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Interview with Rosemary Coates, the president of the World Association for sexual health

With education to positive sexuality

Sexpresso reporters @ WAS Congress Glasgow 2011

The participations of WAS-members and in the same time Sexpresso-reporters at the XX World Congress for Sexual Health, held in Glasgow in June 2011, among other things was used to make an interview with the president of the World Association of Sexual Health (WAS), Rosemary Coates, PhD from Australia. As a tireless activist for the promotion of sexual health and rights, pleasant speaker, enthusiastic and optimists by nature, she says that the study of sexuality is multidisciplinary, and sex is much more than science.

The World Sexual Health Day last year for the first time was designated as an annual event to occur on or near the 4th September. What WAS would like to achieve with this event?

This is the international year of youth, and my original idea is that we should focus on young people and to engage them in happy and positive activities related with sexuality. Because we have so many meetings where we were focusing on the negative aspects, like teenage pregnancy, HIV, AIDS, sexual dysfunctions… The aim is to put much more positive aspect on the human sexuality and focus on pleasure and that sex can be enjoyable as well as safe. If it becomes an annual event in many countries and the press reports it, people will start talking about it more, and so will brake down some of the taboos. And it’s not easy to go to countries where there are very strict regulations about sex and there is not public talk about sex.

What is the future of sexual research?

My feeling is that we need more researches on people’s behaviors and their preferences and weather they are comfortable with the sexuality or not. The focus is been so much on clinical and empirical studies. The amount of negative information about sexuality is really based on a certain research and it is negative approach to research: who’s got a dysfunction that’s measured?! I think that we should been looking on the positive perspective. There is tendency that whole world is full of sexual problems, but the majority of people don’t have them. But, they do have questions about sexuality, because sexuality education is restricted in so many parts of the world. With good sexuality education, from the very early age, I think that the people will start to recognize sexuality and will feel more positive about it. Knowledge teaches you where to look for resources, if you don’t know!

Rosemary Coates with Makaja and RiminiAchieving recognition of sexual pleasure as a component of well being is one of the seven principles of the Millennium Declaration for the Sexual Health. Do you think that there is a lack of research on these positive aspects of sexuality, like enjoyment, pleasure, love, spiritual experience?

I`m not aware of a lot of research in that area. But people have started get interested in the concept of love, although in the moment is not very clinical and it’s focusing on physiology. Now, we got functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) and you can look in the living brain. There are some researches looking at man brain comparing to women brain. And, surprise, surprise: The areas light up in men brain are different then in women. If you show women a picture of their infant child, one part of the brain will light up, when you are showing them picture of their partner, which they love, different part of the brain lights up. So, it’s telling us something. But, we do need more research on the behavioral side, psycho social, impact of socialization… I think we do need big surveys of individuals, with very carefully worded and validated questionnaires and ask them how much enjoyment they get.

What is your special message related with sexuality for the people from the South Slavic countries, which societies are facing traditionalism, patriarchal, lack of sexual research and therapy, there is not comprehensive sexuality education at all? But also, in these countries Komaja institutions are very active and influential.

I have to ask the people from what are they frighten? Why they fear talking about sex so much? Why they fear homosexuality so much? Because ignorance is dangerous, knowledge means safety and security. That demonstrates great ignorance, which is a good argument for having sexuality education. Because people understand first of all that there is nothing to fear about people expressing their sexuality as long as they are not violent. There is one very famous American sexuality educator Gordon, who said: You can not speak to a closed mind! But, I feel that the majority of people have got reasonable open mind. And it’s up to us to open it a little bit more, and doing it gradually.

The inequality of men and women exist more or less in the whole planet (of course, in disadvantage of the woman). For its self also speaks the fact that even WAS needed 33 years in order to elect a woman for a president of WAS. According to your opinion, can we say that today in the work and in development of WAS, both genders are equally managing and creating, and of course not only on the formal legal level, but also in the real sense?

Actually our Statute and by laws require a gender balance on our committees. So, there is a really honest effort to make sure that there is gender balance. In the past it was a case that no so many women have put themselves up for the election. Sometimes, at the elections there are not enough women nominated so the electors can have a choice. For example, when I first stood for the elections in Paris 2001 all the women who were nominated got on, because there were not enough. But we are getting more women on now. I am encouraging more women to stand, so the people can have a choice. That is part of democracy.

I actually come from the countries, like UK and Australia, where we have equal legislation, but I still notice unconsciousness gender discrimination. I think that there is something in the socialization of both, females and males. I am just trying to thing for some example. I think that I had a harder time in my early part of the presidency then many of male presidents before. I had couple of difficulties with some people, because women tend to be more consultative and try to come to an agreement. Where the male presidents were different, they will say stop it, you don’t know and will bring decision. And I was talking and trying to reconcile things, to have more neutral approach. But, I’m becoming more assertive.

What was your personal motivation which brought you to WAS and now even to the position of president of WAS?

Like everything in my life, it happens accidently. The first WAS Congress in which I went was in Mexico 1979, but I didn’t know anything about WAS then. In 2001 at WAS Congress in Paris I met Marc Ganem, who was president of WAS then and he asked me to stand for the elections of WAS in Paris 2001, with explanation that we need more women. The same thing was about presidency. The previous president of WAS, Eusebio Rubio Aurioles said: It’s time to get female president. My inner response was: Yes, of course it’s time to have a female president, but lets not have female president because just it is female. In the lasts two years I think I have done a lot for WAS. I think when women take on responsibility it is like raising a child - to educate, assist to develop…WAS is the organization, which is more then organizing congresses and publishing a journal. Since we got The Millennium Declaration for Sexual Health document, we have to carry on. As we said on English:”Put your money where your mouth is!” If you talk and you don’t do something, what’s the point?!


Interview was taken by sexpresso reporters

Aba Aziz Makaja & Rimini B. Sazdanovska

Glasgow, June 2011