Do you know your sexual rights?

Human Rights Day for South Africans falls on 21 March. Although South Africans will always remember the Sharpeville massacre and what it meant, Human Rights’ Day goes beyond the sombre memory. It is a celebration of the rights for all.

Human rights are rights that everyone should have simply because they are human. In 1948, the United Nations defined 30 articles of human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It established universal human rights on the basis of humanity, freedom, justice, and peace.

Sexual rights are grounded in universal human rights that are already recognised across the board. And for sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled. The World Association of Sexual Health revised the Sexual Rights Declaration in 2014.

There are 16 rights in total resulting in a lengthy document, but let’s focus just a few of the rights:

1. The right to equality and non-discrimination

This is the primary right when it comes to sexual rights. Everyone is entitled to enjoy all sexual rights without distinction. Your sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity don’t matter. These rights apply to everyone.

2. The right to autonomy and bodily integrity

Everyone has the right to control and decide freely on matters related to their sexuality and their body. This includes the choice of sexual behaviours, practices, partners and relationships. Free and informed decision-making requires free and informed consent prior to any sexually-related testing, interventions, therapies, surgeries or research. Informed consent is very important here. There are a lot of sexual and reproductive tests that doctors do, so make sure you understand what you are consenting to. It is your right.

Did you know: There are now consent apps such as Sexual Fling (https://legalfling.io/), which creates legally binding agreement about sexual consent, which is verifiable through the blockchain. There is controversy as to the legality and morality of these apps, one being that sex is about consent and not liability.

3. The right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment

Everyone has the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment related to sexuality, including: harmful traditional practices; forced sterilisation, contraception, or abortion; and other forms of torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. We often see forced sterilisations in disabled persons or where someone is infected with HIV, for instance. That is not okay! Female genital mutilation is also a massive problem in many African countries, and this right should protect women from that.

“For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”

4. The right to be free from all forms of violence and coercion

Everyone shall be free from sexuality-related violence and coercion, including: rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, bullying, sexual exploitation and slavery, trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation, virginity testing, and violence committed because of real or perceived sexual practices, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and bodily diversity.

When we look at homosexual couples in SA, we unfortunately, sit with a situation where corrective rape is often practised – where there is a belief that if there is a person who prefers to have sex with someone of the same sex, has sex with someone from the opposite sex, they will be converted from their homosexuality. This is obviously not true at all.

5. The right to privacy

Everyone has the right to privacy related to sexuality, sexual life and choices regarding their own body and consensual sexual relations and practices without interference and intrusion. This includes the right to control the disclosure of sexuality-related personal information to others. As parents, we obviously want the best for our children, but our kids have the right to privacy. As difficult as it might be, we need to respect that.

6. The right to education and the right to comprehensive sexuality education

Everyone has the right to education and comprehensive sexuality education. The ABC (Abstain, Be faithful, Condomise) approach towards sex education seems very simple and it sits well with communities where abstinence is seen as the best way to protect yourself from all the terrible things associated with sex. But the latest data shows that children are having sex before the age of 16 and by the age of 18, most of them are sexually active. An abstinence-only campaign is not going to change that. Rather, we need to supply good information and let our kids make their own moral decisions.

7. The right to decide whether or not to have children, the number and spacing of children, and to have the information and the means to do so

You have the right to decide whether or not you want to have children, how many you want and when, and to have the information and the means to do so.

Like mentioned before, sexual rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognised in national laws, international human rights’ documents, and other consensus documents. You have the right (free of coercion, violence and discrimination of any kind) to the highest attainable standard of sexual health and to pursue a satisfying, safe, and pleasurable sexual life.

The full Declaration of Sexual Rights is available at here.

Also read:

Women’s reproductive lives are being interfered with on a large scale – new study
Have a satisfying sex life, but keep it safe!

Dr Jireh Serfontein babyyumyum expert
I’m passionate about all aspects of sexual health and offer a wide range of sexual health-related services. HIV management, STI management, contraception, painful sex, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation are some of my special interests.