What is sexual and reproductive health?

What is sexual and reproductive health?

The term ‘sexual and reproductive health’ can be defined as a person’s right to a healthy body; the autonomy, education and healthcare to freely decide who to have sex with; and the knowledge and healthcare products to avoid sexually transmitted infections or unintended pregnancy. Sexual health is an integral part of overall health and well-being, ensuring people can have pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination or health risks.

Access to sexual and reproductive health services enable people to exercise this right. Sexual and reproductive healthcare can take the form of medical care related to the reproductive system, for example, to treat a sexually transmitted infection, or services that support reproductive choice with the provision of contraception and abortion care.

Supporting sexual and reproductive health with contraception

Access to contraception is a central component of sexual and reproductive healthcare. Contraception gives people autonomy over their reproductive health with the ability to decide if, or when, they would like to become pregnant. 

By offering a choice of contraceptive methods, sexual and reproductive healthcare providers enable people to make informed decisions about their future fertility. By choosing an IUD, for example, a woman can prevent pregnancy for up to 12 years, or, by opting for a barrier method such as the condom, they can prevent pregnancy for a shorter period, as well as protect against sexually transmitted infections.

The ability to choose if or when to become pregnant can have a far-reaching impact on an individual’s ability to make other life decisions. With reproductive choice, people can determine their own futures, for example, by choosing to stay in education or pursue their career.

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But not everyone who wants contraception is able to access it. Currently, across low- and middle-income countries, there are 257 million people with an unmet need for contraception. This lack of access is having a devastating impact on lives and futures.

MSI’s analysis found that every year, across sub-Saharan Africa, up to 4 million girls drop out of school or are excluded due to teenage pregnancy. Universal access to contraception can not only advance people’s sexual and reproductive health, but can also help reverse one of the main perpetuators of inequality: girls’ lack of access to education.


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