The Sex-Positive Movement and the Entitlement of Pleasure for Everyone

The sex-positive movement is an ideology that sex is normal and healthy. It is a powerful concept that contradicts many of the principles and practices that have come out of the puritanical history of the United States.

A huge issue in the sex-positive movement is sex education for our children and teens. The battle is for comprehensive sexual education that includes information to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STDs and also includes education on the entitlement of pleasure.  Pleasure as an inherent right is a privilege routinely granted to boys  but lacking in our conception of acceptable femininity. The sex-positive movement has a clear intersection with equal rights and feminism. But this is being lost in all the noise and confusion of Internet memes, the old brogan of what a feminist is, and an easily accessible mostly male gaze porn culture on the Internet.

As a parent, it has become a passion of mine to help my children gain the knowledge and strength within themselves to demand the entitlement of pleasure. For teenage girls, this has become oddly and tragically challenging. My kids tease me that I am like Samantha in Sex and the City, and we are similar in our sex-positive nature. (But it is disturbing that she wears a Playboy bunny necklace and is only interested in superficial hook-ups.) Hugh Hefner was not my idea of a feminist icon. Yet because the idea of being a feminist and loving sex has become antithetical, the image of hip female sexuality has been co-opted.

In the current culture, a cartoon version of female sexuality seems born of a teenage boys’ wet dreams: girls who gives blow jobs but never ask for cunnilingus in return, girls who hook up without any requirements of intimacy or respect. Although this has certainly happened throughout history, girls of the 2010s feel a pressure and obligation to be a superslut and engage in meaningless hook-ups—like a boy would in a porn flick.

The thing that young women don’t seem to understand is that the idea of being sexually liberated is being used against them. Because the image of liberation is largely being manufactured by male-gaze pornography! Commercialized porn and social media has upped the pressure. Girls are being pressured to be and graded by a “hot” factor that has nothing to do with their own sexuality and pleasure. Boys feel entitled to use social media platforms to grade and harass girls. If teenage girls don’t hypersexualize and objectify themselves, they are seen as a prude or a virgin, which is also socially unacceptable. Yet, girls are also still harassed for being sluts–so there is a no-win scenario.

The term “sex positive” is even used against women in an exploitive way. Ariel Levy, in her book Female Chauvinist Pig, describes today’s raunch culture, a hipster “sex positive” world that encourages girls to do what they have done historically: dissociate from their bodies and strive to appear pretty and pleasing. Porn has taken over as an acceptable norm of sexual modeling—and Hugh Hefner is seen as a renegade of sexual freedom. But Hefner never pushed for equality in sexual encounters. Playboy is sexuality that serves male needs even though his  “feminist” daughter is the current CEO—a perfect example of a female chauvinist pig.

In the ’60s, during the second wave of feminism, women stood against being marginalized and were labeled “complainers” who somehow hated sex and fun. Feminism is still at war with itself on how women can be sexual and powerful at the same time.  But being sexual and embodied is one of the principles of the feminist movement. We get to drive our own sexual encounters as opposed to being the object cast into a scene that we had no hand in writing.

How is the entitlement of pleasure and sex positivity important to marriage?

We risk losing the vibrancy in our marriages if we don’t have a positive view of sex. If sex is “dirty” why would we want to do that with someone we love? If men primarily focus on their sexual needs as lovers—which is reinforced by Hefner-type role models—sex becomes really boring—or worse—for the woman. As a sex-positive person, I am not anti-porn; I’m anti one-sided porn. We need porn that shows men versed in the artistry of stimulating the clitoris and g-spot—not just men receiving head. Porn that shows equal pleasure for both genders—not women acting out male fantasies, which constitutes the majority of porn—is conceivably useful. We need erotic stimuli from books and videos that deeply explore techniques and fantasies that are sexually fulfilling for men and women. Our culture lacks routine, sex-positive, and ongoing sex education that includes information about female anatomy (the g-spot, clitoris, lips of the vulva, etc.)  and pleasure.

Our culture’s sex-negative view of sexuality directly contributes to our collective notion that sexual passion fades in long-term relationships and marriages.  A sex-positive philosophy in marriage allows for people to expand the depths of their connection—by allowing for an ongoing project of exploring aspects of their sexuality and expecting to foster and maintain an ongoing sexual spark. A sex-negative culture prods us to move on, away from pleasure, to more serious endeavors in our married lives—an ideology clearly grown from our puritanical roots![Society promotes the idea that once married, you give up sexual pleasure for things like parenting, working, paying the bills—but  pleasure needs to be on par with those things not on the back burner or completely absent.

How is sex-positivity important to parenting?

A sex-positive conversation is a gateway discussion to talking about identity, sexual harassment, self-worth, body awareness, power, and sexuality. Being able to educate your kid about sex in ways that are positive and not fear based (such as mainly being focus on STDs or  pregnancy prevention) opens up new levels of communication and understanding even in areas seemingly unrelated to sexuality.

Comprehensive sex education needs to include a conversation around pleasure. Pleasure is something that boys and men too often feel is their birthright, whereas girls and women are often indoctrinated that it is their duty to give pleasure and look pleasing. The intimate act of advocating for your own pleasure could almost be seen as the most basic fundamentals of equality and feminism. But to demand these rights a girl needs support to be fully embodied.

The Internet has changed our perceptions in many arena—memes that go viral become part of our collective reality. Our fantasies used to be more personal but now that visually provocative material is rampant and easily available—younger people are assuming male-gaze porn is normative reality.

As a sex-positive person I am completely supportive of erotic entertainment. Erotic books, films, and pictures can be empowering and stimulating. However, healthy erotic materials are vastly different from trafficking and violent pornography. Unfortunately because so many parents do not comprehensively educate and talk to their kids about sex, teenage boys are getting a lot of their sex education from pornographic memes.

What is alarming about this is that the images that young men are learning from do not have any information about the reality of female sexuality. Male-gaze porn has scant information about the clitoris and how to perform cunnilingus adequately, and there is little focus on women as fully whole sexual beings. I have friends who have made porn films that show women in their full sexual power, not just as pretty objects. But the majority of Internet porn is from a hierarchical power over male gaze. Although playing with power roles can be fun and erotic, watching a real woman actually being trafficked or raped is beyond wrong.

Why should I be invested in a sex-positive culture?

Because it encourages knowledge and an awareness that breeds the ability to make healthy, conscious choices. It is also real—not a fantasy. A sex-positive culture embraces with the truth of what turns people on. A sex-positive culture is a safer culture in which  people can discuss sexuality and educate our children and teenagers, thus preventing dangerous, exploitive situations. Sex positivity and comprehensive sex education should not be a fear-based endeavor. Comprehensive sex education helps to round out a person so that they can actualize themselves in all areas.