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The Short Version: Most people think of sexual health as simply avoiding disease, but that’s only the beginning for the National Coalition for Sexual Health. Formed in 2012, this coalition of nearly 200 organizations and individuals works together to provide resources and education on everything from sexual consent to how to date safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCSH website and social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) are filled with tips and practical advice to help singles and couples start important conversations surrounding sexual health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that the U.S. sees about 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections every year, and about half of these infections impact young people between the ages of 15 and 24. However, STIs are just one measure of sexual health.
In fact, the National Coalition for Sexual Health (NCSH) defines sexual health as being able to “enjoy a healthier body, a satisfying sexual life, positive relationships and peace of mind.”
Lack of education about sexual health and well-being exacerbates the uncertainty and confusion behind the scenes for many people, and can stand in the way of a good sex life and relationships. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The National Coalition for Sexual Health has embarked on a mission to foster a productive conversation surrounding the sexual health of singles and couples throughout the United States.
Conversations surrounding sex can sometimes be uncomfortable, but they are an important part of a healthy and pleasurable sex life. Individuals should to talk with their partner(s) about consent, safer sex practices, desires, and sexual boundaries.
People should talk openly with their health care providers to make sure they are getting recommended preventive sexual services, such as STI screening and immunizations. They should also use their visit to discuss any symptoms, problems, or concerns. To learn more about these services and help you talk with providers, check out the Take Charge Guide.
The NCSH can help guide people through these topics and give them the information and resources they need to stay safer and have peace of mind.
“Our goal is to reach all Americans across their lifespan — all ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, physical and mental abilities, races, ethnicities, and geographic regions,” said Susan Gilbert, the coalition’s co-director. “We want to give people practical information they can use in their lives every day, and we recognize that sexual health is a lot more than just preventing disease.”
Formed in 2012, the NCSH currently has been steadily growing over the last 10 years, and now has nearly 200 member organizations and individuals that are working together to provide education and resources to help people have positive sex lives, healthy relationships, and simply feel good about themselves. Simply put, the coalition is the go-to resource for everything regarding sexual health.
Today, the NCSH member coalition includes leading organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the American College of Preventive Medicine, The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), The STI Project, Advocates for Youth, The American Sexual Health Association, the National Association of County & City Health Officials, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Power to Decide, and Morehouse School of Medicine. NCSH is organized by Altarum.
“We’re a small, but hard-working, passionate, and creative core team with different backgrounds on sexual health, family planning, and communications,” Susan said. “But, we are much more than our core staff. We also have a strong network of 200 members working together to promote sexual health across the country by disseminating materials, participating in media interviews, and using social media.”
In addition to encouraging safer sex to avoid STIs, NCSH also educates the community about how to avoid unplanned pregnancies. In fact, Susan recommends dual protection, such as using a condom as well as a second method of birth control, to prevent both STIs and unplanned pregnancies.
Consent is another important issue that gets a lot of discussion on the NCSH website and social media pages.
“This is a key part of every sexual relationship. We define consent as asking your partner every step of the way if what you are doing is OK and if they’re comfortable doing it,” Susan said. “Your partner needs to clearly answer you using words. People cannot give consent when they are asleep, drunk, or under the influence of drugs.”
Remember, just because a sexual partner has given consent previously does not mean you can take their consent for granted in the future. No one should be pressured into unwanted sexual acts at any time.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of life, including sexual health. The NCSH has recognized that these issues do not just affect couples under lockdown, but also singles who are hoping to connect with someone new — while staying safe.
The NCSH has created resources to help people reduce risk and make choices whether they’re in committed relationships or looking to play the field.
“We provide people with tips on how to assess risk at this time and how to date more safely,” Susan said. “We also look at how they can keep relationships strong. Some people say they are spending too much time together while others are spending too much time apart. These are unusual — and often challenging — patterns for many people in relationships.”
A group of nearly 40 health experts created the COVID-19 and Sexual Health fact sheet, which answers questions about how to maintain healthy relationships and physical well-being if you aren’t quarantined together.
The resources provided by the coalition include actionable steps to help people start conversations about sensitive subject matters. For example, the fact sheet discusses what to do if someone you know is in an abusive relationship and stuck at home.
The NCSH also addresses the needs of couples in long-distance relationships and singles navigating multiple sexual partners amid the pandemic.
Want to know where you stand? You can start by taking the How’s Your Sexual Health quiz, which uses 10 simple questions to help you assess your sex life, romantic partnerships, and overall sexual health. According to the individual’s answers, the NCSH will offer recommendations and links to resources that empower people to take control of their sexual health.
You might also want to check out these sexual health quick tips.
Susan recommends people start learning about their sexual health by exploring the Five Action Steps to Good Sexual Health. It starts with people valuing themselves and knowing that they have the ability and right to decide what’s best for them. That’s the foundation on which all healthy conversations about sex can grow.
“We’re trying to normalize these conversations and see them not just in the media and the movies but in everyday life in schools, homes, and doctor’s offices,” Susan said. “Sexual health shouldn’t be taboo.”
For example, people who engage in anal and oral sex should talk to their doctors about getting tested for STDs in places beyond their genitals. Since that can be an awkward conversation, the coalition provides suggestions and strategies to bring it up during a doctor’s appointment.
NCSH has reached out to the public to better understand how singles and couples perceive their sexual health. Oftentimes, the experts see people dealing with emotional barriers that keep them from developing positive relationships and talking openly about important topics related to a healthy and happy sex life.
“It’s not just about giving people the latest data and risks,” Susan said. “There are a lot of practical, positive steps you can take to have better sexual health, better relationships, and a better sex life. That’s what we aim to do.”