Sex is more than a just a desire or behavior - it’s a part of the human life cycle, and likely it’s something that most people will experience or engage in at some point in their lives. Since sex is so common in the world, it’s worth taking a look at how we can learn more about it, and how that knowledge can help us going forward.
The Sex Positivity Movement
The term “sex positivity” wasn’t coined until the 1920’s, when psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich began speaking on the different aspects of humanity. He suggested that sex was a normal part of human life and was actually healthy for the body. While his ideas didn’t gain much traction at the time, they were picked up and revitalized in the 1960’s, an era often referred to as “the sexual revolution”. Since then, it has turned into a movement based on the idea that no one should judge another for their sexual activities (or lack thereof) as long as everything is consensual. The sex positivity movement centers around the belief that sex is a healthy and normal part of life and is something to enjoy, not something to be ashamed of. In recent years it has become a direct response and solution to sex negativity and shame culture. Many in the movement advocate for more comprehensive sex ed, healthy sexual exploration, and supporting all sexualities and identities.
Consent Tastes Good as FRIES
I’m sure we’ve all heard about consent before. It’s that thing teachers try to use lots of metaphors for in school, like pizza or ice cream, and how if you don’t really want seconds that’s the same thing as ‘no means no’. In reality, consent is a little more detailed than that. Thanks to Planned Parenthood, we can use the acronym FRIES and break it down:
- Freely given: must be given of someone’s free will with no coercion, gaslighting or manipulation.
- Reversible : a “yes” can become a no at any time regardless of circumstance, no questions asked.
- Informed: everyone involved knows exactly what they are agreeing to and what limits there are.
- Enthusiastic : only “yes” means yes - not maybe, whatever, sure, I guess, or I don’t know. If there is any hesitation or uncertainty, everyone involved should stop and communicate.
- Specific + Sober : “yes” only means yes to whatever was spoken and agreed upon. If someone wants to do something new, they should check in with their partner(s) again. A person must also be sober to obtain and give consent, and it’s a legal requirement in the state of Michigan.
Consent should be the very first step to any activity, especially ones of physical or sexual nature. Anything other than a “yes” is a no, so take care of others (whether you know them or not) and yourself, and never take advantage of a person or situation. We all have control of our own bodies and no one should be able to take that away from us.
Pleasure = Power
When something is reclaimed, power is restored. For hundreds of years, active expression of sexuality (especially female sexuality) has been oppressed and shamed. This has led to sex, sexuality, and most related topics being considered ‘taboo’ or shameful and censored in society. Pleasure is something everyone has a right to in whatever form it looks like for them. This is because we as people have autonomy: power over ourselves to make decisions concerning our bodies and to act in accordance to our personal values and interests. By reclaiming our right to pleasure and refusing the shame society tries to place on it, we reclaim power over ourselves. In this way pleasure can be used as a tool to help someone feel more confident, gain more control, learn more about themselves, understand theirs and others’ bodies, and make more informed decisions regarding physical intimacy.
Reclaiming bodily autonomy and learning to embrace pleasure can be hard. Most people aren’t raised with a sex-positive outlook, and most sex education programs teach only the risks of sex and not the benefits. It can take lots of time, patience, introspection, self-nurturing, and bravery before someone feels like they’re ready to try something new, or even admit to themselves they haven’t fully loved what they’ve been doing. Becoming comfortable with your body and learning to communicate what you want and not shy away from pleasure takes trust - with yourself or with anyone else.
Masturbation and Stimulation
Masturbation is the quickest and easiest way to learn what feels good. Masturbation is self-stimulation of the genitals and other parts of the body for sexual pleasure. It can’t hurt you or become addictive, and no one can tell someone masturbates just by looking at them. Masturbation is actually scientifically proven to have several health benefits, including stress relief, better/easier sleep, and relief of menstrual cramps. Regular masturbation or orgasm is said to help with depression and anxiety as it produces an extreme amount of endorphins and lowers the amount of cortisol in the brain (a hormone related to high stress levels). It can also greatly improve self-esteem, sexual validation, and confidence. Being able to speak to what you like in the bedroom can be very empowering, and it can also help sex (whatever that is for you) be a more pleasurable or positive experience. To read more about masturbation and orgasm, try our blog post Foreplay, Orgasm and Self-Pleasure.
Playing with Toys
Sex toys are another easy way to reclaim power over your pleasure. Toys can be used to enhance or change the pleasure or dynamic experienced during sex. They can also be used as an aid to help with sexual dysfunction, low libido, gender dysphoria, anorgasmia, and disability. Regardless of the reason, having a toy in hand can make you feel powerful - it can be proof that you care enough about yourself to make a purchase to support your happiness and pleasure. That same kind of pride someone might feel when buying a new uniform after making the team, or buying new shoes for an upcoming show, can be felt making purchases for your pleasure.
There are a TON of different kinds of toys - some are made for specific genitalia, some are made for 1 person vs 2 or more people, and some are made for certain kinds of activities. No matter what you’re into, remember that it’s okay to want whatever you want. That’s what’s so awesome about pleasure; it’s personalized and special to everyone, so no one has exactly the same mixture of tastes and turn-ons as someone else. Your pleasure is uniquely yours, and you have the authority on who, what, when, where, how, and even if it’s ever shared, used or discovered.
Dipping a Toe into the Deep End
Kink is another world that is often used for reclaiming power and autonomy within sex. When being done correctly kink and BDSM should be based on consent, pleasure, setting & negotiating boundaries, and mutual respect between everyone involved. It may seem unlikely or even backwards to some, but the kink community and the spaces where it is practiced tend to be safer and healthier in relation to sex culture, and often feature less sexual violence and more responsibility than the ‘vanilla’ world. Kink can be a helpful tool to unlearn shame, as a large proponent of kink is enjoyment of sex and pleasure in ways deviant from the mainstream. Many victim-survivors of sexual assault also use kink/BDSM as a method of healing, re-liberation, and redefining trauma. There is great power in having control over or being self-aware of your relationship to sex and pleasure: what you want now and what you may want in the future. Kink is just one more possible path to use to explore that relationship in a way that is based on autonomy.
You Have the Power
Ultimately, sex is a choice - some people may never want it, some people may never have it, some people may have it all the time, and others might only want to have it with a certain someone. No matter what choices you make regarding your body and your pleasure, it is your choice. We all have personal autonomy and we can use that power to ensure our experiences are as positive and pleasurable as possible - even ones that aren’t sexual! Remember, consent needs to be the first step in any situation so that everyone keeps their power of choice.
For more follow: @sexpositivefamilies (an educational insta about consent, sex positivity, and how to talk about/react to different sexual health topics!)
By: Beck Lukins (they/them/theirs), WIT Peer Educator
Posted by Katie Jourdan on Permanent link for Sex Positivity and Empowerment: the Autonomy in Feeling Good on March 28, 2022.