Commentary Sexual Health

World Sexual Health Day 2011: What Is My Responsibility?

Antón Castellanos Usigli

Know your sexual rights and ask yourself: What is my responsibility? What are my sexual responsibilities?

At the dawn of the 21st century, we are witnessing major changes in global sexual health. While some countries are maintaining low-fertility rates, there are a group of countries (mainly from Africa and Asia) that according to recent projections made by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) will be mostly responsible for a two-billion person increase in world population by 2050. Currently, there are nearly 7 billion of us living on planet Earth; in 40 years, we will be 9.3 billion. Unfortunately, a great part of this population increase is due to poverty and lack of access to family planning.

Teen dating violence is another problem that belongs to the current sexual health panorama. According to a 2007 Survey conducted by the Mexican Youth Institute, 76 percent of young people have experienced some kind of psychological violence in their romantic relationship.

Regarding social acceptance of sexual diversity, we can find a world of contrasts: while a group of ten countries allow same-sex marriage, a group of seven countries punish homosexuality with death. Last March in Mexico, for example, we had the premiere of the first movie dealing primarily with homosexuality and gay parenting, but in May, a conservative group in Guadalajara organized a public rally that tried to collect more than 50,000 signatures for the protection of “life” and “family.”

Technological advancements also pose new questions in relation to our sexuality. Nowadays, many couples start their relationship through the Internet. Also, there are studies that have found a correlation between the use of Internet pornography and loneliness in some people, while other studies have linked its consumption among certain teenagers with higher probabilities of having poor family bonding, suffering from features of clinical depression and substance abuse, and having delinquent behavior. This doesn’t mean that pornography is “wrong” or that it causes “bad things” in adults or youth that consciously consume it, it only means that known mental and sexual health problems can easily establish links with the newest technologies, therefore creating new phenomena to analyze.

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Humanity is dealing with tremendous sexual contrasts and challenges. We live in an era in which materialistic values define many aspects of our way of living, in which various boundaries are falling away, expanding our thoughts of the sexually possible and, at the same time, allowing us to think about the ethically impossible.

Young people are in the center of this sexual turmoil, not only because the youth of today is the largest in history (more than 1.5 billion, according to UNFPA), but because it is a generation which is unconsciously internalizing new elements that will shape mankind’s sexual future. The danger is the “non-conscious” part of this process. Young people seem to be unaware of the changing patterns of human relations and the new emerging difficulties that they carry, not to say about the prime importance of sexuality in personal and social well-being. This is particularly worrying, because it could stop or delay the debates about the ethically impossible, which will be necessary to achieve a greater sexual health.

Last year, the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) established September 4th as the World Sexual Health Day in an effort to contribute for a better social understanding of “sexuality”, “sexual health” and “sexual rights”; an understanding that has to constitute the basis of our debates about the current sexual health issues.

The Second World Sexual Health Day, to be celebrated Sunday September 4th 2011, is entitled “Youth’s Sexual Health. Shared Rights & Responsibilities,” in an effort to involve young people in an open and respectful discussion about their own role in sexual health promotion.

Sexual health is not the responsibility of a single person, government or institution: it is everyone’s responsibility. However, in order for young people to assume their own responsibility, sexuality has to acquire a new and more relevant role in their life, and, equally important, they have to be empowered. Our society, over and over again, continues to choose paternalism over the empowerment of youth, disregarding the terrible apathy that is threatening what historically has constituted the innovative energy of this population group and, in consequence, the necessary debates about the ethically impossible.

Yes, young people can be vulnerable to many sexual problems, but that doesn’t erase our capacity to understand the core importance of sexuality, and our capacity to promote sexual health.

This September 4th, join the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS), and particularly, its newly created Youth Initiative, in the beginning of an international reflection on youth’s sexual health. Know your sexual rights and ask yourself: What is my responsibility? What are my sexual responsibilities?

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