Last week was Pride week in my city. This year, I’ve been thinking, not so much about my own journey with homophobia, (See My Journey with Homophobia), but about my own journey with toxic perspectives on sexuality, in general.
Growing up I learned, sometimes from direct messages, and sometimes from implied messages, that boys have very high sex drives and cannot control their impulses. Sex, which I understood to be defined as heterosexual p & v (penis and vagina) intercourse, was to happen only inside a state and church sanctioned marriage. In order to ensure that this happened, Girls, with their much weaker sexual impulses, were responsible to set the boundaries and put the breaks on any sexual interactions with boys. I was informed that as a girl, this is done by dressing modestly, be not staying out late, avoiding parties, and by never flirting (this included calling a boy on the phone for ANY reason; giggling too much; or revealing a crush -to ANYONE). On a date (which I was not to go on before the age of 16, and even then would likely need a chaperone) I would be responsible for giving a clear and resounding “no” to any sexual advance and to use physical force, if necessary, to prevent a boy from “taking advantage” of me.
I received the message that, for girls or women, having sexual feelings, masturbating, or admitting to sexual feelings about another person meant that your sexuality was out of control. For boys, masturbating or using porn was sinful and should be confessed to an authority figure and repented of. Any experience or expression of sexuality outside of state and church sanctioned marriage was considered dirty, sinful and disgusting. Although, it seemed to me that it was much more serious if a girl were caught being sexually active. I never heard about boys sexual activities. If you experienced or expressed sexuality outside of that context then you were dirty, sinful and disgusting and likely backslidden (no longer a Christian). If you were not a Christian, we all knew that you would go to hell when you died and live for eternity in a lake of fire where there would be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth (that last bit was communicated very clearly). It was assumed by all that gay sex was the worst kind of sex and any hint of fetish or sexual interest outside of cis, hetero, church and state sanctioned marriage was sinful.
Needless to say, this, along with the broader social messages which gave conflicting messages that a woman or girl’s purpose in life was to be sexually desirable and available, while shaming any girl or women who owned their sexuality and was not shy about expressing it, had a impact on my understanding of my own perspective of sexuality. I am not alone in this experience of sex negativity. I find in my discussions with people about sexuality, that many women are embarrassed about their sexual feelings and are revulsed by their own bodies. Frequency of sexual activity does not seem to make any difference in these feelings.
In my conversations with men about sexuality, I find that men often conflate sex with acceptance, love and self confidence (of course this can often happen for women as well). In most cases, for men, sex seems to be the only arena in which they experience meaningful connection with other adult human beings. Most men I’ve spoken to feel that finding emotional connection elsewhere is “verboten.” If men are not getting enough sex (there seems to be no exact definition of how much is enough) they feel rejected, unmanly and anxious. I find this somewhat ironic, given the messages I received growing up, insinuating that men see sex as purely physical and women see it as a holistic experience. (For more on men and emotional connections see Men).
I could go on and on about sex negative messages and you, the reader could probably add many more, but what does it mean to be sex positive?
Here’s an attempt at a definition.
Being sex positive means not only accepting, but embracing and celebrating the wide spectrum of sexual expressions and identities that exist in our world ranging from highly sexual to asexual. It means embracing and celebrating our own sexual identity without shame. It means giving full autonomy and respect to all those involved in a sexual encounter
I will also add a definition of sex which I believe came from the podcast “Pleasure Mechanics.”
“Sex is any activity that has the potential to result in an orgasm.”
This means that… yes, you guessed it… you can have sex with yourself. That you can have all kinds of sex. It means that if you do not have p & v intercourse, you can still be having sex. This may come as a relief to some of you who are in relationships in which p & v intercourse has not been particularly fulfilling and have wondered if there is something wrong with you or with the relationship.
Sex positivity is without judgement about how much sex someone has, what kind of sex they have, or who they have it with. Boundaries of sex positivity include providing the information needed for others to consent to sex with you. It means recognizing power imbalances that conflict with others ability to consent, and avoiding sexual connection with those who cannot fully consent (for example underage people, people who are intoxicated, client or patients of health care or mental health care professionals, students and educators, and other vulnerable parties). It also means honouring commitments to various forms of exclusivity (See Creating a Monogamy Agreement for Long Lasting Fidelity for more on this).
If sex is a positive thing than people will not be ashamed of their own it and will work towards making it the best it can be. They will care for their sexual health and be forthright, with their sexual desires, knowing that no one else is responsible to meet those needs and that there are many ways to have those needs met. Sex positivity means that I can identify my own sexual desires and communicate them clearly, I can also differentiate between purely physical desires and a desire for an emotional connection and find ways to meet all of those needs. If sex is a positive thing, than it is perfectly fine to want sex or to not want sex. It is okay. You are okay.
As a counsellor, I am very cautious about pathologizing sexual behaviours including porn use, fetishes, and fantasies. (For more on this see Do You Have A Sex Addiction? and Porn & You).
For more definitions of sex positivity see https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/08/7-sexperts-share-how-to-be-more-sex-positive/
HOW TO BE MORE SEX POSITIVE
1. Notice your thoughts or feelings when encountering any aspect of sexuality or sexual expression in others.
2. Consider what might have influenced those feelings:
- Check messages about sexuality from authority figures in childhood.
- Check social messages about what is acceptable and what is not.
- Ask yourself, is the situation one where someone is being exploited, coerced, manipulated or abused? If yes – consider what action, if any might be appropriate. If no, then consider challenging your negative or judgemental thoughts about the situation and ask yourself to consider that it might not actually be any of your business.origins of your feelings about it.
3. Review your own beliefs and feelings about your own sexuality.
4. Consider what might have influenced those feelings
- Check messages from authority figures in childhood.
- Review sexual experiences in your own life history.
- Check social messages about what is acceptable and what is not.
5. Consider what beliefs and feelings you would like to experience in response to your own sexuality and that of others.
6. Work on body positivity.
(See “Scars” – A Body Positive Memoir for more on this).
7. Get to know how your own body works and what is enjoyable to you, relaxing, or arousing, on a sensory level.
8. Practice being forthright about your sexual desires.
- Request connection in ways that give plenty of room for others to say no to you.
- Prepare for negative responses, by recognizing your ability to have your needs met in other ways and without reverting to shame, which can become anger and blaming.
9. Practice saying, “no” to things your are not interested in, without apology.
10. Practice asking about and disclosing your own sexual history including: sexually transmitted infections (STI).
See Sex, Death & Money Podcasts “Sexually Transmitted Secrets,” and “How do you Bring up Your STI?”
11. Practice discussing what protection and or contraception is needed with those whom you desire sexual intimacy with.
For more ways to be sex positive check out: https://www.meetmindful.com/yes-yes-yes-5-ways-to-be-more-sex-positive
12. Pass on sex positive attitudes and behaviours to your children:
- By discussing concepts of consent early on in their lives and consistently as their grow older (See the “Tea and Consent Video”).
- By celebrating, and not shaming or judging others expressions of sexuality.
- By encouraging body exploration, and…
- By demonstrating forthright and positive communication about bodies, about sexual behaviours, and about relationships with them.
For more on parenting see https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/12/sex-positivity-in-parenting/
Also check out Sex Ed for Teens, in Families of Faith and Parenting – Sexual & Gender Identity Development.
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