COVID-19 has cancelled a lot of calendar events in 2020, but World Sexual Health Day (September 4th, but can be celebrated all the way up to September 20) is not one of them. Even the Tokyo Olympics was cancelled, but clearly sport is vying for silver on the cultural podium, because sex has the gold wrapped up.

The aim of the day for the world, the whole wide world, is to ensure that a particular cultural take on sex—derived from late modern secular society—is globalised

World Sexual Health Day is an initiative of WAS—the World Association of Sexual Health—which sounds like it should be WASH not WAS, but nevertheless. The aim of the day is stated clearly enough:

World Sexual Health Day is an awareness day managed by the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS), a global advocacy organisation committed to promoting best practices in sexual health. It is celebrated annually on September 4th and attempts to break down social and cultural taboos associated with sexuality and to promote positive sexual health around the world.

In other words, the aim of the day for the world, the whole wide world, is to ensure that a particular cultural take on sex—derived from late modern secular society—is globalised. Social and culture “taboos” must be broken down. 

Never mind that many a culture has certain taboos around sex for good reason. Never mind that it sounds like cultural appropriation. The aim of our post-romantic, post-modern juggernaut is to destroy all taboos. Without question. Without self-examination. We could rename WAS the Western Association for Sexual Health, and you’d probably get a better definition.

Which is not to say matters around sexual health are not important. Many are. Issues around human trafficking, domestic violence and the like are key concerns. So too the rampant nature of diseases such as, yes, HIV, which still ravages parts of the world. Parts of the world where taboos are in place for reasons that escape enlightened Westerners.

The good thing about COVID-19 is that just about any organisation, topic, ideology, movement or revolution has been able to leverage off it, and, ironically, give itself more oxygen, and World Sexual Health Day is no exception as its Facebook banner reveals:

The Joylessness of Sex and Politics

Pleasure. Sexual pleasure. The key sexual health theme during a pandemic that has swept the world, and which forces us to assess what truly matters in life, is sexual pleasure. How to make sure you’re getting it when you’re getting it, even if maybe you’re not getting it as often as you might have, due to lockdown or some such.

Not that there’s anything wrong with sexual pleasure!  Hey, I’m all for sexual pleasure.  But sexual pleasure isn’t everything—even for WAS. As I dug a little deeper into their publications, I couldn’t help noticing the preoccupation with politics—as if the authors were desperate to please themselves but felt that they couldn’t really finds satisfaction until all those pesky taboos came tumbling down.

Now call me old fashioned, but one sure fire way for my wife to kill the mood after our dinner date, is to talk politics. But WAS is made of sterner political and sexual stuff:

During this week leading up to #WorldSexualHealthDay2020 we need to remember why this year’s theme is important. Sexual pleasure is a fundamental component to the achievement of sexual rights. The World Association for Sexual Health’s 2019 Declaration on Sexual Pleasure highlights how sexual pleasure should be incorporated in policy, education and shows the importance of pleasure as a tool for inclusivity of diverse sexual experiences. Let’s operationalise this declaration, and make sexual health pleasure inclusive.

Two things: If my wife ever says “let’s operationalise this declaration” in an intimate moment then I’m seriously concerned for my physical wellbeing! That aside, making “sexual health pleasure inclusive” is an intriguing term. Inclusive of whom? Of everyone? All of the time? Whatever the situation? Is there any admission that sexual health pleasure might be exclusive?

Now sex has its urges, and so does WAS.  Their declaration says that we

URGE all governments, international intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, health and education authorities, the media, private sector actors, and society at large, and particularly, all member organizations of the World Association for Sexual Health to:

Promote sexual pleasure in law and policy as a fundamental part of sexual health and well-being, grounded in the principles of sexual rights as human rights, including self-determination, non-discrimination, privacy, bodily integrity, and equality.

Reaffirm the global, national, community, interpersonal, and individual commitments to recognition of the diversity in sexual pleasure experiences respecting human rights of all people and supported by consistent, evidence-informed policy and practices, interpersonal behaviour, and collective action.

Which means there’s a lot riding on the shoulders of sexual pleasure. That’s performance anxiety right there, because I doubt if sexual pleasure can hold the weight of all those often conflicting concerns.

I must say I’m intrigued by the idea of promoting sexual pleasure in law and policy. In other words, it’s a public square issue. Which once again demonstrates how deeply politicised the idea of sex has become.

For all the talk of human rights in the WAS documents, there is something sub-human, something dehumanising, and definitely something non-erotic and hyper-individualistic about how it discusses sexual pleasure.

Again, not that there’s anything wrong with a political view about sex per se. But as I intimated earlier, politics is now the god of our society. There’s nothing higher in a post-transcendent world than politics and, in such a world, the highest goal for sex can only be political. If sex can draw a contented sigh from the gods of politics—especially globalised politics in which everything is at one and the same time commodified and cheapened—then sex will have achieved its goal.

But not in a transcendent world. In a transcendent world—at least one in which the transcendent has a valued place in the public square—the ultimate goal of sex is not to  adorn, and adore, politics, but rather to adorn, and adore, God.

Indeed for all the talk of human rights in the WAS documents, there is something sub-human, something dehumanising, and definitely something non-erotic and hyper-individualistic about how it discusses sexual pleasure.

The Giver Beyond the Gift

Notice I said the “ultimate” not the “only” goal of sex is Godward. Why? Sex, like politics, is a created thing. A good thing given to us to enjoy, but not an ultimate thing. Yet as Scripture tells us (Romans 1:24-25) when (like anything else) it is given ultimate status it warps and stretches … and breaks. When we become lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, we sever ourselves from the One who gives all pleasures, including sexual pleasures. Sadly, the very desire that WAS wishes to achieve, the sexual health of all, will be unachievable as long as pleasure itself is lifted up as the goal. The presence of sex cannot draw you into “pleasures for evermore”—only the presence of God can.

Yet without God? What man—or woman—will not go to any lengths to achieve personal pleasure—if indeed that is their highest goal—even at great cost to themselves and to others? All sorts of wrongs have been declared rights on the promised telos of sexual pleasure: all sorts of crimes; all sorts of darkness; all sorts of calling evil good and good evil. And no litany of human rights declarations seem capable of stemming that.

Yet if sex has another telos beyond itself then what is it? The Giver himself.

Yet if sex has another telos beyond itself then what is it? The ultimate goal of sexual pleasure is not the glorification and gratification of humans—or more pointedly, one limited aspect of the self— but the glorification of God. Like all gifts, the telos of the gift lies itself in the Giver himself.

If you think otherwise, you will eventually be disappointed. You will always be looking for something more. As any couple could tell you, the best sex the night before won’t head off the worst argument the morning after.

Sexual pleasure is—like all pleasures—fleeting by nature. Its fleetingness is a feature, not a design fault. Sexual pleasure is not a panacea; not a cure-all. It can’t be converted into politics and made to solve the problems of the world. Our sex may be stellar, it may be the closest glimpse to heaven we can get, but it won’t remain aloft on its own. Sex for its own sake—or worse, sex for the sake of politics—will drag us back to earth with a thud.

Sexual pleasure is designed, not simply to leave us wanting more, but to leave us wanting something more: something beyond itself. If you look, behind, or indeed above sex, you might find it. And that, ironically, is the healthiest view of sexual pleasure we could have this September 4.