By Sophy Nyongesa
Celebrated annually on 4th September, World Sexual Health Day attempts to breakdown social and cultural taboos associated with sexuality and to promote positive sexual health around the world. This year’s World Sexual Health Day’s theme “Turn it on: Sexual health in the digital world” inspires the need to awaken awareness of sexual health rights while recognizing the harms and violations of sexual health in the digital space.
Sexual health is defined as a state of physical, emotional, social and mental wellbeing in relation to sexuality. The World Health Organization states that sexual health is fundamental to the overall health and well-being of individuals, couples and families, and to the social and economic development of communities and countries. Moreover, 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.
Sexuality is an integral part of an individual’s life and identity. Despite this, sexuality and sexual health are often considered taboo subjects. World Sexual Health Day attempts to change this by engaging youth, adults, educators, sexual health practitioners, nonprofit organizations and government policymakers in an open and earnest conservation about sex, sexuality and sexual health.
As young people become increasingly engaged with digital spaces, many of them turn to digital sources to seek for information about bodies, sex and relationships. According to UNESCO, the quality assurance of the digital content however is a challenge as some of the content may be incomplete, poorly informed, not factual or harmful. Therefore, in this digital era, informed and engaged parents and educators can play an important role in equipping young people with the knowledge and awareness to have positive understandings of sexuality and health relationships.
Inequities in sexual health and wellbeing are shaped by socio-structural, systemic and political factors. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened these socio-cultural barriers. The ability of men and women to enjoy good sexual health and wellbeing depends on their access to comprehensive, good quality information about sex and sexuality, ability to access sexual health care and living in an environment that affirms and promotes sexual health; most of which have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sexual health related issues are wide-ranging and encompass sexual expression, gender identity and sexual orientation. Moreover, they include negative consequences such as Sexually Transmitted Infections, sexual dysfunction, unintended pregnancy and abortions, sexual violence and harmful practices like Female Genital Mutilation. When not addressed, such issues affect the sexual health of people.
Comprehensive Sexuality Education can help prepare young people for a fulfilling healthy sexual life in a changing world by improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes, promoting safe and gender equitable learning environments and improving education access. In addition, sexual education promotes safe sex, which is one of the bedrocks of sexual health while highlighting the importance of consent as an integral part of all sexual encounters.
In order to therefore promote sexual health within our communities, there is need to focus on changing people’s behavior through a series of educational, motivational, peer group and skills-building approaches. Various stakeholders including the youth, peer educators, non-governmental organizations and government agencies and policy makers should therefore take an active role and be at the forefront in promoting sexual health in our country. Investing in good Sexual and Reproductive Health is key in the attainment of a healthy nation. A healthy nation for all Kenyans is possible!