When you google ‘sexual health,’ you are brought to pages of healthcare providers and resources. When you google ‘sexual wellness,’ you exclusively see advertisements from various companies and retailers offering a wide variety of products. For me, this posed two questions. The first was: ‘what is the difference between sexual health and sexual wellness?’ The second was: ‘what is wellness, if not health?’
What is Sexual Health?
Sexual health is defined by the CDC as “a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.” They continue to note, “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.”
Sexual health can also reflect medical treatment or the resolution of a health problem.
What is Sexual Wellness?
Stephanie Murdock, the Executive Director of Occupational Medicine and Employee Health at Sanford Health, writes in an article:
“Health refers to a state where the physical body is free from disease, while wellness refers to an overall balance of a person’s physical, social, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, environmental, and occupational well-being. Wellness is achieved when someone strives for balance in their life by constantly making choices to further their health and fulfillment. Wellness has a direct influence on overall health.”
My personal interpretation (as someone who faces chronic illness) is that your physical health may not be something you can control entirely or choose, but wellness means actively caring for and nurturing yourself. ‘Wellness’ includes a series of choices and steps that you take in order to find balance and fulfillment, as well as take preventative measures to nourish your body, spirit, and mind.
So, let’s apply this logic to sexual health and wellness. While sexual health might focus on the physical health of your sexual organs (your vulva or vagina, breast tissue, etc.), sexual wellness means that you are taking the initiative to be as fulfilled as possible as a human being that is sexual, holistically.
Rythm was founded on the idea of the ‘vagina-mind-spirit connection,’ a concept deeply tied to the idea of sexual wellness and enhanced sexual well-being. Thus, sexual wellness might also include:
- Maximizing your pleasure and/or finding sexual fulfillment (however, that might look for you as an individual)
- Ensuring your physical and emotional comfort to the fullest extent
- Finding the right menstrual products for you and your body
- Maintaining bodily hygiene
- Cultivating emotional intimacy in your relationship(s)
- Beginning (or continuing) the journey of learning about and understanding your body and sexuality
- Connecting the mind, body, and spirit
Written by: Gillian ‘Gigi’ Singer, MPH
Board Certified Sexologist, Sexuality Educator, and Sex Ed Content Specialist