How prioritising pleasure is transforming sexual health care 

April 12, 2024

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Centring pleasure in sexual health care doesn’t just improve the likelihood of a good time during sex, but safer practices too.

A recent meta-analysis shows that focusing on pleasure and ‘good sex’, as opposed to the risks of unprotected sex, in sexual health care and education can lead to safer sex behaviours and improve sexual self-confidence.

The 2022 systematic review jointly published by The Pleasure Project and the World Health Organisation found that incorporating sexual pleasure into sexual health care can help prevent HIV and STI transmission. For example, it was found that interventions which included pleasure increased the likelihood of condom use.

What is a pleasure-centred approach to sexual health?
“A pleasure-based approach is one that celebrates sex, sexuality and the joy and wellbeing that can be derived from these, and creates a vision of good sex built on sexual rights… This approach measures empowerment, agency, and self-efficacy by whether or not an individual has been enabled to know what they want, and can ask for it, and request this of others, in relation to their sexuality, desires and pleasure.” (Singh and Philpott, 2019)

The Pleasure Project is an international education and advocacy organisation focused on ‘putting the sexy back into safer sex’ by promoting pleasure as a necessary component of quality sexual health care.

The Pleasure Project has developed The Pleasure Principles, a set of ideas and resources to support people and organisations to take a pleasure-centred approach to sexual health.

“For most people, the sex education we received left us feeling shame, guilt, or disgust. The Pleasure Principles were designed to inspire people to change that,” says Anne Philpott, the Founder and Co-Director of The Pleasure Project.

“By championing pleasure as a cornerstone of sexual health, we empower individuals to embrace their desires, fostering safer sex practices.”

Dr Karen Freilich is a General Practitioner (GP) and Sexual Medicine & Therapy Consultant who has integrated a pleasure-centred approach into her practice. Karen says that by using a pleasure-centred approach, she is able make a more holistic assessment of her patients’ needs.

“Clinical work often has an emphasis on risk. That is, a focus on the what and how, rather than the why. A pleasure positive approach is a ‘gap filler’ for the blind spots of so much of clinical medicine,” explains Karen. “It provides more nuanced answers to questions such as why individuals weren’t using contraception, or weren’t getting pregnant, or had dissatisfaction with their sex lives.”

"By adopting a pleasure positive approach, I found that doors opened to a deeper understanding about my patients, and therefore a greater opportunity to work towards improving their sexual wellbeing."

Karen and Anne will be presenting at the upcoming Empowering Your Clients via a Pleasure-Centred Approach to Sexual Health webinar, taking place on Wednesday 8 May 2024 at 7PM AEST. This webinar will give attendees the tools to transform their approach to discussing sexual health with clients by putting The Pleasure Principles into practice.

“Discussing pleasure is still a taboo area amongst much of medicine. I worked towards incorporating pleasure into a number of different facets of clinical work, and definitely with training wheels!” says Karen of her journey towards taking a pleasure-centred approach.

“Ultimately, the biggest learning curve is listening to patients, hearing their stories, and being curious about the varied experiences.”

Implementing a pleasure-centred approach doesn’t mean reinventing your practice in an instant. Instead, it is a journey of small shifts in perspective and how you communicate with patients.

“We must usher in a paradigm shift towards a pleasure-centred approach to sexuality and sexual health. Contrary to fears of drastic upheaval, this change does not necessitate massive structural changes or exorbitant financial investments,” says Anne.

“Rather, it hinges on how we engage with clients, our ability to cultivate spaces for discussions about pleasure, and the internal shift in our own frameworks.”

Learn more about you can utilise a pleasure-centred, sex-positive approach to communicating with patients by registering for the Empowering Your Clients via a Pleasure-Centred Approach to Sexual Health webinar below.

The Empowering Your Clients via a Pleasure-Centred Approach to Sexual Health webinar is developed in partnership between ASHM and True Relationships & Reproductive Health. This activity is funded by Queensland Health.

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