Sex is a highly nuanced topic, whether talking about sex positions, sexual health, or sexual expression. You’re probably familiar with the term “sex-positive,” and while the meaning of sex positivity might seem self-explanatory to some, there are many intersections and interpretations of what this expression means that deserve consideration.
What is Sex Positivity?
Sex positivity is an all-encompassing perspective that people should have space to explore, express, and learn about their sexuality without shame, guilt, or judgment. The fundamental principles behind sex positivity are consent, communication, choice, and education.
Sex positivity goes beyond believing sex is not a taboo topic and advocates the belief that sex can be a positive and pleasurable experience in all expressions.
Sex positivity is understanding and celebrating that people have different sexual experiences, interests, expressions, and that different does not equal ‘wrong.’
This attitude has been adopted in practice to become a movement that actively works to break taboos, stigma, inequalities, and advocates for making our collective and individual sexual experiences fulfilling, positive, and of course – pleasurable.
Sex Positivity Examples
Here are real-world examples of sex positivity in practice:
- Being open and comfortable discussing or learning about sex in its many iterations
- Being open to discovering what gives you and your partner(s) pleasure, whether it involves fantasizing, role-playing, using sex toys such as a vibrating cock rings or Bluetooth vibrators or engaging in historically stigmatized practices such as anal sex, BDSM, or kink culture without shame.
- Consider sex a healthy and natural part of humanity that has multiple expressions
- Respecting and understanding the choice to practice safe sex, including getting routinely tested for sexually transmitted infections and respecting a partner’s request to get tested before sexual activity
- Respecting gender identity, expression, beliefs, and presentation of others without judgment
- Respecting other people’s sexual boundaries
- Celebrating sexual diversity
- Understanding that consent is crucial in all sexual relationships and activities
What is Sex Negativity?
The term sex positivity came about as a direct response to toxic and harmful perspectives we sometimes harbor, both individually and culturally, around sex and sexuality. A sex negative perspective draws ethical or moral delineations about what a person should and should not do, believe, or feel about sex. These beliefs can contribute to feelings of shame, fear, and oppression towards sex.
An example of a sex negative narrative is believing that sex only exists for procreation and can only be justified by that means. This belief about sex is exclusionary, makes moral judgments, and assumes that everyone in the world identifies as heterosexual, monogamous, religious, or family-oriented.
A hard truth to hear is that many of us harbor sex negative narratives. And unless you are actively working to identify and change them, these beliefs have the potential to hurt or disrespect others and even become an obstacle to your happiness. Harboring sex negative narratives does not make someone a ‘bad’ person. We inherit many of our beliefs as children, and many sex negative beliefs are still perpetuated in our society, from our sex education to our healthcare systems. The good news is that sex positivity is something you can learn.
Sex Negativity Examples
Some examples of real-world sex negativity include, but are not limited to:
- Abstinence-only sex education
- Sex education that only emphasizes heteronormative, reproductive sex
- Purity pacts
- Shaming mothers who breastfeed in public
- Any scare tactic, campaign, or coercion aimed to convince people that only one view is the correct view
- ‘Slut-shaming’ or passing moral judgment on someone based on the number of sexual partners or frequency they engage in sex
- Assigning dress code based on sex organs
- Victim-blaming in any capacity
- Gender stereotypes
- General blanket assumptions regarding sex and sexuality like “all men are sex-motivated” or “most women do not enjoy sex”
- Sexual violence or sexual harassment in any capacity
A Brief History of Sex Positivity
The idea of sex positivity is not a new concept; it, like sex, has been around since the dawn of humanity. It might feel novel, but that’s because sex positivity has waxed and waned throughout history. For example, ancient Greek culture held very progressive sex positive beliefs. And then there was war and regime change, and that period dubbed the ‘Dark Ages.’
The idea of sex positivity was re-introduced to modern society in the 1920s by psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich who believed that sex was a good and healthy activity. But his ideas didn’t garner much traction or acceptance at the time. It wasn’t until the 1960s, the era that heralded free love and sexual liberation, that saw sex positive beginning to be accepted by mainstream society. And the turn of the century expounded on that iconic sexual revolution, becoming what we now call the sex positivity movement.
