What Does "Sex Positive" Mean, Anyway?

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SexPosi_1Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
Are you a member of the “sex positive” movement? While that may sound like a radical idea – one that evokes marching through the streets in your bra and orgies — it’s actually a fairly simple concept stressing a healthy attitude towards sex.

The term sex positive, which has been thrown around a lot recently, comes with varied connotations. The worst among them are that those who embrace sex positivity are sluts who recklessly expose themselves to countless diseases. But, the truth is, you may already be practicing a sex positive lifestyle without knowing it.

So, what exactly is it? “Being sex positive is all about embracing that sexuality is a very important part of who you are, irrespective of your age and irrespective of the social construct,” says Dr. Michael Krychman, certified sexual counselor and sexual-medicine gynecologist. “It means maintaining a healthy attitude towards sex — or lack thereof — and valuing it given your individual needs.” Sex positivity also embraces the idea of being sexually educated and staying safe.
SexPosi_2Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
Though sex positivity may be the attitude du jour, it actually started quite some time ago. Essentially, way back in the 1920s, Wilhelm Reich, a psychoanalyst and student of Sigmund Freud spread the word that sex wasn’t the terrible, awful, no good, very bad thing that everyone had chalked it up to be. In fact, he said, embracing our sexual side could actually cure many of our ailments. Suddenly, sex wasn’t just for procreation anymore! “Sexual health and general health go hand in hand,” Dr. Krychman explains.

“Sexuality is not only this esoteric concept of feeling good, but there are also physical health benefits—lowered stress and anxiety, improved compliance with medication, etc.” Of course, that idea didn’t exactly spread like wildfire in the 1920s. But, it picked up some steam during the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and has only gained momentum since.

Today, sex positivity is all about embracing sexual diversity. “If a woman is sex positive, she’s more apt to fight the social norms of what society is saying her sexuality should be,” Dr. Krychman says. No, we don’t have to fit into a homosexual or heterosexual box. We can feel free to accept who we’re sexually attracted to when we’re sexually attracted to them. No, we don’t have to be ashamed of our number of partners. Instead, we can take pleasure in learning about our bodies — whether that means with others or by ourselves. And no, we don’t have to let others tell us that we can’t have sex until we’re married, or that we shouldn’t have sex with a person who is “wrong” for us.

Really, it’s all about taking ownership of ourselves and our decisions. It does not mean that we will have sex with anyone, but simply that we have the right and the freedom to have sex with anyone we choose. It also means that we embrace the decision to not have sex if we don’t want to, and to accept when others don’t want to have sex with us.
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While all these things may seem obvious to many modern women (why shouldn’t we get to choose what we do with our own bodies?), not everyone sees it that way. “Women, especially, are still under the watchful eyes of those with puritanical attitudes,” Dr. Krychman says. “There are still a lot of preconceived ideas—political, cultural, religious, geographical—that affect how a woman views herself, and the reaction she's going to get from society.”

Still, we’ve come a long way, baby. Examples of sex positivity today include Slutwalks, protest marches that call for an end to slut shaming and rape culture. Not to mention that there's an abundance of magazines, books, and websites (like Refinery29!) where women can go to learn about their bodies and have open, honest conversations about sex. Dr. Krychman also points out a recent ad in People magazine: “In this mainstream magazine, there was an ad for a medication that was approved for moderate to severe dyspareunia, or painful sex, associated with dryness during menopause,” he says. “This is really revolutionary because it shows older women empowered and wanting to be sexually active. That’s definitely breaking social norms in a sex positive way.”

Staying sexually active and healthy until we’re old and gray? Now that sounds like an idea we can all get behind.