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Defining Sexual Health: A Descriptive Overview


This paper examines the historical events that have contributed to evolving definitions of sexual health. Through a review of the literature, eight definitions of sexual health were identified from the original 1975 World Health Organization (WHO) definition up until the most recent definition in 2002. Each of these definitions is reviewed for the context in which they were developed and the particular contributions they have played in the development of the understanding of sexual health. The more recent definitions have built upon the essential elements provided in the original WHO definition but have added concepts of mental health, responsibility, and sexual rights. Although similarities exist in the definitions, they are not all alike. The importance of defining sexual health in the discussion of promoting sexual health is illustrated. The concept and definition of sexual health will continue to evolve shaped by historical events.

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Correspondence to Eli Coleman.

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Edwards, W.M., Coleman, E. Defining Sexual Health: A Descriptive Overview. Arch Sex Behav 33, 189–195 (2004).

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  • public health
  • reproductive health
  • sexual health
  • sexual rights
  • World Health Organization