What are the basic beliefs of the sex-positivism? Well, that depends on who you ask and what stage of the movement you are looking at. Some people argue sex-positivism started as early as the 1930’s with the ideas of Wilhelm Reich.
Yup. This guy. Believe it or not, he was thinking a lot of sexy thoughts.
Others say the groundwork for sex-positive theories were laid in the late 40‘s and 50’s with the research of Alfred Kinsey.
Here he is. I heart Kinsey. Seriously.
Even with his grumpy face on.
Even with his grumpy face on.
Many think the movement gained speed in the 70’s and link it to cultural shifts like the “free love” movement or important work in sex research like the Hite Report. Still others think sex-positivism is deeply entwined with the feminist sex wars of the 80’s. One thing is sure; sex-positivism has gone through many changes and continues to evolve all the time. Sex-positive people don’t always agree with each other on every issue. So within all this healthy growth, change and diversity of opinion in sex-positivism it can be tricky to lay out one basic statement to encompass the entire movement. That said, I think the brilliant Carol Queen captures the philosophy of sex-positivism well here:
"It’s the cultural philosophy that understands sexuality as a potentially positive force in one’s life, and it can, of course, be contrasted with sex-negativity, which sees sex as problematic, disruptive, dangerous. Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent."
Our American society has made some improvements in acknowledging the positive forces of sexuality but I believe overall we are still a sex-negative society. If you don’t believe me, try the following exercise:
Take a minute to think about what you’ve been taught about sex. Now examine what these statements assume about sex. Do they assume sex is a positive force? Do they assume sex is dangerous? Do they assume sex is dirty? Something to earn? Something to withhold? Something that is only for people with perfect faces and able bodies? My guess is that you will find the majority of beliefs our culture teaches about sex portray it as a negative force.
Here’s your challenge for the week. Once a day this week search your thoughts and identify the sex negative ones such as:
Guilt for sexual pleasure, experiences or number of partners
Worry about “too much” sexual pleasure
Use of words like “slut” or “whore” against yourself or others
Thinking sexual pleasure is unimportant or frivolous
Thinking of sex in general as something dangerous or uncontrollable
When you find you are having these thoughts take a moment to examine them. Do you really think they are true or have you just been told they are by friends, family or sex-negative society? Are these thoughts helpful to you? Do they make you feel good about yourself? Do they make you feel empowered? Are they true to your experiences of sex?
The sex-positive movement has changed my life. It has given me permission (and good reasons) to prioritize sexual pleasure in my life. It has acknowledged the importance, depth and value of my sexual experiences. It has empowered me to love and value my body as it is because my body is mine, is powerful and gives me pleasure. It has galvanized me to work toward a world where people are not judged on the number of sexual acts or kind of sexual partners they have but rather how well they treat themselves and others.
What do you think about sex-positivism? Freeing or frightening? Right on or unrealistic? I’d love your comments!
To read more about sex positivism check out:
Queen, Carol and Comella, Lynn. (2008). The Necessary Revolution: Sex-Positive Feminism in the Post-Barnard Era. The Communication Review 11(3):274–291. doi:10.1080/10714420802306783.