So now that you have been looking at our webpage and seeing the kind of work that we do you may be wondering to yourself, how do we define what is sexually healthy?
This is a really important question and it is one we have to think about a lot. It is easy to make judgments about people’s sexualities based on what seems good to us.
For instance, “I don’t like pain, anyone who likes to bring pain into their sex must be doing something wrong.” In order to help take our own judgments and society’s narrow mindedness about sex out of the equation, Doug Braun Harvey and Michael Vigorito came up with the 6 principles of sexual health which they discuss in their book Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior: Rethinking Sex Addiction.
1. Consensual – Everyone has agreed to participate in the sexual activity at hand. It is important not to base one’s sense that someone is consenting based on their actions or non-verbal cues. Verbal consent, especially for a first encounter with a new partner, is key. Also remember that some people can become non-verbal in sexual situations so it is important to be aware of others’ emotional states during sex.
2. Non-Exploitive – Everyone has to be in a place to be able to consent, without any complicated power dynamics. For instance, if a teacher is sleeping with a student or a boss is sleeping with an employee, that is likely exploitative in some way.
3. Protected from STIs, HIV and Unintended Pregnancy – This one is important for health and safety for everyone. There are, however, some STIs, like HPV and Herpes (HSV 1 and 2), that can be transmitted even if barriers are used. People should be aware of this situation and make conscious decisions about what risks they are willing to take. Herpes is treatable and not life threatening for those with an uncompromised immune system, and HPV vaccines are available. Everyone does not need to become celibate for fear of HPV or HSV.
4. Honesty – Everyone needs to know what is going on to be able to consent. For instance, if someone is cheating on a partner, this doesn’t align with the honesty value.
5. Shared Values – This issue can come up if one partner thinks they are dating or in a serious relationship and the other thinks they are friends with benefits or just hooking up. It is important to be clear on what is going on. Sometimes this is implied by the location. For instance, if you meet up with someone for sex in the back of a bar it is usually assumed that this is not intended to lead to a long-term, monogamous relationship (even though that does sometimes happen).
6. Mutually Pleasurable – It is important that everyone involved is enjoying the sex they are having. The enjoyment may not mean orgasm or even necessarily sexual pleasure in the strictest sense, but instead that everyone is getting something out of it that makes it pleasurable for them.
Try looking at your own sexual history through this lens. This can help you identify whether there are patterns you want to change or if something that you may have judged yourself about before might actually be healthy for you, even if it is not other people’s cup of tea.