When we talk with young people about sex and sexuality,  pleasure is often the last thing we want to focus on, especially because we often correlate discussions of pleasure with a higher increase in risky behavior. Whether you’re a service provider, a parent, or a young person, it’s always helpful to know that, while discussions on unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections are important, talking about pleasure is also a great way to help build a healthy mindset around sex and sexuality.

I recently attended a training at Planned Parenthood of New York City called “Don’t Forget the ‘Pleasure’ in Sex Education”. The focus of the training was 1) how pleasure plays a role in how we view sexuality within a variety of lenses, including society/culture, sexual behaviors, sexual/reproductive health, and sexualization/objectification; and 2) how to effectively incorporate pleasure with sex education (which often focuses more on avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections). It was a really great training, and I invite you to check out PPNYC’s Training Institute calendar for future trainings.

During the training, we were given an exercise: create a one-on-one role play or a group activity that generates discussion on making sex education more fun and appealing. I decided to create an activity for an adolescent co-ed group between the ages of 15-18. My activity focused on what could enhance pleasure and what could decrease pleasure, making sure that the answer choices had the potential to encourage discussion with participants.

Here’s how to set up this activity:

* Take two sheets of paper. On one sheet, write or type the phrase “Gives pleasure”. On the other, write or type the phrase “Takes away pleasure”.

* Taking additional sheets of paper, write or type words or phrase that can increase pleasure or decrease pleasure. Below are some examples to get you started. Feel free to include more:


*This next step can be done in several ways. One way is to place the “Gives pleasure” and “Takes away pleasure” sheets on opposite ends of the room. Read aloud the words and phrases above, and have your participants go to the side of the room that they believe corresponds to the word/phrase given. Another way is to divide the attendees into groups, making sure to have plenty copies of the “Gives pleasure” and “Takes away pleasure” sheets available for each group. Instruct the groups to work together to arrange the words/phrases to correspond with what the group believes “Gives pleasure” or “Takes away pleasure”.

*The final step is to encourage open dialogue on why the participants selected certain words/phrases as ways to enhance pleasure or to decrease pleasure. The focus should be on encouraging critical thinking and to look at others ways in which an activity can be viewed as a perceived positive or a negative. For example, discussing birth control methods may be viewed as a way that can enhance pleasure, but for some, having a conversation about birth control may not be very inviting. Pay close attention when most of the participants agree that an act enhances pleasure or agree that an act decreases pleasure. For example, if most of the participants believe that drinking alcohol or taking a drug can lower their inhibitions, therefore increasing their pleasure, be sure to point out that alcohol and drugs also have the ability to impair their judgment, decreasing their ability to make healthy decisions. Also, pay attention to if the participants feels that an activity is a perceived positive or negative based on context. For example, engaging in unprotected sexual activity may be viewed as a negative with a casual partner versus being in a monagamous relationship.

Hopefully this activity is useful for you. Let me know what you think!

RAISE YOUR VOICE: Have you tried this activity before, as a group facilitator, counselor, or a service provider, or youth participant/peer educator? Share your input in the comments section below. Also, do you include discussions on pleasure in your sex education work? Does sex education in your school include discussions on pleasure? Share your thoughts below.

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