The #Metoo movement galvanized not only conversation but action regarding how we approach and police sexual harassment, abuse, and general inequality. Celebrities and other personalities have contributed to sex positivity’s mainstream acceptance by publicly sharing their experiences with slut-shaming, sexual assault, body acceptance, sexuality, and sexual health and responsibility. The mass sharing of diverse ideas on social media has sparked more conversations about sex positivity and helped shape public opinion in favor of sex positivity.
What are the advantages of becoming sex positive?
More people are shifting to sex positivity because it can improve their quality of life. It helps people become more authentic, reap the benefits of a happy sex life, feel safe and accepted, and detach from sources of sexual shame, whether it’s religion, education systems, family, culture, sex negative messaging, etc.
Does Sex Positivity Affect Your Health?
Sex positivity has tangible health benefits. Along with suspending judgment and shame, the sex positivity umbrella includes access to education and healthcare regarding sex and sexuality.
The World Health Organization classifies sexual health, and access to information regarding sexual health, as a fundamental human right. The Center for Disease Control developed and issued the following statement, “Sexual health is a state of well-being in relation to sexuality across the life span that involves physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual dimensions. Sexual health is an intrinsic element of human health and is based on a positive, equitable, and respectful approach to sexuality, relationships, and reproduction.” The CDC’s statement goes further to say, “sexual health includes the possibility of fulfilling sexual relationships.”
Recent studies reveal that your overall well-being is positively associated with your sexual satisfaction, sexual self-esteem, and sexual pleasure. While considered ancillary by many, a growing body of evidence establishes that vibrators are effective tools for preventing and treating sexual health issues. Women who use bendable vibrators, like the Crescendo vibrator, regularly experience increased blood flow, increased lubrication, increased sexual desire, and reported higher sexual satisfaction scores than women who did not use vibrators.
Basically, a positive and respectful perspective on sex and sexuality is in everyone’s best interest, and vibrators are the future of sexual health.
Do You Have to Be Sexually Active to Become Sex Positive?
Sex is not a required prerequisite to be considered sex positive. You don’t have to be sexually active to be considered sex positive. The only requirement is supporting the belief that other people should have the freedom to make their own decisions and form their own opinions as long as it’s consensual and respectful.
How Do I Become Sex Positive?
Here are some actionable things you can do to help develop a sex positivity attitude:
Pay attention to sex negative thoughts
Our society has instilled many forms of sexual negativity biases in us, both conscious and unconscious. The first step in changing them is identifying them. Write down all your beliefs about sex and sexuality, or consciously take note of judgmental thoughts you have.
For example, if you find yourself judging someone’s choice to be in a polyamorous relationship, pause and think about what could make you uncomfortable with someone else’s relationship choices. Is it upbringing, religious beliefs, a traumatic experience, or something else? Also, think about what steps you can take to eliminate those feelings of judgment. Determining the origin of negative sex beliefs will help you adopt more inclusive and accepting views.
Practice inclusivity and acceptance
Practicing inclusivity could be challenging, so be patient with yourself. You are attempting to rewrite or overwrite your long-established ethical compass. It is possible (and pleasurable) to embrace inclusivity with patience and commitment. Start by changing your internal dialogue and what you communicate to others. Educate yourself by reading books, listening to sex positive podcasts, or TV series introducing new mentalities and ideas.
Interact with sex positive people
One of the best ways to change your internal narrative is by changing your external influences. Surround yourself with sex positive people and engage with them. Ask questions (respectfully), listen to their stories, and be open to different perspectives.
Seek professional guidance
Sometimes we need help processing heavy topics such as sex and shame. Licensed professionals such as sex therapists and psychologists can help you expertly navigate this journey. And there is no shame in seeking help. Ever.
Sex positivity aims to empower individuals to have complete control of their sex lives and sexuality, free from shame and stigma while respecting the boundaries and freedoms of others. The goal is to create a world that welcomes sex in all its expressions and embraces authenticity and diversity.