World Sexual Health Day: Let’s Talk About It!

Antón Castellanos Usigli

World governments are responsible for providing sex education and sexual health services, but youth can’t just passively accept these things. We have to talk and act on our knowledge.

On Saturday September 4th, more than twenty-five countries celebrated the first World Sexual Health Day, instituted by the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS).

During the summer, Nadine Terrein, member of the Advisory Committee of the WAS, invited me to co-organize the Mexican activities of this important date.

She told me that Rosemary Coates, President of the WAS, had conceived of the Day with the main objective of spreading the understanding of sexual health as a main component of our well-being and to promote the fact that sexual health is only attainable through sexual rights (see WAS Declaration of Sexual Rights). Thus, the specific theme of this first World Sexual Health Day was: Let’s talk about it… an intergenerational discussion.

After Nadine explained the concept of the Day, I offered to organize a Forum of Intergenerational Discussion on Sexual Health at the private Jesuit University where I study Psychology: the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. The institution was interested in, and accepted to house, the Forum. After weeks of organization, it took place on Friday September 3rd, one day before the World Sexual Health Day.

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The Forum began with a message delivered by Patricia Uribe, Director of the National Center of Gender Equality and Reproductive Health. Later, Eusebio Rubio (Past President of the WAS) introduced the concepts of “sexual health” and “sexual rights,” Esther Corona (Executive Coordinator of the WAS) explained the global panorama of the World Sexual Health Day and Nadine talked about the activities in Mexico.

The intergenerational discussion began with the tremendously smart and funny intervention of Guadalupe Loaeza, one of Mexico’s most popular writers. She told her “sexual autobiography,” which began decades ago, when she was expelled from a religious middle school after telling her classmates about “the way babies are made.” Years later, she would arrive to her first marriage with no sexual experience and eventually divorce. Afterwards, she discovered, for the first time in her life, sexual pleasure through auto-eroticism and by getting rid of her taboos. Less than a decade ago, she remarried. Now she proudly says that as a woman in her sixties, she is in the prime of her sexual life.

In the course of her “sexual autobiography,” Guadalupe pointed out the gender gap in the recognition of eroticism among older people: an old man is allowed to have an active sexual life, but older women are seen as asexual “grannies.” Younger people in developing (and in some developed) countries face the same injustice: only men are allowed to enjoy their sexual activity, whereas girls are allowed to be only objects of desire.

Though this exemplifies the extent to which sexual ignorance prevails around the globe, the advances in matters of sexual health have to be acknowledged. One of them is that young people, more than ever, are talking, assuming responsibility and demanding sexual rights.

In relation to this, I was extremely surprised with the participation of youths during the Forum. One of them commented on something of extreme importance:

“Yes, it’s the government’s responsibility to provide sexuality education, but sexual health is also our responsibility.”

I immediately replied that I was in total agreement. World governments do have the responsibility of providing scientific sex education and sexual health services, but youth can’t stay numbed, passively receiving everything from the educational and health institutions.

If you have gained sexual health consciousness and knowledge, why not spread them? If you see that your government is not acting according to science and a human rights-perspective, why not denounce it?

As time goes by, more young people gain access to information, to formal education, and to opportunities of becoming more health and sex conscious. We should take advantage of this situation!  If we hear a homophobic or misogynistic joke, let’s criticize it; if our friend tells us that she/he has a question regarding birth control or condom use, let’s help her/him by seeking professional help or information.

In the “John Money Lecture” she delivered last May at the University of Minnesota, Joycelyn Elders (15th Surgeon General of the US) said:

“Sexual and reproductive health problems count for 18 percent of the total global burden of disease, and 32 percent of the burden among women of reproductive age.”

The problem is even worse when we consider inequality regarding gender and sexual orientation, sexual violence (including teen dating violence) and many more psychosocial problems related to sexuality.

Fortunately, young people have a powerful weapon in our favor: the right to talk, to discuss issues regarding our sexuality. Breaking the silence is fundamental to achieving sexual health, not only among peers, but among generations as well.

Through the creation of an honest and constructive dialogue, we can make a serious difference, involving more peers and adults.

Let the World Sexual Health Day be a space to continue and update this revolution of talking…

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