When most of us think about sexual health we automatically think about going to the doctor and getting an STI test, but the concept is so much larger. Sexual health represents everything from the way we communicate sexually, intimacy, prevention, to education and our rights. The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) defines sexual health as the “ability to embrace and enjoy our sexuality throughout our lives. It’s an important part of our physical and emotional health.” The ASHA breaks the definition down into six components:
- 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.
Warachal Eileen Faison, MD, a geriatric psychologist and New Jersey-based medical director of men’s and women’s health, answers our top 5 questions about sexual health.
BlackDoctor.org: What is sexual health?
Dr. Faison: The World Health Organization defines sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. 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.”
BlackDoctor.org: What challenges are Black men experiencing with sexual health?
Dr. Faison: There is considerable social stigma associated with erectile dysfunction. As a result, men may be reluctant to discuss symptoms with their sexual partners or health care professionals. They may even be embarrassed to pick up their ED medications at their local pharmacy. There is also a lack of awareness on the seriousness of STDs. Of note, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates of STDs are higher in African Americans and African American men account for a higher proportion of new HIV diagnoses.
BlackDoctor.org: Anything Black men are more predisposed to sexually?
Dr. Faison: Erectile dysfunction (ED) is prevalent among white, Black, and Hispanic male populations. In most cases, ED is caused by conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Since Black men suffer disproportionally from cardiovascular conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, it is important to increase awareness of ED in Black men.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV in the United States.
BlackDoctor.org: How can men improve their sexual health?
Dr. Faison: There are many steps that one can take to improve sexual health. Tackling cardiovascular issues is an important step. Embrace physical activity and include some sort of physical activity as part of your daily routine as permitted by your health care professional. Try to lose excess pounds if you are overweight. Stop smoking. Obtain treatment for alcohol and illegal drug abuse. Seriously consider counseling to work through communication and relationship issues with your partner—perhaps on your own or in conjunction with your partner. Know your HIV status. Last but certainly not least, visit your health care professional regularly to discuss any concerns you have regarding your sexual health. Your health care professional may uncover problems that you aren’t even aware of.
BlackDoctor.org: What tests should men have regularly?
Dr. Faison: Tests which monitor cardiovascular health are critical. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels should be checked regularly. In addition, tests for diabetes should be done, if indicated. Both prostate and colon cancer screening should be done as advised by one’s health care professional. Overall, the best test to pass is seeing your health care professional regularly. Just go to the doctor!