What Does It Actually Mean to Be ‘Sex Positive’?


Young beautiful couple drinking coffee in bed at morning.

The phrase “sex-positive” has probably been used in conjunction with popular hashtags like #FreeTheNipple, #EffYourBeautyStandards, and #SexualHealthIsHealth.

But sex positivity is more than just brazen nudity, boisterous trios, and routine STI testing; it’s a way of living that exchanges shame for pleasure and condemnation for freedom.

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What is it?

Sex positivity, in its broadest sense, asserts that having sex may be beneficial to an individual’s life.

The premise behind sex positivity is that people should be free to embody, explore, and learn about their sexuality and gender without fear of discrimination or shame, adds Texas-based sex educator Goody Howard.

According to trauma-focused therapist and sexuality educator Aida Manduley, LCSW, “it involves being nonjudgmental and respectful regarding the diversity of sexuality and gender expressions, as long as there is consent,” adding that sex positivity encourages a particular set of behaviors.

Is it possible to be ‘sex-negative’?

Of course.

In fact, it’s likely that you are sex-negative unless you’re actively trying to change that.

But don’t take it personally. It’s society, not you specifically.

According to Howard, “Sex prejudice permeates every aspect of our society.”

Even on the hottest days, Howard claims that sex negativity tells girls to dress more before leaving the house. Despite the fact that breastfeeding in public is what breasts were designed for, parents are being chastised for doing so.

Other examples of sex negativity include:

  • violence against women, transgender people, and sex workers
  • Sex education programs that only emphasize abstinence or reproductive sex
  • purity pacts
  • Instagram shadow-banning sex educators
  • slut-shaming and victim-blaming
  • the “good girl” versus “bad girl” trope

“Sex negativity approaches sex and sexuality from a place of fear, oppression, and stigma,” claims Manduley.

Sex prejudice presupposes that human sexuality is innately:

  • dirty
  • dangerous
  • disgusting
  • unnatural
  • uncontrollable
  • risky

Where did this idea come from?

In the 1920s, psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich is frequently credited with creating the phrase when he asserted that, in contrast to common belief, sex is truly a positive and healthy activity.

As you may expect, the concept lacked any momentum at the time. However, it was given a second chance during the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

The phrase has recently become more widely used as the current Trump administration has intensified its attacks on the rights of sex workers, gay people, and trans people, particularly those of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.

What’s the point?

The Whole ThingTM of sex positivity eliminates stigma and condemnation surrounding sex, sexuality, and sensuality.

“Being controlled by shame and judgment is a miserable experience — it inhibits your pleasure, worsens your mental health, and interferes with your life,” says Philadelphia-based sex educator and founder of the Purity Culture Dropout Program, Erica Smith, M.Ed., which works with individuals who were brought up with evangelical sexuality beliefs.

Being sex-positive can be a huge source of health, celebration, nourishment, healing, and well-being because sex and sexuality are such big concepts that permeate every aspect of our life, according to Manduley.

In other words, it can significantly enhance every aspect of your life.

Do you have to have sex to be sex-positive?

Nope. “You don’t have to have sex to be sex-positive,” Smith asserts.

You must, however, sincerely think that, as long as consent is given, other individuals are free to engage in any form of sexual activity with whomever they choose.

How do you become sex-positive?

Full transparency, becoming sex-positive requires:

  • commitment
  • patience
  • bravery
  • time

It takes effort! But it’s labor that’s worthwhile.

“It requires an ongoing dedication to becoming increasingly inclusive and aware,” adds Manduley. It necessitates a dedication to engaging in anti-oppressive ideologies and behaviors.

The first stage, in Howard’s opinion, is to become aware of all the times you aren’t being sex-positive, perhaps as a result of your upbringing in a sex-negative environment.

For instance, Howard explains, “Let’s say you think’slut’ when you see someone in a crop top.” “Determine why you reacted the way you did. What made me feel that way?

Similar to this, she advises you to consider why you feel uncomfortable when you judge someone for being polyamorous. What actions must I take to cease having that feeling?

Do those things after that.




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