Being sex positive can be defined as being open and progressive in your attitude around sex with an emphasis on pleasure and consent. Sounds pretty straight forward, but when it’s applied to the realities of life, it can become very nuanced. We have seen the social climate around sex change with the exposure of sexual harassment and abuse, the fight for trans people's inclusion, concern around the need for unbiased sexual education. Narratives about sexual experiences are starting to get the inclusion they deserve (though there is still A LOT of work to be done). With all of this change happening, how can we employ sex positivity in specific ways to benefit us and progress our culture towards inclusivity?
Understanding What Sex Positivity Doesn’t Define
It is first important to check our misconceptions about what being sex positive entails. Being sex positive doesn’t define anything other than your attitude towards sex. It’s doesn’t define the type sex you have (other than consensual), the people you choose to have sex with, or the amount of sex you have. People who define themselves as A-sexual can be just as sex positive as those who enjoy frequent and casual sex.
Educating Yourself About Sexuality, Gender, Anatomy, and Sexual Experiences Other Than Your Own
A vital part of sex positivity is understanding sex outside of the boundaries of your own experiences. Yes, we all need information about our bodies, our minds, and our health to benefit the sex we’re having, but it’s also important to educate yourself about others. Furthermore, it is not the responsibility of marginalized people to give you this education — it’s up to you!
Not sure where to start? Try picking up a book about Transgenderism (‘Transgender 101’ by Nicholas M Tech is a great introduction). Learn about the history of sex workers from first hand accounts (‘Spread’ is an amazing anthology of a sex worker created magazine, written and defined by the workers themselves). Expand your understanding of relationships and monogamy with learning about polyamory and open relationships (‘The Ethical Slut’ by Dossie Easton and Janet Harby is a timeless book about the subject). Understand the mechanics, mindset, and practices of BDSM and kink (Try ‘The Ultimate Guide to Kink’ by Tristan Taormino for some knowledge).
Supporting an Alternative Narrative
Once you have made yourself aware of others experiences of sex, support them, especially marginalized people who lack resources. Donate to Planned Parenthood to support unbiased access to sexual health. Fight against legislation that discriminates based on sexuality and gender, and restricts access to sexual health resources. Expose yourself to porn and erotica made, produced, and starring all kinds of bodies. Call out prejudices in the conversations you have, the activities you participate in, and the institutions your support.
Understanding the Risks Associated With Sex
Though it’s not always easy to come to terms with, there are many risks and dangers involved in sexual activity. Should this stop us from having the sex we want to have? Hell no! But a vital part of sex positivity is understanding the importance of safe sex for yourself and your partners. Safe sex can include getting tested regularly, discussing sexual histories with partners, using STI barriers, and discussing birth control options.
Acknowledging That Sexual Abuse and Violence is a Part of Many People's Experiences
Being sex positive also includes being aware and receptive to the negative areas of sex, mainly sexual abuse and violence. RAINN predicts that someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds in the United States, with 1 out of 6 women experiencing rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. With this astounding figures, it’s crucial that we acknowledge the trauma around sex that a lot of people have. We must give voice to these survivors and their experiences and rather than defining them by the horrible things they’ve endured, use this knowledge to support them and fight to end sexual based harassment and abuse.
Noticing Your Toxic Behavior and Unlearning Harmful Habits
It’s important to be aware of how you may be contributing to preventing sex positivity from advancing. Sometimes it can be hard to notice when your actions are being harmful, and that’s why it’s so important to be open to critique and be reflective of your responses. Many of us learn harmful habits and form opinions about sex during our youth, whether it be from the media, our family, our friends, religion, or biased sexual education. Maybe you carry some judgement around homosexuality, have a refusal to listen about sexual assault, an irritation with talking about sex with your partner, or laugh at jokes that are insensitive to sexual assault survivors. These behaviors can be hard to unlearn but are integral to being sex positive.
Acknowledging the Bad Sex You’ve Had and Learn From It
Most of us have had a less than perfect sexual encounter, from forgettable to downright awful. This is ok! Just because you’re positive about sex doesn’t mean all the sex you’re going to have is going to be positive. Getting closer to the kind of sex you want to have sometimes includes having some bad sex, acknowledging it was bad, and learning from it. Our bad experiences, miscommunications, and bedroom fails are great ways to learn so don’t try to throw them out of your mind like they didn’t happen. A little reflection can help prevent such experiences from happening again.
Developing Boundaries and Encouraging Partners to Do the Same
Boundaries are important in creating a healthy sex life. Sometimes you create boundaries from experiencing something and vowing never to do it again. Other boundaries are created via a gut feeling. However you come up with your dos and don’ts in the bedroom is completely valid. It’s more important that you learn to communicate them to your partners and in favor, listen to and respect their boundaries.
Creating a Relationship With Your Shame
Many people carry shame around some area of their sexuality. Instead of pushing it to the back of your mind or refusing to acknowledge it, do the radical act of inviting your shame to be present. With the eventual goal being to have a shameless experience with sex, make small steps in the right direction. By creating a relationship with shame, we can better understand why we feel such ways and how we can overcome these feelings in a healthy way. Discussing the shame you feel with a partner or a friend or journaling about some of your hang-ups are great first steps.
Seeking Support if You Need it
To be an active part of the sex positive movement, it’s important to notice the need for support in your own sex life. Attending support groups, going to couples or individual therapy, seeking information online, visiting a doctor about your sexual health, and discussing sexual issues with friends and partners are all ways you can support your own sexual wellbeing.
Creating Conversations But Not to Your Own Detriment
Finally, though open conversation is important in being sex positive, make sure to respect your own boundaries on what you feel comfortable discussing. Just because others feel empowered by the #MeToo movement to share their stories of sexual harassment, don’t feel pressured to contribute if you don’t feel ready to. If a certain topic is too triggering to your own trauma to address, that is ok. Not including yourself in some conversations for your own mental wellbeing is respectable.