Is sex a human right? Ummm, yes … no … maybe … it depends on what you mean by sex really

The upcoming SBS documentary Scarlet Road follows sex worker Rachel Wotton and her relationships with her disabled clients. SBS

Health care, fair trials and education are things we readily accept as human rights.

Unlike fresh air and food, we can actually live without school or a due process trial for a whole lot longer than without water, but of course, nobody is willing to give these things up. These aren’t rights as essential as peaceful protesting and voting and living without enslavement.

Sex should be included on this list. It is every bit as important as the right to practice one’s chosen religion or to not be discriminated against. It should be included on this list because, like religion, nobody should be forced to participate, but similarly, nobody should be denied access either.

Such a suggestion is of course, highly controversial as the new SBS documentary Scarlet Road testifies.

Thinking of sex as a human right, of touch, of pleasure, of orgasm as a human right and our concept of rights get blurry; our passion and advocacy for rights becomes much less fervent when we need to initiate dialogue about arousal and pleasure and satisfaction.

Sex might be nice, it might even be wonderful, but survival is possible without it, wants aren’t the same as needs and social mores dictate that right-status is rarely granted to something with so many caveats attached.

Ours is not a culture where sex can be had with whomever we please whenever want, and thus considering sex as a human right would be a complicated assertion.

I’m not going to place sex in the same category as food or water, obviously no one will die without it. But people won’t die without property rights or breached privacy either, and we still consider these as fundamental.

I am instead, going to contend that for many people a quality life necessitates sexual contact and that just as access to public transport for the disabled, or postal services for the geographically isolated are crucial in a civilised, compassionate society, that access to sex needs to be considered just as important as other rights. I’m similarly going to argue that feeling uncomfortable talking about a topic is never reason enough to shelve it.

Before defending sex work services for the disabled, for the elderly, for the lonely, the kinky and the just plain horny, I will acknowledge that considering sex as a right raises some very obvious concerns related to consent and sex provision; concerns which I will of course, repudiate, but which need tabling nevertheless.

Considering sex as a human right, potentially offers justification for rape: it could be contended, for example, that a man was simply partaking of his marital rights; that a woman was just exercising her right to orgasm. The exercising of such rights, potentially opens up a Pandora’s box of legal defenses: rampant horniness suddenly sounds legitimate rather than tabloid laughable.

Is sex a human right? It isn’t as simple as saying yes … or no. SBS