Sex-positive movement

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The sex-positive movement is a social and philosophical movement that seeks to change cultural attitudes and norms around sexuality, promoting the recognition of sexuality (in the countless forms of expression) as a natural and healthy part of the human experience and emphasizing the importance of personal sovereignty, safer sex practices, and consensual sex (free from violence or coercion). It covers every aspect of sexual identity including gender expression, orientation, relationship to the body (body-positivity, nudity, choice), relationship-style choice, and reproductive rights. [1] [ unreliable source? ] [2] Sex-positivity is "an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, encouraging sexual pleasure and experimentation." [1] The sex-positive movement also advocates for comprehensive sex education and safe sex as part of its campaign. [3] [1] The movement generally makes no moral distinctions among types of sexual activities, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference. [4]



The terms and concept of sex-positive (German: sexuell positiv) (or, alternately sex-affirmative (sexuell bejahend)) and sex-negative (sexuell negativ) are generally attributed to Wilhelm Reich. His hypothesis was that some societies view sexual expression as essentially good and healthy, while others have a generally negative view of sexuality and seek to repress and control libido. [5] Other terms used to describe this concept include pro-sex, or pro-sexuality. [5] [6]

The sex-positive movement does not, in general, make moral or ethical distinctions between heterosexual or homosexual sex, or masturbation, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference. [7] Other sex-positive positions include acceptance of BDSM and polyamory as well as asexuality. [7] The sex-positive movement is also concerned with the teaching of comprehensive and accurate sex education in schools. [3]

Some sex-positive theorists have analyzed sex-positivity in terms of the intersection of race/culture, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, and spirituality. [7] Because of the vastness of the sex-positivity movement, it has been challenging for people to reach an agreed upon definition of the term "sex-positivity." [7] Several definitions of sex-positivity have been offered by sexologist Carol Queen:

Sex-positive, a term that's coming into cultural awareness, isn't a dippy love-child celebration of orgone – it's a simple yet radical affirmation that we each grow our own passions on a different medium, that instead of having two or three or even half a dozen sexual orientations, we should be thinking in terms of millions. "Sex-positive" respects each of our unique sexual profiles, even as we acknowledge that some of us have been damaged by a culture that tries to eradicate sexual difference and possibility. [8]

It’s the cultural philosophy that understands sexuality as a potentially positive force in one’s life, and it can, of course, be contrasted with sex-negativity, which sees sex as problematic, disruptive, dangerous. Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent. [9]

History of the sex-positivity movement

Main articles: 1960s counterculture, Free Love and Sexual revolution

In general use, the term sexual liberation is used to describe a socio-political movement, witnessed from the 1960s into the 1970s. [10] However, the term has been used at least since the late 1920s and is often attributed as being influenced by Freud's writing on sexual liberation and psychosexual issues, as well as Wilhelm Reich, who originally coined the term. [5]

During the 1960s, a shift in the ways people thought about sexuality began to take place, heralding a period of de-conditioning in some circles away from old world antecedents, and developing new codes of sexual behavior, many of which have since been integrated into the mainstream. [11]

The 1960s also heralded a new culture of "free love" with millions of young people embracing the hippie ethos and preaching the power of love and the beauty of sex as a natural part of ordinary life. Hippies believed that sex and sexuality were natural biological phenomena which should be neither denied nor repressed. Changes in attitudes reflected a perception that traditional views on sexuality were both hypocritical and chauvinistic.

Sexual liberalization heralded a new ethos in experimenting with open sex in and outside of marriage, contraception and the pill, public nudity, gay liberation, legalized abortion, interracial marriage, a return to natural childbirth, women's rights, and feminism.

Historian David Allyn argues that the sexual revolution was a time of "coming-out": about premarital sex, masturbation, erotic fantasies, pornography use, and sexuality. [10]

The term sex-positive first came in into use in the United States in the late 1990s with the founding of the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco, California and The Center for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle, Washington. In 2009 Sex Positive World began in Portland, Oregon. As of 2019 there are more than sixteen chapters of the nonprofit, in five countries.

