In 2011, both the National Prevention Strategy and Healthy People 2020 recognized “reproductive and sexual health” as a key area for improving the lives of Americans.1,2 This increasing national emphasis on sexual health provides an important opportunity to refocus the efforts of U.S. health-care professionals. While reproductive health has historically been considered a U.S. public health priority,3 the addition of sexual health to the short list of national priorities has important implications for clinicians and patients. Broadly embracing the concept of sexual health in health-care settings has the potential to reduce redundancy in care compared with current, more categorical approaches and to minimize the stigma associated with some aspects of sexuality and related adverse outcomes. These changes could increase both clinical efficiency and the proportion of the population receiving sexual health services.
To foster sexual health, the National Prevention Strategy and Healthy People 2020 recommend increasing access to sexual health services, emphasizing sexual health education and encouraging screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).1,2 To be most effective, these activities should involve both health-care providers (physicians, nurses, and related clinical providers) and patient audiences. Although this new national emphasis represents an opportunity to improve sexual health throughout the country, it also represents a challenge for the health-care community. The approach to patient care in matters of sexuality and sexual behavior will need to be reframed in subtle but critical ways. To meet this challenge, educational efforts for both health-care providers and patients will need to shift to support a more comprehensive approach to understanding and promoting sexual health throughout the life span.