March 25, 2024

Is there a human right to sexual pleasure? If so, should the government subsidize it?

In recent years, some bioethicists have tackled the thorny topic of a right to sexual pleasure. People with disabilities often cannot experience this. Is this a violation of their human rights? 

Recently the Journal of Medical Ethics published an article by a Swedish academic, Jon Wittrock, who created a framework for working through this problem. He assumes that human dignity is roughly synonymous with autonomy. He then examines four dimensions of autonomy: “liberty (freedom from threat and coercion), opportunity (options to choose between), capacity (what an agent is capable of doing) and authenticity (the extent to which choices are genuine)”. Sexual authenticity is the ultimate aim of the right to sexual pleasure. 

Wittrock recommends a number of egalitarian strategies for helping people with disabilities exercise their right to sexual pleasure, all of them rather controversial: 

  • Distribution of standardised basic information to all pupils in a certain age group
  • Right to sexual education, subsidised counselling and partner therapy
  • Assistance in developing sexual capabilities by sex doulas or sex surrogates
  • Campaigns promoting shared pleasure, disseminating information widely through public broadcasting
  • Sex care subsidies for all adults; may be used for counselling, therapy, healthcare consultation and, if legally appropriate and deemed morally acceptable, paid sex work 
  • Subsidising access to mechanical assistance or trained care providers aiding masturbation 
  • Access to realistic portrayals of a broader range of sexual norms and experiences through public broadcasting; subsidising and regulating fair and accessible dating apps