The Power of Pleasure: Embracing the Value of Pleasure in Sexual Health

by Cam Fraser // June 30 // 0 Comments

“Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die!” This line from Coach Carr in the 2001 American teen comedy film Mean Girls was meant to satirise sex education in America but it inadvertently did a great job of summarising it.

That is because the discourse on sexual health often centres around fear – fear of unwanted pregnancies, fear of infections, or fear of judgment. While it is crucial to be informed and cautious, it’s equally vital to shift our focus from merely preventing the negative to actively promoting the positive. Sexuality education should not be limited to the biology of reproduction or warnings about risks. It should empower individuals with the knowledge and confidence to seek pleasure in safe, consensual, and fulfilling ways.

Here is a very straightforward example of pleasure-positive sex education as it relates to condom usage. Of course, we want to promote the use of condoms because of their efficacy preventing pregnancy and the transmission of infections and diseases. Typically, we tell people they should use condoms because of this. But we stop there. A pleasure-positive approach would be to emphasise that when you’re not worried about getting pregnant or contracting an STI, you’re better able to relax. And when you’re relaxed, the sex is better and you and your partner experience more pleasure. Don’t you think that would encourage people to use condoms more?

I'll answer that question for you. Yes. In a 2022 systematic review and meta-analysis of interventions reporting condom use outcomes, researchers from The Pleasure Project, an international education and advocacy organisation for safe sex, found that sexual pleasure discussions had a “moderate, positive, and significant effect” on increased condom use. 

That is because sexual health is not just the absence of disease or the mitigation of risk. It encompasses a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being related to sexuality. Hence, pleasure, as an affirmation of our desires and feelings, is integral to this holistic definition. In fact, the World Association for Sexual Health ratified a Declaration on Sexual Pleasure in its General Assembly in 2021. This declaration was a bold attempt by WAS to urge all spheres of influence in society to recognize the critical importance of sexual pleasure as a key component of sexual health and sexual rights. By appreciating and fostering positive sexual experiences, we are not only acknowledging our innate human desires but also promoting overall sexual health.

However, this approach requires a paradigm shift. It means looking beyond the clinical and recognizing that sexual well-being is interwoven with our emotions, self-worth, and relationships. It means dismantling biases that shame and stigmatize those who openly seek pleasure. It means celebrating the fact that pleasure is a testament to our humanity.

So, let’s try this simple pleasure-positive activity. I want you to take a minute to identify two areas of your body where you feel pleasure. There is one caveat: you cannot choose your genitals. If you’re open to it, you can share this information a person you feel comfortable with. Share what parts of your body you chose and why. Hopefully you can see how incorporating conversations about pleasure is not actually that difficult.

That is why it is absurd that, historically, education about sexual health has focused almost exclusively on reproduction and avoided pleasure. I see two major flaws with this; (1) reproductive sex isn’t devoid of pleasure, and (2) people have sex for pleasure much more often than they have sex to reproduce.

So this silencing of pleasure limits our experiences. Beyond that, it can also be harmful. When we don’t talk about pleasure, we leave no room for conversations about consent, mutual respect, and boundaries. By bringing pleasure into our dialogues, we pave the way for richer, more respectful sexual encounters that uphold the dignity and agency of all involved.

Several studies have highlighted the manifold benefits of pleasure in sexual health. Positive sexual experiences can reduce stress, strengthen relationships, improve self-esteem, and even boost immunity. When individuals feel empowered to seek pleasure, they are more likely to communicate with their partners, negotiate safe sexual practices, and be proactive about their reproductive health.

To truly embrace the value of pleasure in sexual health, we need a collective effort. Healthcare professionals need to be equipped with the skills and sensitivity to address pleasure in their consultations. Educators need to incorporate pleasure-positive messages in their curricula. Communities need to create safe spaces where individuals can share, learn, and unlearn. And each one of us, as individuals, has a role in championing this cause – by embracing our own desires, by respecting those of others, and by breaking the silence that surrounds this crucial aspect of our humanity.

In conclusion, pleasure is not a luxury or a frivolity. It’s a fundamental aspect of our sexual health, interwoven with our well-being, relationships, and self-worth. It’s time we acknowledged its power, celebrated its presence, and championed its rightful place in our lives and dialogues. The power of pleasure is undeniable, and in embracing it, we step towards a world of greater understanding, respect, and holistic well-being.

Cam Fraser is a Certified Professional Sex Coach and Certified Sexologist. Being a former Tantric Yoga Teacher, his work integrates scientifically validated, medically accurate information about sexual health, with sacred sexuality teachings from the mystery traditions. As a coach, he helps men go beyond surface-level sex and into full-bodied, self-expressed, pleasure-oriented sexual experiences free of anxiety or shame.

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