I’m a pretty big fan of Sex Positivity, mostly because I’m a fan of people being able to have all the consensual sex they want to have, if they want to have it, and not be made to feel gross about it. Because unfortunately we’re caught in a strange tug-of-war, where we see sex tossed about in the media like glitter on a Lisa Frank folder, but in action, we shame individuals constantly for their sexual identities and desires. And even when we see sex constantly, few of those images of sex are particularly healthy ones. AND even if you do see a healthy navigation of sex in mass media, it’s probably between two white, able-bodied, straight cis people.
So that’s where Sex Positivity comes in right? It’s supposed to save the day, throw condoms out into the great wide sexually-repressed world like a t-shirt gun at a baseball game, and dole out orgasms in an egalitarian fashion to all?
Well—not exactly. Because see, Sex Positive Activism is something I’m a big fan of, but I’ve seen plenty things done under the name of “Sex Positivity” that I would call anything but. So, here’s a few ways to improve the way you perform, write about, or consider, Sex Positivity
1. People Having Orgasms is Great—People Not Having Orgasms Can Also Be Great
If you want to be having orgasms, I hope you have a partner who is enthusiastic about that (or you have a skilled set of hands or sex toys). Because of The Patriarchy– the ominous capitalized article being intentional because it’s EVERYWHERE—some people, oftentimes people with vaginas, are denied sexual pleasure. This sucks, and we need to work to fix it so societally we don’t think of orgasm for vaginas as less important than orgasms for penises (or really, orgasms for any bodies as less important than those for other bodies). But, not everybody actually cares all that much about orgasms.
There are plenty of people who identify as asexual who really could care less about getting their kicks through sex—or people who don’t identify as asexual who feel similarly. Not to mention, there are plenty of reasons to not want orgasms, or sex at all. Like how this piece a few weeks back shows how being survivor of sexual assault and/or being a queer person can lead one to feeling really alienated in mainstream Sex Positive Activism. We need to make sure we have messaging that says sex can be really good yes—but not making it so the flip side of not having or wanting sex is that you’re a bad feminist.
2. More Than Straight, Cis, White, and Able-bodied
Much of the face, and the spotlight, in mainstream feminism tends to be white, cis straight able-women, so it’d shouldn’t be a surprise that that trickles down into Sex Positivity oftentimes—really, really dumb, but not surprising. But if Sex positivity says everyone should be able to enjoy sex if they want to, then we need to mean everyone—all the bodies. y’all. We need to engage in discussions of how not fitting into one, or any, of these categories changes someone’s relationship to sex, and how the world views how their relationship to sex should be.
For example, white women often face infantilization long into adulthood—but women of color are sexualized by society at a very young age. The challenges for the two are valid to address, but we don’t hear women of color’s experience given the same attention at all compared to white women. And of course, intersectionality means you’re not just white or POC—you’re a multitude of identities that make you have a unique relationship to sex and sexual repression. If you’re going to fight for sex positivity, you’ve got to fight for everybody’s sex positivity.
3. For God’s Sake, There is More to Safe Sex Than Condoms
Okay, condoms are very important, and a lot of people are able to use them in their sexual encounters as a contraceptive method and/or STI prevention. But people, there is more to the world of safe sex than condoms. There are a plethora of options—dental dams, female condoms, spermicide, and on, and on, that might actually work more comfortably for a person’s unique situation than a condom. Maybe we throw these items out as options, or mention them in passing, but do we really educate people about them as much as we do condoms? The answer is no. If we advocate giving people knowledge about their bodies, also give them knowledge about what they are using to protect their bodies—everybody should be able to know all their options.
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means, and certainly doesn’t have as much pizzazz as free orgasm for all, But it is a start, and one I think is necessary if we want Sex Positivity to do what its name suggests—create a conversation that works to make positive gains for the sexual beings of people.