Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality.
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 and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.
Adapted from the World Health Organization, Gender and Human Rights: “It is recommended that all people who are sexually active get regular health checkups and sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings.
Sexual health resources
The Habif Health and Wellness Center provides comprehensive sexual health services for WashU students on the Danforth campus. You may schedule appointments in Medical and/or the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services online. Health Promotion Services offers a variety of sexual health programs and resources.
Am I ready?
“Hooking up” or having sex with a partner is a big decision. It involves many feelings, responsibilities and choices. Before you engage in a sexual relationship, it can be helpful to check in with your feelings and emotional state. Think about your personal values and goals—what feelings do you have about the emotional and physical risks you are willing to take? How clear can you be with your partner about what you want and don’t want to happen? Are you feeling pressured to engage in activities that you don’t feel ready for? Remember, you are never obligated to do anything you do not want to do.
Practicing safer sex
Exploring sexuality is a natural part of adult human behavior, but all forms of sexual activity beyond masturbation and fantasy carry risk. Sexually transmitted infections (STI) are present on campus and in the community, and some forms of sexual activity carry the risk of pregnancy. Disregarding a partner’s active consent can be a form of rape. To maximize pleasure and minimize negative consequences:
- Internal condoms, external condoms, and oral dams (sometimes known as prophylactics) provide protection from STIs as well as pregnancy. Make sure to check the expiration dates on condoms – expired condoms are more likely to break.
- Use safe and reliable contraceptives, including long-acting reversible methods of contraception (LARCS) such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) or implants along with condoms or dental dams to avoid unintended pregnancy or infection. Other forms of birth control include the pill, the patch and the ring. The Habif Health and Wellness Center and many organizations on campus provide free condoms and dental dams.
- When other contraceptive measures fail, emergency contraceptives (EC) can prevent pregnancy up to 120 hours after the fact. EC is safe and effective but should not be used as regular contraception.
- Learn the symptoms of STIs, but know that many people don’t show any symptoms at all. Regular screening is important.
- Be careful when engaging in sexual activity under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Alcohol impairs judgment and impedes the ability to give (or obtain) proper consent.
- Sex without consent is rape. Ask someone if they want to engage in sexual activities, and give them the opportunity to say no. Never pressure someone into engaging in sexual activities that they do not want. Consent is the presence of an active yes, not the absence of a no.
- Safer sex means mutual respect. Be clear about what you do and do not want to do and respect each other’s limits. Be attentive to each other’s pleasure.
How do I maintain a healthy sexual lifestyle?
Exploring sexuality is a natural part of adult human behavior, but sexual behavior can also carry risks. Use condoms and dental dams to decrease risk of STI infection, and have yourself and your sexual partner or partners regularly tested for STIs.
More sexual health information
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website on sexual health
Didja Know advocates safe sex and has information about STIs, prevention and more.
Contraceptive Choice Center