The Two Meanings of « Sex-positivity »

I’m writing it on and on : I’m asexual and sex-positive. Even AVA, our French organization, is sex-positive. And I surely don’t want anybody to think otherwise. I don’t want anybody to believe that I have anything but respect for the consensual practices of others. So I keep writing that I’m asexual and sex-positive. But this is not a complete truth.

As you may or may not know, asexuality is often interpreted as being inherently anti-sex or as a judgment against the sexuality of others. And in fact, we’re often assigned to the wrong side of sexual freedom. There’s been quite a lot of discussion on this subject, like the Kaz’s piece that my friend Wonktnodi has translated in French. And as a matter of fact, we’re not the only group that is consistently encouraged to “free” itself sexually. It’s as if some sexualities were less free than others. And because I’m absolutely positive that this is not what I mean when I talk about “sex-positivity”, there has to be more than one meaning to this word.


1/All consensual practices deserve equal respect

The first meaning of « sex-positivity » refers to the equal respect we owe to every consensual sexualities and that’s what I mean when I use the word “sex-positive”. I believe that it goes like that :

  • First, sex is not a bad or a dangerous thing.

  • Besides, variations in sexual practices or sexual desires are harmless. They are not the sign of moral or psychological faults.

  • All consensual practices are of equal value. There is no scale of practices. Monogamous vanilla heterosexuality is no more noble or respectable than five guys who like BDSM.

In this sense, being sex-positive means accepting different lifestyles, desires and practices. What is important is that this is a conception of sexuality that puts everyone on an equal footing. There’s no sexuality which is more free than another nor there is one which is less “natural” than another. That’s, I believe, what a blogger on Tumblr had in mind when s/he wrote :

Sex-positive means accepting different sexual lifestyles – from super-rock-and-roll pansexual people who proudly call themselves sluts to hyper-awesome shy people who only want to have sex with their one true love or even funkadelic asexual people who would rather just hang out and watch Netflix because that’s awesome too.

And liberation comes in all forms of dress, whether it’s nipple tassels or turtlenecks. Or a hijab. Or a fucking suit of armour.

That’s exactly my taste in sex-positivity. Whatever your practices are, whatever partners you like, whatever clothes you wear, the way you look at sexuality is valid and normal, as long as it’s not hurting anyone.


2/The Olympic Games of sexual freedom

Unfortunately, the word is sometimes used in another meaning. In this other sense, being sex-positive is to be committed to the liberation of sexuality. Because sexuality is repressed we all should aim at freeing our sexualities…and help others free their own. And if, on first impression, this can look like a respectable endeavor, I think that it is in the end a profoundly flawed idea. Let’s sum it up :

  • Sexuality, and in particular sexual desire, is repressed by the way our societies are organized.

  • To be sexually free is to free one’s desires from the anti-sexuality imposed on us by society. People who manage to do that are sexually liberated. 

  • Of course, it is hard to tell exactly what makes a freed sexuality. It changes according to the the time and the issues raised. However, desiring sex is always a prerequisite, since in order to be sexually free you have to free your desires. Getting a great deal of pleasure out of sex and wearing a certain kind of clothes (that are thought to be the sign of a “freed” relationship to sex) can also be a prerequisite.

To me, using this meaning of sex-positivity is the same as playing the Olympic Games of sexual freedom. And it’s quite clear that asexuality won’t stand a chance in this contest. Since in order to get free you have to free your desires, not to have any desires disqualifies you from the start. As a consequence, asexual people, like others, are put on the wrong end of sexual freedom. They’re sexually behind, they need somebody to take their hand and show them the good path.

I don’t know if that’s clear to everyone, but as for me, this kind of attitude is the same as recreating a hierarchy among sexualities. Some sexualities are freed and some are not. Some sexualities are worthy and some are not. Besides, the basis of this distinction is very unclear : how do you make the difference between a free and a non-free sexuality ? How do you know if something is the result of internalized anti-sexuality ? I’m really wondering.

In every cases, there is still some people who are consistently put on the wrong side of sexual freedom. There is still some people who are not deemed free enough and who are politely asked to try harder. And that’s quite an easy thing to say when you think of yourself as sexually liberated. But of course, when you’re yourself on the other side, that’s another story.

I’m sure you’ve understood by now : this sort of sex-positivity is not for me. Even more, I’ve got the feeling that it can very quickly turn into an instrument of violence, an excuse to belittle a group you don’t understand. And in fact, the more I hear about it, the more I want to say : ‘’don’t free me, I’ll see to it’’ !

About Baptiste

I blog here or here and tweet here.
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7 Responses to The Two Meanings of « Sex-positivity »

  1. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    There’s actually an entire German zine on sex-positive a_sexuality, with ruminations on that topic exactly, but none of those authors managed to put it quite as concisely as you do.
    (The zine is still very good. In case someone who actually knows German hasn’t already heard of it: A second issue seems to be in the making.)

  2. gaiashirley says:

    Great post!
    This is one of my struggles as someone who identifies as sex positive first, asexual second.
    I always feel bullied when I get to the part of (A)sexual where Dan Savage says it’s difficult for him, as a “sex positive person”, to embrace this sort of asexuality. I think you verbalized it wonderfully putting it in terms of the sexual freedom Olympics.
    Thanks! (:

  3. Pingback: Sex isn’t always good | The Asexual Agenda

  4. Pingback: Sex-positivity is a muddle | The Asexual Agenda

  5. Chelsea says:

    I couldn’t think of a better way to coerce acceptance in progressive circles of the righteousness of rape culture than the current concept of sex-positivity.

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