By Natika Halil, Chief Executive of the sexual health charity FPA
Why should a sexual health charity
In the summer of 2015 we launched FPA Pleasure to tie in with our 85th birthday.
At the time, some people asked if selling and talking openly about sex toys and all things pleasure was a departure from our normal work. We found this a bit of a bizarre question because sexual health isn’t just about avoiding ill-health. It’s not all about contraception or sexually transmitted infections.
Sexual health is a part of our overall health and wellbeing, and sexual pleasure is as important an aspect as any other.
When FPA first formed as the National Birth Control Council in 1930, there were just 20 family planning clinics. Evidence-based information and open discussion about sexual health was practically non-existent.
We have come a long way since those days in terms of sexual and reproductive health, but we’d be kidding ourselves to think we’re now all completely comfortable talking openly about sexual pleasure. And that’s not to mention sexual pleasure between people of different sexual orientations and gender identities.
Of course the same is not true for everybody. Lots of people are confident in their sexuality and enjoy buying and using toys to enhance their pleasure. Shops like Sh! have been brilliant for presenting sexual pleasure from a woman’s perspective and putting toys in a more welcoming and inclusive environment.
Sexual wellness and sex education.
But with our education system in the UK, it’s no wonder lots of people still aren’t that comfortable talking about what goes on between the sheets. Regardless of whether you left school five or 50 years ago, chances are what passed as sex and relationships education left something to be desired.
Young people are taught about prevention – how not to get pregnant, avoiding sexually transmitted infections, and recognising unhealthy or abusive relationships – but how often do we talk to teenagers about the fact most sex is not for reproduction, but for intimacy, desire and pleasure? And how likely is it that masturbation would be covered in class?
If they can’t get honest and accurate information from their friends and family, where will they turn for their education – the internet? Media? Pornography? The explosion of technology and instant access to anything and everything online has had many advantages, but for young people using it to make sense of sex and their sexuality, it can be a source of confusion and anxiety.
Sexual wellness for all.
And of course sexual pleasure doesn’t fall off a cliff once we get into middle-age, but sex in later years is not always acknowledged. At FPA Pleasure we talk about people’s sexuality across their whole life. It’s especially important that women, as well as men, are supported through changes to the body that come in later years, which can have a huge effect on sexual desire and libido.
While we want our information to be widely accessible to women and men of all ages and backgrounds, we are particularly mindful of people who aren’t usually targeted in sexual pleasure, or indeed wider sexual health, messaging. These also reflect our wider work as a charity, supporting people with learning disabilities, people living with HIV, women during pregnancy and after they have had a baby, people living with or recovering from life-changing or life-limiting illnesses.
Sexual pleasure is important and we shouldn’t trivialise the impact it, or lack of it, can have on our wider health and wellbeing.