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Awards, Porn and Masturbation at the WAS congress –let me hear more! A reflection of days 1 and 2 of the 25th World Association for Sexual Health Congress!

The Pleasure Project are out in full force at the 25th annual WAS virtual congress in South Africa. It has been absolutely amazing, and we want to share our reflections with you all.

I’m Jess, the current media and communications officer and I will be sharing my experience of the first two days of the WAS congress as someone who has never attended before and is new to the SRHR and Sexology world!

The opening ceremony was full of inspiring talks of leaving no one behind and ensuring that everyone has the right to good sexual and reproductive health. Emphasising the need to support young people to create strong and sound relationships and exercise their bodily autonomy – something which resonates strongly with The Pleasure Project’s mission. I was particularly moved when Dr Elna Rudolph, leading the opening remarks, emphasised the congress would be a safe space, where everyone could be themselves and there would be no discrimination. Something I think was poignant within the current global political climate!

Get the champagne ready – we got a WAS award

Alongside empowering opening remarks, the opening ceremony was also an award ceremony. So, the WAS congress started for The Pleasure Project with an absolute bang as The Pleasure Project were given the Excellence and Innovation in Sex Education award – we couldn’t be prouder! Anne’s acceptance speech was pleasurable, exciting, fun and heartfelt. She emphasised the hard work and diligence of the 16 years of The Pleasure Project to get to this point. It’s taken persistence and passion to emphasise the importance of sexual pleasure and sexual rights against the dominant, sex-negative, fear-based narrative. This award shows that the pleasure wave is building, and more and more people are recognising that pleasure matters. What an amazing moment for the recognition of pleasure activist work everywhere: a surge in the building pleasure wave.

Problematic Pornography?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first ever WAS congress – but it did not disappoint! All the talks that I could attend seemed mind-blowing and inspiring and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

I was drawn to many talks, one which stuck out to me, and I had to attend was titled ‘Problematic pornography use in adolescents and adults.’ At The Pleasure Project, we know the dangers of unsafe porn but also how porn can be used for pleasure, and maybe even education, when sourced ethically. So, I was interested to see what conversations would happen in these talks. One of the really interesting discussions centred around changes in pornography use during the covid 19 lockdowns in Hungary by Monica Koos. Pornography becomes problematic when it is the central focus of someone’s life, so the aim of the research was to explore whether heightened factors such as stress, boredom and isolation in lockdowns led to an increase in problematic porn use. The pandemic has been a time of high stress, negative mental health and scary times. And Monica tells us that research shows that people often use pornography more when experiencing negative and stress-related emotions. So, if you’d asked me before I saw the talk, I would have thought there may have been an increase in problematic porn use. However, the research found that there wasn’t a decrease or increase in the problematic use of pornography over the lockdown in Hungary. Monica suggests that one of the reasons may be because during lockdowns there was a potential decrease in privacy in homes. This was a very interesting topic of conversation which considered many different factors – thanks for giving us a glimpse of your research Monica!

However, after working at The Pleasure Project and learning about the benefits of porn as well as the negatives, during the talk I couldn’t help thinking about a conversation that could go alongside these important conservations surrounding porn: could sexually explicit materials also be good sex education? The Pleasure Project has done lots of work into how porn could be used to promote safe, good, healthy sexual encounters. Promoting good safe sex, rather than unrealistic, misogynistic or racist sexual encounters. Alongside research on problematic pornography use maybe we should also be researching further the benefits sexually explicit media could bring to sex education.

Masturbation through the generations

Naturally, being a pleasure pioneer, when I saw a talk on masturbation (which we all know is the safest (and maybe one of the best?) forms of self-pleasure) I had to attend to see what was being spoken about.

The talk was done by Osmo Kontula, a research professor at the population research institute, Helsinki, and focused on masturbation habits among generations in Finland. And wow – the research was so interesting. One of the facts I found most interesting, and sadly not all that surprising, was the fact that more women in every generation studied reported that they have never masturbated in their lifetime! Masturbation, self-pleasure and female pleasure is often deprioritised in CSE. And instead, reproduction and menstruation are emphasised. Women are often portrayed as passive, non-sexual beings, making it extremely hard for them to be informed about sex and sexuality. The shame, stigma, and lack of education surrounding female pleasure may then be a reason why women do not masturbate as much as men.

At The Pleasure Project, we, therefore, want to remind you that self-pleasure is good for you! A wank is one of the safest, cheapest forms of self-pleasure and it has so many amazing benefits! Masturbation and orgasms can help relieve stress, reduce cramps, release endorphins and help you feel empowered!

So please, if you have the time today, get yourself comfortable, feel relaxed and play with yourself

The young are out and ready to change the future! The Youth pre-congress

One of the most exciting things about attending the WAS congress for the first time was being in the age bracket to attend the WAS youth congress! With 200 young people at the congress and a focus on enabling young people and all their diverse possibilities. One of the presentations that really struck a chord with me was done by Women on Web. A telehealth online service for abortion. This is an amazing initiative; however, they are facing extreme censorship – 7 times! – and the right of people to information about their health is being violated. Their loss of 80% of their traffic after a google search engine change doesn’t direct people towards their site when they search for abortion has been significantly damaging. They know the demand for abortions hasn’t dropped – people just aren’t getting access to them.

At The Pleasure Project, we align with the fight for women’s rights and women’s health. Access to full information is crucial for women’s and womb owners’ health and when it is denied it is unsafe. Websites that can be trusted and are safe for women to access should be uplifted. We salute you Women of the Web and your valiant mission. Find out more about them here.  We also believe that, when not censored, more can be done with conversations around abortion to incorporate discussions of pleasure after abortions – an important conversation that isn’t spoken about enough. Our new pleasure principles could help begin the incorporation of pleasure inclusive sexual health in organisations like Women on Web! More about this in our next blog…

After thought-provoking talks from many brilliant speakers, I was put in a breakout room to discuss how to ensure SRHR resilience in young people: a place I believe pleasure has a massive place!

Important points were made that SRHR for young people needs to be inclusive with no stigma or discrimination attached to it.  We need to make sure it relates to young people! That means talking about what they want from their sexuality so they can be safe and satisfied We need youth-led organisations in the space where young people, from all walks, are life, are given a space for their voice to help influence and change policy and SRHR! And we need gatekeepers to listen to the voice of young people. This is a key entry point for pleasure – and I jumped at the opportunity to promote pleasure to the rest of my peers. Emphasising to them that we need to have sex education relatable, engaging and pleasure positive to ensure young people can have good, safe sex! And challenge the sex-negative narrative that is fear-mongering and doesn’t make young people comfortable to discuss sex.

WAS Pleasure Declaration

Speaking of pleasure…… Did you hear the WAS pleasure Declaration got accepted by the WAS congress!! Woohoooo!!

An institution like WAS accepting a declaration of sexual pleasure highlights the importance of pleasure to everyone, everywhere. And helps bring pleasure into SRHR spheres, giving it a central place in the conversation. This is such an amazing moment for pleasure and another SURGE in the pleasure wave!

We can’t wait to show you how we are supporting the ratification of the pleasure declaration with our pleasure principles and sexy #pleasurewave in the next few days!