it’s great to be sex-positive. just don’t get carried away with it…

September 19, 2012

punk model

Long time readers know that when it comes to human sexuality, yours truly is for it. Just as long as what you’re doing involves consenting adults and doesn’t harm anyone, have at it, I say. I’ve come down hard on those who demonize porn, and ridiculed those who promote abstinence-only sex ed because the data very clearly shows that this approach actually causes more STDs and unwanted pregnancies, and does little to nothing to delay first sexual encounters, unlike the scientifically comprehensive courses self-appointed moral crusaders loathe. So one would think that people who support such stances can be labeled sex-positive and would never have to hear someone accuse them of fearful prudishness, right? Of course you didn’t think so. When has this sort of loaded question ever had an intuitive answer on this blog? In case you didn’t click on the link above, here’s a short summary. Slowly, accounts from people who generally call themselves sex-positive are mentioning being called vanilla for not being into the same kinks.

Why is this a problem? Well, as mentioned before, every group has extremists and people who call themselves sex-positive are no exception. Furthermore, a surprising number of those in the sex-positive community tend to ascribe to New Age spiritualist woo, unable to separate sex and religion, and using what they think is advanced science and understanding to create a bizarre hierarchy of relationship types. Monogamy is treated as a default, boring setting and polyamory is elevated to near-divine status. You can see this in various New Age groups which encourage their members to share partners and treat sex as a form of worship. And with this view on the different types of human sexual relationships, they encourage a kind of snobbery in pockets of sex-positive communities, pockets which see traditional couples as being afraid to really open up and be sexually adventurous, not realizing that maybe this is all the adventure they want and the idea of sex with strangers or their friends is an immediate turn off in their minds.

Now, the severity of this sort of self-righteousness depends on a lot of factors, but talk to people who are into this sort of thing enough, and you’ll certainly encounter someone who gives you a lecture on how all monogamous marriages are bound to collapse and polyamory is the future of all relationships because strict monogamists are just lying to themselves about their nature. It’s true that there’s some research indicating that humans aren’t completely monogamous per se, but it hardly puts a nail in the coffin of exclusive couples. If anything, it says that we’re not simply looking for sex, but for relationships, and the best classification for many would be that of serial monogamists rather than polyamorous swingers. To twist the science to justify one’s sense of smug superiority over those who don’t have a spouse, a live-in sex partner, and a dozen FWBs on call, and actually like it that way because they don’t want to become the equivalent of an air traffic controller but with genitals rather than aircraft, is not a sex-positive behavior. It’s being an arrogant blowhard who just needs to write a letter to Penthouse Forum and a webcam.

Sex-positivity, at least to me, always meant trying to remove stigmas from safe and consensual sexual choices created by crusading prudes constantly on the lookout of a libido to pound into the ground, to tell people who feel like freaks because they want to do something outside the bi-weekly missionary position with the intent to conceive that as long as they’re responsible, they have no reason to be ashamed of their feelings, and that yes, it’s ok to do that. And in the last decade or so, people are being more open about recreational sex being a normal part of life, the once taboo topic of swinging is being discussed much more freely, and more people are asking questions and looking for advice to enhance their sex lives. Considering that a good sex life is a key part of good mental health, boosts immune systems, makes for more satisfying relationships that last longer, and actually extends your lifespan by at least several years, all of this is terrific and the sex-positive community needs to pat itself on the back. Who cares that the reactionaries on the sidelines are horrified that people are talking about their no-no bits? Who asked them?

For all their big talk about the need for role models for others, the moralists really don’t seem to understand that maybe, just maybe, someone who isn’t busy loathing every aspect of his or her urges in what is an important part of adult life, and is educated and well-rounded in this area, is going to make a better example for others? Because this is really the whole point here. We want people to feel at ease with their sexuality and have safe, responsible fun with it. The last thing they need are fire and brimstone pontificators who berate them for being human. But they also don’t need the other extreme; the New Age disciples mocking them for not being as adventurous and as open as to regularly attend orgies, or practice the sort of hardcore BDSM that Marquis DeSade so lovingly chronicled in his public diaries. Not only do they seem to play to the radical right’s worst stereotypes of sex-positive activists, they undermine the whole idea of positivity in one’s sexual decisions by turning sexuality into some sort of a secret society-style hierarchy of initiation rituals to be completed and mastered, mixing sex with woo and pseudoscience.

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  • Susan Hoover

    I have been poly for my entire adult life (I am 48). Poly is NOT for everyone, most people don’t communicate their needs well enough AND most don’t have good enough understanding of boundaries to make a multiple partnership work.

    Humans animals are not sexually exclusive, but recent human history (last 8,000-10,000 year s or so) many cultures have imposed sexual exclusivity on societies which means we have baggage that keep many people in a “presumed” monogamous relationship.

    Read sex at dawn

  • Greg Fish

    many cultures have imposed sexual exclusivity on societies which means we have baggage that keep many people in a “presumed” monogamous relationship.

    I agree, and from what I’ve read this was done for a combination of religious and legal reasons, since wealthy older men with many wives created a lot of young, less well off men competing for too few women and leading to a lot of melodrama and conflict, and more monogamous relationships meant less paperwork while the church was happy with the notion of lifelong soulmates.

    My point wasn’t to say that everyone in a monogamous relationship is happy and only wants to stay in a monogamous relationship, just that many do, it’s perfectly fine, and we shouldn’t question those who say they’re happy with just monogamy. If they’re not, we told them that there are other ways to set up relationships and if they’re so compelled, they’ll peruse them.

    Personally, I wouldn’t want to deal with a poly relationship. Like you said, there’s a whole lot of communication and work involved, and most people don’t really know what it entails, so the end result could well be too much drama for me to handle and that’s the last thing I want. Having just one committed partner works great for me and I’d like to keep it that way.

  • don Roberto

    First, let me say how thrilled I was this morning to discover you were back to blogging. Yours was (and is now again) one of my very favorite blogs, and I was mighty sad when you announced you were going to stop blogging.

    Let me then go on to say that I’m a card-carrying member of the Woo Crew (Wiccan in a Tradition that has a record of continuity going back almost forty years, which is No Small Thing in our community), and in a non-traditional marriage. We do consider sexuality to be a sacrament–it can also be recreational, reproductive, relational, artistic, and/or many other things–but I’m in agreement with Greta Christina that sex is like music; your tastes and mine may have nothing to do with one another, but that doesn’t mean that what you like isn’t music, or isn’t being done correctly or, conversely, is The Only Way Things Should Be and should be imposed by law.

    It’s quite simple. Monogamy works for lots of people. Perhaps not as well as our culture says we should expect it to, but it does. I have Wiccan friends who have been in monogamous marriages for many years, and like it that way. I know others in the same community who would surely go postal if they had to live in a monogamous relationship for more than a fraction of that time. And both of those are OK.

    What’s unfortunate is when one group starts saying it’s somehow superior (more evolved / less hung-up / more emotionally mature / etc. etc. etc.) than another. Just as with art, religion, food, music, or any number of other deeply human endeavors, no solution is going to satisfy everyone. Those who desperately love their particular way of doing things should revel in what they love, share with those who ask, include those who are similarly inclined, and let those who are otherwise inclined to do likewise.

    Best regards, and a hearty, if belated, “Welcome Back!”

    don Roberto