To improve sexual health, even in this charged political moment, necessitates going beyond biomedical approaches, and requires meaningfully addressing sexual rights and sexual pleasure. A world where positive intersections between sexual health, sexual rights and sexual pleasure are reinforced in law, in programming and in advocacy, can strengthen health, wellbeing and the lived experience of people everywhere. This requires a clear understanding of what interconnection of these concepts means in practice, as well as conceptual, personal and systemic approaches that fully recognise and address the harms inflicted on people’s lives when these interactions are not fully taken into account. Bridging the conceptual and the pragmatic, this paper reviews current definitions, the influences and intersections of these concepts, and suggests where comprehensive attention can lead to stronger policy and programming through informed training and advocacy.
“ … 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. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”1
“ … a central aspect of being human throughout life encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors .”1
“The application of existing human rights to sexuality and sexual health constitute sexual rights. Sexual rights protect all people’s rights to fulfil and express their sexuality and enjoy sexual health, with due regard for the rights of others and within a framework of protection against discrimination.”1
“Sexual pleasure is the physical and/or psychological satisfaction and enjoyment derived from solitary or shared erotic experiences, including thoughts, dreams and autoeroticism. Self-determination, consent, safety, privacy, confidence and the ability to communicate and negotiate sexual relations are key enabling factors for pleasure to contribute to sexual health and wellbeing. Sexual pleasure should be exercised within the context of sexual rights, particularly the rights to equality and non-discrimination, autonomy and bodily integrity, the right to the highest attainable standard of health and freedom of expression. The experiences of human sexual pleasure are diverse and sexual rights ensure that pleasure is a positive experience for all concerned and not obtained by violating other people’s human rights and wellbeing .”2
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