“Sex-positivity” or being “sex-positive” are buzzwords you’ll find being thrown around liberally on social media, by celebrities, and sex-orientated businesses and brands.
But some of them are missing the mark and the meaning of the term has been muddied or altogether lost.
Sex educators, academics, sex workers, and pornography directors can agree that the term has been taken advantage of, while it has also been embraced for good, reports the BBC.
What they can’t agree on is a single definition of the term, which can encompass everything from anti-racism to male nudity in movies, depending on who you ask.
Although, this open-endedness and adaptability to an individual context might just be the point of what it is to be truly “sex-positive”.
Right off the bat, sex-positivity is not just about being happy about sex, despite how it sounds, nor is it about having sex with anybody and everybody.
Sure, it is encouraged to enjoy sex, but at the core of the term, sex-positivity is really about openness to a variety of sexual orientations, interests (or lack thereof), identities, and expressions.
Yep, it is totally fine to not enjoy or want sex, if you’re open enough to embrace being a sex-positive asexual.
The crux of the matter is nuance, with the term evolving over many years.
Swedish erotic filmmaker Erika Lust says sex-positive and queer communities have existed for years, long before Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich coined the term ‘sex-positivity’ in the mid-1900s.
A therapist named Aida Manduley notes that sex-positivity has gone through various lulls and resurgences, from the free love movement of the 1960s and 70s to the more recent use of the term on social media.
A big shift in sex attitudes across the globe happened in 2002 when the World Health Organisation updated its definition of sexual health:
[It changed] to include pleasure, safety, a lack of coercion and freedom from violence and discrimination – an approach that acknowledged the positive aspects of sex, as opposed to focusing on the risks.
This new definition widened the discussion and helped influence the creation of organisations that adopted a more joyful outlook on sex.
This includes The Center for Positive Sexuality that was launched in 2007, according to Emily Prior, the executive director.
Basically, sex-positivity is a direct response to a world full of sex-negativity, or attitudes that attach shame and judgment to people’s varying experiences and feelings about sexuality.
I recall this iconic moment from Mean Girls:
This sentiment has been prevalent in the media and school system, but the sex-positive movement is working to rectify outdated attitudes.
Sex educator Goody Howard defines sex-positivity as “operate[ing] in spaces with information around sex and pleasure, without shame or stigma”.
Manduley, according to a paper they recently co-authored titled Defining Sex-Positivity in Therapy, says the varying definitions of sex-positivity is a good thing:
“We see this openness as beneficial, as it leaves room for therapists and clients to establish their own definitions to address therapeutic goals,” the authors write.
Crucially, different cultures have different values regarding modesty and communication, so speaking frankly about sex with some people may not actually be the most sex-positive approach, if that fails to acknowledge their comfort zone.
Manduley considers sex-positivity a “framework and lens” to use with clients, not a “prescription” that dictates how they must discuss and understand sexuality.
For some folks, the term means “your body is your own” while others see sex and looking sexy as power “instead of submission to the male gaze”.
Likewise, in the adult entertainment industry, sex-positivity is making misogynist and racist tropes less dominant and indie porn filmmakers are leading the charge.
As folks become more interested in educated and open discussions, the momentum will only continue.
Prior is looking forward to the day that organisations are no longer needed to bastion the idea of sex-positivity because the term will have evolved into a cultural norm.
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