Let's be more open about the joy of sex

Published: April 29, 2013

It appears that sex is fun. This may not come as a surprise but, working in sexual health, one can easily become blind to that fact. To work in sexual and reproductive health and rights is to be drip-fed a diet of warnings, doom-laden data on violence, population and epidemics; no wonder we have forgotten a central truth about sex – namely that it is pleasurable.

The idea of pleasure and confidence in your sexual life is not a new concept for us at IPPF (the International Planned Parenthood Federation). In 1998, we enshrined the concept of respect and pleasure in our youth manifesto, based on core values of respect for diversity, informed choice and freedom of sexual expression and sexual enjoyment. And then more recently in Healthy, Happy and Hot – a young person’s guide to rights, sexuality and living with HIV – where IPPF had the courage to suggest that young people living with HIV could also live healthy and sexually fulfilling lives.

Now it seems the development community has caught up. The discussion around the new sustainable development goals – replacing the millennium development goals – are forcing us to re-examine the issue of sexual health and rights as the key to alleviating poverty and empowering women.

There is growing evidence that promoting pleasure alongside safer sex messaging can increase the consistent use of condoms and other forms of safer sex. With this in mind, IPPF is beginning to reframe the debate on sexual rights, health in terms of pleasure and confidence.

This new, pleasure-positive approach couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. There is now general agreement that sustainable goals for alleviating poverty and encouraging lasting development depend on empowering women. Women’s ability to contribute to their communities and economies depends on empowerment, confidence and equality. Sexual confidence, negotiation, collaboration and pleasure are all pivotal in building gender equality and ending gender and sexual discrimination.

So sex confidence is empowering. It’s not just about not getting pregnant or avoiding an STI (sexually transmitted infection), it’s about being comfortable with yourself, feeling accepted and accepting your partner, treating the other person as a person and not a body. It’s about being confident and enjoying our bodies, having fun and not being forced into having sex when we don’t want to; about using education and information to reinforce positive messages about safer sex, so that people of all ages can enjoy it when they feel the time is right.

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