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

Rapid review of definitions and measures of sexual wellbeing

PI: Karen Lorimer
CI: Jenny Dalrymple (GCU)
Funding: Chief Scientist Office (CSO) Catalytic Grant

A WHO/UNFPA working group met in September 2007 to elaborate on sexual health indicators, at which the term ‘sexual wellbeing’ was discussed. In short, there was little agreement among participants about what sexual wellbeing was, nor how to measure it. Participants of that meeting concluded that ‘more research was needed to explore the various dimensions of ‘sexual well-being’ in order to draw up an appropriate set of indicators.’

Aim: To assess what is known from existing literature about how sexual wellbeing has been operationalised and measured.

Research questions:

  1. Do any measures of sexual wellbeing exist?
  2. If any measures of sexual wellbeing exist, what attributes of the concept were used and why?
  3. How has sexual wellbeing been defined and assessed across empirical studies?
  4. What factors are associated with sexual wellbeing?

This catalytic grant funding underpins a larger grant application to a research council, to de-risk the larger project.

World Health Organisation, Measuring sexual health: Conceptual and practical considerations and related indicators. 2010: Geneva, Switzerland.