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Sexual Health

Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease. 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.

Being sexually healthy means:
  • Understanding that sexuality is a natural part of life and involves more than sexual behavior.
  • Recognizing and respecting the sexual rights we all share.
  • Having access to sexual health information, education, and care.
  • Making an effort to prevent unintended pregnancies and STDs and seek care and treatment when needed.
  • Being able to experience sexual pleasure, satisfaction, and intimacy when desired.
  • Being able to communicate about sexual health with others, including sexual partners and healthcare providers.


1. Defining Sexual Health. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/sexual_health/sh_definitions/en/.
2. Understanding Sexual Health. American Sexual Health Association. http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/sexual-health/.
Sexual health is an important component of a person's overall health, and a normal part of the human experience. Sexual health is often stigmatized - meaning it can be difficult to discuss and be perceived negatively. Stigma can make it hard for people to have open discussions with their partners, family, and friends, and often increases barriers to accessing care and resources.

A lack of routine care of a person's sexual health can lead to adverse outcomes, such as infertility or problems conceiving; mental, physical, and emotional anguish; long-term sexual violence (coercion, control, assault); and other long-term side effects.

Sexual risk behaviors place individuals at an increased likelihood of HIV infection, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and unintended pregnancy.

What is "sex"?

Sex can mean a lot of different things to different people. There is a large spectrum of sexual activity. Some common sexual practices that have an increased likelihood of acquiring or transmitting an STD include:
  • Oral sex: Oral sex involves using the mouth, lips, or tongue to stimulate the penis (fellatio), vagina (cunnilingus), or anus (anilingus) of a sex partner.
  • Vaginal/penile sex: Vaginal/penile sex involves instertion of the penis into the vagina.
  • Anal sex: Anal sex involves the insertion of the penis into the anus.

STD/HIV Transmission
STDs and HIV can be transmitted to an uninfected partner from an infected partner. There are many diseases that can be transmitted sexually. Reportable infections include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV.


3. Sexual Risk Behaviors Can Lead to HIV, STDs, and Teen Pregnancy. Adolescent and School Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/sexualbehaviors/index.htm.
Any sexually active person can contract an STD/HIV through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Some STDs can also be contracted simply through mutual genital contact such as genital herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV). All sexually active people should have an honest and open talk with their healthcare provider and ask whether they should be tested for HIV or other STDs.

Inequalities affect communities differently and have a greater influence on health outcomes than either individual choices or one's ability to access health care. Certain groups are more impacted by STDs/HIV due to inequities caused by generations-long limited access to healthcare, social, environmental, and economic conditions. Adverse health outcomes have a critical influence on an individual's health, in addition to personal choice. In Utah, some of these subgroups include youth aged 15-24, individuals with a previous STD diagnosis, people who use injection drugs (PWID), and men who have sex with men (MSM).
To reduce unintended pregnancies, adolescent births, and HIV/STDs, it is important to encourage responsible sexual behavior and have access to resources and care. This can be accomplished by:
  • Condom use - Condoms are 98% effective if used correctly and consistently during every sexual encounter. See Condom Use Guidelines.
  • Birth control - There are many options for pregnancy prevention including condom use, hormonal methods (pill, patch, ring, shot), intrauterine devices (IUD), implants, and other barrier methods.
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) - PrEP is a way for people who do not have HIV but who have a higher likelihood of acquiring it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day. When taken consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92%.
  • Postponing/abstinence - Delaying sexual initiation until a person is emotionally and physically prepared, and has more knowledge about sexual activity, can help limit the risk of contracting an STD/HIV.
  • Limiting partners and testing - Limiting the number of sexual partners and getting screened annually, or with a new partner prior to any sexual contact will reduce the risk of contracting STDs/HIV.
  • Alternative forms of sexual activity - There are many alternative forms of sexual activity that are lower risk and gratifying that people can engage in such as hugging, holding hands, masturbation, and mutual masturbation.
  • Mutual Monogamy - Having sex with only one partner, while that partner is also only having sex with you will limit any other bacteria from entering your genital region potentially resulting in an STD.
  • Vaccinations - There are vaccines for both the human papillomaVirus (HPV), and Hepatitis B infection.


4. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). HIV and Risk Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/prep/index.html.
To reduce unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections throughout the state, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) monitors the frequency of these events and publishes reports that can be utilized to guide prevention efforts.

When an adolescent birth or STD (chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, or HIV) is reported, UDOH staff collect information on the individual affected (age, race, ethnicity, address) and investigate which behaviors may have put them at increased risk for these outcomes. All of this information is collected during a medical visit with a health care provider or during an infection disease investigation. Understanding what populations are at increased risk for these outcomes and identifying behaviors that further elevate this risk helps public health officials determine how to allocate resources to effectively promote sexual health in the community.

Disease Intervention Specialists

A Disease Intervention Specialist (DIS) receives reportable STD infections and follows up with the patient to conduct an interview about their diagnosis. DIS speak to the patient about their test and symptoms, provide education, and elicit partner information. In addition, DIS inform partners of their risk and arrange testing and/or treatment in order to stop the spread of infection. Each local health department (LHD) throughout the state conducts investigations for their residents.

DIS work in health departments, community health centers, and other similar locations. DIS have expertise in essential skills such as effective communication, interviewing, counseling, case analysis, and provider and community engagement. DIS are also utilized as patient navigators and network builders to ensure patients are linked to care through expanded relationships with health care providers.

The information provided above is from the Department of Health's Center for Health Data IBIS-PH web site (http://ibis.health.state.gov). The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: " Retrieved Mon, 16 September 2019 0:08:34 from Department of Health, Center for Health Data, Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health Web site: http://ibis.health.state.gov ".

Content updated: Wed, 29 May 2019 12:45:26 MDT