“In most countries sexologists have not been as political as they should”Isabel Freire
Luis Perelman, Sexologist and Activist for Sexual Health and Sexual Diversity, Chair of World Sexual Health Day Committee of WAS (4th september), Chair of Organizing Committee of the 24th World Congress of WAS (“Building Bridges on Sexual Health and Rights”, Mexico City, Mexico, 2019). Former president of the Mexican Federation of Sexual Education and Sexology, advisor to the National Council for Prevention of Discrimination CONAPRED. Received the Award Compromisso Ibero do Reitor for his work on gender rights, sexual and sexual diversity to combat homophobia in the family (2016).
2 August 2018
“We are in the middle of a revolution and of a backlash from groups that prefer things as they were in the past”, says Luis Perelman, Chair of World Sexual Health Day Committee of WAS. In this interview, Perelman states sexologist have special responsabilies on the awareness, advocacy and observance of sexual rights: “In most countries we have not been as political as we should. We have to find synergies with human rights advocates”. Former president of the Mexican Federation of Sexuality Education and Sexology, Luis Perelman consideres that although Nordic European countries are very progressive and consistently show less violence and discrimination, “Latino countries can share many ways of relating, more social and non erotic affectionate contact, that the so-called developed countries are distancing themselves from”.
Portuguese Society of Clinical Sexology – Somewhere in you past and at a personal level have you had to fight for certain sexual rights to be recognised as fundamental for your well-being?
Luis Perelman – I acted as a mature child, as if I knew about these themes, but I was very prudish and afraid to let anyone know I was very curious about sexuality. I was dramatically misinformed on matters of sexuality and I did not dare to make mine the right to information. I grew up in a Jewish community (not religious) and my desire was not toward girls. I myself considered being gay as being inferior or not worthy, and it took me years of therapy to accept myself, and then to educate family, community and country. My therapist who was a classical psychoanalyst in the 80’s thought I could still try to be straight. The only thing I heard about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons since I was young was that they were all dangerous, criminals, ill, abnormal, perverted and that the world would be better without them. Becoming a sexologist and activist is my ‘revenge’ on all the lack of good education. I found out that the attitude or ability to talk seriously about any aspect of sexuality (without making fun or humiliating anyone), to promote dignity, respect and credible information is revolutionary. So I have gone from the prudishness and hiding to being calm and clear.
SPSC – Are you aware if your parents or grandparents engaged in some kind of fight for their sexual health and sexual rights?
LP – My maternal grandmother was born in Lithuania but studied to be a midwife in France and practiced several years before moving to Mexico (prior to World War II), and had to earn a living. But when she arrived in Mexico she had to adjust to be the wife of the Doctor, being her administrative assistant and taking care of the children. My mother was one of the first female teenagers to go alone to Israel in the early 50’s for a year program in a kibutz and one of the few women to study a profession as a Dentist, so she had more gender equality.
SPSC – In your country, which crucial sexual health and sexual rights issues must be implemented/respected, urgently?
LP – The most urgent is sexual violence and abuse. There are constant testimonies of these terrible experiences. The other one is the right to education. Schools, religious groups and parents are derailing efforts to include comprehensive sexuality education, even though Mexico is one of the countries with highest rates of teen pregnancy.
We have to find synergies with human rights advocates, feminists, reproductive health and rights, HIV advocates, education and health promotion professionals. We have to make sure it is in public affairs and to keep in the serious discussion, with lawyers and politicians who are on board
SPSC – This year, the WAS’s slogan states that sexual health and sexual rights are fundamental for our well-being. Does this mean that they are still seen as profoundly secondary or irrelevant?
LP – Yes. We spend most of our life living our sexuality, be it in “thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships” (WHO). It has to do how we feel with our own body, how we express ourselves in feminine, masculine or gender neutral terms, how we regard others, how we relate, who we would like to be, with who is (are) our partners, how we pursue pleasurable experiences and try to reduce unpleasurable ones. I have not seen explicit considerations in themes around well-being. That is why we are the ones who have to put the issue on the human agenda.
SPSC – Which professionals would you highlight as having a leading role on this awareness, advocacy and observance?
