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Putting the Sex Back Into Safer Sex Campaigns

photo by Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels

A decade and a half of research by the Pleasure Project has proven that social campaigns aiming to promote safer sex practices and HIV prevention are much more effective when they focus on sexual pleasure rather than “danger and disease,” according to a recent article by The New York Times.

In partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), the small nongovernmental organization called the Pleasure Project reviewed the results of safer-sex trials and experiments over the past 15 years. After assessing more than 7,000 safe sex campaigns on their treatment of pleasure, Pleasure Project recently published the peer-reviewed findings in the journal PLOS One.

“Sexual health education and services have traditionally promoted safer sex practices by focusing on risk reduction and preventing disease, without acknowledging how safer sex can also promote intimacy, pleasure, consent and well-being,” said Lianne Gonsalves, co-author of the report and a sexual health researcher epidemiologist at WHO. “This review provides a simple message: Programs which better reflect the reasons people have sex, including for pleasure, see better health outcomes.”

The Times report also stated that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are at record levels in the U.S. and growing globally since pandemic closures set back access to testing and treatment. In 2021, 1.5 million people were diagnosed with HIV, the highest rate in years.

Anne Philpott, a British public health specialist who founded the Pleasure Project initiative in 2004, admitting that the results of the analysis even surprised her a bit

“If you had a pill or a vaccine where you could show this kind of effect, everybody would be talking about it, it would have all the headlines,” she said. “Now we have evidence: Ignoring this blind spot, all the way through the AIDS pandemic, has led to less condom use, and deaths we could have prevented.”

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