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Sexuality ConferenceWell, I must say, things have really picked up over here the past few days. I’ll try to give a quick recap now, and a more thorough account later, after today’s closing sessions.

Wednesday

By Wednesday, everything was running much more smoothly and the discussions were really getting going. We had a very nice Pleasure Project workshop together with SUPPORT. The room was full, and people laughed and had a good time while learning about a pleasure approach and condoms. But probably even more interesting to me is the continued buzz our workshop created – people have been talking about it over breakfast, in the corridors, and coming up to me to ask for more information. And that, the fact that it has stayed in people’s minds, is the biggest sign of success for me.

There were some reasonable plenaries on Wednesday as well… nothing I felt overwhelmingly excited about, and in fact, I would’ve preferred to see some of the plenary sessions turned into concurrent sessions, so we’d have more choice about what to attend. With 5-6 sessions happening at each concurrent session, there were always 2 or 3 you wished you could’ve attended.

Thursday

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Sexuality Conference

Today was a bit of a rocky second day of the conference. It is understandable to open your conference with political statements about the importance of integration, health systems strengthening, and [insert other buzzword here]. But when you carry on this trend for the entire morning of the second day of the conference, it makes me want to take a vow of conference abstinence. (That is, abstaining from conferences, as opposed to abstaining while at conferences, though both are probably good ideas.) There was one very interesting session, on choice and vulnerabilities, but, woefully, it was supposed to last for 2 hours and was compressed to 45 minutes because we were way behind schedule.  (Admittedly, I missed the parallel sessions because I was waiting in line for lunch… so maybe they were fantastic, but I was not able to attend!)

Okay, there were some highlights. Bience Gawanas, the Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union Commission, said some provoking things, including emphasizing that we should not always talk about the “harmful cultural practices” of “Africa”, but also about the positive practices. She admitted that sharing the good things wasn’t very lucrative when you’re going to donors begging for money, but “we also need to build a positive image of Africa.” Of course, she’s also one of those rebels who don’t think that the problem is all about a lack of money.

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Sexuality Conference

Hey Pleasure-verse! I’m writing to you live from the 4th African Conference on Sexual Health & Rights: Sexuality, HIV & AIDS in Africa. The conference has just opened in Addis, and you can tell people are ready to get down to the real work in the coming days. Here’s a bit of a report from the opening evening…

The conference started off today with the opening ceremony and reception. As you might expect, these were a bit on the high-level and dry side.  It was notable that both the President and Minister of Health from Ethiopia were there, and they, along with the other speakers were far more open than I expected.

It was clear that pleasure and sex-positivity were the hot topics, and gay people were out. Everyone, including, impressively, the MoH, mentioned that we should stop viewing sexuality negatively and take a realistic approach. They even managed to mention unsafe abortion, and comprehensive sexuality education for youth. The President said we should stop “discriminating against young people by believing that they should only practice abstinence until marriage which is an unrealistic expectation.”

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Sexuality ConferenceIf you’re like us, you may find that from time to time you’re running a little behind schedule. In case you were hoping to submit an abstract for the 4th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights – which has two abstract topic tracks relating to pleasure – you will be happy to know that they’ve extended the deadline!

Abstracts are now due by October 19, 2009. You can read the abstract submission guidelines here (pdf) and submit your abstract using the online form.

Hopefully I’ll see you in February in Addis!

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We just received a press release about a new BBC World documentary on reclaiming condoms for love and pleasure in Mozambique. I haven’t gotten to see it yet (it was airing at 3:30am today, but I was clearly still asleep!), but it sounds like Sheila is doing a great job putting a pleasurable spin on condoms. Here’s the summary:

Twenty-two year old Sheila is a trained ‘agony aunt’. In her office at the North East Secondary school in Maputo, she listens to students’ stories about love, sex, birth control and AIDS, and offers advice – and free condoms. But out of 8,000 students, only 40 or 50 come to collect the condoms on offer. The problem, Sheila reckons, is the condom’s image – which is medical, off-putting, and inextricably linked in people’s minds with sickness and death. “HIV is not an issue for the young people”, Sheila says, “HIV is a campaign issue. It is not that they ignore it, but it is not their problem – they are in love and there is no place for HIV in a passionate relationship”.

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The 4th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights will be held from February 8-12, 2010 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. You can find general information about the conference on their website, but what’s really great is that this year, positive sexuality is specifically mentioned in the conference objectives.

The Call for Abstracts lists the following sub-themes:
Sexuality Conference

• Exploring positive sexuality and sexual pleasure as a strategy for combating HIV & AIDS.
• Pleasure, Positive Sexuality – What messaging for HIV & AIDS Prevention?
• Redefining Masculinities – How to engage men in positive sexuality.

There are also other objectives and sub-themes where pleasure can certainly fit in, though it is not explicitly mentioned.

The deadline to submit abstracts is September 30, 2009. You can read the full abstract submission guidelines by clicking here.

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