The idea for this supplement arose from discussions among a set of research partners associated with the Realising Rights Research Programme Consortium (RR RPC), an international partnership funded by the UK Department for International Development from 2005-10 that focused on neglected areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). In the Consortium, work on rights has been concerned with ways of bridging the gap between international legal human rights frameworks as applied to SRHR, and how these play out for actual people ‘on the ground’. We noted that there was a well-developed international language of human rights in relation to sexual and reproductive health, accompanied by significant international advocacy efforts stretching back several decades. However, SRHR remained controversial and contested; sexual rights in particular are poorly understood by many policy actors, they are not easy to operationalise ‘downstream’ in policies and programmes, and their place and relevance in people’s day to day lives have been much less explored. The papers in this volume are one contribution to the task of laying out why it is important to fill this gap and what the analytical challenges are in doing so.