Visitors to the 16th International Aids conference in Toronto have been able to attend a workshop on finding a woman's G-spot, admire a display of erotic art and take part in a seminar entitled "Where is the Pleasure in Safe Sex?"

The activities are aimed at showing the lighter side of Aids prevention.

Wendy Kerr is a worker with the Pleasure Project, which has helped health educators in Cambodia to break the shyness barrier in talking about sex and enabled priests in Mozambique to counsel couples to have better sex so that husbands do not stray and possibly become infected with HIV.

Twenty-five years of Aids activism has neglected that "sex is fun", she said. "Safe sex doesn't have to be dull."

Cultural barriers

Alexandra Lutnick of San Francisco-based St James Infirmary promoted the idea of questioning prostitutes about their sexual or work satisfaction in counselling to help them open up, then share safe sex practices with them.

"If people feel good about sex, it minimizes risk [of getting sexually transmitted diseases]"

Neha Patel,
Aids activist

She said many assumed they have to be victimised to access social services. Some 70% in a poll had never told healthcare providers about their jobs fearing they would be shamed.

"If people feel good about sex, it minimizes risk [of getting sexually transmitted diseases]," said Neha Patel, an activist.

But she says cultural and language barriers to chats about sexuality in South and Southeast Asia, where such topics are taboo, make linking it to public health problematic in those regions.

She also says that some sex terms are often not easily translated into all languages.

Seeking daring sex

One male observer commented that men often refuse to use condoms because it reduces their pleasure.

"The way men think about condoms is a big barrier," Kerr conceded.

Lebogang Ramafoko of the non-profit Soul City organisation in South Africa said a poll conducted in May with hundreds of African men found that they would seek out daring sex with women other than their wives because they dared not talk to their wives about sex.

"All said, 'I can't have this discussion with my wife about pleasure, what makes me happy and experimentation'," Ramafoko said. "This inability to talk about sex is fuelling the spread of Aids."

A new study presented at the conference found that men would likely welcome HIV-thwarting creams, called microbicides, that are now being tested to stop Aids.

But some men worried that if women equally enjoyed sex with the gel, they may seek out more sexual partners, according to researcher Charlotte Watts of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in Britain.