We’re not very positive about sex these days, are we?
While there are plenty of people, organizations and companies out there trying to say what we’ve been saying all along (that sex feels good, so stop hating on us), we’re kind of in the minority. That’s why there are such words as ‘feminist’ or ‘sex positive’, because, let’s face it… If we all were, there’d be no need for something to be ‘sex positive’ because it already would just BE.
Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, but we’re well on the way. Organizations for sex positivity are all over the place, many believing that sex feels good or that it should feel good, and that through proper education, sex can feel as good as it sounds to a wider range of people. Slutty Girl Problems, for starters, is a go-to place for many young women who have questions about sex that maybe aren’t as honestly answered in any other places. Seattle’s Center for Sex Positive Culture opened in 1999 to facilitate discussion about the many facets of human sexuality. Many companies aim to educate consumers about what goes into the tools, potions, and lubricants utilized in intimate time, and providing body safe options.
Specifically, Sustain Condoms is seeking to reinvigorate the condom space… Safe sex is sexy, but so is using condoms that don’t hurt the environment and that aren’t full of the cheap rubber and such used in Durex and Trojan. Good Clean Love has perfected the art of creating sexual aids like lubricants and aphrodisiacs that don’t contribute to the rise of the very common Bacterial Vaginosis (an effect of using petrochemical based lubricants). There are many other brands out there that strive to do similar things, because it’s high time we start talking about what goes in our bodies when we’re engaged in sexual activity.
But sex positivity is so much more than that. And while this is a good start, sex positive sex education starts a lot sooner than college, because, let’s face it. On average, people (both men and women) record having sex for the first time at 17. This is why having comprehensive conversations in K-12 settings is so essential. Because, if we can’t have them at home or in our communities, then we NEED to have them in schools. But why?
We might have grown up in sexually uncomfortable households; we might have grown up where we were not allowed to have questions about sex or why our growing and changing bodies did this or that. We might have been guilted and shamed into thinking that pleasure was a bad thing. We might have grown up without any sexual experience, because maybe we’re supposed to save ourselves til marriage.
Likewise, the community response to sex education is also not very positive. If you live in America, the conversation about sex and sexuality seems to exist in two very narrow extremes. Sex is either a tool used to objectify (mostly women) and to sell myriad things, or it’s used as a tool to shame and guilt people into not having real conversations. Though our sex drive comes naturally to us, the skills of sex are learned – and it doesn’t really work to not know how to do something sexually in this culture. But God forbid we actually ask a question about it.
The last great frontier for community sex education seems to be school. If we can’t talk about sex in a healthy way at home, or in our advertising and other media, than surely teachers with health backgrounds can answer our questions and talk to us in positive, supportive ways about sex education?
Sadly, the last great frontier has also been overrun with sex negativity. Whenever I think about the state of sex education in America, I always think of the iconic sex education scene in 2004’s Mean Girls, in which the teacher is reviewing the ways in which sex can give you diseases, but then hands out a bucket of condoms.
This oxymoron seems to sum up sex education experiences in America. I don’t have any fond memories of sex education in my K-12 experience. We discussed diseases and parts of the body with clinical precision. We touched on components of healthy relationships, like that elusive word ‘consent’ that clearly means different things to different people. We discussed pregnancy, briefly discussed periods (much to the boys’ displeasure) and then we were considered to be sexually literate. This is what’s considered comprehensive sex education. Nowhere do I remember a discussion about pleasure or *gasp* orgasms! Likewise, when asked, friends and colleagues also echo this sadness about a lack of sexual education. It seems like we’d have more people making the right choices for themselves if we talked honestly about sex and sexual experiences.
And this is where sex positivity comes in, as well as a complete reconfiguration of what we think of as sex education. Because, as someone who got a comprehensive sex education, I have to say that my sex “education” did not make me feel literate about sexuality, my own or anyone else’s. I doubt that anyone who got an abstinence-only education feels any differently than myself, except for maybe they know less about human anatomy. The point is, there’s clearly a large disconnect between what one person considers sex education and what another does. As an-ex classroom teacher, I say it is time to create a Common Core curricula for human sexuality. But where to start?
