You may have heard references to “being sex-positive” or “the sex-positivity movement” in popular culture. Various celebrities have brought attention to this movement by speaking out about their beliefs and personal experiences regarding sexuality, sexual health, body positivity, “slut-shaming,” and sexual assault.
So, what exactly does it mean to be sex-positive? While the definition may vary slightly from person to person, sex-positivity generally refers to having a positive attitude about sex, respecting others’ sexual preferences and consensual sexual practices, and treating sex as a normal, healthy part of life, rather than a taboo topic or something to be ashamed of.
Although sex-positivity may seem like a recent phenomenon, similar schools of thought can be traced back to the late 1920s when the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud addressed such concepts in his papers on sexuality and psychosexual matters. Sexual liberation was popularized in the 1960s and early 1970s during the sexual revolution, or the “free-love movement.” Supporters of free love rejected traditional views on sexuality and believed that sexual relations between consenting parties should not be regulated by law. They advocated for freedom of sexual expression in premarital sex, pornography use, public nudity, contraceptive use (like birth control pills), gay liberation, interracial marriage, women’s rights, and other sex-related issues.
Today, the sex-positivity movement looks a little different. Sex-positive advocates often use social media platforms to share information on safe and consensual sex, sex education, and body positivity. There is a wide breadth of topics in the contemporary sex-positivity movement, and different people may emphasize different points. However, these are some of the main areas of interest in the current movement:
- Sex without shame. One predominant belief of the sex-positivity movement is that people should not be shamed for their consensual sexual practices or their personal choices regarding sex. Recently, terms such as “slut-shaming,” “prude-shaming,” and “kink-shaming” have come into the limelight as sex-positive individuals advocate for tolerance and acceptance of everyone’s sexual choices, as long as they are consensual and do not harm others.
- Open communication about sex. Sex-positive individuals feel that people should be able to discuss sex without embarrassment. In general, they support talking about sex with others, especially sexual partners, encouraging sexual experimentation, and asking questions about sex when they arise.
- Safe sex. Safe sex is key in sex-positivity, and supporters stress the importance of regular testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), using condoms, and discussing sexual histories with partners.
- Consent. Everyone has the right to decide when they want to have sex and when they do not, and sex-positivity is not about obligating others/feeling obligated to have sex. Mutual consent is imperative in any sexual encounter.
- Sexual education. Sex-positive proponents advocate for comprehensive sexual education so that everyone can learn how to practice sex in a safe and consensual way.
International Society for Sexual Medicine. (n.d.). What does “sex positive” mean? Retrieved June 15, 2021, from https://www.issm.info/sexual-health-qa/what-does-sex-positive-mean/.
Sex-positive movement. (2021, May 2). In Wikipedia. Retrieved June 15, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex-positive_movement.
Shkodzik, K. (2019, May 24). What Does Sex Positive Mean? Flo. https://flo.health/menstrual-cycle/sex/pleasure/what-does-sex-positive-mean.