Let’s talk about sex. Specifically, sex positivity: the idea that all sex is good as long as it is safe, healthy and consensual. This idea is used to promote sex as a safe and pleasurable practice in order to contrast sexual violence. In the past, men and women have been socialized to view sex differently — men as something to obtain, women as something to withhold. There’s also the additional component of sex being taught only through the heterosexual lens shaped by religious and monogamous influences. Sex positivity offers a different framing, in hopes that sex will be embraced rather than abused or feared.
In my book, sex positivity is a positive thing for everyone involved.
For women in particular, sex positivity allows for women to take control of their bodies, their voices and their choices in a physical and verbal way. Sex positivity advances the notion that sex is defined by consent, safety and pleasure. It is not to be implied by “immodest” clothing or subtle body language, refuting that sex could be inferred from anything beside verbal consent, ideally outlining safety measures and personal preferences to enhance the experience. This emphasis on consent and safety is a means to negate victim-shaming, a common practice surrounding sexual assault that how one dresses or behaves can dictate consent.
But sex positivity does not just provide expectations for sex that would reduce sexual violence, it also puts forth principles that would ensure sex to be a pleasurable experience for both parties. A lot of that pleasure is in itself derived from consent. Sex positivity strives to reduce the stigmas surrounding sex by encouraging open dialogue about sex before, during and after the act itself. By talking more about sex, we can take away a lot of the tension surrounding it and educate everyone on how to make it better, safer and more equal.
But as positive as sex positivity can be, there can also be some downfalls to the practice if its intent is misinterpreted.
A few myths surrounding sex positivity can lead to its misinterpretation. Mainly, the idea that sex positivity is about having lots of sex. While sexual liberation should never be judged, it is encouraged under the standards of safety and pleasure. Sex positivity exists for everyone to practice.
But its ideals aim to empower women in taking more control over their consent and pleasure. Sex has long been within the control of men: when it starts, when it ends and who gains more enjoyment from the experience. Sex positivity encourages women to take the same control into their hands, prioritize that their bodies are not only not taken for granted, but treated exceedingly well. Sexual liberation takes a lot of power away from men by encouraging women to pursue and attain the experience just as much as men do. But sexual liberation still feeds into men’s pleasure, which makes me question whether or not it’s a legitimate way of reversing the patriarchy’s hold.
Pursuing sex for oneself as a woman negates a lot of stigmas that women are socialized into like being demure, being the chased rather than the chaser, being modest and valuing sex as an intimate experience rather than just a physical one. This is not to say that many men do not internalize these same ideas, but they are more commonly instilled among women. Sexual liberation puts more power into women’s hands, but it further validates men’s desires. It would be absolutely anti-feminist of me to suggest that women should take away from men’s desires and power in order to truly equalize themselves. But I don’t think that directly playing into these desires furthers the feminist agenda.
The effectiveness of sexual liberation is an idea I’m still exploring. I find that many women who are very sexually active with men do not derive a lot of pleasure from their frequent encounters. This is not to say that these encounters can’t be more positive. What I think is key is that pleasure is prioritized and verbalized.
Ultimately, sexual liberation and sex positivity are not interchangeable. Sexual liberation can be good, but only if it works hand-in-hand with sex positivity. Women have a long way to go to make sex an equally enjoyable and consensual experience, but it starts with operating under the principles of safety and pleasure.