Sexual and reproductive health

“Human rights provide an international legal framework within which the sexual and reproductive health needs and aspirations of all people can be considered.”

(Gruskin, 2005)

In recent years, international human rights instruments have been increasingly used to support and advance legal claims by individuals and whole communities so that national governments will guarantee the respect, protection and fulfilment of their sexual and reproductive health rights (Cook et al., 2003). The working definitions and framework for programming presented here are grounded in internationally recognized human rights and offer a rights-based approach to programming in sexual health. The key conceptual elements of sexual health are listed below.

Key conceptual elements of sexual health

When viewed holistically and positively:

  • Sexual health is about well-being, not merely the absence of disease.
  • Sexual health involves respect, safety and freedom from discrimination and violence.
  • Sexual health depends on the fulfilment of certain human rights.
  • Sexual health is relevant throughout the individual’s lifespan, not only to those in the reproductive years, but also to both the young and the elderly.
  • Sexual health is expressed through diverse sexualities and forms of sexual expression.
  • Sexual health is critically influenced by gender norms, roles, expectations and power dynamics.

Sexual health needs to be understood within specific social, economic and political contexts.