National Women's Health Policy

Sexual and reproductive health

Page last updated: 07 February 2011

Sexual and reproductive health, including maternal health, is a priority for Australian women. There is a need to consider sexual and reproductive health within the social and cultural context of women’s lives.

‘Sexual and reproductive health is not simply the absence of disease’.208 A complex array of factors is implicated in women’s sexual and reproductive health. Sexual and reproductive health is affected by the socioeconomic, cultural and political environment. Principal among these is the place of women in their society, particularly in terms of their control over their own bodies, reproductive choices and lifestyles. But other issues also contribute to how women experience reproductive and sexual health:

  • systemic and/or structural issues, such as health service provision, privacy and confidentiality, and representations of girls and women in the media;
  • risk factors, such as abuse of drugs or alcohol;
  • psychosocial factors like women’s self-confidence.
Sexual and reproductive health issues overlap with many other areas of health including education, health promotion, violence prevention, socialisation of gender roles and sexuality, and mental health issues. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are interlinked with promoting gender equality. Some of these are explored elsewhere in this policy, others below. The points here are intended to highlight the complexity of women’s health and women’s lives, rather than to provide an exhaustive list of factors. The aim is to explore the gendered nature of sexual and reproductive experience and behavior, highlighting their importance in developing policy, education, health promotion and prevention strategies.

Some groups of women in Australia have not benefited from the overall improvements in the area of sexual and reproductive health experienced by most women. Social disadvantage greatly affects access to health services and sexual health information and resources. Exploring women’s sexual and reproductive health demonstrates the need for targeted sexual and reproductive health education, health promotion and prevention strategies, particularly for ‘at risk’ or marginalised population groups, such as young and older women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women with disabilities and lesbian and bisexual women. For example, women with a disability are subject to myths about their sexuality, perpetuating the notion that they are non-sexual and therefore do not require sex education. The sexual and reproductive rights of women with disabilities have not been a focus of research, nor health care service delivery.