It can be hard to know where to start a conversation about sex or sexuality. Our lived experiences of these things can be so vastly different, depending on where and how we grew up, where we live today, and any number of parts of our identity tied to race, class, gender, ethnicity, orientation, embodiment, and more, that even when you are trying to communicate with someone who you think is "like you" often there is a great distance between you in terms of language and experience.
So where do we start a conversation about sex?
One way people have thought of to start conversations about sex is to start with the idea of human sexual rights. The argument being that we are all born with rights and that these rights (rather than the way we may choose to exercise them) are something that binds us to each other.
Not everyone agrees that talking about sexual rights is the most useful or even relevant to everyone's experience of sexuality. For example, some people will point out that it's all fine and well to say that they have a right, but if they are unable to ever exercise it because of systemic oppression or structural violence, what good is it?
In 1999 the World Association of Sexology adopted a sexual bill of rights in Hong Kong. This document isn't only intended for policy makers, sexual health educators, academics, and therapists. It is meant to remind us that sexuality is not a small luxury in our lives; it is an integral part of who we are. The complete document can be found here .
- The right to sexual freedom. Sexual freedom encompasses the possibility for individuals to express their full sexual potential. However, this excludes all forms of sexual coercion, exploitation and abuse at any time and situations in life.
- The right to sexual autonomy, sexual integrity, and safety of the sexual body. This right involves the ability to make autonomous decisions about one's sexual life within a context of one's own personal and social ethics. It also encompasses control and enjoyment of our own bodies free from torture, mutilation and violence of any sort.
- The right to sexual privacy. This involves the right for individual decisions and behaviors about intimacy as long as they do not intrude on the sexual rights of others.
- The right to sexual equity. This refers to freedom from all forms of discrimination regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, race, social class, religion, or physical and emotional disability.
- The right to sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure, including autoeroticism, is a source of physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual well being.
- The right to emotional sexual expression. Sexual expression is more than erotic pleasure or sexual acts. Individuals have a right to express their sexuality through communication, touch, emotional expression and love.
- The right to sexually associate freely. This means the possibility to marry or not, to divorce, and to establish other types of responsible sexual associations.
- The right to make free and responsible reproductive choices. This encompasses the right to decide whether or not to have children, the number and spacing of children, and the right to full access to the means of fertility regulation.
- The right to sexual information based upon scientific inquiry. This right implies that sexual information should be generated through the process of unencumbered and yet scientifically ethical inquiry, and disseminated in appropriate ways at all societal levels.
- The right to comprehensive sexuality education. This is a lifelong process from birth throughout the life cycle and should involve all social institutions.
- The right to sexual health care. Sexual health care should be available for prevention and treatment of all sexual concerns, problems and disorders.