Sex positivity is, at first glance, a step in the right direction. And, in many ways, it is exactly that; learning more about sex and our bodies and de-stigmatizing the female body are inherently good. However, sex positivity can be used for evil, as often as it is used for good, especially when it's used to pressure people into sex, to excuse unhealthy sexual behavior, and to unfairly shame people's sexual preferences. These negatives uses of sex-positivity have defeated its original purpose. A new phrase I’ve heard is “sex responsibility,” and while rebranding a movement isn’t necessary, I feel it’s an easy and simple way to encourage us to think about what’s really going on. In the context of sex in a sexist society, we tend to define sex positivity as blind support of all things sex. But what we forget is that sex can, of course, be incredibly unhealthy, even if everyone involved consents.
I must, however, give respect to those who started sex positivity as a movement and use it for good. After all, the reason that sex positivity has these flaws is because it’s been regularly high-jacked by predatory men who wish to change the narrative to better support their behavior, not because it’s always been that way.
Discourse aside, we need to be more mindful of the ways sex unfolds and why it does. How many people do you know only had sex with someone because they were afraid to say no? How many people have been pressured into unhealthy kinks because of the fear of being labeled a “prude?” How many violent and genuinely horrible men get away with abusing women, simply because they do it to get off? Why does mainstream porn teach young men to become rapists, while teaching young women that they secretly want or deserve rape? (Hint: it’s written and directed by rapists) Porn and our media (which is also, as the #MeToo movement has helped reveal, often written and directed by rapists) regularly encourage and depict relationships with reprehensible age gaps; thus women are sexualized at younger and younger ages.
Okay, deep breath. That’s a lot of questions, many of which are about issues entirely beyond our control. So, what can we do about this? What can we work to change?
First, we need to rid ourselves of porn. I’m not talking about individuals selling Snapchats or pictures of themselves, or other sex workers. I’m talking about the industry that produces videos in which women are systematically raped, abused, and thrown away. This, unfortunately, is what most young men watch regularly. They are trained to become violent men who don’t care about women and treat them as objects. They believe that’s simply what sex is, and we must work to dismantle that normalcy of porn, while also holding the correct people accountable, i.e., not the people forced into the industry, but the people running it.
Next, we’ve got to do something about the labels of beauty. The idea that “sexy” is the best thing a woman can be needs to die in a fire. You don’t have to be beautiful! It doesn’t matter! You can be intelligent. You can be clever. You can be skilled and take pride in your work, all without conforming to whatever “beautiful” or “sexy” may mean to one man. It is good to preach that everyone is beautiful, but first we need to show that beauty and sexuality have no bearing on someone’s worth as a human being. Furthermore, we need to remove sex from our identities. You don’t have to have sex, at all. You don’t have to do anything sexual ever, in your life. And, as a society, we should be okay with that.
The reason for this is that when women have been essentially taught from birth that their beauty is most important. We see this "pretty-policing" in the most sublte of ways. For example, little girls are scolded not to get their dresses dirty, while their brother plays uninterrupted in the mud. Similarly, these same young girls have been forced to conform to all sorts of arbitrary beauty standards, making it very likely that aren’t going to have a healthy relationship with sex or with their bodies.
If you’ve been forced to operate under the assumption that your beauty is the most important factor in deciding your worth, you’re less likely to have sex for enjoyment, and you’re more likely to have sex to validate your self-worth. This leads to unhealthy relationships with sex. If you’re more focused on what you look like to your partner during sex than your actual enjoyment of sex, it’s likely not healthy sex. You’ll be less likely to orgasm, and you’ll often feel empty or worthless afterward. I have another article discussing this here.
Hookup culture is also worth mentioning. While it can be healthy and freeing, it’s often very one-sided. Because women are often forced to be very selective and careful in who they date, due to the threat of violence, a woman hooking up with a man experiences much more vulnerability and fear than a man hooking up with a woman. Hookups can be great, but all parties need to be responsible for the mental and physical well-being of their partner(s). This means regular STD testing, knowing how birth control methods work, and holding yourself back if you don’t trust that they are doing the same. Also, realize the cultural expectations and work directly against them; you should encourage your partner(s) comfort, consent, and safety over everything, and they should do the same for you. If you can’t trust them with all this, stay home and masturbate instead. It’s likely to be more satisfying anyway.
Finally, although there are many more things to be said on all these topics, we must discuss kinks. Like I’ve said before, I feel the same way about kinky sex as I do about wearing makeup. Neither are inherently bad, but if women are expected to do it, congratulated for doing it, and punished or shamed or ignored for not doing it, can you really call it “freely chosen?” Kinks are a mixed bag, and I’m not going to tell you what to do and what not to do in bed. However, I implore you to explore why you enjoy these things. Are you really into it, or just expected to be into it? Why do kinks follow gender roles so clearly? If kink was truly removed wholly from our lived experience, wouldn’t there be an equal distribution across genders of who is dominant, or expected to be dominant?
I want to end by saying simply that your sexual experiences don’t define you. If you regret the sex you’ve had in the past, you’re not alone, and I support you. If you were raped, or assaulted, or harassed, it’s not your fault. I’m here for you and support you. If you need time to unpack emotional baggage and/or trauma before sex is healthy for you, go for it. You deserve that time and emotional support from any sexual partner you have. Have sex your way, on your terms, and be responsible about communicating with your partner about what that means. And don’t be afraid to be dirty. Don’t be afraid to laugh, after all, the goal is to enjoy yourself, right?