I use the term “sex-positive” quite a bit, but I’m not sure I’ve ever clearly defined what I mean by sex-positive.
The foundation of sex-positive is that sex is inherently good. This is different than saying sex is not bad. It is different than saying sex is neither good nor bad. I mean sex, as a verb, is an active positive. It is good to have sex. Sex improves the lives of the participants. It is like saying music is a good thing, or art is a good thing.
In the US that position is not the norm. As an evangelical Christian minister, I was surrounded by an underlying attitude that sex was inherently sinful and, well, just kinda gross. Those who saw themselves as open minded would say that sex in marriage was good, but it was still shameful and not a topic of wholesome conversation. It’s like one didn’t hear people saying “Wow, my husband went down on me this morning before church and rocked my world.” OK, yes it is true that our good friends did stuff like that even when I was in the ministry. Paula and I have been trying for over 20 years to promote a sex-positive world.
This sex negativity is not limited to the religious community. After I left the Christian ministry I worked as a social worker and counselor in public schools and other non-religious settings. I worked in many environments were sex was seen as a latent evil just waiting to bite someone. In theory the social work community believes in sex-positive, they support the equality of homosexual relationships etc.; however, in practice they are continually looking for the insidious appearance of sexual oppression, exploitation and abuse. It’s not that I am saying those things don’t happen. I am all too aware they are quite common, but my experience is there is a strong tendency to turn what began as positive sexual experiences into pathological ones. There is an internal system of rewards to therapist, counselors and social workers to turn people against their own sexual desires, if those desires are outside the social norm. This is where you get the nonsense of so called sexual addition, or sexual acting out.
Sex-positive assumes that people have sex because it feels good, both physically and emotionally. I hate to even put in a caveat, to say sex can be used as a weapon to hurt people, not because it is untrue (I was a social worker after all), but because that is used as an excuse to make abusive sex the norm. In the late 70’s an extreme strain of feminism claimed that all heterosexual intercourse should be equated with rape. This extreme position never gained widespread traction however, it is still taught to be fact in some quarters. The far more common claim that all sexual imagery promotes rape and degrades women did take hold and is a shared truth of that brand of feminism and the religious right.
The best way that you and I can combat the negative use of sex, is to be sex-positive. In a sex-negative world were sex is expected to be hidden behind closed doors and not to be the subject of polite conversation; those who use sex to abuse or exploit thrive. What’s more in this sex closeted world most people don’t have sexual role models; friends, family and acquaintances to which they can look as an example of sexual practice that brings the maximum happiness. I know full well, from professional experience, that many people desperately need guidance to get out of unfulfilling or destructive sexual practices, but they either assume their situation is the norm and/or they don’t know where to turn for an alternative.
I recall posting a news story about parents fighting a school sex-ed program that dares to show an animation of a teenage couple discussing putting on a condom. The assumption is that teen sex is pathological. It is not. Sex-negative people cite studies that show teens who drink alcohol, use drugs and drop out of school have more sex. That fact is indeed true. But the sex-negatives make the false claim that fucking makes kids drink, fucking makes kids use drugs and fucking makes kids drop out of school. That’s nonsense. What it says that kids who get drunk are more likely to fuck when they are. And we needed a study to tell us that? That is just as true for adults. Yea, kids who have crummy home lives find solace in sex. What’s wrong with that? Sex releases endorphins that make the pain go away for a while. Since when is it bad find relief from pain? Using the logic of sex-negatives, aspirin is bad because people who have headaches tend to take aspirin.
The sex-negatives point out that in the US, teen girls who have sex, particularly a lot of sex, have lower self-images of themselves and they feel dirty. Significantly, boys who are sexually active do not have the same shame. So what (or who) is it that makes girls feel shame for their sexual behaviors?
Of course it is the sex-negatives themselves, who create the shame which they say proves sex is dangerous. So the sex-negatives create the stigma that harms girl’s self-image then blame the sex for the pain their stigma creates. In sex-positive cultures, that do not have a culture of “slut-shaming”, those feelings of being worthless and trashy are not there. In our culture, there is no male equivalent of “slut shaming”, rather it is seen as a positive to have a lot of sex. Consequently, for teen boys and young men, frequent sex is associated with a high self-image
And of course, there is teen pregnancy, which is a huge problem in the US. The teen pregnancy rate drives the nation’s high poverty rate. But, who is it that doesn’t want kids to think of having and using condoms is as normal as having and using a toothbrush…..the sex-negatives. Why does the US have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world? Why do nearly ten times as many teenage girls in the US get pregnant than in places like Denmark where sex is not stigmatized. What’s more the pregnancy rate in the most religious states is far higher than in the least religious states in the US. Oh, could that be because the sex-negatives actually cause the problem. To be fair, issues of poverty and social isolation play into to our teen pregnancy rate; however, I would propose the sex-negative activist are likely the #1 contributing factor.
So, my challenge is to live your life as a sex-positive.
In your daily life, in your circle of friends and family treat sex as any other positive; a legitimate topic of conversation and comment.
The flipside is don’t fall into the trap of sensationalizing sexual news stories or other events. Sensationalizing just says this is a “naughty” topic.
Whatever your chosen lifestyle, give equal value to others with differ choices. You may choose serial monogamy, or you may choose polyamory, or any number of things; but others around you, who choose other things, even celibacy, do not need you to tell them your way is better. If they want to ask how to live like you, they will let you know.
The reverse is true, within the bounds of non-offence and care not to violate rules of employment, live your lifestyle openly without shame. Don’t let other’s shame you into hiding. For instance, I know some men look at me as weak because my wife is sexually active with other men, but I can’t let that make me hide, or feel belittled.
If you are a parent, your kids (like ours did) should live in a home were sex is neither flaunted nor hidden. It just is a normal part of life.
And last, be sensitive to provide comfort and support to those who are in sexual boxes. Give them the freedom to be comfortable being themselves around you; only then will they come to you for help to escape their box.
If you live sex-positive, you will impact your circle, however big it is, and you will be surprised how many people you find at your door step who need you.