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Seafarers and sexual health: Key considerations

Seafarers and sexual health: Key considerations
The Editorial Team March 15, 2023

Sexual health moves beyond just disease prevention and is an important part of overall health and wellbeing. Being a seafarer means being away from your partners for extended periods, which can cause sexual frustration, while the limited access to sexual health information and resources can make it challenging to prioritize sexual health.

The specific nature of the job that keeps seafarers away from spouses and partners and the general single-sex working and living arrangements make seafarers a risky group for Sexually Transmitted Diseases, according to ITF. As part of its Seafarers Health Information Programme, ISWAN identified four factors increasing the risk for seafarers:

Working and living away from spouses and partners.
Single-sex working and living arrangements dominated by men.
Lack of information about risk and preventive measures.
Enhanced probability of sex with casual partners due to traveling.

However, sexual health is more than the absence of disease. It encompasses the physical, mental, and social aspects of one’s sexuality and sexual behavior, such as sexual relationships, and sexual pleasure. Let us take a closer look:

The three aspects of sexual health

Physical Health: Physical health is about contraception and preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs). One can maintain good physical health by practicing safe sex, using condoms or other forms of contraception, getting regular checkups, and getting vaccinated against STIs. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption can also improve physical health and sexual function.
Mental Health: Mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, or stress can negatively impact sexual function and pleasure. Addressing any underlying mental health issues can help improve sexual wellbeing. One can improve their mental health by seeking counseling, practicing stress-reducing techniques, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Social Health: Healthy sexual relationships involve respect, communication, trust, and consent. Developing and maintaining healthy relationships involves practicing effective communication, listening to one’s partner, and setting boundaries. Additionally, beinorg able to access comprehensive sexual health education and resources can promote healthy sexual behaviors.

What is sexuality?

Sexuality is an essential aspect of a person’s identity, and it includes gender identity and sexual orientation.

Gender Identity: Gender identity describes the gender with which a person identifies and is not necessarily the same as the sex assigned at birth. Gender identity is a deeply personal aspect of a person’s identity, and it can be different from what others may assume based on their physical appearance. It is also not limited to the binary categories of male and female, but there can be more which are described below.
Sexual Orientation: Sexual orientation refers to an individual’s attraction to others based on their gender identity. It can be heterosexual (attraction to the opposite gender), homosexual (attraction to the same gender), or bisexual (attraction to both genders). Sexual orientation is also not a choice, and it is a natural and normal aspect of human diversity.

How many sexual orientations are there?

While gay, lesbian, and bisexual are not the only existing sexualities, the number of sexual orientation types is not specific. However, there are some terms that we are more likely to see more than others:

Heterosexual or straight

Heterosexual or straight refers to people who are only attracted, whether sexually, emotionally, or romantically, to people of the “opposite” gender—i.e., men who are attracted exclusively to women.

Gay – Lesbian

The word describes someone who is sexually, romantically, or emotionally attracted to people of the same gender. In some cases, women who date other women prefer to use the word lesbian.


Someone who is bisexual will likely find themselves romantically, sexually, or emotionally attracted to more than one gender.


Sexually fluid individuals experience their sexuality or sexual identity as changing over time or in different contexts rather than having one finite way they experience attraction.


The term refers to individuals who do not experience sexual attraction to anyone.


Demisexual individuals experience sexual attraction only after forming an emotional bond with someone.


The definition of queer is something “odd, strange, or weird,” but generally queer is an umbrella term that describes anyone within the LGBTQ+ community.


Questioning refers to someone who is questioning their current sexual identity and is curious about exploring different aspects of sexuality or gender.

LGBTQ+ in maritime: Latest initiatives

Last year, Maritime UK, the umbrella body for the maritime sector, launched the first national Pride in Maritime Day. This is an initiative driven by the Pride in Maritime Network, a network established within Maritime UK’s Diversity in Maritime programme.

Launched in 2020, this aims to identify barriers faced by the LGBT+ maritime community, to educate and enable colleagues to empower and support them, and to share good practice policies and toolkits that support LGBT+ people across the sector.

To support LGBTQI+ inclusion, Danish shipping giant Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, launched a Rainbow Container World Tour in 2021. During their five-month global tour, Maersk’s Rainbow Containers have symbolized a culture where all employees, partners, and customers feel welcome and can be themselves without judgment.