IE World Mental Health Days: Gender, Sexuality, Affection, and Mental Health Forum


On October 10, as a part of World Mental Health Day, IE Counseling hosted the Gender, Sexuality, Affection, and Mental Health Forum. Not only was the event hosted by professionals in psychology, but the topic of the forum also touched on topics that are very relevant to the current young generation. The key concepts presented in the forum were gender, sexuality, affection, and mental health. These concepts are strongly connected and impact the lives of each of us on a daily basis. Do we listen to talks about sexuality and mental health often? Yes. But to what extent does our well-being depend on these concepts? This correlation was something that was examined during the forum.

Attendees of the forum had an opportunity to hear from Carmen Irene de Lisa Marques, a therapist from Sinews Multilingual Therapy Institute. Carmen received her degree in Venezuela, at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. It has been seven years since she started her official practice. She works as a general therapist, with children, teenagers, and young adults. Most of her clients range from 12 to 24 years old. Carmen especially highlighted depression, anxiety, and mood swings as the main issues the young generation deals with the most. 

What is quite obvious to many of us is that mental health plays a significant role in modern-day society and defines our professional excellence and personal well-being. But do we always understand its relation to gender, sexuality, and affection? 

“Gender: Socially constructed expectations regarding the ways in which one should think or behave.” 

From this definition provided during the lecture, we can see that gender, opposite of sex, is a socially influenced term that represents social models people are expected to follow. The groups of people who are most likely to experience mental health problems due to their identity are adolescents and young LGBTQI people. Society dictates an abundance of norms and patterns of behavior for us and it might take a lot from the young adult to acknowledge the way they feel, and if needed, ask for help.

According to the statistics provided at the forum, 40% of young LGBTQI people who want to seek help with mental health, do not follow through with it due to the fear that they will have to talk about their identity or orientation. This statistic encourages us to think about ways to change the situation and promote mental health. The possible ways to do that are to talk openly about your experience at therapy, support your family and friends in their journey, and publicly talk about any kind of mental problems people in modern society can experience. 

The presence of public conversation is especially crucial for men, since according to Carmen’s statistics, “women have a higher prevalence of diagnosis of anxiety and depression than men”. It means that women have a tendency to seek and receive help more often than men because of the social constructs that sometimes do not let men appear vulnerable or weak.

In the second part of the lecture, Carmen started the discussion by explaining the difference between sexuality and affection. Humans tend to confuse these terms and interpret them incorrectly due to their similarities. However, there is still a difference. Carmen displayed definitions of sexuality and affection as the core topics of the discussion. She explained that “sexuality is a natural part of human development through every phase of life and includes physical, psychological and social components” whereas “affection is a gentle feeling of fondness or liking.” Thus, affection does not always mean sexual interest or desire, but mainly defines what people feel towards others they like, and not necessarily in a physical way. Sexuality has a more biological meaning which is strongly connected to the other concepts that Carmen believes are crucial to this conversation.

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Definition of sexuality provided by the World Health Organization, Image provided by Alisa Lazurenko

Those concepts are sexual health and sexual rights. The speaker also provided the basic definitions of these terms. She stated that “sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of the disease, dysfunction or infirmity.” She later commented that “sexual rights include access to sexual and reproductive health care services, sexual education, respect for bodily integrity, the ability to choose one’s partner, the ability to decide to be sexually active or not, consensual sexual relations, and a safe and pleasurable sex life.” 

These rights are the same for all of us and cannot be taken away. However, it is important to touch upon a few observations. Sometimes we sacrifice our sexual rights to bring pleasure to our significant other. This can damage one’s sexual health. One has to be fully ready to be sexually active, this cannot be rushed. Sometimes we use affection to justify our sexual rights being taken from us, but in reality, we can still love/like someone and protect our sexual rights at the same time. When we are in a relationship we are supposed to be equal. When someone takes the position of being in the dominant position, it ruins trust.

At the end of the forum, Carmen specifically highlighted sex education as one of the most essential sexual rights. 

“What do you think has to be included in sexuality education?”, she asked the audience. The answers were surprisingly different, one of them summarized the following idea: young people should be taught that their own pleasure, comfort, and well-being come first over their partner’s or anyone else’s pleasure. 

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Featured image by: Andrea Mongia

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