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Positive Sexual Health

By Paul Seifert

When I was growing up, sex was not something you talked about openly. And you certainly never discussed it with members of the opposite sex.

As I grew older, I began to think about sex very differently. But little did I know that at the age of 55, I would be sitting at a conference table talking quite candidly about male circumcision, microbicides and other issues with men and women as young as 21. A few months ago, I spoke with a student group that wanted to raise funds by selling bouquets of "condom roses" on Valentine's Day. Welcome to the world of public health!

When the idea for a special issue on sex was first presented, my initial reaction was, do we really want to do that? Then, within a few moments, I thought, of course. We have to do this. Consider HIV/AIDS, family planning, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), maternal mortality, human rights violations, condoms, abstinence, abortion. ... The connections between sex and health are as numerous as they are obvious. Having read through this issue of the magazine, you've no doubt recognized how committed we are to its theme: If you want to save lives, you have to be able to talk frankly about sex and how it affects human health. As Nafis Sadik, the former UNFPA executive director, points out on page 57, "How can you talk about HIV/AIDS, if you're never going to say anything about sex?" Without open communication and the free flow of knowledge, we cannot discover the most effective methods of preventing HIV, or protecting young girls from obstetric fistula, or resolving other difficult issues.

As I was reviewing the stories, another theme arose: Sexual and reproductive health research epitomizes the Bloomberg School mission. You probably have noted as well that the faculty in these stories are from many different departments and centers at the School. Lab scientists are uncovering new means of preventing HIV and other STIs, behavioral experts are learning why people make certain life-altering choices, social scientists are examining cultural patterns that affect reproductive health, and communications specialists are devising messages that promote positive sexual health. Many of our faculty are working together to confront entrenched problems from multiple perspectives. Although the Bloomberg School has 10 departments and more than 50 centers and institutes, it is not compartmentalized into separate areas. Communication and collaboration can and will lead to solutions that save lives.

And that's what we are talking about in this issue.