HEALTHY LIVING

Sexual Health

Sexual health involves our emotional, mental, and physical health as well as our social well-being. It includes a positive mindset towards your sexuality and proactively protecting yourself from illness and unwanted pregnancy.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexuality to be inclusive of a person’s sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction. Understanding and learning more about your sexuality can support your overall sexual health.

Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

Gender Identity

Gender identity is each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is a person’s sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their birth-assigned sex.

Gender identity is an individual’s internal and individual experience of gender. Sex describes the way people are assigned as male or female based on their reproductive organs at birth. It is a person’s individual sense of existing as a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere in the gender spectrum. For some people, a person’s gender identity may match the sex they were assigned at birth. For others, their gender identity may be different from their sex assigned at birth.

Gender is a social construct that differs from sex or designated sex (how we understand our bodies as male or female). With gender being socially constructed, and sometimes assigned based on sex, it can change. For some people, their designated sex also fits their gender expression and experience. For some, their assigned sex does not match their gender expression and experience.

  • Sex (or designated sex) is about how we understand our bodies as male or female, including whether we’re born with a penis or a vulva.
  • Gender describes the characteristics of women, men, girls, boys and folks of other genders that are socially constructed. Gender encompasses norms, behaviors and roles associated with existing as a woman, man, girl, or boy (or any other gender) in addition to relationships with each other. Gender is a social construct that differs from society to society and can change over time.
  • Cis or Cisgender refers to a person who feels their body, their gender experiences, and expression, matches the gender they were assigned at birth.
  • Trans or Transgender refers to a person who identifies more strongly with a gender other than the one which they were assigned to at birth.
  • Gender Non-Binary describes a person who identifies as neither a man, nor a woman.
  • Gender fluid is a gender identity which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, gender non-conforming, or any other non-binary identity.
  • A Questioning person is someone who is in the process of determining and exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Two-spirit is a term used within some Indigenous communities, encompassing cultural, spiritual, sexual, and gender identity.
  • Intersex is a term that describes bodies that do not conform to the rigid male/female binary definitions of gender and sex. There are many ways someone can be intersex. Oftentimes intersex is used to describe people born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not conform to the boxes of “female” or “male”.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation refers to a person’s sexual and romantic attraction.

  • Heterosexuality or “straight” refers to primary romantic attraction to people considered to be the opposite sex or gender.
  • Lesbian refers to a woman whose primary sexual and romantic attraction is to other women.
  • Gay is a term that can be used to refer to anyone who experiences sexual and romantic attraction to people of the same sex or gender as themselves. Gay also refers to a man whose primary sexual and romantic attraction is to other males. “Gay” is also used as an inclusive word that includes gay men, lesbians, and bisexual people.
  • Bisexuality refers to sexual and romantic attraction to people of more than one sex and/or gender.
  • Asexuality (non-sexual) refers to neither sexual attraction to others, nor desires to be sexual with partners.
  • Pansexuality or Omnisexuality refers to the attraction to people of all genders, or the feeling that gender does not play a part in sexual attraction.
  • Queer is a fluid term that is used to describe all individuals with non-heterosexual sexual orientations or same-gender sexual orientations that are oppressed on the basis of sexual orientation or gender.

Consent

Consent means an active, direct, voluntary, unimpaired, and conscious choice and agreement to engage in sexual activity. Consent cannot be given by a person whose judgement is impaired by drugs and/or alcohol or by other forms of impairment. It is not acceptable for a person who is said to have engaged in sexual violence to use their own consumption of alcohol and/or drugs as an excuse for their mistaken belief that there was consent. For further clarity, consent:

  • Can be revoked at any time during sexual activity;
  • Cannot be assumed nor implied;
  • Cannot be given by silence or the absence of “no”;
  • Cannot be given by an individual whose judgment is impaired by alcohol and/or drugs, is unconscious or asleep;
  • Cannot be obtained through coercion or threats;
  • Cannot be given if the person who has engaged in sexual violence has abused a position of trust, power or authority; and,
  • Might not be given properly if an individual has a condition that limits their verbal or physical means of interaction – in such instances, it is extremely important to determine how consent will be established.

Safer Sex Practices

The best form of protection against a sexually transmitted blood borne infection (STBBI) is using a barrier such as a condom (internal or external) or dental dam. Condoms offer protection from unwanted pregnancy and can be combined with other forms of birth control such as the pill, IUD, patch, or emergency contraception to increase their effectiveness. However, these methods of birth control do not provide protection from STBBIs and should be used in combination with a condom.

Additional harm reduction strategies can include both partners getting tested before engaging in intercourse, practicing “Mutual Monogamy” with your sexual partner, taking PrEP as a HIV prevention strategy, and receiving the HPV vaccine.

Talking to your partner about safer sex practices may feel uncomfortable or awkward, but it’s important to be up front about what you think is important when it comes to sex. Other important topics to discuss with your partner include:

  • Frequency of sex
  • Sexual boundaries
  • Sexual demands

Think You Have A STBBI?

Sexually transmitted blood borne infections are passed from person to person by blood or other bodily fluids during sexual intercourse. STBBI’s can be classified as bacterial (which include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) or viral (which include herpes, hepatitis A, B, C, HPV and HIV).

Any form of sexual contact puts you at risk of contracting a STBBI. If you can, have a conversation with your partner and plan to both get tested before engaging in intercourse. If you think you currently have a STBBI, refrain from all sexual activity until you can get tested. STBBI testing is available on campus at Health Services located in the Carleton Technology and Training Centre.

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