What are sexual rights?

A lot of policy language around “population,” “reproductive health,” and “family planning” does it’s share of hoop jumping to avoid talking plainly about sexuality. There are definitely strategic moments when it is important and valuable to use very comprehensive and non-threatening language. However, sometimes it’s as important to be direct. This is what the phrase “sexual rights,” and the work behind it, aims to do.

Sexual rights are the right to say NO
To violence
To rape
To harassment
To discrimination
To trafficking
To forced marriage
To abuse

…and the right to say YES
To the intimate partner of your choice
To the husband or wife of your choice
To pleasure
To self-expression
To bodily integrity
To a life free from violence
To self-determination
To contraceptive options
To safe abortion
To full, frank information about your body, your rights, and your responsibilities

Sexual rights, like human rights, are universal and inalienable. They belong to everyone: women and men, young people and adults, rich and poor, rural and urban, gay and straight, immigrant and indigenous—to mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, husbands, and wives from every country of every region in the world.

Sexual rights, like human rights, transcend nationalities, religions, and cultures. The basis for sexual rights can be found in countless cultural traditions, religious texts, and international agreements. Sexual rights are not a Western concept. They are broad, far-reaching, and life-affirming.

Sexual rights, like human rights, are often violated. All over the world, women experience alarming rates of physical abuse and sexual violence. They face entrenched discrimination in the workplace, in schools, in government, and within their families. National laws often fail to protect women and young people, and global and national health policies rarely reflect the realities of their lives. In an era of HIV/AIDS, young people are denied access to full and accurate information about their bodies and their rights. Tens of millions of girls in the developing world are married before their eighteenth birthdays—many to much older men, and many against their will. Worldwide, tens of thousands of women die every year because restrictive abortion laws force them to resort to unsafe procedures. These are all violations of sexual rights.

Click here to read more about IWHC’s work on sexual rights.



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