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The topic of ‘sexual and reproductive health’ is an area of health care that requires public attention. ‘Sexual health’ is not just related to sexual activity and intercourse and also encompasses a broad range of topics – sexual expression, body image, sexual behaviour, reproductive health, as well as sexual health among clients with special needs and/or chronic illnesses. The papers included in this special issue depict precisely this wide spectrum of issues.

The common sexual concerns of adolescents and young women include sexual health information-seeking, sexual activity and health risk behaviours, understanding of one's sexual problems and prevention of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Adolescents often seek sexual health-related information from their best friends and informal sources, such as the Internet. Sexually active adolescents are also more likely to engage in other health risk behaviours such as alcohol drinking, cigarette smoking and drug taking. This highlights the need to monitor and guard the use of online information and school teachers and health personnel should be alerted to the health risk behaviours, and provide adolescents with timely and confidential advice and support. The National Commission on Adolescent Sexual Health (1995) puts it nicely, identifying sexual health as healthy development, and appreciation of one's own body and sexual characteristics; the ability to develop and maintain meaningful interpersonal relationships; interact in respectful ways, and express affection, love and intimacy in ways consistent with one's own values.

The medicalisation of sexual problem should also be challenged. It is proposed that relationships and partnerships are fundamentally important factors, whereas other factors such as socio-cultural, political, economic and psychological factors should also be considered. One of the ways to achieve sexual health is by having a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships. Although condom use has long been advocated as the most effective measure in preventing unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted risks, women perceive the suggestion of condom use to imply a lack of trust. The intention of women for condom use may not be supported by their sexual partners who prefer otherwise, becoming a barrier to the actual use of a condom and engenders a loss of intimacy. The inequity situation among sex workers increases their risk of sexually transmitted diseases. They are sceptical about making the request for the use of condom with their clients, and this increased their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, discrimination and violence.

The World Health Organization (2010) has advocated that the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled. Likewise, the sexual rights of people with special needs or chronic illnesses should also be recognised and maintained. Sexuality is a normative and positive aspect of human life; despite limitations in social interaction between people with autism, it has been shown that this population also expresses a clear interest in romantic and sexual dyadic relationships. A better understanding of the domain of sexual development among population with autism is necessary. When patients experienced disease and treatment perceived as severe, concerns for life may overshadow their sexuality needs. These individuals may suffer from sexual dysfunction, which adversely impacts on the relationship with their sexual partners and/or their quality of life. Sensible assessment, counselling and appropriate intervention may alleviate their sufferings from reduced sexual satisfaction.

Sexual health is an essential and integral part of quality of life. A holistic approach to care is essential with regard to each individual, regardless of developmental stage and health status, as a sexual being. Whether it is about adolescents exploring their sexuality, men or women with sexual identity issues or the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, all of these are very much related to quality of life. Perhaps it is about time for researchers of quality of life to incorporate the concept of sexuality and sexual being as one of the key indicators in their measures for all specific population groups.

It is the aim of this special issue is to celebrate the growing development and the wide-ranging nature of sexual and reproductive health in nursing research and practice. This development provides an evidence base for further work in our capacity as health professional to promote sexual health for all.

References

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  2. References
  • National Commission on Adolescent Sexual Health (1995) Facing Facts: Sexual Health for American's Adolescents. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, New York, NY.
  • World Health Organization (2010) Sexual and Reproductive Health: Defining Sexual Health. Available at: http://www.who.int/reproductive-health/gender/glossary.html (accessed 30 September 2013).