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What does "sex-positive" mean?

Aug 25, 2014

According to Wikipedia

The sex-positive movement is a social movement which promotes and embraces sexuality with few limits beyond an emphasis on safe sex and the importance of consent. Sex positivity is "an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, and encourages sexual pleasure and experimentation. The sex-positive movement is a social and philosophical movement that advocates these attitudes. The sex-positive movement advocates sex education and safer sex as part of its campaign."[1] The movement generally makes no moral distinctions among types of sexual activities, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference.

To me, "sex-positive" means that I recognize that people DO have sex, they do it lots of different ways, and that as long as everyone is a consenting adult those choices are theirs to make.  While I don't necessarily agree that all consensual sex is always healthy and pleasurable, I think that the ideal is to create an environment in which people feel empowered to consent to the sex which would be healthy and pleasurable for them. A common misconception about sex-positivity is that it means everyone should have lots of sex with lots of people - that's not true! Sex-positivity instead is about not assuming that sex *has* to be a negative or shameful, and instead empowering people to make their own choices about sex.

In our culture, we often get messages about people who have "too much" sex or "not enough" sex.  We are told that there are certain people with whom it's "okay" to have sex and others with whom it's not.  We hear about the "right way" to have sex and about all the "wrong" ways.

For me, sex-positivity, or sex in general, isn't about simplistic "right" or "wrong" ways to do things. It's much more complex than that. Here are some factors to consider:

  1. Is everyone involved giving enthusiastic consent?  This may seem obvious, but sometimes we have sex that we're not particularly enthusiastic about.  Say you can tell that your partner really really REALLY wants to have sex but you're tired or hungry or just not in the mood.  When you say "yes" to that kind of sex, is it making you feel better about having sex with them? We all consent to sex sometimes for reasons other than it being what we really want in the moment, but how are you feeling about that decision? Would your "no" be honored? The other area where this can get a bit shaky is when we do things that involve the full consent of all parties in the room but NOT of all affected parties.  If you're in a relationship with someone, do they know about the choices you make that could affect them? Are you honoring your agreements and boundaries?  Do they have the information they need about your activities since you last saw them to consent to having sex with you now?
  2. Is everyone involved enjoying what is happening or able to change what's going on when they don't enjoy it?  If you really like a certain position but your partner really hates it, can they give that feedback without fear of reprisal (or a guilt trip)?
  3. Are you conducting yourself ethically?  My book, Building Open Relationships, talk about some of the ethical considerations in relationships (especially non-monogamous ones). In addition, More Than Two does a good job of explaining the ethics involved in relational decisions.  They boil it down to two axioms - "The people in the relationship are more important than the relationship" and "Don't treat people as things."  Reading sources that look at ethical decision making in relationships can be really helpful for everyone in thinking about the sex they're having or want to have. For instance, is it ethical to ask someone to never contact you first but only respond when you reach out EVEN IF they agree to it?  Things to think about.
  4. Does it increase your happiness?  Sex is supposed to be something we do for (among other reasons) joy and pleasure.  If it's not increasing your happiness, I would wonder why you're still doing it.

So then how does all of this apply to therapy?  Have you ever had a doctor you went to see who you felt like you couldn't be fully open with?  I know I have.  If you can't tell your doctor what you really do, especially when it comes to sexual health or the physical challenges that can be involved in activities like BDSM, they can't fully help you.

When you go to see a therapist, if you can't talk about certain aspects of your life you might not benefit from therapy as much as you otherwise would.  Knowing that your therapist is sex-positive means you can talk about that "weird" way you have to masturbate if you want to get off or the complicated polycule you find yourself involved in.  Seeing the whole person allows therapists, like me, to help you in the most efficient and effective way possible.

What are your thoughts on sex-positivity?

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