sex-positivity is…

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about sex-positivity, especially on teh interwebs. But I don’t see as much clarity around it as I’d like. So here’s my take on what it.

First off, what sex-positivity isn’t:

Sex-positivity isn’t about how much sex you have, how many partners you have, what types of sex you have, or how often you have it. It’s not about being wild and crazy. It’s not about being a slut. It’s not about being kinky or using sex toys. It’s not about being queer. It’s not about being straight. It has nothing to do with any of that.

Sex-positivity is about having a positive relationship towards sexuality, especially your own sexuality. That means that the decisions you make about what you do support your well-being and are based on your authentic self. It also means that you take the well-being and authenticity of the people affected by your choices into account.

One tricky thing with that is that we’re each unique. Things that support my well-being may not support yours, and vice versa. So just because one person has discovered that monogamy, or BDSM, or sex toys can be part of their well-being doesn’t mean anything for anyone else. Many of us forget that, especially in the infatuation phase of a new interest, when we often praise some new sexual discovery to everyone around us.

Another tricky factor is that it’s hard to tease out the influences of the media, our families of origin, our communities, our partner(s), and other external elements. Two people can make very similar choices for very different reasons. One person might decide to do something because it’s genuinely supportive of their well-being, while someone else could do the same thing in order to please a partner, fulfill family expectations, or satisfy peer pressure.

That means that one facet of sex-positivity is self-reflection. Exploring why we do the things we do is an essential element, given how much pressure there is on each of us to comply with these outside demands. That’s a life-long process, which means that sex-positivity isn’t something that we have, it’s something that we do.

So how do you know what’s motivating someone? Well, you could ask them. Unfortunately, the majority of the writing I see around sex-positivity seems to be based on the the projections and assumptions of the writer. Instead, try asking someone what needs, goals or desires they’re trying to meet. Or whether their actions are personally fulfilling. Or how they feel about what they do. And if you’re fortunate enough to be trusted with the answer, believe that they mean what they say. There’s very little more patronizing than someone who thinks that they know better. Sex-positivity is about opening up a dialogue.

Sex-positivity is also about suspending your judgment and making room for other people to make different choices. We all judge other people (as well as ourselves). It’s part of being human, and in my experience, it’s more helpful to learn to recognize judgment than it is to try and repress it. Once we’ve recognized it, we can acknowledge it AND pay attention to the other person’s story. Our judgment may be mostly accurate, or it may not accurate at all. But it’s never the whole picture, which is especially important to remember when someone does something that wouldn’t work for you. The more certain you are that you know better than someone else, the more likely you are to be wrong.

There’s nothing in any of this about how someone has sex because sex-positivity is about why we do the things we do, rather than what the things we do happen to be. There are sex-positive people who are asexual, celibate, monogamous, polyamorous, vanilla, kinky, swingers, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, [fill in the blank here with whatever words you like] and there are people who are any of these things who aren’t sex-positive at all.

Ultimately, the only person whose sex-positivity you can assess is your own.

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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