Thursday, November 4, 2010

The role of pleasure in condom programming

By Arushi Singh (IPPF SARO)

S-E-X. Hardly have three letters been so controversial. One would almost think that sex is not a central part of people’s lives, but the fact is that human beings are sexual beings.

People have sex for many different reasons; however, the pursuit of pleasure is often the primary motivation. As most new HIV infections are transmitted sexually, we need a prevention approach that is innovative and honest about the role of pleasure in sexual behaviour. We need a pleasure approach, one that takes a positive, liberating and sexy approach to safer sex.

Unfortunately, pleasure is a relatively unexplored avenue for safer sex promotion and HIV prevention, especially in resource-poor settings. This is due to many reasons, including societal norms about sex and sexuality that tend towards silence and shame. Gender roles, in mostly patriarchal societies, demand that women remain unaware of sex and be passive ‘receivers’ rather than active pleasure seekers. Equally, young people’s sexuality tends to be denied with limited information on the male and female body, sex, sexuality and relationships available to them. When it comes to people living with HIV, there is often heightened stigma surrounding their sexuality, some people are of the opinion that they shouldn’t be having sex at all – let alone for pleasure!

Condom programmes need to re-focus people’s attention on the ways in which condoms can enhance pleasure, not reduce it. In fact, evidence from around the world suggests that a sexier, more pleasure-focused approach to promoting male and female condoms could increase safer sex practices and lower rates of sexually transmitted infections worldwide . The Global Mapping of Pleasure, a publication by the Pleasure Project, provides exciting examples of a wide range of such initiatives.

The case studies show that creating an effective intervention requires getting specific information about the kind of sex the target audience is having – or wishes to have. Moreover, it requires getting specific information about how to have safer, pleasurable sex; using language more commonly used with sexual partners than with health providers or promoters. Providing extra thin, coloured, flavoured or textured condoms, along with water-based lubricants, can go a long way in promoting the use of condoms. And teaching people how to put on a condom with conviction – including with the mouth – can be both pleasurable and preventative.

The female condom presents similar options for promoting pleasure with its use for vaginal and anal sex and the possibility of using oil-based lubricants. In addition, non-penetrative sex can be just as exciting, pleasurable and kinky. Thigh sex, breast sex, mutual masturbation, sex toys, all with lots of lubrication thrown in, are useful tips for a peer educator to promote. If we are really going to address the HIV epidemic, we need to change mindsets about sex, sexuality and condoms. The Pleasure Project believes that you can have safer sex if you know how to have good sex.

Useful Internet resource:
The Pleasure Project

Article available from IPPF HIV Update newsletter - Issue 23: http://www.ippf.org/en/Resources/Newsletters/HIV+Update+Issue+23.htm

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