After I wrote Enthusiasm For Sex Isn’t The Same Thing As Sex-Positivity, I received this tweet, which reminded me of the other side of the coin:
@charlieglickman interesting… Conversely, one could also be sex positive but NOT enthusiastic for their own experiences
— Kelsey Education (@KelseyEducation) April 7, 2012
I suppose I thought it was implicit in my post, but upon reflection, I think there’s some important stuff to unpack there.
There are a lot of reasons we might not be enthusiastic about sex, and there have definitely been several times in my life when I wasn’t. Stress, relationship challenges, health issues, having other priorities, effects from medications, not getting enough sleep, dealing with big emotions- they can all affect our libidos, either for a short time or for an extended period. All of these have shown up in my life, either for me or my partner. (One of the good things about being polyamorous is that we’ve been able to get our sexual needs met while more easily giving each other the room to deal with whatever was going on.)
There’s also the fact that some people don’t feel much or any desire to have sex, and that doesn’t mean that they’re sex-negative at all. One of the most sex-positive people I know is asexual and even though she feels no urge to have sex, she can celebrate other people’s joys and experiences.
I think of enthusiasm for sex and sex-positivity as being on two distinct axes- there’s nothing about our location on one that implies anything about our location on the other. In fact, some very sex-negative people I know are very enthusiastic about having sex, while also having a lot of judgment about anyone who does it differently than they do.
Having said that, I have certainly seen some people deal with their shames and pains around sex by being both very sex-negative and rather unenthusiastic about sex. But it often looks to me like those are both the effects of their underlying pain, rather than one causing the other. For that matter, I’ve also seen people respond to their pain by having a lot of sex, but that doesn’t mean that they were supporting their well-being at the time.
So just as I think it’s time to let go of the idea that enthusiasm for sex implies anything about being sex-positive, I think we need to shed the notion that lack of enthusiasm implies anything about someone’s attitudes about sex. Going back to my definition of sex positivity as the idea that the only relevant measure of a sexual act or practice is the consent, pleasure, and well-being of the people who do it and the people who are affected by it, if someone’s well-being results from not having sex or from having sex less frequently than other people, then the sex-positive thing to do is honor that, no matter what their reason.
Sex-positivity says that engaging in any sexual act doesn’t imply anything about the folks who do it. Similarly, sex-positivity says that not engaging in any sexual act doesn’t imply anything about them. The only way to know what it means to them or why they made those choices is to ask them about it and to listen with an open mind and an open heart. When someone tells us that their decisions were made in support of their consent, pleasure, and well-being, then honor that. Even if it’s not the decision you would have made.