Bringing Pleasure Back into the Conversation

By: Lindsay Van Clief, Content Strategist, RNW Media @LvClief

Let’s celebrate sex

Across global health, reproductive health messaging speaks to the rights and agency of consumers to access health services, tools and knowledge. But a powerful and intrinsic component is missing from the discussion: the pleasure element of our sexual and reproductive health journeys. Why do we skirt around sex? How can we bring sexual pleasure into the global health dialogue? And why does it matter? We explore this topic with Lindsay van Clief, a content strategist for RNW Media, a multimedia NGO that gives young people the tools to make informed decisions to take their futures into their own hands.

What was it like to first get your period?

My first period was awkward but exciting. I was a late bloomer and only got my period when I was almost 15-years-old. Though it was a bit uncomfortable since I left the tampon applicator in my vagina the entire week!

Who gave you “the talk?”

I was in a unique situation, as I received excellent sex ed through my [Unitarian Universalist] church. My parents never really talked about sex with me but I did come home one day to find a book lying on my bed about “the change.” It terrified me.

What is one thing you would tell your 13-year-old self?

You do not have to be like everybody else. Being different will give you so many advantages that you can’t even fathom right now.

What was your biggest misperception around contraception as a teen?

I thought I had to figure out what was needed on my own. But I should have been able to talk to my partner about contraceptives.

In global health, why does pleasure matter?

Pleasure is important because it is the fundamental context of sexual education. We need to feel comfortable talking about sex and lust, which are often primary motivators for relationships. Talking about pleasure also helps humanize the conversation, making it less clinical and more relatable. Right now everyone is talking about user-centered design and Human-Centered Design. What is more human-centered than understanding that we, as humans, are pleasure-seeking?

How do you navigate cultural context in discussions about women’s pleasure?

By listening. There is no single narrative or type of woman. We need to listen and hear others in their experiences, viewpoints and understandings. I take pleasure in learning about these experiences and the way women around the world understand their bodies, pleasure and relationships.

Are we done hearing about men’s pleasure?

No. This should never be a black and white binary situation. We need to embrace every person’s story, body, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. The more voices and perspectives we hear, the better we will be at understanding and sharing empathy.

Can safety be sexy?

Of course! Confidence and respect are incredibly sexy! When someone is thoughtful, proactive and takes precautions, it demonstrates care, respect and support for their partner. When I feel safe and respected, it allows me to relax, let my hair down and have even more fun.

What do you wish your adolescent-self knew?

Go for it! Explore and try new things! Sex is normal and it is natural. We need to make sure it is part of the conversation when we talk about health, relationships, diseases and families. Why in 2018 are we still skirting around sex?


Banner Photo and Illustration credit: for Transform/PHARE. Illustrated by Nicole Kraieski and Lionel Ramazzini


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