Declarations of Sexual Rights and Sexual Pleasure

There are two Declarations at the core of my work and that of the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS). The Declaration of Sexual Pleasure articulates the significance of sexual pleasure to our overall well-being. The Declaration of Sexual Rights states that “sexual rights are universal human rights based on the inherent freedom, dignity, and equality of all human beings.”

In February 2014, I was a part of a global group who were invited to gather in New York City to work on our collective understanding of sexual rights and how they are experienced and expressed across cultures and languages. Our hope was to give a framework for everyone who has the capacity, and could assume responsibility, to be an advocate for sexual rights in their own settings, be it in their home, classrooms, work environment, and, on a larger scale, at the community and societal level. Sexual rights are usually ignored because sexuality is a matter of luxury or quality of life for many. However, this is not the case for millions of people around the world whose sexual well being is being compromised, used, and abused against their wills on a daily basis.

Declaration of Sexual Rights

The Declaration of Sexual Rights states that “sexual rights are grounded in universal human rights that are already recognized in international and regional human rights documents, in national constitutions and laws, human rights standards and principles, and in scientific knowledge related to human sexuality and sexual health.

It takes an asset-based approach, affirming that “sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

The Declaration is fully inclusive as well and includes “the prohibition of any distinction, exclusion or restriction on the basis of race, ethnicity, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, including disability, age, nationality, marital and family status, sexual orientation and gender identity, health
status, place of residence, economic and social situation.”

We recognized that “persons’ sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions and bodily diversities require human rights protection” as well.

Here is an abbreviated list of Sexual Rights. You can see the complete list here.

  • The right to equality and non-discrimination
  • The right to life, liberty, and security of the person
  • The right to autonomy and bodily integrity
  • The right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment
  • The right to be free from all forms of violence and coercion
  • The right to privacy
  • The right to the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual health; with the possibility of pleasurable, satisfying, and safe sexual experiences
  • The right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its application
  • The right to information
  • The right to education and the right to comprehensive sexuality  education
  • The right to enter, form, and dissolve marriage and other similar types of relationships based on equality and full and free consent
  • The right to decide whether to have children, the number and spacing of children, and to have the information and the means to do so
  • The right to the freedom of thought, opinion, and expression
  • The right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly
  • The right to participation in public and political life
  • The right to access to justice, remedies, and redress

Declaration of Sexual Pleasure

A little more than twenty years after the Declaration of Sexual Rights, the World Association for Sexual Health went further in publishing the Declaration of Sexual Pleasure in 2019.

We defined sexual pleasure as the “physical and/or psychological satisfaction and enjoyment derived from shared or solitary erotic experiences, including thoughts, fantasies, dreams, emotions, and feelings”

Key to sexual pleasure are “self-determination, consent, safety, privacy, confidence and the ability to communicate and negotiate sexual relations.”

WAS declared that “sexual pleasure is a fundamental part of sexual rights as a matter of human rights” and it should “ be integrated into education, health promotion and service delivery, research.”

The Declaration urges all sectors of society, from governments to health authorities, from NGOs to individuals to:

  • Promote sexual pleasure in law and policy as a fundamental part of sexual health and well-being, grounded in the principles of sexual rights as human rights, including self-determination, non-discrimination, privacy, bodily integrity, and equality
  • Ensure that comprehensive sexuality education addresses sexual pleasure in an inclusive, evidence-informed and rights-based manner tailored to people’s diverse capacities and needs across the lifespan, in order to allow experiences of informed, self-determined, respectful, and safe sexual pleasure
  • Guarantee that sexual pleasure is integral to sexual health care services provision, and that sexual health services are accessible, affordable, acceptable, and free from stigma, discrimination, and prosecution
  • Enhance the development of rights-based, evidence-informed knowledge of the benefits of sexual pleasure as part of well-being, including rights-based funding resources, research methodologies, and dissemination of knowledge to address the role of sexual pleasure in individual and public health
  • Reaffirm the global, national, community, interpersonal, and individual commitments to recognition of the diversity in sexual pleasure experiences respecting human rights of all people and supported by consistent, evidence informed policy and practices, interpersonal behavior, and collective action.

While discussions of sex and sexual health are often spoken in either hushed tones in private or more coarsely in public, I believe that sexual rights are human rights and that sexual health is a vital part of our overall physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Have you thought about your own sexual rights before? Or have you thought about sexual rights and health within the context of your work?

For example, if you’re a clinician, are you factoring in sexual health to the assessments of your patients? Or if you’re an educator or caregiver, are you considering the sexual rights of your dependents?

World Sexual Health Day North America 2021In September, we celebrate World Sexual Health Day. Take this moment to reflect on the Declarations above, learn more, or join us on September 24th!

If you are a practitioner and you would like to learn more about how to work with the Declaration of Sexual Rights, check out The Wheel of Context for Sexuality Education.