Sexual health from a community service perspective is unfortunately rarely addressed. Workers in the support field often confront sexual difficulties that they are not equipped to deal with. Some of the sexual needs of our clients include; sex and culture, including spirituality; sexually transmitted infections; sexual relationships; reproduction and unwanted pregnancy; sexual orientation and gender diversity; the sexual needs of people who live with disabilities; and aged care.
Sexual health is more than being free from illness. It is the overall sexual being of each person. As the World Health Organization puts it,
“Sexual health is a state of physical, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence” (World Health Organization).
This is something that impacts every aspect of our lives. It can be the difference between being healthy or unhealthy, in control or out of control. Our sexual being includes many components that together make us unique (for example; our gender, reproduction, how we perceive ourselves and how we present ourselves to others, self-esteem/self-confidence, our attractions, our relationships and interactions, fantasy, physical and psychological health, and our values).
If any area of our sexual health is problematic it can impact negatively on every part of our lives. Even if we don’t feel sexual or aren’t having sex, it is still related to our sexual health.
Unfortunately, ‘sex’ is often a loaded word that triggers a number of different reactions and points of view. It is often received with embarrassment, or viewed as naughty, rude, or inappropriate; however, we are all born and die with sexuality. It is natural, no different than any other part of being human. The only difference between our sexual health and any other human function is the messages that we receive (socialization). These messages frame our thoughts about sex.
In Western culture, for example, if a person has been sexual with another. Typically, it is described with negative connotations. Have you been getting up to no good, or mischief, did you get lucky? If you didn’t have sex therefore you’re unlucky. Often with sexual behavior comes judgment, values, and even persecution.
Can you think of another natural human function that draws as much attention, opinion, or views on what is right or wrong?
Professionals thoughts and feelings working with the community
Valuable information aimed to assist the personal lives of clients is amiss or inadequately addressed in many community service qualifications. This results in many workers feeling alone. They feel unguided to challenge their own personal strengths and weaknesses in relation to the sexual difficulties experienced by clients. There is a void in the education and support of those who we work with, often leaving them as vulnerable when trying to fulfill their needs themselves.
Clients usually fear communicating their sexual needs and difficulties due to embarrassment and fear of negative repercussions. Community service workers will have their own values and points of view in regard to how sex compliments their own lives. They also have a duty of care to work from a client-centered approach and put their own personal views aside in the best interest of the client.
Juxtaposition with individuals and companies
There are individuals and institutions who highlight and focus only on the minority of those who abuse varied sexual activities, and therefore become obsessed with trying to control and place judgment on others for their healthy sexual choices. This continues the stigma against addressing sexual health.
In reality, these individuals and institutions often have their own agendas and fail to consider those that their agendas harm. These types of sex-negative behaviors and actions only continue the existing barriers that inhibit community service organizations and their workers from adopting a visible sex-positive approach to educating and supporting people with their needs to become sexually healthy.
Education is the key
Whether our clients want to have sexually engaged lives or they choose not to. They all deserve to be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and access to information and support that assists them to create a fulfilling healthy sexual being. The inadequate training and lack of inclusion of how sexual difficulties can potentially affect people is an injustice to community service recipients as well as workers who are often on the ‘front-line’ of a person achieving recovery, or at the least, improvement of their quality of life.
A movement away from ignoring human sexuality can only happen if workers in the care industries break the silence and confront their organizations requesting their need for professional development in the area of responding appropriately to their client’s sexual needs. Training must be inclusive. Care workers need to disseminated to professionals who work in the sexology fields. Much of the current training opportunities available are on particular topics of sex such as; STIs, relationships, or improved communication skills, rather than a training package that encompasses all.
Sexual Health a Community Service Perspective
In the end, the aim of community service providers in the care industries should be to improve the quality of life for the people who receive their services. Sexual health impacts every aspect of our lives and underpins a person’s state of physical, mental, and social well-being. its recognition and inclusion in care services can result in achieving recovery in a much shorter length of time with less opportunity for relapse.
The silence, invisibility, and negative reactions to our sexual health is often argued from the perspective that it aims to protect people from risk to themselves and others. In reality, the avoidance of addressing the sexual needs of our clients achieves the same outcomes that their protests aim to avoid.
Dave Wells is a clinical sexologist, psychotherapist, counselor, and certified trainer, and has worked extensively with many diverse communities in the areas of sexology, sexually-related health promotion, mental health, education, training, and many other areas of the human service sector for over 25 years. He earned a Master’s in Health Sciences in Sexual Therapy (Sexology). He has a private practice in Brisbane, Australia, providing sexology, psychotherapy, and counseling services to men, and people who are ‘gender-diverse’. His website is https://davewellstherapies.com.au/.