So what does the New Year hold for the future of sexual health? Can we be optimistic? I think so. There are four broad reasons to feel optimistic.
1. As governments struggle with the complexities of the sexual problems and declining resources to commit to alleviate the myriad of problems, they will have no choice but to create broad strategies to promote sexual health. We have a public health imperative. We have an opportunity to use an evidence-based approach to public policy. Public health policies recognize that there is no choice but to address the barriers and opportunities for all citizens to enjoy the right to sexual health. They also recognize more and more that sexual health is a function of the recognition of basic human rights for all citizens.
2. Sexual Health has taken root in public health policy and sexual science will be needed to guide it. Now is the time of a unique opportunity in history of which we must take advantage.
3. The field of sexology has clearly established itself as a key player in the effort to promote a healthier society in the new millennium. The HIV pandemic alone continues to drive home the need to understand human sexuality in its full complexity--from the interdisciplinary perspective of sexology. Now sexologists are being asked to come to the table and help direct public policy by sharing our knowledge, research, and expertise.
4. Public health officials recognize more than any other time that comprehensive sexuality education is essential. They need to support sexuality research and we see a flourishing of funding that is rooted in sound theory and scientific methodology. We see an increase in research publications which add to our knowledge and legitimacy of our scientific field.
In the United States, we have seen major developments that are guiding lights for the future of sexual health. There have been 5 major developments which will have a major impact in the coming year.
1. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a sexual health consultation to develop a broad consensus of how we could develop a strong, comprehensive, broad and integrated approach to sexual health. The meeting report was published in 2011. After another year of further consultation, the CDC is about to publish a white paper outlining the basic and fundamental strategies for the coming decades. The CDC adopted its own sexual health definition that could guide its work in this area.
2. In 2010, the office of the President of the United States published a National HIV Strategy - the first comprehensive national strategy since the beginning of the epidemic! In this strategy, there was a strong statement that we must move away from thinking that one approach to HIV prevention will work, whether it is condoms, pills, information or prevention programs. Instead, we need to develop, evaluate, and implement effective comprehensive prevention strategies and combination therapies. While obvious, it was stated clearly that all Americans should have access to a shared base of factual information about HIV - a revival of the basic premise that US Surgeon General Koop stood upon in disseminating frank and scientifically accurate information to all households in the mid-1980s. Finally, this new strategy outlined a public health approach to sexual health that includes HIV prevention as one component. This was the first time the term sexual health was used in public policy in the United States. The President and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have called for a concerted approach to creating an AIDS-free generation.
3. In 2011, the office of the US Surgeon General released a report that was developed by the National Prevention Council. This report was the first national strategy on prevention that called for us to work together to improve health and quality of life by moving from a focus on sickness and disease to one based on prevention and wellness. Reproductive and sexual health is one of the seven targeted priorities. Many of these recommendations have been incorporated and will be funded by the Affordable Care Act.
4. In 2011, a report commissioned by the Secretary of Health and Human Services and conducted by the Institute of Medicine, was released on the health of gay, lesbian, and transgendered individuals. This report called upon more understanding and research on these marginalized populations and outlined a broad strategy to promote the health and wellbeing of these American citizens. This report has already had profound positive impact on public policies and public attitudes.
5. In 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services set broad health goals for the coming decade entitled --Healthy People 2020. In this broad health strategy "Reproductive and Sexual Health" was clearly identified as a leading health indicator. The outcomes of the recent national elections have ensured that these broad strategies to promote sexual health will go forward with commitment, leadership, and essential funding.
So, I think we can look forward to 2013 with a sense of optimism. We cannot be complacent, but we can ride this wave of renewed commitment to the promotion of sexual health for all Americans.
The Program in Human Sexuality will do its part - but it will be made easier by this social and political climate that shares our ideals of creating a sexually healthier climate and overcoming barriers to sexual health.
Thank you all for your support of the Program's activities and we wish you the very best in the coming year!
Eli Coleman, PhD
Director and Professor
Chair in Sexual Health
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