In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Reproductive Health

  • Introduction
  • Definitions Overview
  • Psychological/Mental Health Aspects
  • Male Reproductive Health and Involvement
  • International Perspectives
  • Diverse Communities in North America
  • Link to HIV and AIDS
  • Reproductive Rights and Policy
  • Implications to Social Work

Social Work Reproductive Health
Tamarah Moss
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0231


Research indicates that social work is constantly faced with social problems influenced by local and global processes. Reproductive health is no exception to the challenges that are relevant to social work practice, research, and policy. These same challenges present opportunities for learning and successful interventions and social policy development. Reproductive health is inclusive of sexual health as well as sexual and reproductive rights. In reviewing the literature on reproductive health, it is important to highlight the interrelationship of psychological and mental health aspects of reproductive health, diverse communities in North America, and international perspectives. A distinction is made between North America and international to highlight the diverse communities of America. As reproductive health approaches grow to become more integrated and translational, the link to HIV and AIDS while limited initiates the need for understanding related to the co-morbidity of clients and communities that exist. The National Association of Social Workers supports “public policies and legislation, nationally and internationally, that recognize a woman’s authority over her own sexual life and reproductive choices, free from coercion, violence, and discrimination,” as indicated on their website. In keeping with the broad mission of the social work profession to promote social justice, the relationship of reproductive health to rights and policy are highlighted. The implications to social work are broadly mentioned as an introduction to stimulate further discussion and exploration for the reader. The overviews and annotations while not exhaustive set the stage for initial inquiries of reproductive and sexual health. In addition, this article serves primarily as a great resource for multiple readers, including graduate students; faculty engaged in course reading lists; and social work practitioners seeking applied research and frameworks to inform their practice, research, and policy development. It should be noted that the section on Definitions Overview ensures clarity on understanding what is referred to as reproductive health. Peer-reviewed research articles and organizational guides and resources are cited. It should be noted that male reproductive health and involvement are essential for addressing reproductive and sexual health in social work, and are presented throughout the list of annotations. The logic of the headings bridge from a definition of reproductive health that is inclusive of sexual health. The international perspectives provide a broad perspective that moves to a more specific global region of North America. Links between reproductive health and HIV and AIDS, as an example to highlight the co-morbidities that exist among clients and communities alike, are important considerations for social workers. Keeping in alignment with social justice as a tenet of social work, the inclusion of rights and policy are important. The implications to social work illustrate how practice, research, and policy are informed by these issues. It should be noted that the reproductive and sexual health needs and rights of men will also be addressed within this topic of bibliographies, but the needs and rights of women and girls will be emphasized, as women account for 20 percent of the global burden on reproductive and sexual ill-health, compared to men at 14 percent, according to “Conclusions” (in Mental Health Aspects of Women’s Reproductive Health), by M. C. de Mello and S. Saxena (cited under Psychological/Mental Health Aspects and available on the WHO website).

Definitions Overview

To ensure that the definition of reproductive health is clear for the purposes of this article, the details in this section provide a framework for consideration in definition, while reviewing the overviews and annotations. The United Nations defines reproductive health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of reproductive disease or infirmity. The International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action (or ICPD Program of Action) states that “reproductive health . . . 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 right 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. Access to appropriate health care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant. Reproductive health includes sexual health and not just counseling, care and treatment related to reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases.” According to the World Health Organization, sexual health is defined as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is 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.” When it comes to sexual and reproductive rights, the 1994 ICPD Program of Action provides a clear definition that includes the following comprehensive elements: voluntary, informed, and affordable family planning services; prenatal care, safe motherhood services, assisted childbirth from a trained attendant (e.g., a physician or midwife), and comprehensive infant health care; prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV and AIDS and cervical cancer; prevention and treatment of violence against women and girls, including torture; safe and accessible postabortion care and, where legal, access to safe abortion services; and sexual health information, education, and counseling, to enhance personal relationships and quality of life.

  • Amnesty International USA. Sexual and reproductive health rights.

    This document features working definitions of sexual and reproductive health and rights, the key factors to ensure that reproductive and sexual health rights are met. In the context of human rights, international law and global census documents are features. The links to gender discrimination and violence against women are highlighted. Finally, links to Amnesty International’s global work in reproductive and sexual health are listed.

  • International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action. Sexual and reproductive health.

    An overview of reproductive and sexual health is provided. In addition, the latest news resources and publications are highlighted as part of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

  • World Health Organization. 2006. Sexual and reproductive health: A matter of life and death.

    Provides working definitions of the key terms of sex, sexual health, sexuality, and sexual rights terminology. This review of terms took place in 2000 and was conducted by the World Health Organization and Pan American Health.

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