What’s a holistic approach to sexual health?
Our sexuality is part of who we all are even before birth. Many aspects of our sexuality including our anatomical sex, some sensory experiences, our genitals, and likely some sexual response, is happening to a fetus that is developing and not yet born. And of course aspects of our sexuality continue throughout life until death.
In a holistic model for sexuality, we view sexuality as multi-dimensional and life-long, with components that are physical, emotional, social, spiritual and behavioral. The various aspects are interrelated and are experienced uniquely be everyone. Most components of sexuality are fluid, and how they are expressed or experienced by someone may change at different times in their life. The different components are woven together like a cloth, whose threads come together to make a whole.
One model for framing sexuality as holistic and lifelong was developed by Dennis Dailey, PhD. from the University of KS. The model includes the following components.
Sensuality refers to one’s ability to enjoy her/his body, both physiologically and psychologically, and the ability to enjoy the bodies of others. This appreciation goes beyond how someone may look, and extends to appreciation and enjoyment of what one’s body can do. It includes;
- Body Image,
- Human Sexual Response,
- Skin Hunger,
- Sensory Experience, and
Intimacy is the need to be close to others emotionally, and have those feelings returned. Intimacy has to do with making yourself emotionally vulnerable to another and having that reciprocated. It must be reciprocated, you cannot be intimate alone. It includes:
- Risk Taking/Vulnerability, and
Sexual Identity is our sense of who we are as unique sexual beings. It is developed and evolves throughout our lives and is related to who we are well beyond whether or not we are sexually active or what sexual behaviors we engage in. It is often related to our developmental stage and familial or partnership status, it includes:
- Biological Sex,
- Gender Identity,
- Sexual Orientation, and
- Gender Role.
Sexual Health and Reproduction
Sexual Health and Reproduction is related to the body parts related to reproduction, and how it all functions. It also includes keeping all the sexual body parts healthy. Included is:
- Sexual and Reproductive Systems,
- Physiology and Anatomy of Reproductive Organs,
- Intercourse, and
- Factual Information.
Sexualization refers to using sex to manipulate or influence others, and ranges from playful consensual interactions to dangerous and harmful assault. Of course, it’s important for everyone to be fully informed about and consent fully to what they are exposed to and may choose to participate in. Sexualization can include:
- Withholding Sex,
- Sexual Harassment, and
Giving it meaning: Attitudes, Values, and Beliefs
What gives it all meaning is the attitudes, values and beliefs that we all have about all these topics. These attitudes and values about all this, including the behaviors related to sexual expression, provides the rich context for how we each uniquely experience it all at different times in our lives. These attitudes and beliefs come from our personal values, and the values that we get from our family, religion, politics, schools, cultural groups, and laws. Sometimes the beliefs can be conflicting and confusing.
When we are working with youth, we are called on to model and promote values and beliefs consistent with our organization’s and professional policies and guidelines. Ideally ethical positions and values statements are transparent and unambiguous, but this is not always the cast. Having clarity about your personal stance on these matters is a vital first step to building the capacity to promote the intended health promoting messages.