“Perfect sex”: What’s your desire? A holistic, inclusive, and rights-based approach to SRHR

Perfect Sex diagram

Earlier this year, a group of colleagues from a few different gender equality, HIV/AIDS, and SRHR civil society organisations got together and, over the course of lunch, we discussed a simple yet incredibly multifaceted question: “What is perfect sex to you?”

Responses came in all different shapes and sizes; perfect sex is soft and supple; perfect sex is using a Long Acting Reversible Contraceptive (LARC) such as a copper-IUD to prevent pregnancy, a condom to protect against pregnancy and STIs, and a microbicide gel to both lubricate and add additional protection against HIV; perfect sex is anonymous in a bathroom stall; perfect sex is talked about before, during and after with the partner so that both people know what the other person wants; perfect sex is consensual and can be on one’s own, with one person, or with multiple people. But the underlying message was clear: perfect sex has a foundation of mutual consent, and is about freeing ourselves from the boxes society so often puts us in, and allowing diversity, continuums, and creativity in our sexual lives.

The result of this conversation was a first stab at visualising what “perfect sex” is, which can be seen in the image above. While it doesn’t cover all elements of what perfect sex may be, it provides a useful and compelling image from which to think about the importance of a holistic, inclusive and rights-based approach to SRHR and women’s health, specifically. Acknowledging that many of our gender equality and SRHR goals are greatly influenced by what happens in the bedroom (or car, or bathroom stall, or bathtub…) is a critical step to understanding why we must continue to put SRHR and women’s rights at the centre of our post-2015 agenda.

Women have the right to enjoy the kind of sex, or not, they want to have, and the ability to do so is foundational to the realisation of women’s health and human rights. Similarly, engaging men in these conversations, and assisting men in realising their vested interest in finding their own versions of perfect sex that go beyond peer pressure or expressions of violent and domineering masculinities and instead allows men to feel, experience, learn and enjoy intimacy based on mutual consent is critical to the advancement of women’s human rights, gender equality, and SRHR for all.