First off, I think the conversation needs to start out with a sex positive attitude. What does it mean to be sex positive? It probably means different things for different people, and that’s fine. But ultimately, sex positivity means that human sexuality and the questions that come along with being human and sexual are looked at in a positive, curious manner. When a question is asked out of curiosity, shame and guilt should not be part of the equation. When a question is asked about sex or sexuality, the asker should feel armed with the information needed to make an informed choice for oneself.
This is a challenging thing to do in a society that, as we discussed, is not very sex positive. And so, leading this movement, requires brave souls in every single level of the community. We need parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators, and everyone else that works with children of all ages to commit to being sex positive. Being sex positive can be challenging because it can attack your core beliefs about sexuality, but it’s always important to ask yourself where those beliefs come from. If they’re your own, commit to thinking more openly. If they’re from your community (family, friends, media, K-12 education), practice admitting it and forming your OWN beliefs. You might find out they’re actually very different!
Okay, but how does sex positivity translate into comprehensive sex education in a classroom? Or online? Or with a family member or friend or a partner?
First off, it’s important for anyone learning sex education (and I really feel like sex education is for everyone, no matter how much they’ve had before) to realize that sex education is a journey, just like any good, evolving sex life is. After all, there’s a reason that there is more than just missionary style sex. You get good at one thing, and then you try something else.
Secondly, let’s talk about the components of good sex education. Well, of course the physical component is important. A good sex education starts with knowing the different names and purposes for various parts of male and female genitalia and beyond. This goes along with an honest scientific-based conversation about periods, wet dreams, and all that jazz (and jizz), too.
Then, of course, it’s important to talk about protection, from both unwanted pregnancies (this would then lead to a conversation on HOW people get pregnant) and sexually transmitted illnesses/diseases. This can be terrifying to the people listening but it’s a good thing to factor into the conversation since pregnancy and diseases can happen. However, when you also offer people empowering choices about contraception and protection, they tend to make informed choices about sexuality.
After the scary conversations, and probably even before then, what people want to know most of all is about sexual feelings. Why does it feel good when I touch myself? Is it okay to touch myself? Why does my heart start beating really fast when s/he’s around?
And then there’s the physical stuff… Like, how do I give a good blow job? Is it gross to give/receive oral sex? How do I ask him to go down on me? How do I know/tell them what feels good? Does it hurt the first time? What should I expect? Will I orgasm the first time I have sex? How will I know when I have an orgasm? Worse, what if I can’t?
All this and more are the types of questions that teens really want answers to. Hell, even adults want answers to these questions. But, what happens on the answering end of this spectrum? Some of these questions get personal for the teacher/leader of the class, too.
The truth of the matter is that if you are uncomfortable talking and thinking about these topics yourself, then you’re unlikely to be comfortable answering them in a classroom setting. Again, this is where sex positivity comes in. Sex positivity comes in and encourages people to continue learning about their own sexuality and their growing sexual responses.
This is where the problematic nature of the sex discussion on a cultural level comes into play. If the sex education that we see in K-12 education is to change into something more sex positive, then that means that the discourse about human sexuality (in all its forms) must change on a cultural level into something that’s more sex positive.
And if a change is to happen on a cultural level, then that means a demand for something different, something better and more positive must happen. Luckily, that’s already started happening. Some teachers are already opting in to speak honestly about sex. Parents are opting to take their kids out of sex education because of state policies on abstinence only education. The Daily Show showcased a recent segment on kids demanding sex education that actually answered their questions. Celebrities like Lorde, Beyonce, and Lena Dunham are also publically sex positive (a blessing for a generation that lives and breathes social media).
Unfortunately, we still have a ways to go, but you can do some things to be more sex positive. In the mean time, I encourage you to keep educating yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Encourage more open dialogue with friends. By opening up to others, we invite conversations and in a sex positive environment, we’re sure to want to share and pass along the information.