Sexual Health. Two words that conjure up images of a gym teacher in front of a blackboard, rows of foil wrapped condoms, and PSAs about preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Are all of those visions included in the world of sexual health? Sure. But there’s a lot more to it; I’ve spent my life (or at least the majority of it) getting people to not only broaden their definition of sexual health, but to understand that sexual health is part of their overall health. It’s hard to have one without the other. So why do this again now? It’s not as if we haven’t heard this before.
The XIX International AIDS conference was recently held in Washington, D.C. It had been 22 years since the International AIDS conference was held in the United States (mainly due to the unwillingness on the part of the United States to grant visas for HIV-infected individuals–only recently lifted).
Here 25,000 scientists, policy makers, health and education ministry officials, advocates, and activists from around the world were gathered with a renewed determination to stem the tide of this epidemic. Medical advances, improved access to care, prevention initiatives, and revived determination were all good signs, but as a global culture we will need to shift our perspective to stop the spread of HIV.
One evening, during the week of the 2001 ISSTDR meeting in Berlin, I met with a couple of colleagues for beers after the day’s proceedings. We lamented the fact that the focus of these types of conferences was always on disease and that a broader sexuality frame work was missing. “It is time to put sex into STD prevention”, one of my colleagues said. The comment was a bit wistful at the time and I don’t think any of us could have foreseen that a decade later our field is expressing so much more interest in sexuality and sexual health.