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By Hein Kaiser

Journalist


Sexual health meets self-acceptance: A mental wellness revolution

“Just like one person might like a specific pair of sneakers and another prefers Italian leather loafers, sexual preferences, desires, and journeys differ."


Sexual wellness is fast gaining recognition as an important cog in the wheel of overall physical and mental wellness. In a post-pandemic world, this notion has extended from gender identity to a greater acceptance of sexual preference and all its iterations. Diversity and acceptance thereof, said psychologist Dr Jonathan Redelinghuys, is a healthy course.

“Sexual wellness as a part of overall psychological well-being is becoming increasingly important as society has progressed,” he said. Openness has allowed individuals to feel more comfortable addressing their sexual health, leading to a greater understanding of its significance in their lives. “We’ve become increasingly aware of the diversity of the topic and the importance of addressing it topic as part of an individual’s overall well-being,” he added.

Sexual wellness and mental health

The connection between sexual wellness and mental health is significant. Dr Redelinghuys said that an individual’s ability to express their sexuality in a non-judgmental environment significantly impacts their overall mental wellness. “Individuals who feel that they can comfortably express sexuality in a non-judgmental type of environment, or ask questions about their sexual health, or go to a person and discuss certain feelings or desires in a non-judgmental way, makes a substantial difference in a person’s own journey of self-acceptance and confidence,” he said. In turn, he added, this contributes to a more integrated sense of self, enhancing psychological well-being.

The societal shift towards open discussions about sexual wellness marks a significant leap forward. “I think it’s one of the most important leaps our society has made recently,” Dr Redelinghuys noted. He said that this progress allows people to engage in conversations, share ideas, and realise that they are not alone in their feelings. In the past, more repressive social norms often forced individuals to suppress or redirect their desires, hindering their ability to achieve optimal wellness and personal growth. “Individuals frequently had to sublimate those desires into other zones, or they had to repress them completely,” he explained.

Finding one’s sexual wellness involves a deep understanding and acceptance of the self. Dr Redelinghuys said that the importance of self-awareness in this journey must never be underestimated. “Finding your own sexual persona, wants and desires and finding your comfort zone involves understanding yourself and understanding your needs and preferences,” he said.

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Creating safe spaces

This understanding must be contextualised within the framework of society, culture, and personal values. “Where that fits in terms of society, what is acceptable to you as a person within your culture, within your religion, within the society that you exist in,” he added.

A safe space to explore an individual’s sexuality plays an important role. Dr Redelinghuys said people must seek out environments where they feel secure enough to express themselves. “Finding a safe space may involve speaking with a family member, a partner, friends, a social group, or even a professional,” he advised. Safe spaces can vary significantly depending on individual needs, and it’s essential to identify what works best for each person.

“If you are uncertain as to which space could be safe, I would then suggest engaging with a professional,” he said. Professionals, such as psychologists or primary health care providers, can provide direction and support, helping individuals on their journey towards sexual wellness.

In relationships, open communication about sexual needs and desires is vital. Dr Redelinghuys said that he cannot stress strongly enough the importance of mutual understanding in fostering a healthy sexual dynamic. “If you are in a relationship, it is important that the person you’re involved with understands what your needs are and what your desires might be,” he said. Should a relationship not offer a safe space for such discussions, seeking professional help can be beneficial. “If you find that your relationship is not a safe space for having those types of conversations, then moving that relationship into a professional environment might be the next step,” he advised.

Also Read: The Power of Sexual Pleasure

Embracing your sexual self

“There is nothing about expressing your own unique sexual identity that makes anyone less of a person,” said Dr Redelinghuys. “Just like one person might like a specific pair of sneakers and another prefers Italian leather loafers, sexual preferences, desires, and journeys differ. Denying yourself, your true self, is a negative response. In turn, the judgement of others becomes a pervasive means to repress one another. This is not the kind of environment that will nurture the growth of any individual,” he said. Acceptance and understanding helps individuals embrace their sexual selves as an integral part of their psychological and emotional well-being.

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