Women, Sexuality and the Political Power of Pleasure

Edited by Susie Jolly, Andrea Cornwall, and Kate Hawkins


With examples from both the north and south of the globe, Women, Sexuality and the Political Power of Pleasure shows how positive approaches to pleasure and sexuality can enhance equality and empowerment for all.
This pioneering collection explores the ways in which positive, pleasure-focused approaches to sexuality can empower women.

Gender and development has tended to engage with sexuality only in relation to violence and ill-health. Although this has been hugely important in challenging violence against women, over-emphasizing these negative aspects has dovetailed with conservative ideologies that associate women’s sexualities with danger and fear. On the other hand, the media, the pharmaceutical industry, and pornography more broadly celebrate the pleasures of sex in ways that can be just as oppressive, often implying that only certain types of people - young, heterosexual, able-bodied, HIV-negative - are eligible for sexual pleasure.

Women, Sexuality and the Political Power of Pleasure brings together challenges to these strictures and exclusions from both the South and North of the globe, with examples of activism, advocacy and programming which use pleasure as an entry point. It shows how positive approaches to pleasure and sexuality can enhance equality and empowerment for all.

Author Bio

Andrea Cornwall is professor in anthropology and development at the University of Sussex, where she is an affiliate of the Centre for the Study of Sexual Dissidence and director of the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment programme. She has published widely on gender and sexuality in development and is executive producer of Save us from Saviours, a short film on Indian sex workers’ challenge of the rescue industry.

Kate Hawkins is director of Pamoja Communications and a visiting fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). She has worked as a policy analyst and advocate on sexual and reproductive health and rights. With Susie Jolly, Andrea Cornwall and others, Kate has contributed to the Sexuality and Development Programme at IDS with a particular focus on how research influences policy and practice and the improvement of communication and knowledge exchange.

Susie Jolly is a hybrid activist/researcher/communicator/trainer and is currently also a donor. From her different positions she consistently seeks to challenge the ‘straitjacket’ of gender and sexuality norms that disempower so many people. She currently leads the Ford Foundation sexuality and reproductive health and rights grant-making programme in China. Previously, she founded and led the Sexuality and Development Programme at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS).

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Women, Sexuality and the Political Power of Pleasure - Susie Jolly, Andrea Cornwall and Kate Hawkins
  • 1. Thinking with Pleasure: Danger, Sexuality and Agency - Bibi Bakare-Yusuf
  • 2. Challenging the Pleasure versus Danger Binary: Reflections on Sexuality Workshops with Rural Women's Rights Activists in North India - Jaya Sharma
  • 3. Sexual Pleasure as a Woman's Human Right: Experiences from a Human Rights Training Programme for Women in Turkey - Gulsah Seral Aksakal
  • 4. Better Sex and More Equal Relationships: Couple Training in Nigeria - Dorothy Aken'Ova
  • 5. Building a Movement for Sexual Rights and Pleasure - Xiaopei He
  • 6. Enabling Disabled People to Have and Enjoy the Kind of Sexuality They Want - Lorna Couldrick and Alex Cowan
  • 7. Desires Denied: Sexual Pleasure in the Context of HIV - Alice Welbourn
  • 8. Sex is a Gift from God: Paralysis and Potential in Sex Education in Malawi - Anaïs Bertrand-Dansereau
  • 9. Why We Need to Think about Sexuality and Sexual Well-Being: Addressing Sexual Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa - Chi-Chi Undie
  • 10. Could Watching Porn Increase Our Expectations of (Safe) Pleasure? An Exploration of Some Promising Harm Reduction Practices - Anne Philpott and Krissy Ferris
  • 11. Challenging Clitoraid - Petra Boynton
  • 12. How Was It for You? Pleasure and Performance in Sex Work - Jo Doezema
  • 13. Eroticism, Sensuality and 'Women's Secrets' Among the Baganda - Sylvia Tamale
  • 14. Laughter, the Subversive Body Organ - Ana Francis Mor


'This book's holistic approach to sexuality in various third-world contexts is enormously refreshing. Development discourses have yoked discussions of women's sexuality primarily to disease, risk, violence and reproduction. Transcending this narrow conceptualisation, the contributors raise the importance of embodied desires, agency and empowerment in both personal and social transformation. Case studies from such varied contexts as India, Malawi, Turkey and Uganda demonstrate that political struggles are inextricably connected to the relations, contestations, discourses and institutions surrounding sexuality.'
Desiree Lewis, University of the Western Cape

'This is one of those uncommon books which open up new perspectives on development. It pushes forward the frontiers of feminism, challenging convention and recognising pleasure as a right. Inclusively it embraces heterosexuals, LGBTQs, sex workers, the disabled, those who are HIV positive, those married to gay partners and others so often excluded. It confronts stereotypes and taboos with the grounded evidence of experiences, both awful and inspiring.'
Robert Chambers, University of Sussex

'Sexual pleasure is a domain of life, theory and research -- particularly in the case of female sexuality -- constantly torn between danger and jouissance, between objectification and empowerment. The editors and authors do not evade these minefields but rather address them as nodes to be de-constructed when articulating social, gender and erotic justice. The final result is also to be appraised as a rich, diverse and hybrid global South and North tapestry of live worlds and voices.'
Sonia Corrêa, Sexuality Policy Watch

'Finally women's pleasure is being taken seriously. What a relief! Women, Sexuality and the Political Power of Pleasure is a fantastic book, and will certainly be an important tool in creating a more pleasure-filled world, and isn't that what we all ultimately want? Highly intelligent, knowledgeable writers from the front lines of women's struggles from all corners of the globe make reading this collection of essays, well, deeply pleasurable, and extremely satisfying.'
Annie Sprinkle, author and co-founder of sexecology.org


Publication Date: 13 June 2013
320 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781780325712
Hardback: 9781780325729
eBook ePub: 9781780325736
eBook PDF: 9781780325750
eBook Kindle: 9781780325743

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