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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

The Exclusion of Abstinence from Acceptable Sex Positive Choices

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UFL chapter.

The term ‘sex positivity’ has been around for decades, but in previous years, it has had an increase in popularity on social media. It is growing increasingly normal to find content on how to take ‘spicy’ photos, new sex positions, how to please your man in bed, among a plethora of similar sexual content, on platforms like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. Casual scrolling on TikTok demonstrates how comfortable content creators are with discussing their sexual habits and attempting to educate their followers on sex. While I entirely agree that sex should be something that people are educated about, is there a line where ‘sex positivity’ becomes harmful?

Sex positivity is generally described as the idea of being open to consensual sexual encounters, communicating sexual expectations with partners, pursuing pleasurable sexual encounters and removing stigma and shame from sex. Now, I think removing shame from sex is fine, and those who want to freely have sex should be able to do so without shame. But on the same token, those who choose to abstain from sex should have the same privilege. In my experience, there is constant pressure to be having sexual relationships. Hookup culture is normalized, particularly in college, and saying you’re abstinent will leave everyone in the room looking at you like you have a third head. The normalization of hookup culture has led to a stigmatization of abstinence, which seems backwards for a movement that started in order to destigmatize individuals’ sexual choices. Those who are waiting for marriage or even just want to be in a serious relationship when they have sex are called prudish and demonized by the media for being ‘sex negative.’

In PsychCentral’s article about sex positivity, the author says someone who thinks sex is dirty or sinful is considered sex negative. I find it interesting that in an article about freedom of sexual choices, they bash religious views on sex. Are those whose religious values impact their decisions on sex any less entitled to freedom of choice than anyone else? That’s a rhetorical question—no, their choices should be respected just as much. Claiming to be sex positive and a supporter of free choice with sex should not mean you exclude people who are abstaining from sex, whether it’s for a religious reason or otherwise.

For those who are abstaining from sex, it often can be a challenge to navigate sexual conversations. I had a good friend who was waiting for marriage, and almost every day he faced jokes from friends about how he was a virgin and a prude. He and I were the two ‘prudes’ in our friend group who were abstinent, and at one point they started a bet of which one of us would have sex first (spoiler alert: it was a lose/lose bet and neither of us did). Our choices on sex were only ours to decide on, and frankly, it was a bit upsetting to have someone essentially make a bet on our moral codes. While I have had sex before, I am choosing to only have sex with people I have an emotional commitment to because that’s what feels right to me. Throughout my freshman year of college, I had constant pressure to ‘just try’ a one-night stand and to overshare about my romantic and sexual encounters.

After getting hurt by opening up with my girlfriends in high school, I have since become a relatively private person when it comes to my romantic relationships. I don’t really enjoy telling my friends every little detail about the guy I met or explaining my sexual experiences. To me, talking about my sex experiences feels a bit like violating the intimacy and privacy of the experience. I wouldn’t want my partner to give his friends a detailed play-by-play of our sex and my body, so why would I do it to him? I feel strongly that sex comes with a lot of emotional, spiritual and physical aspects, and I’m of the opinion that those things should stay between you and your partner. I never liked when sex came up in conversations with my girls because they’d share their stories, and everyone would look expectantly to me. If I say I’m not comfortable talking about that or sharing that intimacy with other people, it isn’t a surprise they would all see it as being weird or touchy. To be honest, though, I didn’t really want to hear about all their detailed encounters either. Part of sex positivity, to me, should be the ability to say you aren’t comfortable having those conversations or exposing those kinds of experiences without it being some strange and off-putting comment.

To touch on sex education, one of the biggest issues I have with creators constantly posting about sex is the susceptibility to misinformation. Most of those posting about sex have no legitimate basis for their information, and I’m sure a good amount of the so-called sex therapists have no real education on it. This lack of credibility makes users extremely vulnerable to being taught information that is misleading or straight-up wrong. And while I am a big advocate for always doing your own research, I think we all know that a vast majority of people don’t. The amount of people who get their information from TikTok without further research from any qualified literature is honestly concerning, and while that is a separate issue, I think promoting sexual education on social media is a bad idea. Along with those who don’t do further research, this social media crash course on sexual education creates a pressure for people to go above and beyond what they are comfortable with in sex. I would say many of the posts I see about sex are encouraging people (but women specifically) to do new positions, techniques, or acts that they wouldn’t normally do because it will lead to them being better in bed or making men happy.

Sex positivity isn’t inherently an issue. However, I think many so-called sex positives are twisting it into the idea that everyone should be having crazy, wild sex with whomever they want, whenever they want—and if you aren’t, you’re part of the problem. To me, sex positivity should be about embracing everyone’s choices in sex, even if it means they aren’t the same choices you would make. Just because someone’s choice isn’t the same as yours, it doesn’t mean that their choice is an attack on you. At the end of the day, abstinence is a choice. And if sex positivity is about embracing and destigmatizing sexual choices, they might have some work to do.

Riley is a second-year advertising major. She is passionate about entrepreneurship and the world of business, as well as public speaking. In her free time, she can be found at the local race track, volunteering at her church, and watching horror movies.