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Pleasure & Women’s Empowerment

imgorgeous_145Last month, I kicked off the December holidays with a trip to IDS for a workshop on Pleasure and Women’s Empowerment. From the get-go, I knew it was going to be a fun meeting. We started off with dinner and a conversation (as so many sexually pleasurable things do), where we got a chance to meet all of the different participants who’d come from around the world. We got into some serious conversations pretty quickly… “Do you want sexual pleasure all of the time?”, “Is BDSM an internalization of social norms?”… let’s just say I knew it wasn’t going to be a boring workshop.

Over the course of the three days, we heard many perspectives on sexuality, pleasure, empowerment, women, gender, and more. And yet, even with diverse participants coming from different areas of work, backgrounds, countries, and professions, we still found an impressive amount of common ground.

Here are some of the biggest points for me:

  • We need new narratives of pleasure that show that pleasurable sexuality is something attainable and worth striving for. These can help to balance all of the negative narratives floating around: warnings about rape, disease, unwanted pregnancy, etc.
  • Pleasure can be empowering, both for men and women. Theoretically, we found that this related to consent, equality, negotiation skills, and realizing rights. In our own lives, we saw that sexual experiences were empowering for a wide variety of reasons; pleasure and empowerment are certainly not reducible to a formulaic solution.
  • Pleasure contributes to health and other development goals. Far from being a “nice add-on” that isn’t important in a world where people are starving, the elements of empowerment discussed above are fundamental to the social norms underlying many of the world’s inequalities. For instance, promoting sexual pleasure can help change ingrained gender norms.

I’m excited to continue working with the other workshop participants on bringing a pleasurable approach to the forefront of not just discussions about health, but also those about gender and empowerment. If you’d like to get involved, drop me a line!

Photo: Outsiders:, via IDS.