimination of Harmful Practices
Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.
Research and data
The area of sexuality clearly overlaps with other areas of sexual and reproductive health such as the prevention of RTIs/STIs and HIV/AIDS; the dynamics of contraceptive use and prevention of unwanted pregnancies; gender relations (including men's roles in sexual and reproductive health and violence against women); and adolescent risk taking. Research on sexual behavior among adolescents is summarized in the publication Sexual Relations Among Young People in Developing Countries: Evidence from WHO Case Studies (2001) described in Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (p. 18 below). Approaches to investigating sexual violence are described in Gender, Health and Reproductive Rights (p. 22 below).
WHO has not yet engaged in research or in the development of tools or guidelines addressed to issues such as gender inequality and power in promoting healthy sexuality at the individual, family, community and health system levels. Rather, it has drawn attention to harmful sexual practices with significant health complications such as the practice of female genital cutting (female genital mutilation or FGM). Research on this topic is summarized in A Systematic Review of Research on Health Complications following Female Genital Mutilation, including Sequelae in Childbirth (1998).
Guidelines for providers