Reproductive and Sexual Health: What’s the Difference?
Delineating Reproductive and Sexual Health
- Reproductive health “addresses the reproductive processes, functions and system at all stages of life. Reproductive health, therefore, implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.”
- 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.”
Don’t Just Join the Conversation, Change It
- Stick to facts. While sexual health can be a politically charged issue, sexual health services are grounded in scientific evidence, and should be administered and accessed based on sound, scientifically-based health care practices. For example, contraception may draw moral and ethical concerns, but is clinically proven to be safe and effective, and offers benefits beyond pregnancy prevention. “People may have different interpretations of facts, so it’s important to present the facts plainly,” Olshansky said.
- Educate patients. When teens and young adults lack adequate access to sexual health information, they are more likely to engage in risky behaviors that lead to poor health outcomes across the lifespan. As preventive care specialists, family nurse practitioners have the unique opportunity to spend time with young patients, who are especially impressionable regarding health and news literacy. Taking time to discuss the difference between sexual and reproductive health can provide a reliable resource for patients in search of accurate information.
- Participate in public discourse. Because public health policies affect how nurses practice, Olshansky says providers have to be advocates for quality care and patient outcomes. “It’s one of the first things we talk about with students because it’s so central to the work we do,” said Olshansky, who writes to her representatives regularly, and encourages her students to be politically active as well. “Students might not have the same positions as their professors, but they should still be writing to their legislators; their voices are just as important as anyone else’s regardless of position,” she added.