What Is Health

Before exploring what we mean by health promotion it is important to clarify what is meant by the term 'health'. It has been some time since the World Health Organisation offered their definition of health as: 'a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease'

Advanced Clinical Skills for GU Nurses. Edited by Matthew Grundy-Bowers and Jonathan Davies © 2007 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

(WHO, 1946). This statement was radical at the time in that it acknowledged that health was more than merely the absence of disease, but encompassed social and psychological dimensions too. It is a statement that is arguably relevant today, though the definition has many critics, including Ewles and Simnet (2003), who argue that the definition is both 'unrealistic' and 'static'. More recently the WHO has further debated the concept of health, and proposes:

... a conception of health as the extent to which an individual or group is able, on the one hand, to realize aspirations and satisfy needs; and, on the other hand, to change or cope with the environment. Health is, therefore, seen as a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living; it is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities (WHO 1984, cited in Ewles and Simnett, 2003).

The definition offered here is perhaps a much wider examination of health and looks at 'health' from a different perspective, considering health as an element of life rather than as the sole objective of living.

So do these broader health definitions sit comfortably within the sphere of sexual health or are they limiting definitions that may exclude aspects of sexual health care? Certainly this definition is useful when considering sexual health in that it suggests that it is important for individuals and groups to be helped to realise their full potential and satisfy their needs. It is important that we now define what we mean by sexual health.

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