Working Paper

IDS working papers;283

Why the Development Industry Should Get Over its Obsession with Bad Sex and Start to Think About Pleasure

Published on 1 January 2007

The development industry has emphasised the dangers of sex and sexuality in relation to population control, disease and violence. This negative approach to sex has been filtered through a view of gender which stereotypes men as predators, women as victims, and fails to recognise the existence of transgender people.

In reality, pleasure and danger are often entwined not least because for many, seeking pleasure entails breaking social rules. However, the oppressive frameworks which forbid pursuit of pleasure are not the only dangers associated with sexuality. There are other fears to do with sex such as anxieties about loss of control, merging with another, intense sensation, triggering emotions, invoking previous experiences, about not being satisfied, fear of losing the object of love or lust, fear of catching a sexually transmitted or other infection. This ambiguity is part of many consensual sexual experiences.

How should development actors negotiate this ambiguous mix of pleasures and dangers in sexuality? This question is important to many aspects of human development such as dealing with HIV/AIDS, tackling sexual violence, and supporting more fulfilling relationships.

Part of the answer is to move to more positive framings of sexuality which promote the possibilities of pleasure as well as tackling the dangers at the same time. The promotion of sexual pleasure can contribute to empowerment, particularly but not only for women, sexual minorities, and people living with HIV/AIDS, who may have been subject to social expectations that sexual pleasure is not for them.

The pleasures of safer sex can also be promoted to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission and improve health. These are important ends. However, it would be sad to reduce sexual pleasure to a means of reaching development goals. Sexual pleasure can be wonderful in itself, and indeed it can be argued that people have a right to seek such pleasures, and that an enabling environment should be created for them to do so.

Publication details

published by
Jolly, Susie
IDS Working Paper, issue 283
1 85864 649 9


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