The World Health Organization defines health as: a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. In line with this definition, reproductive health, means that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life; that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to have children.

Reproductive health is underpinned by reproductive rights. These include, among others, the right to:

  • Decide the number, timing and spacing of children
  • Voluntarily marry and establish a family
  • The highest attainable standard of health
  • Be informed about and have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of contraception
  • Have access to appropriate health care services during pregnancy and childbirth.

Reproductive health covers a wide range of topics, including:

  • Adolescent sexual and reproductive health
  • Cancers related to sexual and reproductive health
  • Family planning
  • Female genital mutilation
  • Infertility
  • Linkages between sexual and reproductive health and HIV
  • Maternal and newborn health
  • Sexually transmitted and reproductive tract infections
  • Stillbirths
  • Unsafe abortion
  • Violence against women

When women lack access to safe, comprehensive reproductive health care, the consequences can undermine not only their general health and wellbeing but also their social, economic and human development, and that of their families.

There has been a growing recognition that the Millennium Development Goals cannot be met unless all girls and women have access to reproductive health services.

In depth

What factors affect reproductive health?
Reproductive health in developing countries
Safe, effective family planning