What is Sexual Health?
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).
Comprehensive sexual health education is critical to facilitate sexual health. Numerous research studies have demonstrated that comprehensive sexual health education reduces teen pregnancy rates and delays the age of initial sexual activity. The basis of this is simple: when we are empowered with ALL the information we need, both from a health and values-based perspective, we are better able to make choices about our sexuality and reproduction.
Muslims, Sexual Health, and Sexual Violence
There is a dire need for open conversation in Muslim communities about sex, sexual abuse, and consent. Additionally, it is crucial to be able to build awareness in the community in order to be able to create spaces where individuals can come together and speak openly and honestly about sex and sexual abuse, in a way that is free of blame and shame, and in a way that empowers them with the tools they need for informed sexual health decision making.
In regards to attaining sex education, two of the greatest hindrances for the Muslim community are: 1) a lack of access to culturally-sensitive information and resources and 2) an open environment that provides a psychologically safe atmosphere to seek such information and resources. Without a proper strategy to address these two barriers many young Muslims receive limited reproductive and sexual health education. More interestingly, research shows that for those who do receive such education, it is usually irrelevant or not relatable to their own cultural context and circumstances (Orgocka, Aida. “Perceptions of Communication and Education About Sexuality Among Muslim Immigrant Girls in the US.” Sex Education 2004, 4(3): 255–271). As such, many young Muslims are ill-prepared to make sound decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health. This leads to many public health implications such as the following:
Engaging in high-risk sexual activity
Seeking misinformation on the internet (ex: pornography)
Relying on cultural myths and traditions to inform behaviors
Remaining in and/or unable to identify unhealthy, abusive relationships
Life/marriage without healthy sex
Unable to identify common reproductive health problems such as yeast infections
What is Sexual Violence?
Sexual violence is defined as a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent. Sexual violence includes:
Sexual harassment: Any and all forms of unwanted sexual attention, such as jokes, statements, online comments, and sharing explicit content.
Sexual abuse: Non consensual sexual activity where someone in a position of power or authority takes advantage of a person’s trust, through the process of grooming. Examples include victimizing an individual with a disability; or a community leader or clergy member abusing a community member.
Sexual assault: Non consensual sexual penetration or contact. Examples include rape, attempted assault, and penetration with a body part or item.
The following are some great virtual resources on the topics of sexual health and sexual violence:
HEART Women and Girls (resources for Muslim communities): www.heartwomenandgirls.org
MeToo Movement: www.metoomovement.org
National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC): www.nsvrc.org
RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network): www.rainn.org
The Center for Sexuality Education (CSE): www.sexedcenter.org
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