Turning It On: Sexual Health in the Digital World

September 24, 2021

By Gail Unruh-Revel, LSCSW, CSAT, CST, Coordinator of Prairie View's Sexual Health Services Program

September is Sexual Health Awareness Month. This year’s theme is “Turn it On: Sexual Health in the Digital World.”

How often do we celebrate our sexuality or even think about sexual health? And what does that even mean?

The term sexual health involves so much more than it appears on the surface. The emotional, psychological, intellectual, physical and spiritual components of healthy sexuality are often not in our full awareness. The capacity to nurture self and others and to accept nurturing from others is of vital importance in order to be a sexually healthy adult. What does it mean to nurture?  When we pay attention to taking care of ourselves, when we are able to empathize with and validate others and when we are willing to accept care from others, we are generally engaging in the nurturing process which greatly affects our emotional and psychological well-being. This puts us on the road to being sexually healthy adults.

The digital world opens up increased opportunity for connection with others which can be both positive and negative. We must educate our youth and our adult selves on the hazards and potential pitfalls from this ease of access we now all have to one another, to information of all kinds, and to sexual content of all kinds. Youth need guidance and boundaries for this unlimited availability of sexual content and personal connection. They need guidance without shaming, rather with love and care. Adults who have healthy self-esteem and are sexually healthy can generally maneuver all the opportunities the digital world provides in order to maximize their lives to the fullest. Many youth are not ready for what the digital world may have to offer. Those youth and adults with low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness, those who struggle with intense or out of control emotions, histories of abuse, toxic shame, loneliness or with few supports are the most vulnerable to negatives the digital world has to offer. These people would be wise to limit social media involvement in general. However, very healthy and fulfilling relationships can be obtained through a balanced approach to using media. A blend of social media with in-person contacts would seem to assist in this balanced approach.

Education is so very important from the time our children are young. Educating about our bodies, changes to expect as we grow, relational issues around love, being sexual or non-sexual…this all requires thoughtful consideration. Education occurs by modeling healthy communication patterns, discussing appropriate boundary setting and helping youth increase awareness of all that goes into consent and the honoring of boundaries of others. We can help to build the self- esteem in our youth by showing them they matter by having frank talks with them. We do not have to be perfect at this. But it does take effort and willingness to step out of our comfort zone to speak about sexual issues. We need to educate ourselves on the impact of social media messages on our thoughts, feelings, values and behaviors. Having discussions about this is vitally important.

Our sexuality is a significant part of who we are and affects all areas of our lives. We can benefit by taking opportunities to converse regarding love, gender and orientation issues. We can grow through discernment regarding whether we respect the right of all people to enjoy and engage in the full range of consensual, non-exploitive sexual behaviors or whether we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on our frustrations over these same non-exploitive sexual behaviors we do not understand. We need to decide what is important for ourselves and then to live life according to those values. This does not mean others will necessarily hold the same values. If we pay attention to our spiritual beliefs, our faith can help tremendously in guiding us to honor ourselves and others. Many find intense and powerful spiritual connection through their sexuality and through other kinds of intimacy with their loved ones.

There are rewards for integrating sexuality into our lives in a balanced way. We are generally happier, feel more fulfilled and feel a greater sense of self-worth. We are all sexual human beings. When engaging in social media, we need to be responsible adults and guide our youth to be responsible individuals. As we take care to honor others and ourselves, let’s celebrate and embrace our sexual selves.