Sex-Positivity Round Robin: The Sexual-rati, Role Modeling, and Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion

This installment in the Sex-Positivity Round Up comes from Reid Mihalko.


“It ain’t easy being this easy,” is a phrase that recently shot across the Twitter-sphere. I uttered this bumper sticker-worthy quip to a roomful of sex and tech geeks at the 3rd annual Sex 2.0 conference (a conference focusing on the intersection of social media, feminism, and sexuality). True to the nature of the conference, my peers laughed and nodded in sex-positive approval as they blasted the sound bite across the Interwebs.

I identify as a sex-positive slut. My preferred way of getting to know someone is through sensuality and sexuality (Which, btw, is my definition of “slut”). I am also the person who created the non-sexual, boundary and intimacy workshop/social event known as Cuddle Party, the media darling that launched my career when it blew up in the news in 2004.

You might be asking yourself, eyebrow raised and head tilted sideways, “How does a slut create a non-sexual workshop?” The irony isn’t lost on me, either. My journey from Cuddle Party creator to Show-N-Tell sex educator illustrates a lot of what the comment which kicked-off this thread of essays points at: a socio-sexual illustration of Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion – To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

I think the struggle that anyone goes through to discover and claim or reclaim their sexual expression produces a Newton-esque effect: the freedom released in that reclamation must be defended and protected, which is a less-than-expansive reaction. And like Dr. Queen and Dr. Glickman have expressed so eloquently, there isn’t a whole lot of role modeling, or at least hasn’t been till now, for how to combat the human tendency to reactively reduce life into a see-saw: Two sides. Pick one.

Sharing sensuality with others is a lot of work.  We sex-positive folks, and more so for sex-positive professionals, need to do our due diligence to check ourselves and our assumptions if we are going to leave the cultural campsite at large better than we found it. If this role modeling doesn’t come from us, it’s not going to come from anywhere else anytime soon. And, we need to be patient with ourselves and our peers because we, all of us, are surprisingly human, subject to similar foibles and learning curves.

Even the best of the Sexerati tend to over-react at first. Like conservatory students taught to believe classical music is the zenith of musical expression, when the disenfranchised among them discover jazz in a smoke-filled club, the conflict is predictable and knee-jerk: Coltrane and Mingus are the new deities, and to hell with Bach and Mozart! In with the new and screw the old. And we defend our new found love with righteous zeal.

I’ve seen this in sex-positive communities time and time again. Heck, I _was_ that guy when I came out polyamorous. The discovery of my non-monogamous identity, when it came, felt wobbly and vulnerable, like a baby deer in need of protection from the wolves of monogamous convention. I rebelled, and the self-rightiousness felt liberating as I Bible-thumped my married, “conservative” friends with dog-eared copies of The Ethical Slut and Lesbian Polyfidelity.

The tendency to defend one’s expression isn’t always just some infantile reaction. The perceived threats are often real and sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Sexuality is a scary topic for some folks and just because I live in a sex-positive bubble where phrases like “sexual justice” and “heteronormative”  are as common-place as asking who won America Idol or whether or not you enjoyed the latest installment of the Twilight series, doesn’t mean that I won’t be discriminated against and that I won’t get pissed off about it. And it doesn’t mean that hate speech and hate crimes aren’t still happening. They are.

The further “outside the box” one finds one’s sexual self-expression emerging, the greater the expected push back can be from our communities and from culture. And sometimes, unfortunately, those can be violent. So to naively expect sunshine and glitter ponies from everyone you come out to isn’t necessarily smart, but to cast the first stone isn’t helpful either.

But it is helpful to note the human tendency to, in preparing for these possible push-backs, reach for larger caliber pistols with which to arm ourselves. Add to this that many of us arrive at our emancipations with a fair amount of bottled-up anger and frustration at the Culture-at-large and we’ve gone and put hair-triggers on our arsenals. This was definitely the case for me when it came to defending my non-monogamous tendencies, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I occasionally was first to draw, and often over-reacted, using a Gatlin Gun where a water pistol might have been more well-suited.

Eventually, that came to end, not because I got tired of preaching or my friends became poly, but because, at some point, there wasn’t a need for me to defend myself any longer.

My sense of security in my relationship self-expression matured. I didn’t have to defend my relationship choices because I felt secure that no one could take them away from me. Then, and only then, could I begin to see relationships as a continuum of self-expression and not just a see-saw binary. All of a sudden, my friends being monogamists didn’t have to threaten my polyamory (unless I chose to date them, of course!). Then, suddenly, similarly to Dr. Queen’s “it doesn’t mean you’re homophobic if you don’t want to have sex with someone of your own gender,” monogamy became just as valid a relationship self-expression as non-monogamy in my world, just not my self-expression. My love of jazz didn’t mean classical music was dead or irrelevant.

I was free to let my friends rock to Amadeus and not judge them. I began to role model the tolerance I was craving from them, and because of my role modeling, others felt less threatened. It made me a better person and a better educator. I was growing up.

I think, looking back on my own journey, that there was a second step in the reclamation process, and that, perhaps, the sex-positive community at large is mid-wifeing itself through at the moment. It’s the process of becoming self-secure and self-aware enough to make amends.

I know, I know, how very 12-step of me. But don’t you think it’s about time for we, the Sexerati, to give our activist sides a vacation and actually enjoy the sex-positivism we and our elders struggled so hard to pave the way for? Isn’t it time to role model this for everyone? No? Well how about giving our activists a day off at least, with a generous helping of non-bashing for those of whom monogamy and heterosexuality and marriage and vanilla sex actually work well?

Like I’m fond of believing Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the bedroom.” That’s the behavior I want to see the sex-positive movement role modeling.

I’d like to think many of us have surpassed the need for creating an “equal and opposite reaction” in our activism. Let’s role model the security in our individual sexual self-expressions that says to people everywhere, “Find what works for you, what makes you happiest, and do that with people who are the same species as you.” If some people still freak out about my sexual choices, then let them freak out while I live my life and do my best to make my voice heard and have my vote count. But shaming those who still are uncomfortable about my choices seems counter-productive to me.

It should be live and let live, love and let love, which is more about tolerance, free choice and exploration than elitism. Granted, this could be scary territory for some of us because we’ll have to give up being the “evolved ones” and simply enjoy that we get to fuck who and how we want, even when someone’s still got a problem with it. But then again, it ain’t easy being this easy, right?

I’m a slut and a geek, and I also recognize that sex-positive expression runs the gamut from hand-holding to snuggling to orgies to whips and chains. They’re all valid, and, like music, I’ve got my favorites. At this stage of my journey, I’m darn curious what you’ve got on your iPod. Wanna listen to mine?

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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