Jun 272010
 

It takes a lot to write and teach well about sex. One mandatory requirement is a sex positive attitude.

What does it mean to be sex positive?

I looked all around the internet for a definition that really described what’s encompassed by the term and didn’t find one that I felt really did it justice. Cory Silverberg reviews a number of definitions at about.com. I particularly like what Carol Queen had to say:

“Sex-positive, a term that’s coming into cultural awareness, isn’t a dippy love-child celebration of orgone – it’s a simple yet radical affirmation that we each grow our own passions on a different medium, that instead of having two or three or even half a dozen sexual orientations, we should be thinking in terms of millions. “Sex-positive” respects each of our unique sexual profiles, even as we acknowledge that some of us have been damaged by a culture that tries to eradicate sexual difference and possibility. Even so, we grow like weeds.”

Right on sister.

I asked Twitter, too – @missjuliesunday said:

here’s what i use: (programs/activities/etc convey that) sex is fun and pleasure is good for you.

@pamelamadsen said:

…I would say “Shame free enjoyment of healthy sexuality”

@heathercorinna said:

Whoo boy. Talk about a big question! Barest basics, IMO? View of sexuality as beneficial, not either bad or neutral.

Shame-free, healthy, good for you, beneficial. Sex-positivity, it turns out, says, “Sex? It’s positive!” Generally the definitions seem to include the themes of acceptance of diversity and a broad understanding of sex as a biological and cultural aspect of humankind.

Sounds nice, eh? It’s also inherently feminist and progressive. You have to think being a woman is just as good as being a man, in order to believe that sex, all sex between any number of consenting adults, is a-okay.

But actually DOING sex positivity is rather more difficult than you think. Folks who teach about sex for a living are supposed to spend a whole bunch of time being exposed to diversity and examining, reexamining, and adjusting our attitudes about sex. If we take our jobs seriously, we are constantly working to overcome our own hangups and barriers, so that we are constantly accepting and supportive of all forms of consenting sex. Broader, broader, broader. Like yoga – working toward feeling more and more comfortable with a deeper and deeper stretch. It’s hard work – there are some things that I haven’t let go of, despite 15 years of exposure and self-assessment and relaxing into acceptance.

It gets complicated sometimes. Say you’re a gay rights activist in the 80s. It sure does help your cause if all the gay folks you know, well, to put it bluntly, act straight. Monogamous. Vanilla. Long-term partners hosting dinner parties with chicken picata, yellow cake, and moderate quantities of moderately nice Merlot. You might have a hard time expressing joyful support for a flaming queen of a boyslut, because you perceive that queen as undermining your political goals. After all, the middle aged, middle class, white straighties who write legislation find it easier to cope with homosexuals who don’t, you know, SEEM homosexual.

There are lots of people whom you might assume are sex-positive by virtue of their work or their lifestyle who… well… not so much.

Gay people who think bisexual people are just straight folks with a wild side or gay folks who aren’t ready to come out. That’s sex negative. Kinky folks who judge and shame vanilla folks? They’re just as sex negative as the vanilla folks who judge and shame the kinky.

I say all this by way of describing why Jesse Bering’s article about masturbation pissed me off. In addition to his implication that, like, girls are gross, he also thinks it’s okay to question someone else’s sexual orientation. Like this:

This is one of the reasons, incidentally, why I find it so hard to believe that self-proclaimed asexuals who admit to masturbating to orgasm are really and truly asexual. They must be picturing something , and whatever that something is gives away their sexuality.

This shows a basic misunderstanding of what asexuality is, as well as a condescending attitude of, “I don’t believe your experience is what you say it is,” and that’s sex negative.

I can’t stop Dr Bering from writing about sex – and christ knows the fact that he writes a column for Scientific American shows that the intellectual world doesn’t really give a rats ass about challenging sex-negative attitudes – but I want to offer my little bleat of frustration that 63 years after Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and 57 years after Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, people still think it’s okay to judge and doubt other people’s sexual realities, if they’re different from their own. Either folks can’t spot sex negativity when they see it, or else they don’t much care.

Is it a big deal? I certainly think so – and not just for its own sake. Sex positivity brings with it anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, anti-classism, antisectarianism… if sex is good for everybody, that means it’s good for EVERYBODY.

Sex positivity is hard work – maybe I’ll do a post about why (I think) it’s hard work for people to stay open-minded about sexuality that isn’t their own. But I’m quite convinced that world peace hinges on global acceptance of sexual diversity. Really. So I get pretty pissed off when I see something that looks an awful lot like institutionally sanctioned sex negativity.

Emily Nagoski

  6 Responses to “sex positive”

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  1. Thanks for writing this. I’ve been vanilla-shamed by my friends a little, and
    “whatever that something is GIVES AWAY their sexuality”
    pissed off by a psychologist that insisted in twisting my words to “reveal” my “true” sexual orientation (wtf?)
    Also, I can masturbate without picturing a scene in my head. I guess I find myself sexy enough :P

  2. “Sex positivity brings with it anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, anti-classism, antisectarianism… if sex is good for everybody, that means it’s good for EVERYBODY.”

    Antisectarianism?

    • I was looking for one word that meant “not discriminating based on religion” – you got one? I’ll use it forever.

  3. Atheism.
    ;)

  4. I think the thing that croggles me most about the quote once I pare off the raw assholery is the “They must be picturing something”.

    Must they?

    Really?

    What, is it impossible to masturbate without visualisation? It just keeps those fingers from moving in a pleasant fashion?

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