Sexual health is an integral part of human health. It’s not just about the absence of disease; it’s a matter of holistic well-being – physical, mental, emotional – that enables a person to fulfil their potential and enjoy life.
Sexual health is about caring for ourselves and each other, and celebrating our bodies’ capacities, including the capacity for pleasure. It’s about relationships built upon mutual trust and respect, and creating a place of safety from which we can express ourselves, explore and connect with others.
Sexual health is inseparable from the full enjoyment of human rights, including every person’s right to bodily autonomy.
At its core is consent. Every person has the right to decide if, when and with whom to have sex.
This is part of everyone’s right to make their own choices about their own lives and their bodies, including if and when they want to have children. And it means that every person must be able to access everything they need – including contraception and the full range of sexual and reproductive health services and information – to make these rights a reality.
Personal and collective empowerment strengthens and sustains sexual health. We are healthier when we know our own bodies, learn how to take care of and protect ourselves, and can readily access services and support. Those services and support need to be available, accessible and affordable for every community.
Too often, the right to sexual health is denied – especially to women and girls, LGBTQI+ people, people with disabilities, and those living in poverty or belonging to communities facing discrimination.
The right to sexual health is denied when sex is shrouded in shame and ignorance, or bound up with coercion, abuse or exploitation. It is denied when people face stigma, discrimination and violence, and also when sexual and reproductive health care is out of reach, such as during humanitarian crises or as a result of poverty and systemic injustices rooted in sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia.
Across the world, UNFPA promotes sexual health by advocating for every person’s right to bodily autonomy and supporting access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, without discrimination. In times of stability and crisis alike, we work to ensure access to contraception, comprehensive sexuality education, maternal health, and services to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and harmful practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage.