THE BLOG
05/23/2014 11:15 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

How's Your (Sexual) Health

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How would you define "sexual health?" For the past two years, I have served on the Steering Committee of the National Coalition for Sexual Health. It's a thoughtful group of professionals and activists who realized that HIV, STDs, hepatitis, teen pregnancy and sexual violence would more effectively be addressed through a shared approach to prevention than through disjointed efforts.

After much discussion, here is a definition we settled on.

Sexual health is having a healthy body. A satisfying sex life. Valuing and feeling good about yourself. Having peace of mind. Experiencing pleasure, intimacy, and joy. Avoiding sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies. It means enjoying your sexuality and taking care of yourself and your partners throughout your life. Being free to talk about sexual health with your partner and healthcare provider is key to your health.

I think it's a good definition. Sexual health is about much more than avoiding the possible negative consequences that can come from sex; it is about overall well-being, about caring for ourselves and others.

America is confused when it comes to sex. Images of sex and sexuality surround us in the media. In stark contrast to all this pervasive teasing, however, major institutions are deeply uncomfortable with the whole matter and strongly discourage us from talking about it. We are lucky if we get meaningful sex education in school or from our parents, let alone support from medical and other professionals who are embarrassed to bring it up. Sex is barely even acceptable to talk about at all unless in a joking conversation in a locker room or bar. It is no wonder then, that the United States is one of the least sexually healthy countries in the industrialized world, with more sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancies and sexual violence than nearly any other nation.

One of the great joys of being a gay man is living in a very sex-positive culture. We, too, are surrounded by images encouraging us to take part in all the sexual experimentation and fun we want. And while we have lived under the persistent and sometimes debilitating cloud of HIV/AIDS for decades, we are making major progress against this epidemic. We now have the tools, if we really use them, to end it within a decade or two at most. Many major HIV agencies in the country are now leading efforts to build the overall sexual health of gay men in order to achieve the healthiest community possible.

One important goal of the increasingly successful movement for gay civil rights, including marriage equality, gays in the military and in professional sports, has been that with greater social acceptance would come improvements in our community health and well-being. Just think of what it means to a young gay man to see Michael Sam and Vito Cammissano share a celebratory kiss after Michael made history as the first openly gay man to be drafted into the NFL.

Still, sexual health is not a frequent topic of conversation among gay men. It is not clear that young gay men enter the sexual marketplace in big or small cities knowing all the things they might in order to build healthy, satisfying sex lives. Nor is it clear that their medical providers will engage them in a helpful, non-judgmental conversation about the things they can do to have the whole experience go well.

The key goals of the National Sexual Health Coalition are to educate Americans about the elements of building good sexual health and to encourage them and their medical providers to form a relationship in which there is support for building good sexual health regardless of age, gender or sexual orientation. The first product of the Coalition was just launched, and it deserves a look from gay men.

Please visit this website. This guide, titled Take Charge of Your Sexual Health, is for everyone -- straight, gay, young and old. But it contains some specific information for gay men in covering four key topics: What sexual health is and how to build it. What preventive health services gay men should obtain. How to make sure you are getting the services and support you need from your health care provider. And lastly, identifying resources to help.

Lastly, something important to know. Health services that can prevent illness -- including HIV and STDs -- must be paid for as part of the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare). Neither you or your provider should fail to address your sexual health due to a lack of coverage for these services -- if you have obtained insurance. Naturally, much focus has been placed on making sure that people with HIV have access to insurance that meets their medical care and treatment needs. he Affordable Care Act now gives us the ability to make sure that HIV-negative gay men of all ages access affordable insurance coverage to support them to maintain good health, too. If you have not already done so, explore your insurance options, and sign up as quickly as possible.