ANNIE FRAZIER HALLADAY
Sex-positivity is the acknowledgement that there are virtually unlimited ways that people experience their sexuality, and virtually unlimited ways that people have 'sex'. That might mean someone is straight, gay, somewhere in between or something else, asexual or aromantic, really into balloons, group sex connoisseurs, nudist, completely kinky or very vanilla (or somewhere in between those two extremes), sometimes interested in swinging, monogamist for life, single or solo for life, etc, etc...
Sex-positivity is the belief that any expression of sexuality that occurs in a completely consensual way is acceptable for the person/people engaged in it, even if it’s not something that would be great (or interesting, or healthy, or acceptable) for me, personally.
Sex-positivity is the belief that no consensual expression of sexuality (including asexuality, or abstinence) is deserving of shame or ridicule. Humans are infinitely varied and sexuality is infinitely varied, too- and that variation deserves to be protected and respected.
CONSENT of all people involved is the important part. In my book, consent means:
-All people involved have explicitly expressed that they are actively desiring to be involved, each and every time
-The activities that occur and people that are involved have been explicitly agreed on beforehand, with no surprises.
-The entire interaction is free of coercion, force or pressure
-Any person involved is allowed to change their mind or back out at any moment without retaliation from the other(s) involved
-Additionally, everyone involved is able to GIVE consent (this means they are legally of age, legally human and in a reasonable mental space to make decisions for themselves)
There’s an aspect to consent in the kink world that also includes the notions of SAFE and SANE. This means everyone involved needs to be aware of the risks that may be involved and what measures can be taken to make it as-safe-as-possible, and in an appropriate mindset to consent. I like including this in my understanding of sex-positivity and consent.
Sex-positivity stands counter to the dominant sex-negative ideology found in our culture, taught in our private churches and our public schools. Sex-negativity upholds that straight sex, between a married cis man and cis woman in the ‘normal’ penis-in-vagina way is the ultimate goal and the only acceptable way to express sexuality. (cis: people who agree that the gender they were assigned at birth is a reasonably accurate representation of their gender experience).
Along the way in my shifting from a sex-negative to a sex-positive mindset (and whoo, boy has it been a big shift and a long process), I’ve also noticed some things that tend to hide under the guise of sex-positivity that I do NOT consider to be sex-positive.
Talking graphically about sex all the time, to everyone, without knowing that they are comfortable and consenting to the conversation.
So that consent thing. This means that sharing your sexuality with people who don’t consent to you sharing it with them is not okay. Some people like to talk about sex; some people don’t. Some people are highly private when it comes to sexuality; some people aren’t. Some people can hear others talking about sex and sexuality and be excited; for some people it can be very triggering. And it doesn’t make you more or less sex-positive to be in one camp or the other.
Forcing sex and sexuality into conversations when the people you’re talking to are uncomfortable isn’t just not sex-positive, it’s not okay. It’s the in-person equivalent of an unsolicited dick pic (not cool). Check in first! It’s as simple as saying ‘I’m dying to share the juicy details of my date last night, if you’re comfortable hearing them?’, just like you should ask ‘I really wanna send you a sexy picture of myself- what do you think?’ (and then hearing and accepting the response).
This goes for kiss-and-tell, too. Just because you might be comfortable sharing about your own sex-life doesn’t mean your partner(s) consent to being talked about. Sex-positivity means both celebrating and respecting what is comfortable and consensual for everyone.
Telling someone the right way to experience their own body.
Sometimes ‘sex-positivity’ gets wrapped up with new-age or tantric conceptions of sexuality. And while new-age sexuality ideals aren’t necessarily sex-negative, I’ve seen plenty of examples of well-intentioned ideas about wanting everyone to be able to enjoy sex devolve quickly into sex-negativity.
A big part of what informs these new-age conceptions of sexuality is the pleasure/orgasm gap: the idea that sex and ideas about sexuality are often focused on male pleasure, and women’s pleasure is left out of the equation, resulting in many women not having an understanding of the pleasure their body can experience.
While I more or less agree with this, there’s often still a big assumption in place here that all people are having sex in 1 cis male to 1 cis female configurations… an assumption that rests pretty comfortably in sex-negativity and the invalidation of asexuality, nonbinary people and queer experiences.
There’s plenty of corporate interests exclaiming that all women should learn techniques to access their own pleasure (and women having access to that information isn’t a bad thing!). But to me those voices often veer into shaming people who have never had an orgasm or don't find the kinds of sex they've been having pleasurable.
It just ends up sounding like yet another voice telling us what we should be doing with our bodies.
Blaming your partner’s body for your experience of sex.
We all have preferences, turn ons and turn offs, which is a normal part of the human sexual experience. It’s important to remember that it is NOT our partner’s responsibility to fit into those preferences for us. At the end of the day our experience of sexuality is our own responsibility.
If we have a preference for skinny (or fat) partners, it’s not our partner’s responsibility to gain (or lose) weight.
If we want kinky sex, it’s not our partner’s responsibility to be into kinky sex.
If we have a sexual preference for large (or small) breasts, it’s not our partner’s responsibility to have enhancement (or reduction) surgery.
If we have a preference for circumcised (or uncircumcised) penises, it’s not our partner’s responsibility to get a circumcision (or foreskin restoration, which is a real thing). The same goes for erectile dysfunction treatments, vaginal surgeries and the myriad other thousands of products and services that are sold to us and done to us on the twisted premise of being in happier marriages, being found more pleasurable by our partner and having a more fulfilled life.
Sex-positivity is never about forcing or expecting our partners to configure themselves to meet our desires. Instead, it's about finding the places where our desires do overlap and exploring that shared space together.
If something about the way we have sex with our partner isn’t pleasurable for us, it’s our own responsibility to speak up and work together to find a different way to relate that is pleasurable for us both.
Here’s the scary part: this might mean that we don’t get everything we’ve ever wanted from one person.
Here’s the good news: that’s completely okay! And actually, it’s a great way to honor the people that you and your partner(s) actually are rather than contribute to the fictitious version of the people that you want each other to be.