A reader of this blog recently emailed me a request for an interview of my opinions on sex positivity. I was ecstatic to oblige and I got permission to post the interview here:
A.B.: How do you define sex positivity?
Me: Sex positivity is harmonious with enthusiastic consent. Both involve a strong sense of self, awareness, communication, and respect for other consenting adults. A positive attitude about sex, both what one is having (or not having) and in general, educates and opens minds. Sex is more enjoyable when it is enthusiastic and positive - not fluffy bunny happy-face positive, but positive in the sense that the participating consenting adults are aware, respectful and pleased.
This is not to say that asexuals and virgins can't be sex positive. The actual act of sex is only a part of sex positivity. Body positivity, respect for identity, intersectionality and inter/intrapersonal literacy are all other parts as well.
A.B.: When you lived in Edgewater, did you feel it was a sex positive place? Why or why not?
Me: It's difficult for me to say whether or not Edgewater was sex positive, except in comparison to Jefferson Park, where I grew up. Sex shops such as Tulip (would that count as Edgewater or Andersonville?) and Early 2 Bed never would have made it into Jefferson Park, nor would gender-aware businesses such as Kitchen Sink and Graham Cracker Comics - shout out to Shanna, who's a guru of comic books and feminism. In this sense, Edgewater is sex positive. I also had an art show as part of the Edgewater Art Walk in October 2011, which was technically PG-13 but with more racy ideological themes.
Aside from these individual places and experiences, particularly in comparison to other more conservative/Victorian neighborhoods, Edgewater didn't seem to have much of a centralised community awareness. I have friends in Edgewater who don't tend to participate in in the community, and I know outsiders who make a special effort to participate.
A.B.: Where do you think the expression and enjoyment of a healthy sexuality tie into the grand picture of women’s health?*
Me: One can better enjoy sex with education, which involves sexual health. Many women don't have comprehensive sexual education about their own bodies, which is a health issue. When a woman doesn't comprehend her own body, how can she decipher her cycle, understand what angle of penetration is most pleasing to her (or penetration at all), or love her body at all?
For example, many clinics and gynecologists will not give IUDs to women who are not already married with children. This practice declares that pleasurable sex is allowable only after one has reproduced sufficiently and in legally recognised monogamy. Firstly, very few women know about IUDs in the first place; secondly, how many women in that situation would continue to search? Or would know where to look? Or know that their states might provide financial coverage for both the IUD itself and its insertion procedure? Or whether she should get a Mirena IUD, Paragard IUD, or use another method?
Reproductive health is a branch of sexual health, though the emphasis is stronger for women. The difference between vaginal and clitoral orgasms isn't valued as much as how an egg gets fertilised in our society (and even education on that is poor). The emphasis is on reproduction, not pleasure. While it's true that this information is important and protection from unwanted pregnancy is necessary, awareness should continue beyond that. A woman can take a birth control pill - regardless of her knowledge of how it affects her body - to keep from getting pregnant but still might not orgasm during sex and not know why. Resources for that understanding are fewer than for birth control, which is still too little.
A.B.: On your blog, you talk about sex positivity as a prevention technique. Can you expand on this?
Me: To better understand "prevention technique," I'll elaborate on exactly what is being prevented. There are many layers of sexual assault/harassment, none of them "better" or "worse" than another. There is the commonly perceived scene of a masculine stranger forcing a woman into something sexual; to be certain, this does occur and it is horrifying. There are also respected authority figures or seemingly-platonic intimates who use their relationships, sometimes unknowingly, to manipulate the trust of one for sexual ends. And then there is sexual coercion, given into in order to avoid a fight or to maintain a relationship.
Sex positivity is not a shield against sexual harassment/assault, but it can both enhance one's awareness of a situation - particularly one's role, responsibility, options, lack of responsibility - and be a healing agent. Through sexual enthusiasm (again, not necessarily pertaining to the actual sex act), one can transcend from victim to survivor. Many people use this as a way to take back control in sex, whether as a dominant or a submissive or vanilla or asexual or "born-again virgin." For a survivor, sex positivity erases the taint on sexuality brought about by an assaulter.
A "sex negative" mindset relates sex to shame and guilt (not in a consensual, bdsm way). When this connection is made, coercion and manipulation tend to be more effective. This isn't to say that a survivor in this kind of a situation is to blame: chances are that the survivor doesn't know that "no" or "yes" could be said and respected. Sex positivity as a cultural awareness opens communication and makes sex a discussion between consenting adults, personal sex positivity involves a consciousness of options and what one actually wants.
* I'm defining women's health as any health issues (mostly sexual health) that are of concern to anyone who identifies as female. I suppose an issue I'm also grappling with in the article is how typical discussion of women's health is kept narrowly to reproductive rights and resources, and I want to explore past that.