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Live from the SSSS: Sexual Pleasure as a Positive Right

By November 6, 2009April 1st, 2020*What We're Up To, Meetings & Publications

SSSSThis week, I’m attending the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality’s annual meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Aside from being a beautiful place where the balmy ocean breezes are caressing my skin even as I type (and the sounds of Mexican karaoke are assailing my ears), it is home this week to a gathering of 250 sex researchers. Let me just say this… I have never felt so much at home.

These are people who would never talk about the “insertive probe and the receptive cavity.” These people know about sex and are not afraid to talk about it. Awesome!!

Today, the first day of the conference, saw two brilliant plenary speakers. I’ll only mention one here in passing – Richard Parker. Of course, Richard Parker is someone who I’ve been reading for years, and always thought was brilliant. You know, the kind of brilliant that means you don’t just walk up to him at a conference and say “hey, I love your work!”. But still, he was there, talking about sexual rights and sexual citizenship. The most useful thing I derived from his talk was the distinction between negative and positive rights – something I had thought of before, but that he articulated very clearly in the context of sexuality.

Your negative rights are rights to be free of things – coercion, violence, etc. On the other hand, your positive rights are more like opportunities – and this is where sexual pleasure fits in. Different cultures tend to emphasize different kinds of rights, and this is where confusion can arise. Because saying you have a right to sexual pleasure doesn’t mean we’re advocating the police coming into your bedroom and guaranteeing you a certain degree of pleasure (hmm… wait, maybe that doesn’t sound so bad…). Seriously though, this is how you would interpret it as a negative right. But instead, we’re discussing it as a positive right. Richard claims that he discusses this at length in his new book (and, he says they talk about the Pleasure Project in the book!). So, once I get my hands on a copy, I’ll let you know what I’ve learned.

Until the next post…

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