Thursday, August 11, 2022
Removing Stigma & Shame
Social norms have created a cloak of secrecy and shame around many things associated with sex. This includes our sexual health, something that needs to be cared for no differently than our physical or emotional health. Yet when shame and stigma is attached to our sexual wellness, we oft times attach it to our sexual illness and further exacerbate our negative feelings. We need to work on promoting awareness and education to all in order to help remove the stigma attached to our sexual well-being. But this is a huge task that requires undoing centuries of societal norms and ways of thinking.
What is Sexuality?
The World Health Organization currently has a working definition of Sexuality as the following:
“Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.”
This working definition shows the multi-faceted aspects of sexuality. It is not just one thing or dependent upon one condition. It is impacted by so many internal and external factors that is 100% unique for every single person. And it can change as our circumstances or beliefs change as well. Our sexuality can literally be impacted by a diverse interaction of all aspects of our lives.
As a global society we need to get to a point where we understand and accept that sexuality is a natural and normal part of being human. And that needs to be seen in the promotion and education made available to all for a healthy sense of all aspects of our sexual health. This includes, but is not limited to, our knowledge about our bodies, understanding our sexual needs, knowing how to have safer sex practices, understanding about STIs, including their types, transmission, prevention and testing. If we make this a topic of discussion no different than how to care for our teeth or our bodies, we will help begin to remove the shame attached to it. Unfortunately, a general lack of public awareness, lack of specialized training among health workers for sexual wellness, and long-standing, widespread stigma around both sexual topics and STIs remain barriers to this.
The concept sounds simple enough in theory but the reality is not so easy. In order to change behaviors that have been ingrained in our social networks, we would need to work with different societies to navigate their existing belief systems. These systems are comprised of beliefs from religious, political, social, economic, and familial influences. But every step taken to help educate people about their sexuality and remove shame attached to it helps us all move forward to a healthier place. STIs are one of the more preventable types of infections when proper knowledge and access to safer sex supplies and testing is available. The World Health Organization states that “Despite considerable efforts to identify simple interventions that can reduce risky sexual behaviour, behaviour change remains a complex challenge. Research has demonstrated the need to focus on carefully defined populations, consult extensively with the identified target populations, and involve them in design, implementation and evaluation.”
By working together, we can all help to create the changes the world needs to reduce the STI epidemic and create a healthier and stigma free environment for all.
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