'Sexual Rights' Now Part of U.S. Foreign Agenda

The change emphasizes a commitment to "equality between men and women in matters of sexual relations and sexuality."



I can't quite get a read on whether it's good or bad (or a big fat nothing) that the U.S. government has decided to make "sexual rights" part of its official human rights and global development platform. The term "sexual rights" can encompass a host of issues related to sexual orientation, gender, reproduction, sexual violence, and more. According to U.S Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Erdman, sexual rights refer to people's "right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence." Using the term emphasizes a commitment to "equality between men and women in matters of sexual relations and sexuality," he said. 

At a meeting of the U.N. women's agency, Erdman stressed that the U.S. use of "sexual rights" reflected rights "that are not legally binding" and "not enshrined in international human rights law." Yet the shift is a "critical expression of our support for the rights and dignity of all individuals regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity." 

So how is this a departure from previous policy, and why might that matter? From The Christian Science Monitor

Until this week, the US had voiced its support for "sexual reproductive health" and "reproductive rights," but it was "not acknowledging sexual rights," says Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity. The US had come in for criticism abroad for making this distinction. But after heavy lobbying from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender groups, the US has now agreed to the change.

With this minor language change, Ms. Sippel says, the US is now in a position to be a major contributor addressing global issues like early child marriage, HIV/AIDS prevention, and female genital mutilation.

"It does have practical implications for our US foreign policy and assistance," she adds. For example, the language change can help make US foreign aid "more effective," allowing the country to allocate aid for pressing sexual rights issues overseas, she says.

To the extend that this allows governments already getting humanitarian aid from us to use it more effectively, this seems like a positive step. Things like HIV/AIDS prevention and fighting female genital mutilation are obviously important efforts. But to the extent that this ups American-spearheaded initiatives and spending on these issues, I'm leery. Whether it's social or regime change the U.S. is after abroad, pouring money in to make problems worse is something of a specialty. Our humanitarian "gifts" tend to come with a lot of political strings, and our efforts—at least in areas concerning sexual rights—to miss the point at best, often actively harm those we're claiming to help.

For example, take our approach to sex trafficking in foreign countries. It's largely centered on a "raid and rescue" vision, and is ambivalent if not outright hostile to prostitution decriminalization.

During the George W. Bush years, the U.S. State Department specifically stated that prostitution was a form of "oppression" and predicated aid for various sexual-health purposes on whether a country was working to wipe out prostitution entirely. Many human rights and anti-trafficking orgs say decriminalizing prostitution is the best way to help people trapped in the sex trade—not to mention respect the labor rights of sex workers and the sexual rights of everyone—but no matter; it was either do it 100 percent our way or no grants. (Shameless self-promotion: I wade deeper into this in a feature—"The War on Sex Trafficking Is the New War on Drugs"—for the October issue of Reason magazine, which digital subscribers can read now online.) And not doing it our way doesn't only affect foreign countries or groups getting money from us. Failure to "reduce demand for commercial sex acts" could also help land nations on the U.S. State Department's Trafficking in Persons report watchlist—a form of public shaming, sure, but also a black mark on the country for other economic and political purposes.

In The New York Times, Melissa Gira Grant explains how these end demand, raid-and-rescue, and scarlet-letter policies come together in detrimental ways:

In 2008, Cambodia enacted new prohibitions on commercial sex, after the country was placed on a watch list by the State Department. In brutal raids on brothels and in parks, as reported by the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers in a 2008 documentary, women were chased down, detained and assaulted. The State Department commended Cambodia for its law and removed the country from the watch list.

Human Rights Watch later conducted interviews with 94 sex workers in Cambodia for a 2010 report. "Two days after my arrival, I was caught when I tried to escape," one woman said. "Five guards beat me up. When I used my arms to shield my face and head from their blows, they beat my arms. The guard threatened to slit our throats if we tried to escape a second time, and said our bodies would be cremated there."

She was describing a "rescue" and detention at the Prey Speu Social Affairs center near Phnom Penh. Human Rights Watch urged the Cambodian government "to suspend provisions in the 2008 Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation that facilitate police harassment and abuses."

Whether it's combating sex trafficking or gender-based discrimination or unintended pregnancies, the U.S. government can't seem to avoid imposing our ideology and policy solutions (du jour) along with any (financial or rhetorical) support. Maybe embracing "sexual rights" is a positive or neutral step; maybe it will open the door to more of this sort of overreach. 

But the U.S. adoption of the term "sexual rights" apparently puts in line with other right-thinking nations. This week, nearly 200 world leaders are gathered in New York City for the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Summit, where they'll reflect on global development goals set in 2000 and discuss new targets for 2030. Their aims are anything but modest, with "End poverty in all its forms everywhere" at the top of the new list. "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls" is also an item. 

