The sex-positive movement is a social and philosophical movement that seeks to change cultural attitudes and norms around sexuality, promoting the recognition of sexuality (in the countless forms of expression) as a natural and healthy part of the human experience and emphasizing the importance of personal sovereignty, safer sex practices, and consensual sex (free from violence or coercion). It covers every aspect of sexual identity including gender expression, orientation, relationship to the body (body-positivity, nudity, choice), relationship-style choice, and reproductive rights.[1][unreliable source?][2] Sex-positivity is "an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, encouraging sexual pleasure and experimentation."[1] The sex-positive movement also advocates for comprehensive sex education and safe sex as part of its campaign.[3][1] The movement generally makes no moral distinctions among types of sexual activities, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference.[4]


The terms and concepts of sex-positive (German: sexuell positiv) (or, alternately sex-affirmative (sexuell bejahend)) and sex-negative (sexuell negativ) are generally attributed to Wilhelm Reich. His hypothesis was that some societies view the sexual expression as essentially good and healthy, while others have a generally negative view of sexuality and seek to repress and control libido.[5] Other terms used to describe this concept include pro-sex or pro-sexuality.[5][6]

The sex-positive movement does not, in general, make moral or ethical distinctions between heterosexual or homosexual sex, or masturbation, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference.[7] Other sex-positive positions include acceptance of BDSM and polyamory as well as asexuality.[7] The sex-positive movement is also concerned with the teaching of comprehensive and accurate sex education in schools.[3]

Some sex-positive theorists have analyzed sex-positivity in terms of the intersection of race/culture, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, and spirituality.[7] Because of the vastness of the sex-positivity movement, it has been challenging for people to reach an agreed-upon definition of the term "sex-positivity".[7] Several definitions of sex-positivity have been offered by sexologist Carol Queen:

Sex-positive, a term that's coming into cultural awareness, isn't a dippy love-child celebration of orgone – it's a simple yet radical affirmation that we each grow our own passions on a different medium, that instead of having two or three or even half a dozen sexual orientations, we should be thinking in terms of millions. "Sex-positive" respects each of our unique sexual profiles, even as we acknowledge that some of us have been damaged by a culture that tries to eradicate sexual differences and possibilities.[8]

It’s the cultural philosophy that understands sexuality as a potentially positive force in one’s life, and it can, of course, be contrasted with sex-negativity, which sees sex as problematic, disruptive, and dangerous. Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent.[9]


Main articles: 1960s counterculture, Free Love and Sexual revolution

In general use, the term sexual liberation is used to describe a socio-political movement, witnessed from the 1960s into the 1970s.[10] However, the term has been used at least since the late 1920s and is often attributed as being influenced by Freud's writing on sexual liberation and psychosexual issues, as well as Wilhelm Reich, who originally coined the term.[5]

During the 1960s, a shift in the ways people thought about sexuality began to take place, heralding a period of de-conditioning in some circles away from old world antecedents, and developing new codes of sexual behavior, many of which have since been integrated into the mainstream.[11]

The 1960s also heralded a new culture of "free love" with millions of young people embracing the hippie ethos and preaching the power of love and the beauty of sex as a natural part of ordinary life. Hippies believed that sex and sexuality were natural biological phenomena that should be neither denied nor repressed. Changes in attitudes reflected a perception that traditional views on sexuality were both hypocritical and male-chauvinistic.

Sexual liberalization heralded a new ethos in experimenting with open sex in and outside of marriage, contraception and the pill, public nudity, gay liberation, legalized abortion, interracial marriage, a return to natural childbirth, women's rights, and feminism.

Historian David Allyn argues that the sexual revolution was a time of "coming-out": about premarital sex, masturbation, erotic fantasies, pornography use, and sexuality.[10]

The term sex-positive first came into use in the United States in the late 1990s with the founding of the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco, California, and The Center for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle, Washington. In 2009, Sex Positive World began in Portland, Oregon. As of 2019, there are more than sixteen chapters of the nonprofit, in five countries.

Sex-positive feminism

Main article: Sex-positive feminism

Sex-positive feminism, also known as pro-sex feminism, sex-radical feminism, or sexually liberal feminism, is a movement that began in the early 1980s. Some became involved in the sex-positive feminist movement in response to efforts by anti-pornography feminists, such as Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Robin Morgan and Dorchen Leidholdt, to put pornography at the center of a feminist explanation of women's oppression.[12] This period of intense debate and acrimony between sex-positive and anti-pornography feminists during the early 1980s is often referred to as the "Feminist Sex Wars". Other sex-positive feminists became involved, not in opposition to other feminists, but in direct response to what they saw as patriarchal control of sexuality. Some authors who have advocated sex-positive feminism include Erika Lust, Ellen Willis, Susie Bright, Patrick Califia, Gayle Rubin, Carol Queen, Avedon Carol, Tristan Taormino, Diana Cage, Nina Hartley, and Betty Dodson.

