Our sex lives are determined by a vast number of complex drivers and motives, some clearly identifiable at the surface, others much harder to define. Regardless of whether mutual love, reproduction or a more transactional relationship is being expressed in the encounter, it is very likely that pleasure will also be playing a significant role in the sex we have. Yet pleasure continues to find itself on the periphery of discussions taking place around sexual health, especially at a time when there are obvious signs that we receive diminishing returns from foregrounding risk and danger as a method of encouraging safer-sex behaviour.
The IDS Sexuality and Development Programme has contributed to bringing this debate into the development field with a number of publications in recent years, such as the IDS Bulletin ‘Sexuality Matters’, edited by Andrea Cornwall and Susie Jolly that argued that sexual pleasure is personal, often defined in culturally-specific ways and a legitimate focus of attention for development practitioners seeking to improve the efficacy of outcomes around sexual health.
Alongside this focus, our partners at the Pleasure Project have been engaging in some particularly exciting work that attempts to combine understandings around sexual pleasure (and it’s capacity to inform our sexual choices and acceptance of risk) into safer sex interventions. Funded through our Sida “Gender, Power and Sexuality” Programme, Wendy Knerr and Anne Philpott have produced a new guide “Everything you wanted to know about pleasurable safer sex but were afraid to ask: twenty questions on sex, pleasure and health”.
The guide has just been launched at the AIDS 2012 conference to a packed audience and has already garnered a great deal of positive publicity. What is really exciting about this publication is that in spite of there not being a great amount of existing research around safe sex, sexuality and pleasure (most notably gaps around lesbians and transgender people), the Pleasure Project have drawn together insights from this body of work in an accessible manner. Giving global examples of the sexual realities of men and women’s lives serves to underscore the relevance of placing our understanding of pleasure in the design of alternative safer sex interventions. The guide feels like a comprehensive jumping off into a field of research that is rapidly taking shape and a challenge to researchers to develop cross-disciplinary understandings of how gender and culture influence sex, sexual pleasure and safer activities.
Stephen Wood is a researcher for the Sexuality and Development Programme in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS. He can also be found on Twitter as: StephenWood_UK
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