Sex As A Universal Human Right

If you haven’t already perused the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it’s worth a look. You might be surprised at the things you find there… as well as the things you don’t find.

See, I’m beginning to think that sex should be added to the list. It’s already somewhat implied, between the articles about everyone having the right to life, liberty, and the security of personhood and the ones about having the right to have a family and take part in the artistic, moral, and intellectual cultures that surround them. Everyone has the right to the freedom of thought, and to expression of thought/belief; everyone has the right to access an adequate standard of health.

If you read this with an eye toward human sexuality, you’ll probably agree that sex is a health issue, and a family/marriage issue, and a belief issue, and an expression issue. The right to have (consensual) sex is, I would argue, one of the inalienable rights that all human beings should have access to.

Why is this a big deal? Why make a fuss about including sex on the list of universal human rights, or at least arguing that it’s implicitly included among the listed rights?

Because there are people who claim that poor people do not deserve to have children. The reasoning (if one can call it such) goes that people who live in poverty can’t afford to even take the risk of having kids, when they would clearly be unfit parents, unable to raise their children with adequate resources. So, not risking kids = don’t have sex.

There are so many problems with this, I don’t even know where to begin. Determining who is “fit” for parenthood varies by culture; when one organization tries to determine that for everyone, we end up with something that begins with “e” and rhymes with “genics” and was notably adopted by a fascist regime with snappy fashion sense.

If you can’t conceive of someone being too poor to afford birth control – yes, this is a thing that happens. This blog post collects a number of excellent testimonies from women explaining how and why birth control expenses were problematic for them.

Sex, of course, isn’t just about babies: it is a way for humans to bond, to share intimacy, to enjoy pleasure, to release stress, to feel alive, to connect with their deity/religion, to make money, to nurture, to emote, to laugh… I could keep going, but hopefully you get the point. Sex is something that most humans desire (but if you don’t, that’s okay too). Why place artificial limits on who can engage in it? And I’m not talking about the legal age of consent or stuff like that; I’m talking about the illogical assumption that only certain classes of humans deserve to have their access to sex protected.

So, yes, I believe that the right to consensual sex should be counted among the list of universal human rights. The right to not have sex, or to have sex without having children, or to have certain kinds of sex with certain kinds of partners, would also be recognized. Who’s with me?

About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.