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!