LP – First of all sexologists. In most countries we have not been as political as we should. We have to find synergies with human rights advocates, feminists, reproductive health and rights, HIV advocates, education and health promotion professionals. We have to make sure it is in public affairs and to keep in the serious discussion, with lawyers and politicians who are on board. I work very closely with activist mothers and fathers who have LGBT children, with real and congruent family values who are the ones who really ground these themes. When those who are most outcast are included, then everything moves better.
SPSC – Are there countries where sexual health and sexual rights achievements should be an inspiration for the world?
LP – I have seen Nordic European countries that are very progressive and that consistently show less violence, less discrimination, more well-being. But we cannot generalize. In every country there are great resources that we have to identify and share and facilitate synergies. Latino countries can share many ways of relating, more social and non-erotic affectionate contact, which the so-called “developed countries” are distancing themselves from.
We have to help people have the basics, like in nutrition, so they can understand context, interests, and motives of all they see and distinguish the useful from entertainment or intentionally misguided information
SPSC – Do we have a general idea of which sexual rights are less respected at a global scale?
LP – The right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to live free from violence, abuse, trafficking, exploitation, the right to justice. The #MeToo movement has shown how difficult it has been to denounce, to get justice and stop abuse because of all the power interests and years of impunity. In many countries arranged marriages are still the norm and women are treated like property without dignity. But also the right to care and the right to have remedies are less respected at a global scale. The best many people still have shame to seek professional help.
SPSC – And of which sexual health problems people are suffering more all over the world?
LP – People are still afraid of not being ‘normal’ and have extreme beliefs of how things should be without consideration to diversity of ways of being healthy. I would say this has to do with discrimination and persecution.
SPSC – The WAS’s Declaration of Sexual Rights states that everyone has the right to a comprehensive sexuality education, namely “a positive approach to sexuality and pleasure”. Which are the main barriers to achieve this goal?
LP – This principle is revolutionary and has been promoted only by sexologists, as other professions consider it not being serious or professional. The barriers have been cultural. One of my teachers taught that we should treat sexuality like gastronomy, and learn to enjoy and at the same time learn to say what we do not like or hurts us.
SPSC – “Accessing or providing services related to sexual health” it is considered a right in WAS’s Declaration of Sexual Rights (article 2). Sexual work or sexual assistance for disable people can be included in this reference? Both of them are still very controversial. Does WAS has an official positioning?
LP – Disabled people have a right to sexual health. Most have gone to the extreme of denying any sexuality to them and it regularly comes back in public situations that they are not acknowledged and provided for, even about self pleasuring. WAS has not made a specific statement about sexual work, but we have included sex workers organized in their associations to defend their rights in our congresses, federations and associations. What is clear is the need to prevent trafficking and exploitation.
One of my teachers taught that we should treat sexuality like gastronomy, and learn to enjoy and at the same time learn to say what we do not like or hurts us
SPSC – Legal achievements give us an idea of a job done. Oft this is an illusion (and I’m thinking of LGBTQ rights, for example). How can we make visible subtle discrimination?
LP – We are in the middle of a revolution and of a backlash from groups that prefer things as they were in the past. More and more visibility and more and more people exercising those rights will help in the cultural battle, will show this is for the well being of everyone and will help reduce demonizations.
SPSC – We have this idea of living in a world of so much information. Do we really have scientifically accurate and understandable information on sexual health and sexual rights worldwide?
LP – Yes, we have this information but it is like a needle in a haystack. We have to help people have the basics, like in nutrition, so they can understand context, interests, and motives of all they see and distinguish the useful from entertainment or intentionally misguided information. That is why we need this declaration with the correct terminology, and a lot of work to educate and sensitize.
SPSC – How close/far is asexuality in the sexual health and sexual rights panorama?
LP – Asexuality fits perfectly as we are invited to understand the wide range of experiences in sexuality. Asexuals have sexuality, they are just not experiencing sexual need for erotic practices with others. It does not exclude the need for social, affectionate, friendship and couple experience. The basis is to respect all forms of non-violence, to learn to listen to others. In this context it is where we are learning how far reaching sexuality is.