The term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” was first used in 1994 at the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development held by the United Nations (U.N.) and at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing. The term was created building on the World Health Organisation's (WHO) definition of health, when clarifying the topics of sexual and reproductive health, protected by the so-called sexual and reproductive rights. According to Article 96 of the platform for action established in Beijing in 1995, the basis of these rights is formed by the human rights of equality and dignity. Although not mutually exchangeable, reproductive rights constitute one aspect of sexual rights, just as sexual rights form a part of reproductive rights. The action program of the U.N. conference in Cairo officially ended in 2014, and its text can be considered a revolutionary and progressive document, which has radically changed the discourse on sexuality and reproduction.
Sexuality is central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical and religious and spiritual factors (World Health Organization, Draft Working Definition, October 2002).
Sexual rights embrace human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other international agreements. These include the right of all persons, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, to:
• receive the highest attainable standard of health in relation to sexuality, including access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services
• seek and impart information in relation to sexuality
• receive sexuality education
• have respect for bodily integrity
• have a free choice of partner
• decide to be sexually active or not
• have consensual sexual relations
• have consensual marriage
• decide whether or not and when to have children
• pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life
The responsible exercise of human rights requires that all persons respect the rights of others (World Health Organization, Draft Working Definition, October 2002). Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality: not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.
Reproductive rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus documents. These rights rest on the recognition of the basic rights for all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to the highest attainable standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence, as expressed in human rights documents (UN Programme of Action adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, 5-13 September 1994, Para 7.3).
Reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes. Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicit in this last condition are the rights of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods of their choice for regulation of fertility which are not against the law, and the right of access to appropriate healthcare services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant. (UN Programme of Action adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development,Cairo, 5-13 September 1994, Para 7.2a).