By Hoya Saxxa
Let’s talk about sex for now to the people at home or in the crowd
It keeps coming up anyhow
Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic
Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it
Let’s talk about sex, baby!
Sex is one of my favorite things to talk about. I can go on and on about it, and as any one of my close friends could attest to, I often do (especially when a bottle of wine is involved).
But for many people, talking about sex is hard to do. At least, it can be difficult to talk about sex openly and honestly. So often, we’re told not to talk about sex, because it’s inappropriate, impolite or TMI. And when talking about sex is shamed and stigmatized, it can lead us to harbor unhealthy and unrealistic attitudes about sex.
These kinds of attitudes are sometimes referred to as “sex negativity.” It isn’t hard to find. For me, sex negativity meant growing up in a Catholic household where talking about sex was a no-no and I never got the birds and the bees talk! I was lucky enough to receive comprehensive sexuality education in school since 6th grade, but I also went to Sunday school, where the only mention of sex was not to have it until marriage. But sex negativity isn’t always religiously motivated. It can also include shaming people for never having sex, waiting for marriage, or abstaining from sex, for whatever reason. Of course, it’s also shaming people for having sex (i.e. slut-shaming) or having certain kinds of sex (i.e. “taboo” sex, like group sex or BDSM). Sex negativity is what causes people to hide their sexuality – sometimes with devastating consequences. Every time we hear of an LGBTQ kid taking their life because they were bullied or pushed into the closet is one too many.
Sex negativity is a deep and pervasive problem in our society that manifests in different ways. While there’s no singular answer to these problems, I think talking openly about sex is a start to solving them. And you shouldn’t need a bottle of wine to do that.
So how do we start having better conversations about sex?
Open and honest communication about sex is a major component of the sex positivity movement, which the unstoppable Kat Kelley wrote about recently. I think sex positivity is an attitude that we should all adapt in our own lives in order to create a happier and healthier society. For me, learning about sex positivity changed my outlook on sex and definitely improved my sex life – and I believe it can change yours as well.
What does sex positivity mean? People often think that being sex positive means you love sex or think that sex is objectively “good.” But the definition of sex positivity is more complex than that. The best explanation I’ve come across is by a sex educator named Charlie Glickman. To him, sex positivity does not mean “sex is a positive thing.” Instead, sex positivity is about “working towards a more positive relationship with sex.”
Sex positivity puts forth a philosophy that challenges our harmful attitudes about sex. First, it advocates for the acceptance and respect of different sexualities. Second, it encourages open and honest communication of sex.
Sex positivity challenges the assumption that sex should look or feel a certain way. We are told so often what sex should look or feel like all the time – from our families, friends, peers, school, TV, movies, magazines, porn…the list goes on. When we don’t fit these standards, we feel like we’re not normal, we’re doing it wrong, or we feel like we should be ashamed for our desires. When others don’t fit these standards, it becomes too easy to shame them as well. But none of us wants to be judged or feel ashamed about expressing ourselves. Sex positivity challenges these standards of sex by advocating acceptance of different gender identities, sexual orientations, and desires, as long as they’re safe and consensual. Whether you’re straight or queer, monogamous or promiscuous, celibate, sexually active, asexual, disabled or able-bodied, elderly or young, vanilla or kinky – again, the list goes on – sex positivity means accepting and respecting these expressions of sexuality equally. By doing so, we reduce our insecurities around being “normal” when it comes to sex.
Furthermore, there really is no such thing as “normal”. Sex positivity can open up a world of possibilities when it comes to sexual expression. In one of my favorite sex-ed videos ever, sex educator Karen B.K. Chan describes having sex as a lifetime of musical “jam sessions,” where each person brings their own “instruments,” skills, and experiences to sex. Each sexual experience is different and open-ended. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes we just need practice – what’s important is that it’s consensual and collaborative, more about pleasure during the process and less about the outcome.
Speaking of consent and collaboration, sex positivity also advocates for open and honest communication around sex. Feeling shame when talking about sex is a learned behavior, which means we can find new ways to talk about sex. We should be able to speak about sex with our peers, friends, and parents. This doesn’t mean you have to share every single experience or talk about sex at every opportunity – but if you feel there is an occasion to talk about sex, you should be able to do so openly and authentically.
Of course, we should always be able to communicate with our partners by expressing our desires, expressing consent and discussing our personal boundaries. Glickman analogizes open communication to ordering food at a restaurant. You wouldn’t ask for everything on the menu or simply let the waiter decide. You’d say, “This is what I want for dinner tonight.” (Or breakfast!)
I believe embracing sex positivity is something anyone can do, regardless of sexual preferences, whether or not you’re having sex, your religion or your upbringing. It’s ultimately about respecting choices and accepting others’ decisions and desires – as well as your own.
The conversation doesn’t stop here. I encourage you to do your own research on sex positivity (The CSPH is a great resource!), ask questions and figure out how to apply this attitude to your own life. If we do this, I believe we’ll all have healthier and happier sex lives – and start building a healthier and happier society.
So let’s talk about sex…
(Note: I don’t use in my real name in this piece not because I’m ashamed to be attached to it, but because I’m employed by the University and my boss respectfully asked me not to, given the nature of our work. But if you have any questions or want to chat, contact Feminists-At-Large!)