Have you ever heard the phrase “sex positive” and wondered what it meant? Maybe you saw it on social media, or in a sex education pamphlet at the local health center? Has anyone ever described themselves (or you) as sex positive and left you scratching your head?
Well, as straightforward as it may seem at face value, the term sex positivity has much more nuance than simply having positive attitudes towards sex and sexuality. After all, great sex is great sex if you’re having it! But don’t worry – we’re here to unpack this phrase and help drill down to exactly what it means. We’ll even give you some ideas about how you might incorporate sex positivity into your own life!
The Origin of Sex Positivity
We thought it would be a good idea to start with a brief history lesson, but we promise not to bore you (hopefully). While the widespread use of this term and its core ideas has been more of a recent phenomenon, its roots actually go back to the late 1920’s and Austrian doctor and psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.
An avid enthusiast for Sigmund Freud’s work, Reich’s main principle was that sexual behavior was either viewed as a positive element of society that should be celebrated (sex positive) or a negative element of society, that should be limited and controlled (sex negative). Very black and white.
Most sex therapists and scholars attribute the bulk of the sex positive movement to the 1960’s and 1970’s, during the heyday of the sexual revolution. It was during this time of huge social and cultural shifts in ideas that it took on some of the modern components of sex positive culture that we might recognize today. Specifically, this included affirmation and acceptance of diverse sexual orientations, individual sexual identity, and a wide array of sexual activities and preferences.
However, despite its rich history, the term sex positive did not come into wide use in the United States until the late 1990’s in San Francisco, seventy years after the intellectual seed was planted. This is the version of sex positivity that most know today! Read more about the history of this term here.
So, what does sex positive really mean today, nearly 100 years later? One sex educator distills its essence nicely: “sex positivity is the idea that people should have space to embody, explore, and learn about their sexuality and gender without judgment or shame.” It is truly about acceptance, non-judgment, and affirmation.
What Does Living Sex Positive Look Like
There are as many ways to be sex positive as there are people this earth, and everyone will likely have their own unique style. That being said, the International Society for Sexual Medicine has identified five key traits that sex positive people usually possess. Drumroll, please
1. Life-Long Learners
A sex positive person is always looking to continue their sex education, both on a personal and community level. This includes maintaining asking appropriate questions, learning from others, and maintaining an open mind. These folks like to talk about sex and all its various facets.
2. Being Informed and Empathetic
A sex positive person is well versed in safer sex and what it means for themselves and their partner(s), including discussing partner history, condom preferences and most recent test results. This type of person will reach beyond sexual health to explore their partners’ mental sexual health, exploring past trauma and how that might trigger sexual dysfunction or discomfort.
Bonus: If this is a trait that you want to work on, consider checking out our post on creating a safe space to talk about sexual health and condoms here. You can also stock up on sexual health supplies like premium quality condoms and lubes on our site!
3. Enthusiastic and Unbridled
A sex positive person considers sex and sexuality to be a healthy, beneficial part of a person’s life, that should be celebrated and enjoyed. They don’t approach conversations about sex with apprehension, shame or judgment, it isn’t something that’s inappropriate or taboo to discuss.
4. Consent is Sexy
A sex positive person knows that active and evolving consent is a sexy part of every sexual experience. These people recognize that sometimes the answer is no (whether that’s from a partner, a crush or anyone else), and that is acceptable and non-negotiable.
5. Asking for Help
Part of being sex-positive means you do not need to have shame about any sexual health challenges. It's totally normal to seek out sex therapists or trusted persons to discuss sexual health topics. Don’t be afraid to discuss sexual roadblocks like erectile dysfunction (read more about ED here), premature ejaculation, or vaginal dryness (read more about vaginal dryness here) with your partner(s). These issues can be easily treatable with aids like Cialis pills or personal lubricants, but only if you’re open and honest about treating them! Just remember, needing support doesn’t make you any less worthy of sex, and there are various solutions that can fit your personal needs.
6. Live and Let Live
A sex positive person accepts and affirms the sexual practices, activities, and preferences of others with open arms. This extends across the spectrum, including sexual orientations and gender identities. These people do not criticize or judge others for their preferences (often referred to a “kink shaming”).
They know that “good sex” is an encounter among consenting adults and can be experienced in a variety of ways, all of them are beautiful. At the buffet that is sexuality, these folks are the one that compliment every dish even if they aren’t serving themselves a plate.
There you have it! Five traits to strive for if you want to be sex positive.
Turning a Negative into a Positive
Ok, so you want some specific examples of sex positive (and sex negative) behavior just to make sure? We’ve got you covered! Without further ado, here are some ways to be sex positive and avoid being sex negative:
Inform, affirm and support communities and individuals who are different from you or your social circles. Become an advocate for those who could benefit.
Verbal insults, violence or aggression toward sex workers and/or sexual minorities (such as the LGBTQ+ community or those with non-binary or non-conforming gender identities and expressions).