Teaching pleasure — for the sake of safety, protection and empowerment!

Nika Norvila, CAPP Health Educator at Northwell Health, brings us this perspective. CAPP and PREP providers, please continue the conversation in the comments!

As CAPP and PREP providers we are bound to the evidence-based curricula we are assigned to facilitate. Whether it’s Making Proud Choices! or Be Proud! Be Responsible!, pleasure is not a subject that we delve into very deeply. I am not trying to advocate for the re-vamping of our EBPs or for educators to make any red-light adaptations, but rather for educators to consider the value of including pleasure in the conversations we have with our students, whether it is in one-on-one sessions, add-on sessions after EBP cycles, or–for the lucky few–workshops and group activities in our own spaces.

As health educators we are worried about unintended pregnancies, STDs, and HIV–which are all very important and valid for youth. However, when we think about why a lot of people have sex, including adults, the most common reason is for pleasure. People have sex because sex (hopefully to some degree, most of the time, for most people) feels good. To ignore this aspect of sex when teaching about sex seems unfair to the young people who are curious and well-deserving of truthful information about the ever present topic of sex and sexuality.

Some studies have shown that teaching youth about sexual pleasure and treating them like sexually autonomous beings allows them to feel like responsible sexual agents who need to take responsibility for adult things, like having sex.

In her book Girls & Sex (2016), through over seventy interviews with young women across the U.S., Peggy Orenstein explores the current of sex and sexuality. Orenstein writes, “If girls are unable to advocate for their own pleasure, they are also less likely to feel able to advocate for their own safety. Emphasizing male pleasure, especially without teaching about consent, perpetuates rape culture. Pain or uncomfortable sexual encounters are normalized for girls and women. In all kinds of ways, we expect women to be complacent in their discomfort.”

Teaching teens, but particularly teaching young women and girls, about pleasure–which historically has been intentionally dismissed and ignored–can not only led to better sex, but to safer sex, and to more empowered girls and women inside AND outside the bedroom.

Without re-vamping our EBPs, how can health educators incorporate pleasure into conversations and lessons with our students without taking away the intended messages of the EBPs? Would talking to students about pleasure detract from any of our safe sex messages, or simply make them stronger, if there is a link between pleasure, consent and safety? Can’t we hope that new messages of pleasure for women and girls will empower them? By learning about the clitoris and encouraging adolescents to explore their bodies, to learn what feels good, what doesn’t feel good, and where their boundaries are, leave them feeling empowered to only seek sexual encounters that feel good to them, instead of feeling only pressured to perform and please their male partners?

Please share your thoughts, questions and comments. You can also email me: nnorvila@northwell.edu

Nika Norvila – Nika Norvila, Northwell Health