The Scoop: National Coalition for Sexual Health is a group of over 200 national health and medical organizations that work together to improve and create access to sexual health resources, including practical advice on how to have a healthy, satisfying sex life. The coalition works with the public and health care providers to combat the stigmas and discrimination some people may face when dealing with their sexual health. NCSH’s mission is to help people improve their relationships and sexual health, reduce stigma with sexual health conversations, and access the sexual health services they need.
Hesitancy around conversations about sex starts pretty early. Most people can recall an embarrassing situation from their first encounters with sex talk. The first conversation about the birds and the bees with a parent – if it even happens — can be one of the most awkward conversations ever.
Sexual health is a core tenant of personal health. It is important in the same way that physical and mental health are important. When an individual’s sexual health is poor, it can have a lasting and serious impact on their quality of life. Two of the most important factors in maintaining good sexual health are access to resources and education.
The National Coalition for Sexual Health works to fulfill both of these needs. The NCSH is committed to improving the sexual health of Americans by providing educational resources and increasing the public’s access to sexual health care.
Susan Gilbert is the Co-Director for NCSH. She told us about the coalition and what it hopes to achieve. “Our goal is to move beyond a disease prevention approach when it comes to sexual health,” Susan said. “We want to equip and help the public enjoy a more satisfying sex life.”
The Foundations of Sexual Health
Sexual concerns are common. According to NCSH, 43% of women and 31% of men report at least one type of sexual difficulty. People of any gender and age can experience these difficulties. Anything that causes discomfort or concern is considered a sexual difficulty.
Sexual concerns run the gamut from a low sex drive and lack of arousal, to pain during intercourse, or erectile dysfunction. These difficulties need to be addressed regardless of whether someone is in a relationship when they experience them.
There can be several reasons for sexual difficulties. Mental health challenges and relationship problems can cause stress in a person’s sex life. Becoming a parent can also cause disturbances in a person’s sex life. Health factors, including alcoholism, diabetes, and chronic diseases, can also affect a person’s sexual health.
Sexual difficulties can be caused by more complex reasons such as sexual violence, abuse, or trauma that can seriously impact the way an individual views and attends to their sex lives. Sexual violence and trauma can cause serious and lasting mental health problems. It can also make it hard for survivors to explore or enjoy their sexualities.
Religious, social, and cultural influences can also cause sexual concerns. Those raised in or surrounded by cultures that relay negative messages about sex can find it hard to lead healthy sex lives. Guilt, shame, and disallowance to speak on the subject can be detrimental to an individual’s sex life.
All of these factors impact Americans today. The National Coalition for Sexual Health aims to address these concerns and provide resources to overcome them. Despite a culture of embarrassment and, at times, shame around sex, NCSH is working to remove the stigma and help Americans live more fulfilled sex lives.
Improving Access to Resources
NCSH was founded to make sexual health a natural part of the national discourse. Coalition members embrace the belief that sexual health should be approached from a holistic health standpoint. This means that sexual health is not only an important factor of overall health but must be addressed in terms of the individual as a whole.
NCSH has many easily accessible tools for the public. “A Guide to Sexual Concerns and Pleasure” details the kind of concerns or difficulties a person may have, along with practical steps they can take to improve their sex lives. This resource covers common concerns, the type of professionals who can help, and even includes scripts for the public to use when they speak to their provider.
“Sexual Health Quick Tips” was developed by NCSH’s Communications Action Group and provides easily digestible information and advice. There are six different sexual health topics, including the seven ingredients of a healthy relationship, standing up for yourself with a partner, and asking for consent.
An important part of NCSH’s mission, in addition to offering preventative resources and educational tools, is to promote testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The organization provides advice on what type of STI testing is recommended, along with other sexual health services, for people based on gender, age, sexual practices, and sexual orientation.
“The Five Action Steps to Good Sexual Health” is a comprehensive road map that helps Americans understand what it means to be sexually healthy. The first step is to have a sense of self-value and an understanding of one’s own sexual desires. The second step is to protect one’s body while still experiencing intimacy, pleasure, and joy. Step three is to have healthy and supportive partners. Step four is to build positive relationships, and step five is to incorporate sexual health practices into a healthcare routine.
NCSH’s site is packed with practical resources, tools, and info sheets. These tools empower the public through education and practical tips to speak to partners and healthcare providers alike. While all the resources are invaluable, Susan believes the Five Action Steps represent what NCHS is all about. She said, “The Five Action Steps are the coalition’s foundational content for overall sexual health.”
Celebrating Its 10th Year Fighting Sex-Related Stigmas
Since 2013, the National Coalition for Sexual Health has dedicated itself to fighting the stigma surrounding sexual health, whether it’s talking about the topic or accessing sexual health care. Comprehensive personal health cannot be achieved without attention to sexual health, but discussing sexual health issues can be awkward. For some groups, talking about the subject can even be dangerous.
While American culture has become more progressive and accepting, marginalized groups still experience disparities in the kind of health care they receive. LGBTQ+ individuals can experience discriminatory sexual health care in a system that does not have a full understanding of their specific needs. People of color also experience discrimination in sexual health care, a trend that has a disturbing and long history in America.
NCSH produces in-depth guides and practical, streamlined tools for healthcare providers. One is titled “Clinician Guide for Trauma-Informed Care.” This guide helps clinicians provide trauma-informed care, specifically when it comes to physical examinations done in sexual and reproductive health settings.
“Inclusive Sexual Health Services: Practical Guidelines for Providers & Clinics” offers tips on how to become more patient-centered and accessible so sexual health care providers and staff can create an inclusive clinical environment.
“Sexual Health Questions to Ask All Patients” gives a road map of questions to ask patients about their sexual health. This guide helps providers ensure they are receiving the whole scope of a patient’s sexual health history.
By involving the public and providers, NCSH works to make sexual health a topic of wider discussion. Shame and embarrassment around sex and sexuality are not inherent human traits – they are learned attitudes that have had a negative impact not just on individuals, but American culture as a whole. “Within our culture, it can be really embarrassing and uncomfortable to bring up sexual health topics,” Susan said. “Our coalition wants to change that.”