You’ve probably seen the term sex positivity trending under hashtags like #FreeTheNipple and #SexualHealthIsHealth, but what does sex positivity really mean?
Sex positivity is a way of being; it’s the idea that people should be free to explore and embody their sexuality and gender without any judgment or shame.
Trauma-focused therapist and sexuality educator LCSW Aida Manduley says, “It involves being non-judgmental and respectful regarding the diversity of sexuality and gender expressions, as long as there is consent.”
Sex positivity includes respecting other people’s decisions about their own bodies, supporting medically accurate sex education, respecting different relationship structures, having a non-judgmental attitude towards other people’s consensual sexual behavior, viewing sexuality as healthy and positive, and respecting all sexual orientations and gender
Respecting all sexual orientations and gender identities means not assuming everyone is cisgender and/or heterosexual. It means using people’s preferred pronouns and that everyone should have access to the same fundamental rights, regardless of orientation or gender.
Sex education plays a large part in how we view sex-positivity. Sex education is teaching young people about more than just periods and condoms. Teaching about consent, genitals, sex as a means of pleasure, not just for reproductive purposes – teaching these things helps reduce the stigmas surrounding sex and supports sex-positivity.
Not all relationships are monogamous, and it’s imperative to respect all relationship structures. Monogamy, polyamory, consensual non-monogamy, etc., are all different types of relationship structures. Sex positivity includes not judging monogamy as any better or worse than polyamory and vice versa.
A non-judgmental attitude towards other people’s consensual sexual behavior encompasses sex-positivity; just because you aren’t interested in something doesn’t mean you can’t respect others who are.
Sex positivity means respecting other people’s decisions about their own bodies.
This means respecting people who don’t have sex, respecting people who have a lot of sex, and everyone in between. It also means respecting other people’s right to do what they choose with their own bodies, including what they choose to wear or don’t wear, getting tattoos, having an abortion, etc.
“Unless you’re actively working to become sex-positive, you’re sex-negative.”
Sex negativity is engrained in the way our society operates.
Some examples of sex-negativity are telling girls to put on more clothes, even on the hottest days before they leave the house and admonishing parents for breastfeeding in public even though that’s what breasts were made for. More examples include violence toward sex workers, trans women, and femmes, abstinence-only sex education, sex education that only teaches about reproductive sex, purity pacts, Instagram shadow-banning sex educators, slut-shaming, and victim-blaming, the “good girl” versus “bad girl” trope.
Sex negativity approaches sex and sexuality from fear, oppression, and stigma, which promotes the idea that sexuality and sex are shameful.
Sex negativity assumes that human sexuality is inherently dirty, dangerous, and disgusting.
Sex positivity removes shame and judgment from sex, sexuality, and sensuality.
Erica Smith, M.Ed, a sex educator based in Philadelphia and creator of Purity Culture Dropout Program, says, “Being controlled by shame and judgment is a miserable experience — it inhibits your pleasure, worsens your mental health, and interferes your life.”
To be sex-positive, you must commit to genuinely respecting people’s sexuality and gender identities and believing that people can have sex any way they want with whoever they want, as long as consent is involved.