What is Holistic Sexual Wellness?
In my decade as a sex educator, I’ve noticed there are two main ways people approach their sex issues: they either want a quick fix like a toy, tool, or technique OR they want to get to the root of the problem.
So who’s correct? Both.
Sexual issues—especially within a relationship—often are symptoms of something else going on
Some of these things are in your control. Others, not so much. The solution isn’t to get rid of the things holding you back from your desires, but rather to understand their impact and manage it as much as possible.
What is holistic sexual wellness?
It’s looking at sex from a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual perspective, whatever these words mean to you. It allows for the full range of sexual expression and enjoyment, without shame, shoulds, or judgment.
Specifically, holistic sexual wellness…
Focuses on pleasure
Sex is a major way people experience pleasure, and you deserve to experience all the pleasures sex has to offer—no matter your size, gender, sexual orientation, or ability, and whether you’re with a partner, in a group, or self-pleasuring.
Pleasure is a major reason people have sex. More than that, pleasure heals. Orgasm, for example, is associated with a ton of health benefits including reduced pain and stress, better quality sleep, and improved mental health, among others. You see most of these benefits in other pleasurable experiences too, sexual or otherwise.
Only recently has mainstream science come to understand the long-lasting and broad implications of trauma on individuals, particularly their sex lives and relationships.
Holistic sexual wellness also takes the long view–what ancestral trauma might someone be carrying that impacts their ability to give and receive pleasure?
Examines the impact of marginalized identities on sex and relationships
Holistic sexual wellness looks at the ways in which one’s identity shapes their sexual experience. From the hypersexualization of black women to the infantilization of people with disabilities to those raised in Purity culture, who you are and the communities you’re part of impacts how others interact with you, the messages you received about sex and pleasure, the ancestral trauma you carry, your mindset around sex, and so much more. Naming, making space for, and addressing these differences ensures no one’s pleasure gets left behind.
Looks beyond the bedroom
Sex doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It impacts and is impacted by every other part of your life. And there’s no “dessert pouch” of energy for it.
If you’re tired, chronically stressed, struggling with confidence, etc., your brain deprioritizes sex because it’s worried about surviving. Holistic sexual wellness means looking at these other areas and making adjustments and improvements there too.
Asks rather than assumes
Just like you can’t tell someone’s name from looking at them, you can’t tell their gender, sexuality, or desires. You don’t know if they’ve had sex, how many people they’ve gotten it on with, or how those experiences were for them.
Recognizes there’s no such thing as a binary
Everything exists on a spectrum, and few—if any—traits are fixed.
Honors individuals’ experience
Understanding the science of sex can help you understand how your body works, as well as normalize your experiences. However, science cannot override your lived experience.
Research gives structure to people’s experiences, but it has limitations. Between what gets funded (pharmaceuticals) to who participates in sex research (people who are willing to be open about sex), these studies are not free of bias. Use it to guide you, and alchemize it with your truth.
Addresses the sexual needs of people with STIs
The U.S.’s obsession with preventing STIs leaves out the experiences of people living with them. There’s an assumption these people aren’t having sex, and judgment if they are.
This not only stigmatizes people with STIs, but also leaves out a lot of information—like the nearly 0% risk of getting HIV from someone with an undetectable viral load—that impacts their partners and potential partners. Holistic sexual wellness recognizes the inherent sexuality of all people.
Why we need holistic sexual wellness
Without it, people get ignored, stigmatized, and hurt. Leaving any of these aspects out opens entire groups up to harm.
Take external condom use for example. Most messages about these condoms focus on what they prevent—and ignore complaints that using external condoms makes sex feel less yummy. A holistic approach would be to both stress their important role in preventing STIs and unplanned pregnancy while also offering ways to make sex with condoms feel more pleasurable, like putting a drop of lube inside the condom, as well as on the outside.
It’s long past time we looked at holistic sexual wellness
We’re living in an age where we take a multifaceted view on everything. Isn’t it past time we did the same for our sex lives?
What else would you add to this list?
Author Bio Kait Scalisi, MPH, is an advocate for the revolutionary power of pleasure inside the bedroom and out. Through her public workshops, private counselling, and online platform Passion By Kait, she harnesses her science education, social justice insight, and radical empathy to empower folx to get more in tune with their bodies, discover what brings them pleasure, and integrate it into their lives and relationships in ways that are both practical and powerful. Learn more and find #freedominpleasure at PassionbyKait.com, Instagram and Twitter @PassionbyKait, and Facebook www.facebook.com/PassionbyKait.