‘It’s always fear-based’: why sexual health projects should focus on pleasure global development

In the Kenyan village where Swari Nyar Kano (not her real name) grew up, sex and diversity weren’t talked about much.

The subject did not come up in conversation with her parents, and at school she was taught about human anatomy and “sexual immorality”, and told that homosexuality was a sin.

“I grew up in a society where sex was about having children and that was about it,” says the Social Media Influencer. “Sexuality was never mentioned. No one ever talked about it so I started looking for answers for myself.”

Swari Nyar Kano, author and social media influencer. Photograph: Courtesy Ayamba Rogers/Swiri Nyar Kano

She read books, and researched sexual traditions in Africa, and then made three TikTok videos sharing what she learned for her 1 million followers, as well as an Instagram post. Together, these have been viewed over 130,000 times and generated hundreds of comments.

Swari’s work was part of a wider campaign to introduce the concept of pleasure into sexual and reproductive health and rights in Africa, run by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the largest sex education organization globally. One of the providers.

Its digital campaign Treasure Your Pleasure was aimed at young adults and ran from March to November on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter in three languages ​​(French, Portuguese and English). It featured videos, Twitter chats and pop art-style graphics from influencers across Africa, alongside sex-positive messaging posted on its Instagram page.

Alongside Swarry’s video and subsequent blog was a post about top gay sex acts from a South African influencer; about the physical and mental benefits of having the other sex; many about consent; and one about penis hygiene, among other topics.

The campaign reached 9 million people and added 40,000 new followers on the IPPF Africa digital platform. This drove 330,000 people to the campaign’s landing page on the IPPF website, which includes a quiz, downloadable stickers for use on social media, and evidence-based research. The IPPF regional office in Asia now hopes to run a similar campaign.

This was a marked departure from the usual narrative prevalent in sexual health programs. Mahmood Garga, who led the campaign, says: “We talk about sexually transmitted infections, mortality, morbidity. We talk about HIV and unwanted pregnancy. It is always based on fear.

He continues: “People are always left with guilt and shame and feeling [sex] There is something bad that they should not do. it is forbidden. We wanted to change the story and do a sex positive campaign.

The Treasure Your Pleasure Campaign, by the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Incorporating pleasure into sexual health education has a positive effect on condom use. Photo: Courtesy IPPF

The IPPF is one of a wave of organizations introducing the concept of pleasure to sexual and reproductive health and rights. It collaborated with the Pleasure Project, a group of activists, to publish a review on Valentine’s Day, along with the World Health Organization, about the added value of including pleasure in sexual health interventions. The review showed that there was a significant positive impact on condom use and more people were encouraged to access health services.

Now 19 organizations around the world are using his “Principles of Happiness,” designed to help people begin the journey to a sex-positive, pleasure-based approach to sexual health; 12 are located in the Global South.

Along with the Treasure Your Pleasure campaign, the Pleasure Project has worked with Amplify Change, a fund that supports civil society organizations that advocate for better sexual and reproductive health and rights in their communities.

Among them is Young & Alive in Tanzania, which in April began hosting two-hour group sessions with 18- to 24-year-olds, encouraging them to talk about pleasure and sex in a positive way .

“For years, we’ve been taught about sex in a negative way,” says Innocent Grant, program director for Young and Alive. “When you think about sex, you think about teen pregnancy, HIV and AIDS and STIs. That approach hasn’t worked in Tanzania for so long. We still have high rates of teen pregnancy, we have high rates of HIV rates among young people, and also gender-based violence.Perhaps we need to change the way we deliver sex education.

While it’s too early to see any real impact, Grant says so far the discussions have been lively and encourages participants to speak openly about and understand diversity, sexual preference and consent.

The International Family Planning Conference 2022 took place on 14-17 November in Pattaya City, Thailand.
The International Family Planning Conference 2022 took place on 14-17 November in Pattaya City, Thailand. Photo: Courtesy IPPF

The Pleasure Project has also recruited 20 fellows – people from around the world, from Chile to the Philippines, working on various projects around pleasure-inclusive sexual health.

This is the first time this year that Anand has been included in the program of the International Family Planning Conference held in Thailand last week. Overall, Ananda is featured in less than 1% of abstract papers at international AIDS conferences, according to an analysis by the Pleasure Project.

The tide has started to turn, says Anne Philpott, a public health professional and founder of the Pleasure Project, but it has been a struggle. She created the Pleasure Project in 2004 because “there was a concern bubbling in my head that pleasure was not being addressed in international policy forums or in sex education in general”.

She says that not talking about the main reason people have sex is making sexual and reproductive health programs weak and underpowered. “By ignoring happiness, we have made our programs far less effective. Fewer lives have been saved, fewer condoms have been used.”

Since starting the Pleasure Project, Philpott has received a variety of responses to his work. Some were horrified, others made assumptions about his own sexuality, and some thought the program would hurt his career.

“I think people are afraid that, if pleasure – especially feminine pleasure – is spread, it will be uncontrollable. It seems like it won’t go back in the box,” she says. Fear.”

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