September is Sexual Health Awareness Month — and today is Sexual Health Awareness Day. People are celebrating all over the world, but what does sexual awareness even mean?
Sexual awareness is about acknowledging just how big your sexuality is — including its innate connection to your reproductive and overall health.
It’s about learning how to understand and tune into the mental and physical well-being of yourself and your partners.
It’s recognizing everything from your sexual orientation, your sexual hang-ups, your role in protecting yourself and partners from STIs and having fulfilling, safe sexual experiences.
Sex is far more than the urge, satisfying release and repeat cycle we sometimes treat it as. It’s more than the brainless, caveman “feel good, do more” response it sometimes feels like, too.
It’s innately tied to our physical and mental health, our sense of self and what’s important to us, our relationships and even how our upbringing. Sexual awareness is recognizing how big sex truly is, and treating it with comparable respect.
Sexual awareness is also a process. As we age, we (hopefully!) get better at managing things, and what maybe began as a physical reaction completely out of our control — hello, pre-teen wet dreams — should now be something we strive to fully understand.
Because the benefits of sexual awareness don’t only benefit our physical and mental health (and all the other things above) they result in better sex.
Eighty-five percent of men report their partner had an orgasm during their last sexual encounter, but just 64 percent of women report having one. Yikes!
The pleasure of sex is generally the first thing we think of, and it’s certainly important. Sex is how we connect with someone we care about or, in some situations, how we have fun with someone we don’t know very well (more on safety in those situations later).
But the pleasure of sex is often more than the build-up and ultimate orgasm — it’s the anticipation, the closeness and everything that happens in between.
In short, it may not always seem like it, but sex is an experiential process — and an important one, at that.
When it comes to pleasure and intimacy, sexual awareness involves both knowing what turns you on, and what you’re just not into. It involves recognizing when your pleasure is inhibited and what might be causing that, as well as really examining what keeps you satisfied in and outside of the bedroom.
Bottom line: We don’t all have the same sexual tastes or kinks, and that’s totally okay. Maybe you’re attracted to a very specific type of person, a certain scene, a certain dynamic or even a certain type of foreplay.
Understanding what makes you tick sexually can bring you (and your partner) greater satisfaction.
Roughly 12 percent of college students report experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact (up to and including sexual assault) during their college career.
Knowing thyself sexually puts you in a better position to know and respect your partners, whether you’re in a long-term relationship or practicing safe, casual sex.
Part of your sexual awareness is recognizing your partner as a sexual being, too. And for all of the desires, hangups and thoughts you have about sex, every one of your partners has their own. And you both have sexual rights.
Mutual sexual respect is understanding that each sexual encounter doesn’t only involve close physical touching, but can also affect each person’s psyche in a lasting way.
It’s recognizing your boundaries and the boundaries of others.
Sexual respect involves things like a respectful approach to consent and the acknowledgement that no sexual act moves forward without it.
20 million: The number of new cases of STDs each year, increasingly among middle-aged and older adults, according to the CDC.
The link between your sexual and physical health can be described as cyclical. Your sexual health can affect your physical (hello, sexually transmitted infections!), and your physical health can impact your sexual (hello, erectile dysfunction!).
Just like you eat healthy, go to the gym, take your vitamins and wear a seatbelt, so too should you protect your sexual health.
And like those other health issues, involving a healthcare provider in your sexual health concerns is important.
Problems in the bedroom can indicate undiagnosed health conditions, like cardiovascular disease. And untreated sexual health conditions can lead to disastrous outcomes. Your sexual health is part of — not separate from — your overall physical health.
As many as 76 percent of men with untreated depression may suffer from arousal difficulties, and 24 percent from erectile dysfunction, according to a study in the International Journal of Impotence Research.
Like physical health, sexuality is innately tied to your mental health. Not only can poor mental health like depression or anxiety impact your ability to have a healthy sex life, so too can sexual difficulties lead to problems like depression.
And the flip side of that is true: sex can be good for your mental health!
Your sexuality is part of who you are. It grows and changes much like any other part of you. Sexual awareness is accepting the bigness of it all.