How is it defined?
Sexual health is defined as “a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being related to sexuality” (WHO, 2002). Body image and sexual health are connected and body dissatisfaction is a risk factor for the sexual health of adolescents (Schooler, Impett, Hirschman, & Bonem, 2008). Sex education equips students with the necessary knowledge and skills to make healthy decisions about sex and, given the relationship between body image and sexual health, educators should consider adopting body image as a component of sex education (Mueller, Gavin, & Kulkarni, 2008; Schooler et al., 2008).
The Learning Bar’s framework on physical health outcomes includes measures of nutrition, physical fitness, risky behaviours, and sexual health.
Why is it important?
- Body satisfaction may affect sexual risk-taking as weight satisfaction is associated with safe sex practices in adolescent females, while weight loss attempts are positively associated with sexual activity in females and irregular use of contraceptives in males (Larson, Clark, Robinson, & Utter, 2012).
- Sex education delays the initiation of sexual intercourse and is associated with greater use of contraception when received before first sex (Mueller et al., 2008).
- Formal sex education that includes information about abstinence and birth control improves adolescent health and well-being (Lindberg & Maddow-Zimet, 2012).
How do we measure it?
In the Tell Them From Me® secondary school survey, students are asked to indicate if they feel comfortable answering questions about their sexuality. Those students who chose to respond are asked questions regarding their physical and emotional well-being in relation to sexuality. The results are reported as “the percentage of students that felt comfortable answering questions about sexuality”.
Extended sexual health modules are also available that ask students questions regarding their sexual activity and experiences. The results are reported as “the percentage of students who have engaged in sexual activity”. Reponses to each question are also reported in “Further Detail” charts.
Larson, B. K., Clark, T. C., Robinson, E. M., & Utter, J. (2012). Body satisfaction and sexual health behaviors among New Zealand secondary school students. Sex Education, 12(2), 187-198.
Lindberg, L. D., & Maddow-Zimet, I. (2012). Consequences of sex education on teen and young adult sexual behaviors and outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51(4), 332-338.
Mueller, T. E., Gavin, L. E., & Kulkarni, A. (2008). The association between sex education and youth’s engagement in sexual intercourse, age at first intercourse, and birth control use at first sex. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42(1), 89-96.
Schooler, D., Impett, E. A., Hirschman, C., & Bonem, L. (2008). A mixed-method exploration of body image and sexual health among adolescent boys. American Journal of Men's Health, 2(4), 322-339.
World Health Organization. (2002). Defining sexual health. Report of a technical consultation on sexual health. 28-31 January 2002, Geenva. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/sexual_health/defining_sexual_health.pdf