Don’t Be a Sex-Positive Jerk

I’ve written here before about the very specific brand of sex-positivity I loathe, in which people seem bound and determined to press their sexuality on other people, insisting that sex is fantastic for everyone and everyone enjoys sex, creating a hypersexual, charged environment that refuses to acknowledge the complexities of human sexuality. Sex is awesome, under this framework, so everyone’s into it, and a ‘sex positive’ environment is not simply a place in which people can talk about sexuality without shame or judgement, but an environment in which sexuality is actively pushed on people. It’s all sexy, all the time.

It’s critically important to live in a world in which people aren’t shamed, discriminated against, or mocked for their sexuality. To inhabit an environment where people of all sexual preferences and from all lines of life are respected, from lesbians to people in full-time BDSM relationships to poly families to much, much more. We live in a heteronormative culture and one in which only a narrow type of sexuality is considered acceptable, making it vital that we push for acceptance of all people, all bodies, all consensual relationship configurations.

That includes, though, the asexual community, and it also includes people who may have a conflicted or even tormented relationship with sex. The rape survivor in recovery who does not want to be touched, for example, let alone be in a sexual relationship — she doesn’t need to hear at every turn that sex is so fantastic, rah rah rah. The sex-averse asexual person, likewise, doesn’t need to be constantly pressured to have sex, to be told that she will enjoy it if she just tries it; these kinds of attitudes, that everyone must like sex, are scarily close to the corrective attitudes slung at gays and lesbians, who are told that they just need to try having nice normal heterosexual partners and they will be normal again.

There is nothing abnormal about not experiencing sexual attraction or not being interested in sex, nor is there anything abnormal about needing to work through some things on your own after experiencing sexual trauma, including rape, incest, child molestation, and other traumas. While your lack of desire or inability to have sex might be rooted in trauma, it doesn’t mean that you’re broken or that there’s something wrong with you that needs to be fixed, nor does it mean that the people around you have the right to insist that you need to join the sexual world.

Sometimes, complex feelings about sexuality or a simple decreased libido are symptoms of a larger issue; a medication conflict, for example, or past trauma. And you get to decide whether, when, and how these issues are dealt with. Maybe you’re not happy with a decreased libido associated with a depression medication, for example, so you decide to talk to your doctor about it and determine if there’s a more suitable antidepressant. Maybe you want to go to a therapist for counseling to work through your trauma, and perhaps the sexual issues will be part of your sessions together — but maybe they won’t.

The brand of sex-positivity that continues to insist that sex is a unilateral good (except, of course, for rape), is not viewing the nuance and complexity of human sexuality, something rather surprising considering it comes from a movement that claims to be concerned with the rich array of, well, human sexuality. It assumes that people only have a single, uncomplicated relationship with sex as a pleasurable experience — or that people who experience conflicted emotions about it are expressing internalised hatred. That enough ‘acceptance’ rhetoric will push people into a simplistic relationship with sex as something fun and enjoyable.

Some asexual people don’t want to have sex, period. They don’t view this as a shortfall or lack in their lives, some may be actively repulsed by sex, and many just want to get on with the myriad of other things going on in their world. To be repeatedly told that they need to be excited about sex is yet another reminder that they don’t fit in, not even in the world of ‘feminists’ who claim to be ‘sex-positive.’ Being sex-positive must also include being supportive and respectful of those who aren’t interested in or aren’t ready for sex, for whatever reason — this includes not questioning, challenging, or harassing people who express a desire to not be sexual, whether for a lifetime or a given period of time.

It’s not terribly be difficult to take a more nuanced approach to sex-positivity, to be respectful at people at all points of the spectrum of sexuality, but it does require having some compassion for other people, and the ability to consider yourself in their shoes for a moment. People who aren’t interested in sex aren’t a uniform monolith, any more than people who are, and while it’s not your business to probe each and every single one of them for details, you can make yourself available to chat if they want to without making it clear that you think there’s something wrong with them for not wanting to have sex, for not being interested in sexuality.

Sometimes people need to find a safe space without pressure to explore and consider sexuality, need to find mentors who will support them as they heal, or figure out who they are, or confront attitudes within themselves. The sex-positive community should be a space for that, a place where people can feel comfortable being themselves, no matter who they are.

Not everyone wants to fall in love. Not everyone wants to have sex. Not everyone thinks kissing is amazing. And that’s all okay.

Capture of a Parisian kiss-in by Guillaume Paumier, Flicker.