September 4 was World Sexual Health Day! Conceived by the World Association for Sexual Health (and not to be confused with National Orgasm Day, something we can get behind), World Sexual Health Day is about having conversations that promote the importance of sexual health in order to maintain a happy and fulfilling lifestyle. (Of course, if you want to pepper those convos with some electrifying orgasms, you most definitely should.)
Talking about sex—our wants, our needs, and the best practices for optimum health—isn’t always easy (even when we’re speaking with the person we have sex with regularly). To keep the conversation going, we contacted four authorities on sex, for whom we have tremendous respect, and asked them a few questions.
For this instalment, we caught up with Jessica O’Reilly, a sex and relationships expert, bestselling author (Book of Kink, The New Sex Bible), and award-winning speaker with a PhD that specializes in equity and diversity within sex education.
SDTC: What does sexual health mean to you?
JO: Sexual health encompasses attitudes, thoughts and behaviours related to physical, mental and emotional well-being. Each person’s definition is unique, and many people embrace sex-positivity as a core component of sexual health, acknowledging that pleasure, however you define it, is essential to sexual health. Sex-positivity involves an attitude and approach to sex that minimizes moral judgments and honours personal agency and preferences.
There are certainly differing definitions of sex-positivity. For example, some people claim to be sex-positive, but their definition of moral sex is narrow—they may not support sex workers and trans rights. This is not sex-positivity from my perspective.
My understanding of sex-positivity includes respect, support and celebration of everything from abstinence to consensual non-monogamy and everything on the edges and in between. There are, of course, intersectional issues to consider when it comes to sexual agency—we don’t all have the same choices, and our sexual freedom varies according to age, gender, race, ethnicity, income and ability (a non-exhaustive list). Sex-positivity embraces the freedom to choose, but we also have to consider how oppressive structures limit this freedom.
Research suggests that having more information about sexual health can increase the likelihood of positive behavioural outcomes—like using condoms, communicating needs, delineating boundaries and seeking pleasure and consent.
How do you think we (as individuals) become more mindful of our own personal sexual health?
Talking about your own definition of sexual health and discussing sexual values with partners or friends can help you to feel more empowered to seek your own version of sexual health. Learning from people with varied perspectives can also enhance your own sexual experience—in terms of pleasure and overall health.
In your opinion, what’s the best way to gain confidence in our sexuality?
If you want to feel more confident sexually, you need to stop comparing yourself to others. Your definition of sexual health is unique, and you’re the ultimate expert in what works for you. It’s great to learn from and be inspired by others, but when you compare yourself in order to assess whether or not you measure up, you’re setting yourself up for inevitable disappointment.
Sexual self-confidence is tied to general self-esteem, so make adjustments to improve the way you feel about yourself on a daily basis:
- Write down the compliments you receive. Research shows that when we write down goals, the likelihood of achieving them increases, and the same manifestation theory can be applied to our self-image. By writing down what you like about yourself (or what others say they like about you), you’re training yourself to believe and remember these positive thoughts. When you write things down, you trigger the Reticular Activating System (RAS), which experts say helps to filter important information in the brain.
- Research also shows a positive correlation between gratitude and self-confidence, so practice gratitude every single day. You don’t have to share your gratitude with the world, but you can keep a “Thanks Jar” and write down one good thing you appreciate each day or simply make a mental note of something you’re grateful for every morning.
- Be active. Dance, workout, practice yoga, have sex and engage with your body in positive ways that make you feel healthy. Cultivating a connection to your body through physical activity boosts body image and is strongly tied to overall self-confidence.
- Masturbate! Self-pleasure and self-esteem are positively correlated, so reach down there and soothe yourself into a frenzy of warm, fuzzy feelings! When your body performs for you, whether through daily tasks, sports or sexual pleasure, you tend to feel better about its appearance and function.
LOTS to think about. As a takeaway assignment, may we suggest you start a conversation about sexual health (be it with your lover, a friend, or your favourite social media platform), and then carve out some time to make love to yourself. Best homework ever? We think so.
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