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  1. I can’t quite get a read on whether it’s good or bad (or a big fat nothing) that the U.S. government has decided to make “sexual rights” part of its official human rights and global development platform.

    Well seeings how gov is incapable of developing anything other than crippling debt and parasitic hangers-on its probably a safe bet to be a negative at best.

    1. good article by the way.

    2. Will they really consider this when dealing with the Middle East and ISIS! Saudi
      Arabia is not doing too well with this, either, are they?!

  2. I can’t quite get a read on whether it’s good or bad (or a big fat nothing) that the U.S. government has decided to make “sexual rights” part of its official human rights and global development platform.

    Ha, yeah. Only time will tell, but wait, it’s the state, so probably bad.

      1. This mindset is how you get an entire website subpoenaed, people.

    1. Ha, yeah. Only time will tell, but wait, it’s the state, so probably bad.

    2. Maybe a militarized agency or two can start a global war on prostitution and exploitation. That should improve things.

      1. Because nothing says sexual rights like forbidding women to use their sexuality in certain ways.

  3. I can’t quite get a read on whether it’s good or bad (or a big fat nothing) that the U.S. government

    The U.S. government’s involvement in anything makes it worse.

    1. First three comments went samesies.

    2. double jinx.

      1. You’re gonna have a lot of free cokes by the end of the day.

    3. Any The U.S. government’s involvement in anything makes it worse.

  4. According to U.S Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Erdman, sexual rights refer to people’s “right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.”

    That explains why basically any sexual activity that the government doesn’t approve of is “human trafficking” and why teenagers aren’t allowed to have naked photos of their own body.

  5. Maybe Chocolate Nixon can appoint a Sex Czar now.

    1. Sounds like a job for Janet Napolitano.

    2. I think the name for that is Rasputin.

    3. I hear Wilt Chamberlin is available

  6. The change emphasizes a commitment to “equality between men and women in matters of sexual relations and sexuality.”

    So they are going to mandate that it should be just as easy for men to get laid as it is for women? Cool.

    1. No way. The Progressive tactic is never to lift anyone up to a higher level, it’s to drag everyone down to the same low, pathetic level. So, they’ll have to find a way to reduce women’s sexual opportunities and choices to the same low level as men. Equality!

      1. But, the progressives are in favor of women slutting it up, because grrrl power!!

        1. If that’s true then why will all this proposed legislation actually make it more difficult for women to get laid? I suspect that deep down Progressives think sex is just as ‘icky’ as the SoCons do, and would prefer everyone just stop. Unless you’re gay, then go at it!

          1. Because the legislation is intended to destroy men after the fact, it will not inhibit women at all.

            1. At some point men will become too frightened to even talk to the women in their college. I know I’d start looking elsewhere…

              1. Yeah, but you’re not a horny 19-year-old guy.

        2. That only counts if it is with other girls or REALLY REALLY hot guys

      2. so women are going to have to document affirmative consent in every step of convincing a guy to have sex with them?

        1. Whoa…now you’re getting too extreme! It’s sexist to hold women to the same standard as men. You should know that by now.

          1. ah, I forgot. Equal expectations = discrimination. I would not make a very good prog.

  7. International “sexual rights.” Awesome. So if Los Angeles tries to force condoms on porn performers again, UN peacekeepers will storm in and put a stop to it? (Stop the condoms I mean, not stop the porn itself.)

  8. But this only applies to adults. So if you are under age 26 these rights would not apply.

  9. If it goes like the War on Drugs or the War on Poverty, the government’s newfound focus on Sexual Rights will result in more genital mutilation, forced marriages and oppression of gays worldwide.

    1. tarran, that’s fine as long as power-hungry shitheads get to increase their power and control over people’s lives. I mean, isn’t that what government is all about?

  10. I don’t think I’m getting enough sex with college girls. Where is my help?!??!

    1. Well, you are apparently entitled to “equality between men and women in matters of sexual relations and sexuality.” So, bitches should have to give it up more easily.

  11. When everything is crucial, nothing is crucial.

  12. early child marriage, HIV/AIDS prevention, and female genital mutilation

    Male genital mutilation still doesn’t rate, I guess.

    1. political and social emasculation are being tried out first.

    2. Kramer cares.

    3. “Male genital mutilation still doesn’t rate, I guess.”

      I noticed that as well.
      However, if I am beginning to understand how the thought processes go, then circumcision done upon males is not mutilation in the manner in which racism isn’t racism if the recipient of it is of a certain color or culture, and hate speech cannot be hate speech if uttered by an individual whose forbearers are considered to have been hated.

      I thought at the time that I almost had the concept wrapped up nicely… until I started to think about how to express it. Rather than not posting my attempt I thought I’d offer it so others here could clarify the thought processes used to make these types of distinctions. Perhaps a link to a cogent explanation.