Sex-positive feminism

Sex-positive feminism, also known as pro-sex feminism, sex-radical feminism, or sexually liberal feminism, is a movement that began in the early 1980s. Some became involved in the sex-positive feminist movement in response to efforts by anti-pornography feminists, such as Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Robin Morgan and Dorchen Leidholdt, to put pornography at the center of a feminist explanation of women's oppression. [12] This period of intense debate and acrimony between sex-positive and anti-pornography feminists during the early 1980s is often referred to as the "Feminist Sex Wars". Other sex-positive feminists became involved, not in opposition to other feminists, but in direct response to what they saw as patriarchal control of sexuality. Some authors who have advocated sex-positive feminism include Erika Lust, Ellen Willis, Susie Bright, Patrick Califia, Gayle Rubin, Carol Queen, Avedon Carol, Tristan Taormino, Diana Cage, Nina Hartley, and Betty Dodson.

Opposition to the sex-positive movement

In opposition, some feminists[ who? ] believe sex positivity as we know it does not benefit women, but makes them easier to oppress [13] [ failed verification ]. Some, largely religious and particularly Judeo-Islamic-Christian, conservative opposition to sex-positivity sees human sexuality [5] as a destructive force except under the contract of a marriage. Sexual acts are ranked hierarchically, with marital heterosexuality at the top of the hierarchy and masturbation, homosexuality, and other sexualities that deviate from societal expectations closer to the bottom. [14] Medicine and psychiatry are said to have also contributed to sex-negativity, as they may designate some forms of sexuality that appear on the bottom of this hierarchy as being pathological (see Mental illness). [14]

Sex-positivity in the 21st century

Since the early 2000s, the sex-positivity movement has continued to move closer into the mainstream. [2] The advent of social media has made the sex-positivity movement more accessible by giving advocates of the movement platforms to promote their beliefs to a wide audience of followers. By extending the reach of the movement, sex-positivity has come to be inclusive of all sorts of sex and sexuality. [4] Shaming has become an area of particular interest within the sex-positivity movement, encouraging people to be more open and accepting of the different experiences people have with sex and sexuality. [15] Slut-shaming, prude-shaming and kink-shaming have all been challenged by the sex-positivity movement in an effort to allow all people to feel supported by and included in the movement. [16]

Pop culture has also played a large role in bringing the sex-positivity movement into the mainstream. Celebrities, including Lady Gaga, Amber Rose, Jessica Biel, Cameron Diaz, Taylor Swift and many others, have spoken publicly about their experiences with slut-shaming, sexuality, sexual assault, body acceptance and overall sexual health and responsibility. [17] [18]

In 2018, Viceland, an American television station, began airing a sex-positive series called Slutever , hosted by Karley Sciortino. [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Sexual revolution 20th-century American social movement

The sexual revolution, also known as a time of sexual liberation, was a social movement that challenged traditional codes of behavior related to sexuality and interpersonal relationships throughout the United States and subsequently, the wider world, from the 1960s to the 1980s. Sexual liberation included increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual, monogamous relationships. The normalization of contraception and the pill, public nudity, pornography, premarital sex, homosexuality, masturbation, alternative forms of sexuality, and the legalization of abortion all followed.

Sexual objectification disregarding personality or dignity; reducing a person to a commodity or sex object

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Sex-positive feminism is a movement that began in the early 1980s centering on the idea that sexual freedom is an essential component of women's freedom. Some feminists became involved in the sex-positive feminist movement in response to efforts by anti-pornography feminists to put pornography at the center of a feminist explanation of women's oppression.

Betty Dodson American sex educator

Betty Dodson is an American sex educator. An artist by training, she exhibited erotic art in New York, before pioneering the pro-sex feminist movement. Dodson's workshops and manuals encourage women to masturbate, often in groups. Although bisexual herself, she repudiates the labels that define sexuality.

Opposition to pornography

Reasons for opposition to pornography include religious objections, feminist concerns, and claims of harmful effects, such as pornography addiction. Anti-pornography movements have allied disparate social activists in opposition to pornography, from social conservatives to harm reduction advocates.

Lipstick feminism is a variety of third-wave feminism that seeks to embrace traditional concepts of femininity, including the sexual power of women, alongside feminist ideas.

