The Pitfalls of Sex Positivity

I should start off by saying that I think sex-positivity is a great movement: when it is done right. For those who haven’t heard the term before, it was coined in the 1990’s but has really taken off on social media in the last few years. It’s generally accepted to be “an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, encouraging sexual pleasure and experimentation” as defined by sex educator Allena Gabosch in “A Sex Positive Renaissance”. 

For our generation, this primarily looks like people (mainly women) sharing information from sex educators to their Instagram stories and social media pages, dropping judgmental attitudes surrounding sex, and talking about sex like the normal part of life it is. Sex-positive people and spaces have become a safe place for others to discuss and ask questions about the weirder parts of sex. There’s the private side to the movement as well, where people feel more liberated about discussing their sexual wants and needs with partners. All of this is hopefully leading to more fulfilling and healthier sexual relationships, along with ideas about sex for many people. 

But the sex-positivity movement isn’t perfect, far from it in fact. The rise of sex positivity, especially in the progressive circles many Acadia students would be familiar with, has led to two major groups being excluded: those who choose to abstain from sex and those who choose to do sex work. These groups are often still looked down upon by the very people who claim to be sex-positive. 

There are countless reasons people may choose to remain abstinent: asexuality,  past trauma, not feeling ready or prepared for the experience, religious grounds, queer people not feeling represented by the typical ideas of sex, lack of opportunity, or simply deciding they’d rather not. The list goes on and on. Yet, even though all of these are valid choices there is still a rampant culture of shaming people who don’t have sex. Some have even taken to using the term “prude-shaming” for the social stigma experienced. Oddly enough, this concept was best explained in an article published by the dating app Tinder. It’s normal to throw the word “virgin” at someone as an insult, a term which is nothing more than an outdated idea but can still carry a lot of weight and shame for those it applies to. Despite the fact that there are plenty of people who don’t have sex, they are often made to feel as if there is something abnormal about them. This can do a lot of damage to someone. The effects can feel isolating or even push people into sexual activity before they’re ready, just so they can lose the label of “virgin” that they’ve been made to feel is wrong.

On the opposite end of the scale, there are those who choose to do sex work. Sex work can be anything from exchanging sex acts for money, to porn, to selling nudes through social media, and beyond. These services are not only common but often in high demand. Yet despite the high usage of services such as these, even sex-positive people have a tendency to demonize anyone who chooses to make money through sex work. Especially when it comes to women (who let’s face it – will likely always be criticized more than men) people are outraged to see anyone commodifying sex. Many misguided sex-positive and feminist folks make arguments against sex-work. However, you may notice there’s a problem with this logic. Sex positivity means accepting consensual activity between adults, and that has to include activity that looks more like a business transaction. Just as someone may use their cooking skills to sell cakes, sex workers use their sexuality to provide for their customers. 

Ownership over your own sexuality will look different for everyone. If we want to be truly sex-positive, it’s time to admit this means including the choice not to have sex and the choice to profit from sexuality. Continuing to stigmatize these options is doing nothing but keeping up the “slut or prude” narrative that sex-positivity is trying to erase. Though not everyone’s sexual choices will look the same, there should be no shaming or making fun of anyone for theirs. Sex-positivity includes education, so maybe it’s time we get educated on these choices. If your sex-positivity doesn’t make room for celibacy and sex-work then frankly, I’m not interested.

Note: This article is part of our Fall 2020 Print Edition that focuses on Women Health and Sexuality. Look across campus for a paper copy of this edition!

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Author: Cameron Smith

Cameron Smith is a fourth-year English Major and the Head of Acadia's Mental Health Initiative.