What exactly does sexual wellbeing mean?

That was a question we asked as we reviewed the evidence so we could know whether there is any definition of sexual wellbeing, and how people have measured it.

I’ll provide more information on the review findings in due time (we need to finish writing the paper first!), but let me provide a few interesting bits of information to whet the appetite:

  • There seems to be very few studies that offer a definition of sexual wellbeing, yet they are attempting to measure it.
  • One study developed a multi-dimensional measure of sexual wellbeing (see reference, below) although they did not explicitly refer to sexual wellbeing and said sexual health instead.
  • If we think about the various influences on peoples health, we can draw on the social determinants of health framework, which tells us such influences can come from individual factors but also from wider community and indeed socio-cultural factors.  So, sexual wellbeing should also be influenced by such a variety of factors, as it’s an aspect of our health and wellbeing.  But there don’t seem to be many studies that explore the wider level influences, as most seem to focus at the individual level – cognitive-affect – as well as the relationship level.

If we can’t define this nor measure it more broadly then how can we assess the outcomes of complex interventions?  Will we miss what’s really happening?  How can we tell how well we’re doing as a society if we don’t know to what we refer when we say sexual wellbeing never mind have a way to measure it?

So, a lot more work needs to be done, particularly on how the wider community-level and socio-cultural levels impact on individuals’ sexual wellbeing.  But let’s start by trying to come up with a good definition, on which we can all base our work.


Smylie, L., B. Clarke, M. Doherty, J. Gahagan, M. Numer, J. Otis, G. Smith, A. McKay and C. Soon (2013). “The Development and Validation of Sexual Health Indicators of Canadians Aged 16-24 Years.” Public Health Reports 128: 53-61.

You can read our paper:

Lorimer, K., L. DeAmicis, J. Dalrymple, J. Frankis, L. Jackson, P. Lorgelly, L. McMillan and J. Ross (2019). “A rapid review of sexual wellbeing definitions and measures: should we now include sexual wellbeing freedom?” Journal of Sex Research.  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00224499.2019.1635565

How to devise your research question(s)

For a couple of years, I have been involved in tutorials with students who are required to produce a research proposal.  They are undertaking a module on research methods, so the coursework is to facilitate their learning and convey they understand certain processes and ideas.

One issue I hear from them is how exactly do you devise a research question.  

Pat Thomson has an excellent post which I highly recommend! You can read it here.

In her post, she provides examples of different types of research questions.  I would also recommend that students familiarise themselves with the concepts of epistemology, ontology and methodology as part of a process of developing a research question.  You do need to have some understanding of what counts as knowledge and the objects under scrutiny.  If these are new terms then please have a listen to the very excellent Tara Brabazon, at Flinders University

Here is her vlog on epistemology

Here is the one on ontology

and here is the one on methodology

Perhaps also have a read at Raul Pacheco-Vega’s blog post, in which he suggests paying attention to the scope of your research. He says “It’s also important that the Masters’ student supervisor/advisor is realistic in terms of expectations and ability to achieve goals within the shortened time frame, and often within tight budgets or the risk of facing a shortage of funds.”

So, think about epistemology, ontology and methodology, then reign in your scope. By the time you get to the stage of thinking about your research question you should have already done quite a bit of reading. You want to know that you have found a gap.  But you also what to be able to convey why filling this gap is important.  What will your work add?  Even if it’s small scale, it’s still new knowledge, so pay attention to the contribution you hope to make to the field.

Happy research!

My podcasts on various topics of sexual health

I initially started a podcast series on the Sexual Health Research Network as I wanted to learn new skills…well that and I really enjoy talking to people (I am mostly a qualitative research!)

  • Podcast 01: Mark Davis on technologies and sexual health

Podcast 02: Rosie Webster on technologies and condom use

Podcast 03: Jamie Frankis on social and sexual media and MSM

Podcast 04: Kirstin Mitchell on sexual function, from Natsal-3 data

Podcast 05: Marina Daskalopoulou on ‘chemsex’

Podcast 06: David Stuart on ‘chemsex’

Podcast 07: Aiden Collins on HIV self-testing

Podcast 08: Martin Holt on recreational drug use among people living with HIV

Podcast 09: Adam Bourne on recreational drug use and MSM

Podcast 10: Ingrid Young on treatment as prevention in relation to HIV

Podcast 11: Sarah Woodhall of Public Health England, on chlamydia screening and testing

Podcast 12: Louise Jackson on quality of life outcomes for women testing for STIs

Podcast 13: Jenny Dalrymple on older adults and STIs

Podcast 14: Nicola Boydell on gay and bisexual men’s personal communities

Podcast 15: Britta Wigginton on women’s changes in contraception

Podcast 16: Rebecca MacGilleEathain on young people’s sex education experiences and sexual health knowledge

Podcast 17: Rachael Eastham on women and contraception

Podcast 18: Carrie Purcell on abortion (Scotland)

Podcast 19: Lesley Hoggart on abortion (England)

Podcast 20: Fiona Bloomer on abortion (Northern Ireland)

Podcast 21: Rak Nandwani on PrEP (with a little on the Scottish context)

Podcast 22: John Saunders on PrEP (and England)

Podcast 23: Kelsey Smith on HIV and stigma

Podcast 24: Katrina Roen on diverse sex development

Podcast 25: Adam Jones and Zoe Cousins

Podcast 26: Janey Sewell on ‘chemsex’ and HIV among HIV negative MSM

Podcast 27: Tom Nadarzynski on digital sexual health

Podcast 28: Tristan Barber on frailty and HIV