Quality healthcare: As good as a sunrise

You know what’s kind of a cool part of writing 500 Lessons in 500 Days? Learning – and deeply thinking – about all of the sexuality related days and months. This week is National Healthcare Quality Week.
This summer my older daughter was hospitalized in Germany for heart issues, so high quality health care has been on my mind recently. (We have since had extensive testing done, and everything is fine.) High quality healthcare is deeply dependent on high quality education. This was the primary area where the healthcare in Germany fell short – partly because of the language barrier and partly because of the culture of dependency on doctors. Patients who are armed with knowledge are able to more actively advocate for themselves and their specific needs.
The Center for Sex Education’s manual Teaching Safer Sex provides patients with exactly that kind of educational background – to allow them to dialogue with their healthcare practitioners to meet their needs. Here’s the first lesson in the manual, which addresses the basic definition of sexual health:
By Kirsten deFur, MPH
By the end of this lesson, participants will be able to:
1. Define the term sexual health.
2. Identify at least two indicators of sexual health.
3. Identify at least two things they can do to improve or protect their sexual health.
The term sexual health can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and it is important to clarify the definition and determine how sexual health can be achieved on an individual basis. This lesson will allow participants to define sexual health, recognize its characteristics, and understand ways to improve and protect their sexual health.
The World Health Organization’s definition of sexual health (the one referenced in the lesson) is:
Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.
Source: World Health Organization (2006). Defining sexual health: Report of a technical consultation on sexual health, 28-31 January 2002. Geneva: World Health Organization.
The positivity behind this definition gives me such hope. That the absence of pain and suffering is not enough – that joy and pleasure must be actively present.
How might our health care system be different were they to assume that their work was to strive, not merely for the absence of unwanted pregnancy or STIs, but also actively in support of pleasure?
How might my daughter’s experience in Germany have been different were her basic quality of life been considered as an integral part of the diagnosis process?
As educators we have the power to, if not change how doctors work, then to influence how patients approach doctors. If a medication is negatively affecting their sexuality, patients should be empowered to request changes, modifications, to the treatment plans. Being healthy – but sexually hindered – should not be enough!