When we think about sexual health, it’s easy to focus on the physical aspects like sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies. But there’s so much more to looking after your sexual health. According to the World Health Organization, sexual health includes sexual orientation and gender identity, sexual expression, relationships and pleasure.
Sexual health plays a major role in our overall health and well-being – whether it’s about getting pregnant, having a good time or building a strong bond with a partner. Sexual well-being might mean different things from person to person. Essentially, feeling satisfied, safe and free to explore all add up to sexual health and happiness.
So, how can you boost your sexual health and well-being? Read on to find out.
1. Get to know your body
Exploring your body and learning what feels pleasurable isn’t just fun – it’s also good for you. It’s important to get to know yourself, discover what you desire and learn about your body and how it works.
Try standing in front of the mirror wearing as few clothes as possible. Look for things you like or acknowledge the ways you appreciate your body. You can also do this exercise through touch. Notice how different areas of your body feel alone or with a partner, without any judgment.
2. Be open with your partner
Communication is necessary for every healthy sexual relationship. Although it can sometimes feel daunting, talking to your partner openly and honestly about your likes and dislikes is key. Research has found that couples in long-term relationships who sexually communicate have better sex and maintain a higher level of passion.
Try to avoid accusing language, like ‘you don’t initiate sex’. Instead, experts recommend leading with your own point of view:
‘I feel like…’
‘I like it when you…’
‘I feel most aroused when…’
3. Don’t see penetrative sex as the only goal
Pleasurable sexual encounters don’t have to be limited to penetrative sex. Forget everything you know about foreplay. All sex is sex – whether it’s kissing, massaging different erogenous zones, fingering or oral sex. Penetrative sex doesn’t even have to be a part of how you enjoy sex.
The majority of women need other sexual stimulation besides penetration to orgasm. One study found that 36% of women needed clitoral stimulation to orgasm, and another 36% said it enhanced the experience.
4. Take ownership of your own pleasure
Masturbation is not just enjoyable – it also has a variety of health benefits. As well as boosting self-esteem, masturbation increases your sex drive, improves body confidence and triggers the release of a whole bunch of hormones and chemicals to make you feel good.
Here are some ways you can increase your own self-pleasure:
Introduce sex toys – explore the difference between manual stimulation and sex toys. It’s often easier to orgasm with some help from a vibrator.
Experiment with lube – If you experience vaginal dryness or are circumcised, lubricant can help. Rub it on any area of the body that feels good.
Set the mood – whether you like candles, dark or natural light, create the right environment for yourself to relax.
Practice edging – delaying orgasm is an effective way to make it more intense. When you feel close to orgasm, take a few deep breaths to calm down, then start again.
5. Protect your physical health
An important part of sexual health is, of course, being aware of the risks involved with sex and taking control of protecting yourself against STIs or unplanned pregnancy.
Practicing safe sex allows you to relax and reduce any anxiety or worry. Condoms are the only birth control that protects you from STIs when you engage in vaginal, oral or anal sex. To protect your sexual health, get tested for STIs regularly and always after you’ve had unprotected sex with a new partner.
6. Make some lifestyle tweaks
Living healthily can increase your sex drive, improve body confidence and help with sexual problems. Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising and having time for yourself all benefit your sexual health. Research shows that physical exercise not only improves body image but can also help improve erectile dysfunction.
Kegel exercises, which strengthen the pelvic floor, are also beneficial for both men and women. Kegels can help improve your ability to orgasm, increase vaginal lubrication and help with erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.
7. Consider therapy
Talking therapy and specifically sex therapy can help to build your sexual confidence. Sex therapists can help people with a wide variety of sexual issues, including:
Low libido or lack of desire
Difficulty having an orgasm
Painful sex or difficulty with penetration
Being unable to keep or get an erection
Sexual trauma can affect your sex drive and the way you experience sexual encounters. Through therapy, you can learn how to process and cope with trauma to take care of your sexual wellness.
When to talk with your doctor
If your difficulty persists, consider turning to a doctor or sex therapist for help. If you take medications that might affect your desire for sex, review your medications with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to suggest an alternative.
Likewise, if a physical sign or symptom — such as vaginal dryness — is interfering with your sexual enjoyment, ask about treatment options. For example, a lubricant or other medication can help with vaginal dryness associated with hormonal changes or other factors.