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.
Meaningful concern for sexual health requires attention to political currents, and social movements, within countries as well as at regional and global levels, as these influence health, legal and policy standards, and the impacts these all have on people’s lived experience of their sexuality, sexual health, sexual rights and sexual pleasure. As inadequate support in any one area can have negative effects on the others, this paper takes as its starting premise that all efforts must be made to support a perfect triangle of sexual
health, sexual rights and sexual pleasure for all people everywhere in the world. Given the current political moment with retrenchments occurring everywhere from the local to the global, increased conservatism in all parts of the world, let alone shrinking space for civil society, we move beyond drawing attention only to the negative but set out to highlight positive examples of how sexual health, sexual rights and sexual pleasure have been and can be jointly addressed.
It is worth recalling that sexual health has been, and is, for almost all actors in both global and national spaces, a legitimising way to address sexual rights and sexual pleasure. Sexual health as an entry point allows engagement not only with the health sector but with programmers and policymakers who might not otherwise be immediately sympathetic to the importance of rights and pleasure.