At its most basic, "sex positivity" means that sex can be a positive aspect of your life, rather than something cloaked in shame, judgment, or double standards. But exploring your sexuality in a positive way goes beyond feeling pleasure. We spoke with House of Wise's in-house Sex expert Dr. Kate Balestrieri — a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist, and the founder of Modern Intimacy — about what sex positivity means in 2022.
What Is Sex Positivity?
Psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich is credited with coining the term "sex positivity" in the 1920s. In a nutshell, the sex-positive movement frames sexuality as something good, natural, and healthy. Sex positivity encourages humans to own their sexuality, their pleasure, and their bodies.
"I think sex positive means you can decide what feels right for you, but what you are also deciding is that every single person gets to decide what's right for them, as long as consent is a given," Dr. Balestrieri said.
"Sex positivity is about not shaming yourself, not shaming other people, and understanding that what you've been taught may not be the absolute truth for you or for other people."
However, feeling comfortable with sexuality (yours or anyone else’s) is easier said than done.
Obstacles to Sex Positivity
Even if you strive to adopt a sex-positive attitude, you may still struggle with the negative sex stigmas that are deeply ingrained in various cultures and religions. Many of us are taught that sex is dirty, dangerous, shameful, unnatural, or exists only for procreation or for someone else's pleasure.
"Some of the biggest impediments to sex positivity are the unconscious and conscious messages that we perpetuate culturally, religiously, and in our different communities that we grow up assuming are hard truths," said Dr. Balestrieri.
"The other variables are things like an absolute derelict level of critical thinking that's taught in our school systems and a horrifically poor level of sex education in our country."
How Women Can Embrace Sex Positivity
While any gender can experience sex negativity, we asked Dr. Balestrieri specifically how women can explore and adopt more sex-positive attitudes.
Most important, she said, is to recognize that we as women are sexual on our own: "we can be sexual with or without someone else's permission." She also pointed out that anyone born with a clitoris is given a piece of anatomy that exists only to give pleasure.
If any women are reading this and thinking "I need to redefine what sex means to me," the best place to start is by asking questions about what isn't working for you.
"Seek out information from people who believe something different from you so you can understand how your initial beliefs have been constructed and how other people have reconstructed the same topic," said Dr. Balestrieri.
For example, many women struggle with asking for what they want from a partner. "Implicitly and sometimes explicitly, they have been told that their pleasure is only permissible in the context of marriage or love or in the service of someone else," said Dr. Balestrieri. "But anyone who has ever waited to have sex with someone under the auspices off love and failed to have an orgasm knows that not everyone who will partner with you is as committed to your pleasure as you are."
Expanding Your Sex Education
Particularly in the United States, sex education is at its best inconsistent and at its worst deleterious. If you're looking to re-educate yourself as an adult, you can seek out guidance from people (such as a sex therapist or other professional) who are qualified to talk about sex and pleasure.
You can also find all types of sex education online. Dr. Balestrieri recommends OMGYes, which is a science-based site dedicated to women's pleasure.
Her therapy practice, Modern Intimacy, also hosts seminars and courses. The next one, entitled Humanize My Holes: Redefining a Healthy Relationship With Sex, will feature a robust panel of women (including House of Wise CEO Amanda Goetz) sharing their expertise and experiences. Humanize Your Holes takes place Saturday, Jan. 29, from 1 to 4 p.m. PT; reserve your spot.
Another simple thing women can do to evolve their own sex positivity is to talk about it. Share your sex-positive outlook with others (when and where appropriate). Our community of #WiseWomen is helping to break the stigma of sexual discussion by making these conversations normal. We regularly talk about our sexual experiences (and how CBD helps us get there) in Slack channels or in our Instagram comments.
"Women can talk to their female friends, watch porn together, talk about your vibrators like you talk about recipes," said Dr. Balestrieri. "Take away the stigma of sex."
That said, remember that a core tenant of sex positivity is that "every single person gets to decide what's right for them." What your friends find pleasurable or sexy or socially acceptable may not apply to you. "Our genitals all look different, and they are all beautiful and acceptable," said Dr. Balestrieri. "You don't need to do anything to yours that doesn't feel authentic to you."