      1. You’re making it way too complicated.

        Penises are evil, m’kay? Mutilating them is a good thing, like mutilating cancer.

    4. Oh great, there goes the thread.

    5. Oh thank god, finally, I can claim victim status on something.

  13. “What’s that you say? Those Masai tribesmen over there don’t respect your gender identity? We’ll just see about that!”

  14. Interesting to contrast this with the recent news about ignoring Afghan power-figures raping little boys. Is that equal or evil?
    If you have to ask, there’s something very very wrong with you.
    Somebody needs to point out this conflict and keep pointing it out.

  15. How on earth is this ever going to be a positive.

    Right off the bat, of course, will be the creation and funding of new positions.

    Then, exactly how are they going to advance this agenda? By interfering in other country’s affairs, perhaps, but only if they aren’t a barbaric backwater? Does anyone think for an instant that this isn’t going to quickly go from “Hey, foreign government, no more discrimination by you” to “Hey, you people need to implement special privileges for protected classes.” We know that’s what these people think “rights” are – positive rights to force other people to do things.

    I mean, seriously, on what planet is this going to result in more freedom?

    1. “new positions?”

      We already have 23 sexual positions. Who needs more???

      1. There’s more than one? Asking for a friend…

    2. Lovetron came to mind but with Darryl Dawkins’ death, that’s out.

  16. How about enforcing the choice to not become a parent? Women currently enjoy this privilege, but men must abide by the whims of another person. Men who impregnate women should have the freedom to ‘opt out,’ just as women are allowed to.

    1. I’ve tried that argument with the “it’s a woman’s body” crowd. Surprisingly, they are quite willing to use force when it suits them.

      1. Not all of us are.

        1. Very few can stand the essential hypocrisy of the Rust Conle philosophy of life.

          1. What hypocrisy is that?

            1. I think he’s referring to the part where he says we should deny our programming to reproduce and just walk hand-in-hand into oblivion accepting that we are a mistake of evolution. The hypocrisy is that we can believe that and still fuck our way to another generation of screaming consciousness.

            2. Not overcoming your programming and committing suicide.

              1. Why bother.

                Can a nihilist even be hypocritical?

      2. What Nikki said. I’ve had more clients than not with the “Fuck support, just get him out of my life” attitude.

        1. That’s good to hear. But women still have the choice to sic the state on the guy who knocked them up. There’s no comparable situation that a man can impose onto a woman.

      3. willing to use force when it suits them.

        The Progressives always want someone to pay for past injustices. And by ‘someone’ I mean men.

        1. Penises are evil!

  17. I like paying to help other people (with the exception of prostitutes) fuck, so I like this.

    I am also down with gay rights, but only in western-thinking countries, where I will not get harmed for my beliefs.

  18. Like anything else ‘rights’ related that the government takes on relating to its foreign agenda (read: shit it talks about at the U.N.) it’ll be a hodge-podge of privileges (aka: positive rights) extended to various well-lobbied interest groups that have established NGOs connected to the U.N. money faucet.

  19. So, who’s running the pool? What do you think will prove a higher priority, the Islamic world engaging in female genital mutilation and the killing of gays, or the fact that the South Park guys ran a show saying Caitlin Jenner isn’t a hero?

    1. I assume your question is rhetorical since everyone here knows the answer.

  20. World Culture War I!

    1. Somewhere, someone isn’t calling Caitlin Jenner a hero.

      1. Almost everywhere, in fact.

  21. I was told there would be misogyny in this thread. *Walks away disappointed*

    1. I’m not smart, I don’t see it either.

    2. *raises hand to ‘fess up*

      Yep – I came, I saw….nothing. I went away disappoint…


        1. IT’S EVERYWHERE!

    3. Disappointing. I was expecting some PUA assholes or something, at least.

    4. If you can’t see it, that’s because you’re a misogynist!


  22. I think MAYBE it’s in the exchange between Just say Nikki and Mickey Rat, but I didn’t really understand it because I am also dumb.

    1. So dumb I can’t do threaded comments.

    2. No, it is not, as I do not think Nikki’s nihilistic philosophy emanates from her being a woman.

  23. Re: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” is also an item.”

    A bit of balance:

    “The Greater Outrage for Female Victims of Governments’ Brutality Helps Perpetuate Risk to Both Sexes” http://malemattersusa.wordpres…..oth-sexes/

  24. In my view, putting sexual rights as a government issue is simply a bid to the world that government has a right to take one more freedom away from us. Perhaps the person(s) who decided this is a government responsibility need to get a good ……! and leave us alone.

  25. As long as there are more female heterosexual prostitutes than male heterosexual prostitutes we will KNOW that there is no equality for males. Their sexuality is disdained and only a woman’s is valued!

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