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Definitions and Debates: Sexual Health and Sexual Rights

Sexual Health
Ann M. Starrs
Ragnar Anderson

The term SEXUAL HEALTH has nominally been part of the broader concept of sexual and reproductive health since the mid-1990s, when it was enshrined by the United Nations in the final document adopted by the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Sexual health on its own, however, is rarely discussed in the halls of the United Nations or of organizations working on global health; when it is mentioned it is most often linked to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or HIV/AIDS. Such associations reflect the way that the intersection of health with sex and sexuality is often portrayed in popular media and public health programs: as dangerous and problematic. This discomfort with sex and sexuality, and the concomitant stigma, has plagued even the scientific study of the subject. It is only in recent years that the topic of sexual health, and the question of how to define this term, has received appropriate attention and consideration.