Most sexual health education programmes use fear and risk of disease to try to motivate people to practise safer sex. This gives the impression that safer sex and pleasurable sex are mutually exclusive. Yet there is growing evidence that promoting pleasure alongside safer sex messaging can increase the consistent use of condoms and other forms of safer sex. To this end, the Pleasure Project created The Global Mapping of Pleasure, a document that identifies projects and organisations worldwide that put pleasure first in HIV prevention and sexual health promotion, and sexually provocative media that include safer sex. This article summarises some of the findings of this mapping exercise and what we learned about incorporating pleasure from it. We found that there are a variety of organisations, including religious and youth groups, and HIV/AIDS organisations and NGOs, promoting pleasurable safer sex. The techniques they use include promoting sexual techniques and dialogue about sex, teaching married couples how to have better sex and putting images of desire in sexual education materials. This paper focuses on ways of eroticising female and male condoms as examples of effective ways of using pleasure in HIV prevention and sexual health promotion.
Sexual pleasure is the physical and/or psychological satisfaction and enjoyment one derives from any erotic interaction. This broad definition of pleasure attempts to capture the variability of individual experiences of pleasure, which are shaped by personal, sociocultural, financial, religious and political contexts. It also attempts to avoid prescriptive and generalised ideas that normalise certain forms of pleasure but marginalise others.
Research suggests that the pursuit of pleasure is one of the primary reasons that people have sex.
A recent study of sex and relationship education points out that in STI/HIV prevention “public health outcomes may benefit from a greater acceptance of positive sexual experiences”.2 Other studies have argued that denying the possibility of pleasure in sexual relations, especially for women, has a negative impact on their active negotiation of safer sex.34
The Pleasure Project is an educational resource whose aim is to ensure that sexual health trainers include pleasure as a key element in their work, that training materials include pleasure and that erotic materials include safer sex. In December 2004, the Pleasure Project facilitated a training course called “Sex, Safer Sex and Pleasure Training” in Cambodia, in conjunction with CARE Cambodia, to explore the potential for HIV prevention methods to make sex both safer and more pleasurable. To facilitate the training, we compiled The Global Mapping of Pleasure, which describes projects and organisations worldwide that combine pleasure and safety in HIV prevention, sexual health promotion and sexually-provocative media.
The Global Mapping was conducted through postings on sexual health listserves, personal communication at conferences and contacts provided by initial contacts. It is based primarily on grey literature and personal accounts of programme strategies, and has not been peer-reviewed. To date, the Mapping includes sex-positive resources for young people; examples of working with churches to promote better sex among married couples; sex-positive information materials for gay men; examples of pleasure and harm-reduction counselling with sex workers; examples of erotica for HIV-positive people; how to open up a pleasure dialogue; how to eroticise condoms and other barrier methods; and safe and sexy erotic films. These programmes and organisations are largely isolated in their work because pleasure is not widely accepted as a component of sexual health promotion56.
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