Many people are more comfortable not thinking about, discussing, or exploring sex beyond the typical cultural instructions that we absorb from the world around us. Others (like you and me!) are ready to shake off the shackles of history and fully embrace the community, variety, and pleasure of a more sex-positive world. It seems that sex and all of its adjacent topics are unlikely to ever be universally interpreted, but one thing that more people than ever can agree on is that sex-positivity is the way forward.
More Than Just “Free Love”
Sex-positivity is a big topic. It’s a fascinating and highly actionable way of approaching the world, a philosophy that is inclusive and magnanimous, and affects all of us. But the world has not always been so open-minded. Thank goodness that how we think and about sex and sexuality is something that is forever evolving! Culture, religion, education, politics, history, among other things, all inform how s-e-x is discussed and how the information is disseminated. Many of us were raised in a time when the concepts of sexual liberation, equity between the sexes, and sex outside of marriage, were relatively new and novel concepts. Likewise, many of us have changed and evolved our beliefs about sex and sexuality as the messages around us have changed. Some would say that the pendulum has swung too far away from the ‘traditional values’ (almost always about religious morality) that kept sex and sexuality taboo.
What is sex-positivity?
At its core, sex-positivity is about tolerance, inclusion, and self-expression. Being sex-positive means that you value and celebrate sex and sexuality, without judgement of yourself or others. Sex-positivity requires that you recognize sex as mentally, physically, and psychologically healthy, and a natural part of the human experience. On the flip side, sex negativity counters these ideas through misinformation, poor education, fear-mongering, and institutional and government control. We have all been exposed to sex negativity. Unfortunately it exists in many facets of our society in such a way that it can be hard to recognize, it has become so normalised.
Acceptance: Give and Take
Accepting the concept of ‘different strokes for different folks’ is a major tenet of sex-positivity. You don’t have to like or want to do what others do, but it’s essential that you respect and accept that consenting adults are able, and entitled, to make decisions about their own bodies. It’s also central to sex-positivity that you learn to accept your own sexuality and sexual identity. Sometimes this means accepting and healing from negative sexual experiences, shame, internalised homophobia, etc. Self-imposed stigma is a challenging topic for many people as they begin to examine their own sexual existence and explore themselves. It’s remarkable the sort of things that we can and will say to ourselves that we wouldn’t ever say to someone else. Becoming sex-positive is not something that you necessarily do overnight. It is a process of learning and unlearning that you can easily spend a lifetime doing.
Consent is Essential to Sex-Positivity
In simplest terms, you cannot have sex without consent. In the absence of consent, sex becomes assault, it becomes a crime. This is true whether your perspective is sex-positive or not. There’s no room in a sex-positive lifestyle for abuse, coercion, or manipulation. Sex-positivity demands that we conduct ourselves ethically and express ourselves honestly without harming or infringing on others and their sexual point of view. No part of sex-positivity supports or encourages moralistic or punitive attitudes around sexuality. Nor does it support or encourage paedophilia, zoophilia, or other non-consensual acts.
Bodily Autonomy is Central to Sex-Positivity
It’s easy to reduce sex-positivity to just the promotion of sex and sexuality. In fact, that’s the biggest, and only, argument against it: that the promotion of sex-positivity will encourage more sex. But what’s wrong with that? Nothing, provided we have the resources and education to support people. While the consensual enjoyment of sex is part of sex-positivity, it’s not the whole story. A big part of what makes sex-positive philosophy so essential is how it supports and centres bodily autonomy. As we know, consent goes hand-in-hand with autonomy. We may not be able to control how our bodies or our sexuality are viewed by others, but we absolutely have a right to bodily autonomy, privacy, and dignity regarding our sexuality. Sex-positivity promotes and celebrates that your body and your sexuality are yours to interpret, define, express, and experience.
Sex-Positivity and Intersectionality
Intersectionality describes the concept that discrimination against a person’s identity (via race, gender, class, disability, or sexuality, etc.) does not exist independently and that the intersection of multiple related forms of discrimination produces specific experiences that impact peoples’ worldview, often negatively. In order to be truly sex-positive, one must acknowledge and become engaged with the idea that experiences of self-expression and sexuality will be inherently different for marginalised people. This becomes especially important when we consider sex education, healthcare, legislation, and how sexuality is presented in the media.
Examples of Sex-Positivity
Examples of Sex-Negativity
- Communicating your sexual needs and wants in intimate relationships
- Self exploration and masturbation
- Supporting sex-positive initiatives and organisations locally and at large
- Advocating for comprehensive sex education in schools
- Exploring sexual fantasies, alone or with consenting partner(s)
- Learning not to make assumptions about people based on their sexuality or sexual history
- Updating your language and terminology to reflect your sex-positive values
- Practising safe sex and prioritising sexual wellness
- Seeking help and support along your sex-positive journey
- Accepting, not judging, other adults’ consensual activities
- Working on your relationship with your body and body image
- Using stigmatising terms like “I’m clean” when referring to your negative STI status
- Negative self-talk about your body, sexuality, or desires
- Associating anything that’s not strictly hetero-normative as bad, evil, sinful, dirty, etc.
- Promoting false stereotypes regarding sexual orientation or expression
- Implying that sexual orientation is a manifestation of mental illness
- Playing ‘Devil’s Advocate’ on questions of sexual politics
- Assuming or suggesting that cishet people are “normal” and everyone else is not
- Slut-shaming/Promiscuity Policing
- Advocating for policies and legislation that harm or impede sex workers
When you know better, do better! If you are ready to live a more sex positive life then it’s time to put these concepts into actions. This piece, How To Be Sex-Positive, will help you identify and re-frame sex-negative thinking and adjust your language, as well as having constructive conversations with others who are not yet on the sex-positive track.
Have you embarked on your sex-positive journey? What have you learned? Comment below, let’s talk about it!