What Does It Mean to Be Sex-Positive?
Sometimes I feel like an alien who’s visiting from another universe. On my planet, it’s natural to prioritize pleasure. I still regularly have sex, love to try out new sex toys, prioritize adult time, and balance ethical non-monogamy with my family life. Sexual playtime is still important to me (in my world) long after the socially acceptable period has ended (in this world) for women my age.
I also consider myself a sex-positive parent, thus my daughter benefits from my candid tutelage on female orgasm, anatomy, and coaching on how to have pleasure without an unwanted pregnancy. Although this also fulfills the obligatory maternal role of embarrassing my teenager on a regular basis, my daughter has told me that all of her friends wish they had a parent they could go to for help and guidance around all the complex issues that surround sexuality. It is ironic that society still frowns on maternal figures fulfilling their sexual needs– but young people are so craving guidance which ideally be imparted by a sexually fulfilled Mom! My world includes a “no shame” household. I don’t see sex as dangerous or obscene. Just the contrary—it is a natural part of life. Am I nuts? No—I am sex positive.
I am part of a growing social movement that is determined to reclaim sexuality from our repressive founding fathers, the Puritans, who propagated the notion that sex is dirty and unholy. We in the sex-positive movement seek to re-frame sex in a more expansive, positive light. This entails a restructuring of our thinking about marriage, commitment, gender, monogamy, and a multitude of other topics.
I have always been sex positive, probably because my mother was. She—a gorgeous, twice-divorced diva from the Mad Men era —was unequivocally clear that sex was a good thing and, in her opinion, possibly the only good thing you could get from a man. She used to say, “In a world that focuses almost exclusively on male pleasure, the female orgasm is an act of rebellion and revolution.” She wanted me to embrace my sexuality, no matter its course, because she believed that transparency around who we are results in self-empowerment.
I never realized how true her ideology was until my adult years, when I witnessed an endemic rape culture alongside the hard-won battle for same-sex marriage and transgender rights. My mother’s words, which had seemed merely to be about satisfaction in bed, now seemed like a banner decrying sexual freedom.
Her wisdom was about achieving peace with yourself while having personal agency in a culture filled with misogyny. Thanks to my mother, I found a creative solution to mismatched sex drives in my first marriage by asking my husband if we could have sex outside of the marriage—ethically, honestly—which we did. Also, I can proudly say I have never faked an orgasm—instead I’ve mastered the art of gently yet candidly communicating what is and isn’t working for me.
Owning your sexual power is revolutionary. That’s why governments, religions, and political parties seek to control our sexuality often through shame and repression. Because when you control people’s sexuality, you control their entire sense of themselves. Essentially, you’ve gotten inside their head and are controlling their mental programming. As you can see at various levels of authority everywhere, this shaming tactic is very useful to people who lust for power over others.
What I love about the sex-positive movement is that it focuses on personal power—not power over others. It is a social movement that encourages sexual pleasure and exploration. It advocates sex education and safer sex as part of its agenda. Just as the definition of “feminist” has different meanings to different people, “sex positivity” means different things to different people. But generally, sex positivity is an all-encompassing notion that sex is healthy and normal. It is also the idea that anything—homosexuality, bisexuality, kink, transgenderism, polyamory—is OK as long as it is safe, explicitly consensual between adults, and positive.
This social movement can be traced to the radical psychologist Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) who was so pro-orgasm he regularly massaged his clients to induce one—perhaps not the most well thought-out of ideas, but he gets an A for progressive thinking. Reich’s philosophy challenged repressive views of his time. He confronted the overall negative concept that a person’s sexuality needs to be sexuality repressed and his or her sex drive controlled.
Like Reich, some contemporary advocates of sex positivity define their philosophy in contrast to sex negativity, which they identify as the dominant view of sex in Western culture and many non-Western cultures. Sex-positive advocates point out that in Christianity sex and sexual pleasure is viewed as a sinful destructive force unless it is redeemed by the intention to procreate. This meme is embedded in the secular world as well—with medicine and psychiatry designating certain forms of sexuality as being pathological. To see a contrast to these mindsets, examine pagan cultures such as ancient Greece, which often accepted a wider range of sexuality that conflicted with Christian tenets.
In the modern world we are still struggling to integrate a view of sex as healthy and natural. Sexologist Carol Queen frames the subject quite well:
“Sex-positive, a term that’s coming into cultural awareness, isn’t a dippy love-child celebration of orgone – it’s a simple yet radical affirmation that we each grow our own passions on a different medium, that instead of having two or three or even half a dozen sexual orientations, we should be thinking in terms of millions. “Sex-positive” respects each of our unique sexual profiles, even as we acknowledge that some of us have been damaged by a culture that tries to eradicate sexual difference and possibility.”
I love Queen’s definition because it does not mean you have to be hip, promiscuous, or any one thing to be sex positive. Instead, sex positivity entails discovering your unique sexuality. So put me in the camp of the sex-positive movement—it’s where I happily live.