Don’t Forget: Sex is Fun! Sexual Health Expert Speaks Out

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has issued a call to develop ‘the next generation of condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use,’ and, according to Doortje Braeken, IPPF’s senior adviser on adolescents and young people, the foundation has a point. Braeken notes that working in sexual health can make one easily forget that sex is fun, but this is an important part of overall sexual wellbeing.

According to Braeken, ‘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.’

Braeken, who is responsible for co-ordinating programmes in 26 countries implementing a rights-based approach to youth friendly services and comprehensive sexuality education, comments that the discussion around the new sustainable development goals is forcing wellness experts to re-examine the issue of sexual health and rights as the key to alleviating poverty and empowering women. She cites growing evidence which proves promoting pleasure alongside safer sex messaging can increase the consistent use of condoms and other forms of safer sex.

‘This new, pleasure-positive approach couldn’t have come at a more crucial time,’ Braeken asserts. ‘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.’

Braeken explains that sexual health is ‘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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