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The pleasure imperative? Reflecting on sexual pleasure’s inclusion in sex education and sexual health

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This article offers an empirically grounded contribution to scholarship exploring the ways in which pleasure is ‘put to work’ in sex and sexuality education. Such research has cautioned against framing pleasure as a normative requirement of sexual activity and hence reproducing a ‘pleasure imperative’. This paper draws on interviews with sexual health and education practitioners who engaged with Pleasure Project resources and training between 2007 and 2016. Findings suggest that practitioners tend to understand pleasure within critical frameworks that allow them to avoid normalising and (re)enforcing a pleasure imperative. Accounts also show negotiations with, and strategic deployments of, values surrounding sexual pleasure in society and culture. While some accounts suggest that a pleasure imperative does run the risk of being reproduced by practitioners, notably this is when discussing more ‘contentious’ sexual practices. Interviews also demonstrate that practitioners attempting to implement a pleasure agenda are faced with a range of challenges. While some positive, holistic, and inclusive practice has been afforded by a pleasure approach, we argue that the importance of a critical framework needs to be (re)emphasised. The paper concludes by highlighting areas for further empirical research.
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Keywords: Pleasure; anal sex; pleasure imperative; rights; sex education, sexual health; young people

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Social and Political Sciences, University of Chester, Chester, UK 2: Department of Psychology, Sociology and Politics, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK 3: Liz Wilson Training and Consultancy, Sheffield, UK

Publication date: January 2, 2019

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