I recently came across this online article in Everyday Feminism: “5 Myths Sex-Positive Feminism Can Perpetuate About Women Who Don’t Do Casual Sex.” (1) I thought it was a great article and it resonated with me because I am sex-positive AND monogamous by conscious choice.
“Just as people shouldn’t have to defend their decision to have many sexual partners, they shouldn’t have to defend their decision to have few or none. We already judge women by their sex lives too much, and we don’t need more of that from within the feminist community…Feminism should give us the option to follow or reject gender roles – not the compulsion to reject them.” – Suzannah Weiss
So what does Sex Positivity Mean?
According to the International Society of Sexual Medicine (ISSM) sex positivity means having positive attitudes, i.e. understanding and having no feelings of shame about one’s own sexual desire and sexual identity, and being comfortable and tolerant of the consensual sexuality and behaviour of others. It is understanding your own sexuality and what it means for you and your relationships.
The ISSM highlights certain traits & behaviours:
- Learning more about sex and sexual activity – understanding their partner’s as well as their own bodies, as well as the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects involved with intimacy.
- Understanding the importance of safe sex for both themselves and their partners. Safe sex can include discussing sexual histories, being tested for sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and using condoms, and
- Understandiing that safe sex also includes emotional and psychological safety, such as supporting a partner with a sexual dysfunction or one with a history of sexual abuse.
- Being sex positive means more than just considering sex to be a healthy part of life that should be enjoyed but acknowledging that sometimes themselves or their partners don’t want to have sex, or that sexual trauma or different religious and cultural upbringings can make open discussion or sexual expression difficult.
- Sexually positive people accept others’ sexual practices, as long as the participants are consenting and feel safe, without moral judgment. This means accepting sexual behaviors that might be different from their own, such as having many partners, engaging in threesomes, or swapping marital partners, different sexual orientations & alternate lifestyles. (3)
Please note that while sex positivity is free from moral judgment it oughtn’t be free from CRITICAL ANALYSIS.
Sex positivity isn’t swapping one set of blind beliefs and practices for another set. Looking at the traits mentioned above, sex positivity is as much about consciously examining your own and your partner’s motivations, pleasures and desires in a fully consensual and safe way as it is acknowledging the socio-political and psychological factors that shape or place pressures on yourself and your partners.
I’m acutely aware that there are some inherent positions that Feminists have to negotiate for themselves in regards to heterosexuality, especially when individual women’s desire and feelings of empowerment are expressed via traditional patriarchal power arrangements are at odds with the collective effort to dismantle those actual traditional practices and beliefs. Sex work, pornography, BDSM, polyamory and even casual sex with many partners are some areas where Feminists find it difficult to agree that they are liberating choices.
“It is entirely impossible for us to untangle ourselves from our socialization. It plays a part in every single thing that we do – including sex.”
“The argument is that just because it’s empowering for you personally doesn’t mean that it does women on the whole any good.”
“But at the core of this issue is a question about whether or not the sexual availability and flexibility of women is really liberation or if it’s “new sexism…if the “new normal” – or the “new ideal” – of womanhood is to be “sexually liberated” (most often seen as being appealing and pleasing to men, just openly), then how is that any different?”
– Melissa A. Fabello (4)
There are no simple answers to that dilemma but critical analysis is a key way for every individual to make informed choices about what they want to explore and experience, and how they go about it, ethically. An increasing focus on psychological safety, and greater understanding of, and adherence to, consent principles and laws can lead to safer, less inhibited and more enriching interactions are just some ways in which critical analysis can enhance our experiences.
Critical analysis leads to a greater understanding of who we are, what we like, and what we desire. It’s why I no longer am blindly monogomous: I am consciously monogamous and understand how my experiences and upbringing have shaped my psychology and attitudes towards what I value in a love-based relationship, and because I know who I am, I can easily accept other people’s choices without feeling threatened or judgmental. It doesn’t stop me being attracted to other people but it does mean that I don’t act on that attraction. I know myself. I know what I value.
(1) “5 Myths Sex-Positive Feminism Can Perpetuate About Women Who Don’t Do Casual Sex”, Suzannah Weiss.Everyday Feminism.
(2)& (3) “What does “sex positive” mean?” International Society of Sexual Medicine, © ISSM.
(4) “3 Reasons Why Sex-Positivity without Critical Analysis Is Harmful.” Everyday Feminism.