The feminist sex wars, also known as the lesbian sex wars, or simply the sex wars or porn wars, are terms used to refer to collective debates amongst feminists regarding a number of issues broadly relating to sexuality and sexual activity. Differences of opinion on matters of sexuality deeply polarized the feminist movement, particularly leading feminist thinkers, in the late 1970s and early 1980s and continue to influence debate amongst feminists to this day.

Carol Queen American author, editor, sociologist and sexologist

Carol Queen is an American author, editor, sociologist and sexologist active in the sex-positive feminism movement. Queen has written on human sexuality in books such as Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture. She has written a sex tutorial, Exhibitionism for the Shy: Show Off, Dress Up and Talk Hot, as well as erotica, such as the novel The Leather Daddy and the Femme. Queen has produced adult movies, events, workshops and lectures. Queen was featured as an instructor and star in both installments of the Bend Over Boyfriend series about female-to-male anal sex, or pegging. She has also served as editor for compilations and anthologies. She is a sex-positive sex educator in the United States.

Feminist sexology is an offshoot of traditional studies of sexology that focuses on the intersectionality of sex and gender in relation to the sexual lives of women. Sexology has a basis in psychoanalysis, specifically Freudian theory, which played a big role in early sexology. This reactionary field of feminist sexology seeks to be inclusive of experiences of sexuality and break down the problematic ideas that have been expressed by sexology in the past. Feminist sexology shares many principles with the overarching field of sexology; in particular, it does not try to prescribe a certain path or "normality" for women's sexuality, but only observe and note the different and varied ways in which women express their sexuality. It is a young field, but one that is growing rapidly.

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Feminist views on pornography range from condemnation of all of it as a form of violence against women, to an embracing of some forms as a medium of feminist expression. This debate reflects larger concerns surrounding feminist views on sexuality, and is closely related to those on prostitution, on BDSM, and other issues. Pornography has been one of the most divisive issues in feminism, particularly in anglophone (English-speaking) countries. This deep division was exemplified in the feminist sex wars of the 1980s, which pitted anti-pornography activists against sex-positive ones.

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Feminist views on BDSM vary widely from acceptance to rejection. BDSM refers to bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and Sado-Masochism. In order to evaluate its perception, two polarizing frameworks are compared. Some feminists, such as Gayle Rubin and Patrick Califia, perceive BDSM as a valid form of expression of female sexuality, while other feminists, such as Andrea Dworkin and Susan Griffin, have stated that they regard BDSM as a form of woman-hating violence. Some lesbian feminists practice BDSM and regard it as part of their sexual identity.

Feminist views on sexuality widely vary. Many feminists, particularly radical feminists, are highly critical of what they see as sexual objectification and sexual exploitation in the media and society. Radical feminists are often opposed to the sex industry, including opposition to prostitution and pornography. Other feminists define themselves as sex-positive feminists and believe that a wide variety of expressions of female sexuality can be empowering to women when they are freely chosen. Some feminists support efforts to reform the sex industry to become less sexist, such as the feminist pornography movement.

Women's pornography, sometimes referred to as sex-positive pornography, is pornography often produced by women and aimed specifically at the female market – rejecting the view that pornography is only for men.

Feminism and media

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Slutever is an American television series broadcast by Viceland, starting in January 2018. The show is inspired by the blog and book of the same name by author Karley Sciortino, and a webseries, called Slutever for Vice, that was hosted on Sciortino's Slutever blog. In April 2018, Viceland ordered a second season of the show, which premiered in February 2019. As of March 31, 2019 two seasons and 18 episodes have aired.

Karley Sciortino is an American writer, television host, and producer. She is the founder of Slutever, a website that focuses on sex and sexuality, and executive producer and host of the Viceland documentary series of the same name. She also writes Vogue's online sex and relationships column, Breathless.


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  15. Fahs, Breanne (2014). "'Freedom to' and 'freedom from': A new vision for sex-positive politics". Sexualities. 17 (3): 267–290. doi:10.1177/1363460713516334.
  16. Tolman, Deborah L.; Anderson, Stephanie M.; Belmonte, Kimberly (2015). "Mobilizing Metaphor: Considering Complexities, Contradictions, and Contexts in Adolescent Girls' and Young Women's Sexual Agency". Sex Roles. 73 (7–8): 298–310. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0510-0.
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