How To Be More Sex Positive, Even When People Around You Are Not
Sex positivity is, in many ways, an individual pursuit; but it can be a lonely one if you aren't surrounded by likeminded people. Luckily, the sex positivity movement is led and practiced by people everywhere. And a lot of them know what it's like to experience a sex-positive awakening in a sex-negative environment.
"It would be ideal if all sex-positive folks were surrounded by other sex-positive folks, but we know this usually isn't the case," Clinical Sexologist, and sex therapist for LifeStyles Condoms, Rena McDaniel, MEd tells Bustle. "Schools rarely teach comprehensive sexuality education and a lot of families and peers are shaming of sex-positive attitudes and behaviors. It is certainly easier to be sex-positive when you are surrounded by sex positivity in your everyday life, but it entirely possible to seek out and explore sex positivity even in the middle of an oppressive environment." Unfortunately, if you've ever been shamed for sexuality, you're probably in the majority. But being sex-positive is a worthwhile pursuit, and more accessible than ever.
"Sex positivity helps young people by dismantling the shame around celebrating and exploring sexuality," McDaniel says. "It helps young people learn skills around consent, safer sex, communication, and positive relationships that serve as the foundation for healthy sexual and romantic relationships going forward." And even if you're in an environment that doesn't get it, there are ways to build your identity yourself.
Here are eight ways to be sex positive when people around you are not, according to experts.
1. Examine Your Feelings
If you've decided to change your perspective on sex, you have to start with yourself. When it comes to sex-positivity, there's a lot to unpack, so it's best to figure out what your innate biases or perspectives are.
"Begin to understand your feelings, your reactions," Sex Educator, Lola Jean, tells Bustle. "Not only the surface level reactions, but digging beyond that to why do you feel the way you do? Where does that stem from? Put your thoughts or feelings into actionable words." You can start to find out, as if for the first time, why you like what you like, and how you view sex in the bigger picture. This is a critical building block for anyone, but especially powerful in a sex-negative environment. You'll know that your thoughts are your own, not anybody else's.
2. Know That There Is No One Way To Be Sex Positive
As you explore sex positivity, it's important to know that there is no particular path you have to take. "Sex positivity isn’t just about free love, it’s the societal drive to develop further away from an oppressive and antiquated outlook on sex," health and wellness coach at Maple Holistics Caleb Backe tells Bustle. "This movement aims to cultivate a holistic approach to sex that both enriches intimacy and de-stigmatizes non-normative sexual behavior." So as you explore and discover what you're into, you can get to know yourself without ever feeling like you're no longer part of the sex-positive community.
"What works for you may not work for others and no one has it all figured out," Jessica O’Reilly, PhD, Toronto-based sexologist and host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast tells Bustle. "We’re all imperfect and we make mistakes. Whether you’re consensually non-monogamous or monogamous, sexually active or abstinent, vanilla or kinky, you have a right to feel great about your sexual identity and relationships." It's all about reducing shame, and this is a huge step.
3. Find New Ways To Value Yourself
Shame comes from the outside in. And although there's no way to become impermeable to what's around you, there are ways to build yourself up. "[A good] way to maintain sex positivity when others around you aren’t is to learn not to value yourself by external measures," Backe says. "While the drive to conform is extremely powerful, it’s crucial to overcome this tendency and embrace one’s true feelings." Find certain things about yourself that make you feel good about yourself, like your kindness, work ethic, or loyalty. Building your self-esteem from these kinds of internal factors might make you feel stronger in the face of people who disagree with you.
4. Start Communicating Openly
Another step towards being sex positive is trying out open communication with your close friends or partners. "Talk about sex," O'Reilly says. "Talk about what you like and dislike, what you fear, how you feel and any questions you might have. Our culture is simultaneously hyper sexual and sex-negative and sexual messages are therefore highly contradictory. By discussing your concerns, uncertainties, vulnerabilities and desires more openly with trusted friends or partners, you can address some of these contradictions and embrace a life in which sex plays an overwhelmingly positive role." Having these sorts of conversations in private can make you feel more empowered in other aspects of your life as well. This is a great way to transition to sex positivity from something you think about to something you act on.
5. Find Allies
Beyond having a confidant or partner to talk to, it's important to find likeminded people who can support you on your journey to sex positivity in general. "You don’t need to live in a sex-positive environment to value and embody sex-positive values," O'Reilly says. "We live in a largely sex-negative environment — one in which gender, age, ability, appearance, social status, income, and a variety of other factors affect our sexual freedoms; many people, however, are sex positive." Look for them.
"Find sex-positive peers to have conversations with," McDaniel says. "Usually, there are a few exceptions even in the middle of a group or area that is usually sex-negative. Having a self-guided study group on basic comprehensive sexuality education can be a great way to get used to having non-creepy conversations about sex in a non-sexual setting." If you really can't find a peer group in your area, there's other ways too. Dr. Laura Deitsch, Vibrant's resident sexologist, tells Bustle that there are a bunch of conferences and events where you can find other sex-positive people. You've probably heard of SlutWalk, but there's seriously a lot out there for you to check out and get engaged in.
6. Go Online
There's a lot of nonsense online, but there's also an incredible sex-positive community. If you do your research, chances are, the internet will be a major jumping-off-point for your sex-positive identity. "Digital spaces allow young people to collaborate and learn from one another’s lived experiences," O’Reilly says. "There are also many sites that offer evidence-based information that young people can consume and discuss together and with educators, parents, nurses, etc. ... Increased access to accurate information can lead to more realistic expectations with regards to sex and relationships. Websites like Scarleteen, Sex Etc., TalkTabu.com and others address sex from multiple perspectives and can help young people navigating the landscape of sexual identity." Plus, if you live somewhere that is not particularly diverse or where people aren't able to express themselves freely, the internet can help you really understand other points of view.
"As we learn about people whose sexual identities may differ from our own, we develop perspective, understanding and care for a broad range of experiences," O’Reilly says. "This can boost our own sexual self-confidence and help to support a sex-positive perspective." Saturate your social media feeds with people like Alok Vaid-Menon and Ericka Hart to get started.
7. Find Common Ground When You Can
Having a different point-of-view from the people around you can be really painful and isolating. But, chances are, you don't disagree on everything. "Find common ground with the folks you are surrounded by," Dr. Deitsch says. "It's easier to share company when there are commonalities. Expand your interests so that you can leave the differences behind sometimes and still engage with others."
Whatever the topic you can agree on, even if it's just a shared love of UPS Dogs, try to enjoy it. You don't owe anyone anything, but finding peace in the small things can help you feel a little less alone.
8. Explore Your Own Body
Last but not least, know that enjoying sex doesn't have to involve other people at all. While you're living in an environment that doesn't match with your perspective on sex, feel free to take the time to know yourself first. "Explore your own body," McDaniels says. "You have access to so much information about what turns you on and what turns you off and what kinds of sensations your body enjoys. Take the time to explore it!" Get yourself a little sex-positive gift and have some fun. You deserve it.
When it comes to any aspect of life, it's rarely fun to be the odd one out. With sex, that feeling can be especially complicated. Luckily, living in the age of the internet and increased visibility can help you explore your identity in ways that would otherwise be quite difficult. There's a long way to go towards a healthy perspective on sex in our culture, but at least you can start with becoming more confident in yourself.