You Keep Using That Word: Sex-Positive Edition


You Keep Using That Word: Sex-Positive EditionThis post originally appeared on: Undercover Outsider

Sex-positivity, while a concept that has come into my life fairly recently, is also one that’s become pretty close to my heart pretty quickly. Quite frankly, it’s fucking important. It’s one of those things that I haven’t really heard anyone be able to articulate a strong case against. However, I have heard it thrown around wayyyyy too casually and with too broad a meaning for my liking.

As a term, “sex-positive” seems to be going the way of other well-intentioned yet nebulous-in-application ideas. Think “all natural.” We have a general sense of what this is supposed to mean, but it’s just hazy enough that it can be (and is) misused at the drop of a hat to serve whatever purpose it’s intended to (whether or not that misuse is intentional).

This makes me a sad panda.

I’m pro-choice. Pretty fucking staunchly. Does that mean I think everyone should go have abortions? Of course not. For most of us that’s a no-brainer, but I still find myself having to explain that more frequently than I’m fond of. For me, being pro-choice means that I want everyone to be able to make the decision that best fits their life, and not have that decision interfered with.

That’s how I view sex-positivity.

At its heart, what draws me to it as a philosophy/adjective/way of life is that it isn’t complicated. Its beauty is in its simplicity. There are no hard-to-understand tenets. Just one core idea that forms the structure upon which every additional explanation rests:

There is no such thing is normal when it comes to sex and sexuality, and everyone is entitled to have the sex (and the boundaries surrounding it) that feels right for them, free from shame or judgment, in a cultural environment that promotes respect and consent.

I really don’t understand how that gets so fucked up. I just don’t.

Sex-positivity allows everyone the freedom to explore themselves and their sexuality in a healthy way. It recognizes the innate sexuality present in us (but also that some of us are not innately sexual, which is also totally fine). It permits us to seek pleasure (or not), unabashedly and without reservation, without feeling like we need to be ashamed of wanting pleasure or the means by which we experience it.

Looking at sex-positivity from that perspective, the ways I’ve seen it used in our community are not only inaccurate, but blatantly fucking inappropriate.

Sex-positivity does not mean that all sex is good and more sex is better. It cannot be measured in terms of the sex you’re having (“vanilla” sex is no more or less sex-positive than the kinkiest kink that’s ever kinked). You can’t fuck your way to a sex-positive merit badge, scouts. It has nothing to do with the relative openness of your relationship. It is unrelated to your level of comfort discussing your sex and sexuality, or hearing about the sex and sexuality of anyone else. If someone doesn’t want to hear about the asshole you licked last night, they are no less sex-positive than you are. If someone doesn’t want to fuck you the way you want to be fucked (or at all!), it’s not because they’re not as sex-positive as you, and don’t you fucking dare use that term to shame someone for owning what they want and don’t want. Oh, and PS, sex-positivity is not a fucking competition.

For the record, Carol Queen puts all of this better than I could ever hope to (largely because she’s Carol Fucking Queen).

Ultimately, sex-positivity demands that we respect the differences inherent to an arena as broad as human sexuality. It offers accessible and accurate information regarding that sexuality. It recognizes and admits freely that there is no universal set of boundaries or rules. It implores us to look into ourselves to determine those boundaries and rules for ourselves so they can be communicated effectively to the people we choose to communicate them to. It has no tolerance for those who are unwilling to hear and abide by the boundaries and rules of others.

The whole idea is that everyone should be able to experience sex in a way that they can feel good about. Whether that’s in a monogamous relationship, with a stranger in a bathroom, in a room full of people, on camera, by yourself, or any other possible combination of circumstances. It’s all fucking ok. And using the term sex-positive (or allowing it to be used) in any other context is not only irresponsible of those of us who know better, it’s actively damaging to the community that so many people are working to build and maintain.

I am asking us to do better than that. I am asking us to be better than that. I’m asking for this to be more than a phrase or an idea that gets tossed around. I’m asking for it to mean something, to affect the way you relate to yourselves and the people around you. I’m asking all of us to check our sexy egos at the door. I fell in love with this movement and this mission fast, and hard (as I tend to). I see it. I see what it can do, what it can offer us. I see how powerful it can be. I am asking you to help own it and bring it to life, for me and you and everyone else this impacts. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about you. This isn’t about our precious fucking feelings. This is bigger than us.

At the end of the day, we’re all special and unique little snowflakes. We are all shaped by the lives we’ve led and our own personal histories and backgrounds. That’s what makes sexuality such a beautiful thing. My sexuality is mine and mine alone, to discover and grow in and share with others or keep to myself. It’s high time we start celebrating the variance among us.

The bottom line: Love how you love, fuck how you fuck, and try not to be a douchebag about it.

Now somebody get over here and help me off my soapbox before I break an ankle.



  1. This is a short explanation of the idea of sex positive that was adopted with slight changes by the Seattle Foundation and Center for Sex Positive Culture as part of their vision and mission statements.

    “Sex positive culture asserts that the appropriate uses of sex extend beyond reproduction. They include creating personal pleasure, bonding intimate relationships, promoting spiritual growth, and enhancing emotional and physical health. In a sex positive world, everyone would have the freedom and resources to create a sex life that delights and empowers them.”

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