Pleasure is not a privilege — pleasure is a human right. As such, we need to, at the very least, not erase it in arguably all conversations, with all humans, regardless of gender, race, and class. For World Human Rights Day, we reveal our latest work in developing a contextually-relevant, pleasure-based sexuality education service with and for adult women in Favelinha, a community living in poverty in Rio de Janeiro’s urban periphery.
In sexuality education conversations in low-income contexts across the globe, people (especially people whose realities are removed from these experiences, such as policy makers, healthcare workers, etc.) often focus on the pregnancy, infection, and violence prevention narratives and completely disregard any pleasure talk. But, contrary to the widely-held assumption that the less you benefit from the dominant systems of capitalism and patriarchy, the further you are from the experience of pleasure, living in conditions of poverty does not erase the desire for —or the right to— pleasure.
TabuTabu is developing the trial of a pleasure-focused sexuality education initiative for adult women in Favelinha, a low-income favela (shanty town) community in the urban-periphery of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio’s official minimum wage is R$ 1.100,00 (approximately US$ 220). An informal census run by a local NGO Há Esperança (There Is Hope in Portuguese) estimated that the average local family lives off of a monthly income of R$ 597,57 (approximately US$ 108) - that’s half the minimum wage, per family. Sexual and gender-based violence, unplanned (teenage) pregnancies, and sexually transmitted infections are part of the reality in this community. We have been working with adolescents in this community on comprehensive sexuality education workshops, and the community have self-identified that there is a need for, and interest in, sexuality education amongst adults, too.
For 12 weeks starting in January 2022, people who identify as women and live in Favelinha will have access to a WhatsApp number through which they can receive information about sexual pleasure, health and rights, and receive specific answers to their related questions, getting referred to relevant local public healthcare providers where necessary. The initiative is a collaborative effort between our Brazil-based team, a network of Brazilian sexual health practitioners, advocates, and educators, and —most importantly— women living in Favelinha.
From the early stages of ideation, the local women have been the main shapers of the initiative: Through focus groups and individual interviews to date, they were integral in defining the concept of the service. They defined that the format for the adult sexuality education initiative would be most effective through one-on-one communications such as on WhatsApp (which is offered with unlimited data usage, even in pay as you go modalities, by most Brazilian network providers), and their insights provided the outline of topics that will be addressed in the service. And, through using the service, they will give our team insights into what information they are seeking, what format and prompts they are most receptive to, and what they want to learn more about.
The personified identity of the service was also defined in focus groups by the users themselves: They gave Ana her name, “Ana Autoestima” (Ana Self-Esteem in Portuguese), as the name they will save the WhatsApp contact under, to remind themselves that “the sex-positive and pleasure-positive information [they] receive is not about how others feel about [them], but about how [they] perceive [them]selves, and how [they] feel about [them]selves.” (Evelyn, resident and community leader in Favelinha). They also shaped Ana’s physique - a curvy, Black, “casually-but-properly” dressed friend who loudly wears her crown of luscious curls - because she proudly, and in a really relatable way, reflects many aspects of what they work hard to embrace in themselves, allowing them to seek her advice and trust her.
The Ana Autoestima trial is one of the 12 initiatives that emerged from The Pleasure Project's first Pleasure Fellowship, awarded to TabuTabu’s founder Laura Ramos Tomás, with support from DKT International, The Case for Her, and Misschiefs. The initiative’s trial will combine pre-programmed chatbot-like messaging and anonymous conversations with our educational team, and has the potential to become a largely automated, 24/7 source of pleasure-based, sex-positive information for people living in poverty across favelas in Rio, and beyond.
Follow us on instagram @tabutabuorg to see how we are working with underserved communities in Latin America to break taboos around sexuality so they may engage in healthy and respectful relationships with themselves and others, or let us know if you would like to be the first to know about what we are up to.