TUSA07 Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know About Pleasurable Safer Sex but Were Too Afraid to Ask
This session focused on pleasure as one of the aspects of HIV prevention that is not given enough attention.
Condom companies have been using pleasure to sell condoms as the risk and safety messages have not been effective. Much of the advertising is currently focused on men as the initiator and driver of condom use. The greater range of condoms available can contribute to increasing and maintaining condom use by giving people more options to find one that maximizes their pleasure. A concern was expressed by an audience member that these advertisements objectified women. The speaker disagreed but acknowledged that there was a delicate balance between utilizing ‘sex sells’ and being respectful.
A meta-analysis of research about erotizing safe sex found these interventions were successful at reducing risky sexual behaviors, however, only a limited number of studies and interventions were available to assess. Beyond access issues, there are many reasons that condoms are not used including loss of sexual pleasure and intimacy, and association with disease. While many people advocate for a greater acknowledgement of pleasure, it rarely happens and not with those that need it the most.
A common narrative about unmarried young women in southern Africa is that they are not interested in sex and are abstinent unless someone is pressuring or forcing them to have sex. A recent qualitative study challenges this narrative and describes young women who are actively seeking sexual experiences and pleasure. It is important to acknowledge that young women have sexual agency and aren’t necessarily ‘victims’ of men’s pursuit of pleasure.
Often within the HIV sector sex is reduced down to very specific behaviors, divorced from personal, social and cultural influences. What sex means to different individuals and groups of people has an immense impact on their decision making and reducing sex to a simple behavior with an associated risk of HIV misses crucial aspects of this interaction. Emerging technologies, such as microbicides, will not be effective without understanding the way that sex is negotiated and improvised.