When you think about the term “sexual wellness,” what comes to mind? The state of your sexual health? Your sexuality? The connection between your body and mind? In short, it’s about all those things — and more. “Sexual wellness is an umbrella term that refers to the physical, emotional, psychological, and relational well-being of one’s sexual life,” Dr. Kristen Mark, sexual health researcher and Everlywell advisor, explains to TZR in an email. “This means acknowledging that although it is important to prevent unintended outcomes of sex — such as STIs and unintended pregnancy — it is equally as important to value the human right to sexual pleasure and all the benefits that come from living a healthy sexual life.”
Shan Boodram, Bumble's sex and relationships expert, adds to that, saying it can include everything from your feelings about sex and body image to how much sexual knowledge you may (or may not) have. “To me, it’s an important part of your overall health and wellness, just like exercise and mental health,” she tells TZR in an email. And although you may shy away from talking about it — it can be embarrassing and there are, sadly, stigmas around certain topics — it’s important to do so.
Monte Swarup, board-certified OB/GYN and founder of the HPV information site HPV HUB, adds that sexual wellness is an essential part of an individual’s overall well-being. “Research shows that there are many benefits in terms of having a healthy sex life,” he tells TZR in an email. These include improved sleep and immune system, as well as reduced stress levels. “Changes in sexual response also helps diagnose issues elsewhere in the body and the overall well-being of a person,” he explains.
Why Discussing Sexual Wellness Is Crucial
Mark says discussions of sexual wellness are crucial to integrating sexual health into your overall health and well-being. “Our society is generally averse to discussions about sex and sexuality, yet it is relevant to everyone’s life, whether you’re having sex or not,” she points out. “By discussing sexual wellness, we are contributing to a healthier society. In North America, sex education is spotty at best and mostly absent — or abstinence-only. Yet, our population is being exposed to more sexual messages than ever, in large part through the internet.” So. in talking about it, we can discuss the ways in which we can optimize our sexual well-being to address this gap, she adds. Some of the ways she says we can optimize sexual health include, but are not limited, to:
- Normalizing regular and consistent STI testing. At-home tests make it easy and affordable to test for STIs, all from the privacy of your own home.
- Destigmatizing talking about STI status or contraceptive methods with partner(s).
- Using accurate terminology and providing medically accurate information to children/teens about their genitals.
- Encouraging sexual communication between partners about risk and pleasure.
- Teaching developmentally appropriate information about sex, including consent (how to say no to sex, but also how to say yes and the context in which yes happens), bodily autonomy, masturbation, healthy relationships, and the like.
- Taking the taboo out of sex by treating sexual health like any other health issue.
- Considering sexual pleasure as a human right, a notion that has been supported by the leading entity, the World Association for Sexual Health, in their Declaration of Sexual Pleasure.
Boodram adds that when she was growing up, a lot of people were looking for answers when it came to their sexual wellness. “Except, of course, they weren’t calling it that — and, in many cases, this search for clarity showed up in the form of shame and fear,” she explains. “This inspired me to be a sex and relationships expert for a living — I want to educate, enlighten, and empower people in all stages of their lives to embrace their sexuality fully, whether it’s with themselves or another person.”
She adds that, at the end of the day, everyone just wants their sex life to be better and more aligned with their genuine needs, no matter what stage they’re in within their sexual experience. “Plus, if you research the benefits of orgasms, sex, and intimate contact, the health benefits are incredible,” she says. “There is — and will always be — a lot to learn, with many discussions involving ways to build a sense of emotional and sexual intimacy, either solo or partnered.”
How To Overcome The Shyness Around Talking About Sexual Health
In terms of hesitancy regarding talking about sexual wellness, Mark says the first step is asking yourself why you’re uncomfortable talking about it. She says you can ask yourself: “What messages were you surrounded by growing up that contributed to this lack of comfort?” and “Where did you learn about sex — and what might that have done to your ability to feel open and comfortable communicating about it?”
This introspection is necessary, she says, and will definitely help get the conversation going. Plus, you can always try opening up to a close friend or two first — they likely can relate, and it will probably encourage them to open up, too. “Sex is literally what keeps us going as a species,” she says. “But sex is also pursued out of a desire for sexual pleasure.” She notes that in a study that looked at the reasons humans have sex, they found over 250 reasons — and the top reason was sexual pleasure, regardless of gender. “Being able to pursue sexual pleasure safely is crucial to sexual wellness,” she says. “If this makes someone uncomfortable, I encourage them to turn inward and think about the reasons behind that discomfort. Why should something that is so relevant to all of us be something that brings shame or discomfort? It should be something that is celebrated.”
Swarup adds that talking about your sexual wellness can improve your overall emotional and physical health well-being, and you can also learn ways to prevent certain diseases. “Communicating helps you find solutions if you’re experiencing issues with your sexual wellness, self-image, mental health, diet, or use of substances, such as alcohol, drugs, or tobacco,” he says. And if you’re looking to someone to talk to about it? Try your healthcare provider. “They are your confidante and have your best interests in mind,” he says. “The exam room is confidential, and your doctor is bound by law to protect your personal information.”
Bodram adds that everyone is a sexual being, so being sexually confident is one’s right and destiny. “To me personally, it’s a place of complete self-indulgence,” she says. Bumble ran a survey in the summer of 2021 and found that half of the single people surveyed in the U.S. — from nearly 5,000 global users — felt more confident about what they wanted, and needed, from a sexual partner, and they also saw an increased openness to sexual experimentation. From another survey that the app conducted with 1,003 single adults during this same time, they found that nearly one in five U.S. respondents engaged in virtual intimacy for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. “However, if you’re not interested in sex, that’s your right and destiny, too,” says Boodram.
Upping Your Sexual Wellness Game
Boodram notes that when we think about becoming exceptional lovers or being great in the bedroom, we tend to think about it in a very siloed way where we forget the path to mastery is the same for everything else. “There’s a systematic process to becoming a better cook or learning a new language, so why not apply that to education regarding your sexual wellness, too,” she says. “If you want to learn more about sex, there are so many resources available to you where you can indulge in the comfort of your own home. Practice in low-risk environments, like through masturbation, and put yourself in positions to challenge your thoughts to adopt some new behaviors.”
She adds that whether you’re learning how to make a new dish or learning more about your sexual wellness, you need to devote time to it and invest in the help of experts. Boodram says you can do this in many ways, including reading about it or listening to people talk about it via podcasts. “Getting to a place where you feel confident in your sexual wellness is extremely attainable, no matter what stage you’re at,” Boodram explains. “Confidence is not a mindset — it is a result of mastery, practice, and proven execution.” She explains that to attain (more) confidence, learn as much as possible, enlist the help of experts, and put yourself in a position to practice as often as possible. “Once you prove to yourself over and over again that you have what it takes to look out for your needs in a way that’s catered to you, sexual wellness will be yours,” she says.