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By Rhiana Mills

As a Pleasure Fellow and a proud pleasure champion I was thrilled to be asked to attend the 2024 HRP meeting at WHO headquarters in Geneva, on behalf of the Pleasure Project. HRP, or the Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction, is a WHO research group that explores ways to improve sexual and reproductive health.

This is the second year running that The Pleasure Project has had a seat at the HRP table. Last year Anne Philpott was a guest speaker and panelist, and you can read about it here. This year, pleasure did not have a formal spot on the bill, but its presence was made known across the two-day meeting.

“A squeamishness around sex and pleasure, even in rooms filled with sexual and reproductive health experts!”

The Director of HRP, Pascale Allotey, kicked off the meeting with an annual report which nodded to sex positivity, pleasure, and sexual wellbeing beyond contraceptives and STIs. I also appreciated her frank mention of a key challenge for pleasure inclusivity – a squeamishness around sex and pleasure, even in rooms filled with sexual and reproductive health experts! Indeed, we have to acknowledge the ‘sex’ in sexual and reproductive health, if we are to approach it holistically, as is the goal of HRP.

In response to the annual report Pedro Nobre, from the World Association of Sexual Health (a friend of the Pleasure Project), made a statement that highlighted continued support for HRP, particularly around issues such as sexual pleasure and sexual dysfunction, amongst other things.

Besides pleasure, the major themes of the meeting were the importance of maintaining sexual and reproductive health care during poly-crisises (where crisis scenarios, like climate change and conflict, intersect to cause complex and dangerous situations) and the importance of harnessing new digital technologies and AI for the good of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Both tricky and vital challenges.

However, as I highlighted in my statement at the meeting, we cannot forget that pleasure will always remain an important part of the human sexual experience, even in complex scenarios. And, understanding pleasure as a key motivator for sex, will put us in a better position for successfully responding to new and unfolding sexual and reproductive health challenges. You can read a snippet of my statement below:

‘Another frontier for reproductive and sexual health and wellbeing is continually and meaningfully integrating, and taking seriously, pleasure as a key factor for working towards holistic and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing… The Pleasure Project recommends that agencies responsible for sexual and reproductive health consider integrating an understanding of sexual pleasure within their programming, as part of the movement towards highlighting the sex in sexual and reproductive health and rights.’


You could argue that sexual pleasure is the least of our worries in light of the worsening climate crisis, increased global conflict, and worrying rollbacks on reproductive rights (e.g the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the USA), but I would argue that in these moments, pleasure is pertinent. The movement towards pleasure inclusivity, in its essence, is underpinned by the acknowledgment of a full human experience, respect for bodily autonomy, and a rejection of shame – essential concepts for upholding wellbeing in challenging circumstances.