What You’re Getting Wrong About Sex Positivity

Sex positivity is all the rage, but that doesn’t mean your sexual habits should go unchecked.

The pillar of modern feminism is female choice. There’s the choice to terminate pregnancies, the choice to become a housewife or CEO, and the choice to view sex strictly as empowerment — or not.

Maybe you’ve heard the term “sex positive,” which is attributed to Austrian psychoanalyst and Freud student, William Reich. While the International Society for Sexual Medicine says that “sex positive” can be interpreted in more than one way, being sex positive generally “involves having positive attitudes about sex and feeling comfortable with one’s own sexual identity and with the sexual behaviors of others.”

Reich thought that healthy attitudes towards embracing sex would yield positive effects for the physical and mental health of individuals, and society as a whole. Reich would become a prime inspiration of the 1960s Free Love movement and today we see sex positivity all around us, such as “Slut Walks” conducted across the country to end rape culture.

But can you be both sex positive and critical?

sexy girl cuddling

We know that a one-size-fits-all approach never works. For the woman who asserts her right to view sex as an all-empowering act, there’s the woman who with a leerier eye towards sex. Her own sexual experiences might’ve been terrible. Or for her, sex and manipulation go hand-in-hand. Or she believes that sex is dominated by the patriarchy, and we should be wary about how we engage in it and consume it.

“Sex negative” is sometimes used to categorize people (often women) who hold those beliefs about sex. The history of this word is much newer and much murkier than “sex-positive.” However, I’ve heard people say that “sex critical” is a more accurate term for their own beliefs, and I can see why. Any good feminist, regardless of their opinions toward sex, should be critical of their ideology. The good news? Criticism and positivity aren’t mutually exclusive.

Sex positivity does not mean everything goes.

It’s not smart to encourage women and girls to embrace all aspects of their sexuality without considering the consequences. Not everyone’s built for one-night stands and hookups anyway.

While there’s not much conclusive research about casual sex’s negative emotional effects, a New Zealand study from researchers at the University of Dunedin found that promiscuity increases substance dependency problems, more so for women than men. When you think about the libations that go into making random hookups less awkward, it’s not hard to connect the dots.

That’s why it’s important to know the type of person you are before you decide who you sleep with and how you will sleep with them. It’s part of what being a sexually responsible person means. And better mental health equals better sexual health — which equals better sex. Yay!

Sex should be healthy — physically and emotionally.

sexy couple foreplay

Being sexually responsible also means putting your well-being first. Self-harm takes on many forms, one of which can be promiscuity (though not everyone categorizes promiscuity as self-harm, especially since it doesn’t cause direct damage to skin, tissue or organs).

One 2013 study of Swedish teenagers showed teens self-identifying their sexual behaviors as self-harm. Most of those teens experienced sexual trauma in their younger lives. So yes, casual sex with multiple partners is a wild and fun time for many, and masochistic ritual for others.

If you are someone with many sexual partners, examine your reasons for why that is. Do you get something positive out of all your experiences? Do you leave those encounters feeling emotionally and sexually satisfied? If you don’t, you might want to reconsider your sexual decisions. Examine your own sexual history and its pain points before choosing to engage promiscuously.

Sex positivity is about empowerment and consent.

The line between sexual freedom and sexual objectification is a thin one for women. We all know the “lady in the streets, freak in the sheets” adage. One of patriarchy’s cruel ironies: the desire for sexually adventurous women and the desire to shame them for it. Anal play, for example, has entered pop culture — what does that mean about what we expect of women? Are men going to expect female partners who’ll play with their prostates, or take it from the back?

In the sex positive sphere, it can be easy to have lots of wild sex and tell yourself that you’re exercising your liberties. But are you? Or are you just doing what you think will keep a man happy?

Sex positivity doesn’t mean never considering negative consequences, but about making sex choices that work for you.

Your sex life is yours, whether you choose to engage copiously or not at all. If you’re sex-positive — kudos. But take the time to see things with a “critical” perspective; it’ll only make your own sex life better, I promise. By doing this, you can make sure all the aspects of your sexual experience are positive, not just the physical ones.

Looking for more ways to enhance sex with a partner? Please do this one thing after sex.