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What Does It Actually Mean to Be ‘Sex Positive’?

May 23, 2024

You've probably heard the term "sex-positive" used in conjunction with trendy hashtags like #FreeTheNipple, #EffYourBeautyStandards, and #SexualHealthIsHealth.

But sex positivity is a way of being that replaces shame with pleasure and judgement with freedom. It is far more than unabashed nudity, rowdy threesomes, and regular STI testing. Continue reading to find out more.

What Does It Mean to Be 'Sex Positive'?

In general, sex positivity asserts that sex can be a positive force in a person's life. More than that, sex positivity is the idea that people should be able to embody, explore, and learn about their sexuality and gender without judgement or shame, according to Texas-based sex educator Goody Howard. "It entails being nonjudgmental and respectful of the diversity of sexuality and gender expressions, as long as there is consent," says trauma-focused therapist and sexuality educator Aida Manduley, LCSW, adding that sex positivity encourages a specific set of behaviours.

Is it possible to be a "sex-negative" person?

Is it possible to be a "sex-negative" person?

Sure thing. In fact, unless you're actively working to become sex-positive, you're probably sex-negative. But don't take it personally. It's not so much you as it is society. "Sex negativity is ingrained in the way our entire society operates," Howard says. "Sex negativity is telling girls to put on more clothes before leaving the house, even on the hottest day," Howard says. "It's chastising parents for breastfeeding in public, despite the fact that that's what breasts were designed for."

Here are some more examples of sex negativity:

  • violence against sex workers, trans women, and women
  • abstinence-only sex education and sex education focused solely on reproductive sex
  • Pacts of purity
  • Shadow-banning sex educators on Instagram
  • victim-blaming and slut-shaming
  • the "good girl" vs. "bad girl" stereotype

"Sex negativity approaches sex and sexuality with fear, oppression, and stigma," Manduley explains.

Sex negativity is based on the assumption that human sexuality is inherently:

  • Dirty
  • Dangerous
  • Disgusting
  • Unnatural
  • Uncontrollable
  • Harmful
  • Risky

What inspired this concept?

In the 1920s, psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich is widely credited with coining the term when he stated that, contrary to popular belief, sex is actually a good and healthy thing. As you might expect, the concept didn't gain traction at the time. However, it found new life during the sexual revolution of the 1960s.The term has recently resurfaced as the current Trump administration has increasingly attacked the rights of sex workers, queer and trans people, and especially Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour.

What exactly is the point?

The Whole ThingTM of sex positivity is removing shame and judgement from sex, sexuality, and sensuality. "Being controlled by shame and judgement is a miserable experience — it inhibits your pleasure, worsens your mental health, and interferes with your life," says Erica Smith, M.Ed, a sex educator in Philadelphia and founder of the Purity Culture Dropout Program, which works with people who were raised with evangelical sexuality beliefs. "Becoming sex-positive can be a tremendous source of health, celebration, nurturance, healing, and well-being," Manduley says, because sex and sexuality are such vast concepts that intertwine with all aspects of our lives. In other words, it has the potential to significantly improve your entire life.

Is it necessary to have sex to be sex-positive?

Is it necessary to have sex to be sex-positive?

Nope. "To be sex-positive, you don't have to have sex," Smith says. "However, you must genuinely believe that other people can have sex with whomever they want as long as consent is involved," she explains.

What steps do you take to become sex-positive?

What steps do you take to become sex-positive?

To be completely honest, becoming sex-positive necessitates:

  • Patience
  • Time
  • Commitment
  • Bravery

It's exhausting! But it's worthwhile work. "It takes an ongoing commitment to becoming more inclusive and aware," Manduley says. "It necessitates a commitment to anti-oppressive philosophies and practises." The first step, according to Howard, is to become aware of all the times you are not being sex-positive — most likely because you grew up in a sex-negative culture. "Let's say you think'slut' when you see someone in a crop top," Howard says. "Ask yourself why you reacted the way you did. "What made me feel that way?" Similarly, she suggests that if you find yourself judging someone for being polyamorous, you should ask yourself: Why does that make me uncomfortable? What steps should I take to stop feeling this way? Then take those actions.

Where can you find out more?

Without a doubt, @sexpositive families is one of the best sex-positive resources available. Melissa Pintor Carnagey, a Black and Latinx sexuality educator and licenced social worker based in Austin, Texas, founded it in June 2017. "What makes @sexpositive families so powerful is that it gives you the tools to check your sex-negative behaviour so that you don't pass those messages on to your children," Howard says.

Find your happy spots through our erotic educational courses

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