Sexual Health, Sex, Sexual Activity, Sexuality, and Sensuality
Sexual health can mean different things to people at different ages. It is the ability of people to embrace and enjoy sexuality throughout their lives. Sexual health is a key part of physical and emotional health. “Being sexually healthy means:
• Understanding that sexuality is a natural part of life and involves more than sexual behavior.
• Recognizing and respecting the sexual rights we all share.
• Having access to sexual health information, education, and care.
• Making an effort to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and seek care and treatment when needed.
• Being able to experience sexual pleasure, satisfaction, and intimacy when desired.
• Being able to communicate about sexual health with others including sexual partners and healthcare providers.”1
What is the difference between sex, sexuality, and sexual activity?
Sex is assigned at birth based on the appearance of external genitalia. Although sex and sexuality are used synonymously, there are distinctions between these terms. When the word “sex” is said, “intercourse” comes to mind for most people, relating to what occurs below the waist and behaviors in between the legs.
The term sexuality includes almost every aspect of being human. The Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) defines sexuality in its position statement:
“Human sexuality encompasses the sexual knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors of individuals. Its various dimensions involve the anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of the sexual response system; identity, orientation, roles, and personality; and thoughts, feelings, and relationships. Sexuality is influenced by ethical, spiritual, cultural, and moral concerns. All persons are sexual, in the broadest sense of the word.”2
Sexual activity is described as any sexual contact between two individuals who may not have had intercourse or reached orgasm. It includes a range of sexual contact between two individuals: outercourse, everything but intercourse, kissing, massages, masturbation, mutual masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, bondage, and use of sex toys.
Is sex and sexual activity equivalent?
Sometimes, these terms are used interchangeably. Believing that sex is equivalent to sexual intercourse may decrease the importance of sexual activity for older adults.
What is the relationship between sensuality and sexual activity?
Sensuality is the awareness, feelings, pleasure and acceptance about your own body and other people’s bodies, especially that of your sexual partner. It includes the need to touch, also referred to as “skin hunger,”3 hearing and visual stimuli, sexual response cycle, body image, and fantasy. Sexual activity consists of a range of activities that do not include sexual intercourse.
As people age, desire for sex may diminish, however, the need for caring and intimate touch remains strong. Touch provides magnificent physical and emotional benefits. It is essential for communication, bonding and health. At the beginning of the 20th century, in the US and the UK, the death rates among infants placed in orphanages, nurseries, and foundling hospitals were, in some cases, close to 100%.because they were not held or touched.4 If you or your life partner have health issues or are disabled, holding and touching each other and engaging in intimate behaviors is very sensual.
- American Sexual Health Association (ASHA). Retrieved from https://www.ashasexualhealth.org/sexual-health/
- Sex Information and Education Council for the United States (SIECUS). Retrieved from https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Position-Statements-2018-2.pdf
- Clark,Terri (April 4,2015 ). “ The Circles of Sexuality and Aging.” American Society on Aging. retrieved from https://guides.hostos.cuny.edu/Psychology_of_Aging/circles_of_sexuality
- Montagu, Ashley(1978). Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. Harper & Row. Manhattan, NY.