Sexuality is a central part of being human. Sexuality is often an integral aspect not only of our sense of self and but also, importantly, in our relationships to others. Sexuality is both highly personal and undeniably communal. Sexual activity comes with both rights and responsibilities and it must always be enthusiastically, freely and whole-heartedly consensual. If we’re not ready or willing to consider and respect our own and others’ safety, desires and pleasure, then we’re not ready for sex.
We all have the right to an authentic, pleasurable and safe sex life. Sex is not an obligation or a duty or a necessity. Choosing to be asexual is a valid form of sexuality, just as choosing to be sexually active, in whatever form appeals to you, is a valid form of sexual activity – so long as it is not coercive, harmful to others against their will or occurring without the free and enthusiastic consent of your partner/s. Sexual rights are human rights and it’s time we took them seriously.
So, in honour of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gendered Violence, the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women (so much of which is sexual violence) and the coming International Human Rights Day (December 10), I thought I’d draft a Universal Declaration of Sexual Rights. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Agree? Disagree? Think I’ve left something off, missed something essential? What matters to you when it comes to your sexuality? What do you think are fundamental sexual rights? What are our sexual responsibilities?
- All human beings have the right to freely define their sexuality.
- Everyone has the right to be safe, free and equal in the expression and experience of their sexuality.
- Everyone has the right to bodily autonomy. Everyone has the right to consent to (say YES to) and to refuse (say NO to) sexual activity or behaviour at any time. Everyone has the right to protection of their bodily autonomy. Everyone has the right to protection from harm in the experience, expression and exploration of their sexuality. Sexual conduct that involves harm against the will of any human being is a crime.
- Everyone has the right to change their mind. Everyone has the right to stop sexual activity at any point if they no longer wish to participate or for it to continue.
- No one is ever obliged to participate in sexual activity. It is a crime to compel another to participate in sexual activity. Sexual behaviour is never a duty or requirement. Sexual activity must always be freely chosen and consented to.
- Everyone has the right to sexual pleasure and enjoyment. Everyone has the right to freely develop their sexuality according to their own desires and pleasure. This right in no way compels others to satisfy the sexual pleasure, desire or sexuality of another.
- Everyone has the right to sexual privacy.
- Sexual activity must, by definition, involve the free, willing and non-coercive consent of each party at all times to all sexual behaviour. Contravention of this is a crime. Sexual behaviour without consent is a crime and is subject to penalty before the law. Some sections of society are understood to not be able to give free and willing consent (eg. children under the legal age of consent). In some situations it is understood that free, willing and non-coercive consent cannot be obtained (eg. when a potential participant is incapacitated by the influence of drugs or alcohol; when a potential participant is asleep.)
- Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating their fundamental sexual rights.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Let’s work on this together and who’s to say we couldn’t make this a straight-forward, universally understood and respected set of expectations for human interaction?
*Thank you to CASA (Centre Against Sexual Assault) for permission to make use of their materials in preparation of this suggested Universal Bill of Sexual Rights.