Sex-positive feminism gives attention and acknowledges the importance of women's right to explore their bodies, sexual desire, and considers that sexual violence does not have to prevent the vindication of female desire.[13] This movement demands the preservation of freedom and is against norms that are present in the sexual sphere. It also encourages and demands respect for variety and sexual dissidence without allowing itself to be harmed by intense anti-sex pressure from critics.[13]

Sex-positive feminism affirms that the discourse on women's sexual pleasure is silenced and marginalized in today's world.[14] Suppressing sexual dialogue with the supposed purpose of protecting women will only make them appear, according to this perspective, as the weaker sex. Women could have difficulty defending themselves with the classification as victims.[15] Over time, women have been classified as sexually passive, while men are recognized as sexually aggressive, so intercourse is considered an activity in which women "submit" to men's desire.[16] Another factor that continues to minimize female desire is the lack of consensus and research on it, a product of the social repression that women have had to endure over the centuries, which has led to prejudices and generalizations.[13]

The sexual hierarchy system places heterosexuality, marriage and procreation at the top, which causes many women to fear the sexual system that predominates in today's world.[17] Pleasure and sexuality are human rights that have been subjugated by an old-fashioned patriarchal social construction.[18] Pro-sex feminism endeavors to cultivate sexuality as a site of political resistance. By using the "pleasure" factor in their favor, a significant contribution to the contemporary queer theory and politics has been made by using sexual and feminist "empowerment."[19]


In opposition, some feminists[who?] believe sex-positivity perceives disadvantage in women but makes them easier to oppress.[20][failed verification] A large religious–particularly Abrahamic—conservative opposition to sex-positivity sees human sexuality[5] as a destructive force except under the contract of a marriage. Sexual acts are ranked hierarchically, with marital heterosexuality at the top of the hierarchy and masturbation, homosexuality, and other sexualities that deviate from societal expectations closer to the bottom.[21] Medicine and psychiatry are said to have also contributed to sex-negativity, as they may designate some forms of sexuality that appear on the bottom of this hierarchy as being pathological (see Mental illness).[21]

Multiple feminists, such as Verkerk, Glick, and Bauer have criticized iterations of sex-positivity due to concerns about its effectiveness in challenging patriarchal norms.[22][23][24] The aforementioned feminists insist they are "sex-critical" rather than "sex-negative".[25] Scholar, Verkerk, acknowledges this by stating that "there are both harmful and liberating aspects of female sexual objectification and an accurate account of it must consider both.[26] Critics also take issue with the commodification of sexuality. Women are told both to invest in western standards of beauty and sexualization while also becoming a "consumable objects themselves.'[22] Sex-positive feminism has also been criticized for its emphasis on defeating the patriarchal gender norms through personal life choices, "rather than to dismantle, critique, expose, or challenge systematic discrimination and violence.[27]

SlutWalk DC 2012
SlutWalk DC 2012

The SlutWalk received criticism of its efficacy as an activist event. SlutWalk's purpose was to reclaim the word "slut" and counteract victim-blaming.[28] Despite the aim of the slut-walk, critics point out that the word "slut" had not been reclaimed.[29] Rather, the word slut had become reified.[29] Critics of the SlutWalk also suggest that the focus on revealing clothing "ultimately displace[s] the sombre and deadly issues of rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and street harassment."[29] Lastly, the SlutWalk received criticism for lack of consideration of the hyper-sexualization that women of colour face.[30] Black Women's Blueprint penned an open letter to the slut-walk explaining that Black women cannot "afford to label" themselves as those in the slut-walk do.

In the 21st century

Since the early 2000s, the sex-positivity movement has continued to move closer into the mainstream.[2] The advent of social media has made the sex-positivity movement more accessible by giving advocates of the movement platforms to promote their beliefs to a wide audience of followers. By extending the reach of the movement, sex-positivity has come to be inclusive of all sorts of sex and sexuality.[4] Shaming has become an area of particular interest within the sex-positivity movement, encouraging people to be more open and accepting of the different experiences people have with sex and sexuality.[31] Slut-shaming, prude-shaming and kink-shaming have all been challenged by the sex-positivity movement in an effort to allow all people to feel supported by and included in the movement.[32]

Pop culture has also played a large role in bringing the sex-positivity movement into the mainstream. Celebrities, including Lady Gaga, Amber Rose, Jessica Biel, Cameron Diaz, Taylor Swift and many others, have spoken publicly about their experiences with slut-shaming, sexuality, sexual assault, body acceptance and overall sexual health and responsibility.[33][34]

In recent years, sex-positive concepts have found their way into dance clubs through sex-positive parties in cities like Berlin and Vienna.[35]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "A Sex Positive Renaissance". Allena Gabosch. 2014-12-08. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  2. ^ a b "Sex Positivity". Women and Gender Advocacy Center. Colorado State University. Archived from the original on June 13, 2020. Retrieved June 13, 2020.
  3. ^ a b Abraham, Laurie (2011-11-16). "Teaching Good Sex". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  4. ^ a b Ivanski, Chantelle; Kohut, Taylor (2017). "Exploring definitions of sex positivity through thematic analysis". The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. 26 (3): 216–225. doi:10.3138/cjhs.2017-0017. S2CID 148995818.
  5. ^ a b c d Johansson, Warren. 1990. "Sex Negative, Sex Positive". In: Dynes WR (ed). Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. New York: Garland. p 1182–1183. ISBN 0-8153-1880-4.
  6. ^ See, for example, Wilhelm Reich, The Invasion of Compulsory Sex-Morality (Der Einbruch der Sexualmoral, 1932); The Sexual Revolution (Die Sexualität im Kulturkampf, 1936).
  7. ^ a b c d Ivanski, Chantelle; Kohut, Taylor (2017-11-16). "Exploring definitions of sex positivity through thematic analysis". The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. 26 (3): 216–225. doi:10.3138/cjhs.2017-0017. ISSN 2017-0017. S2CID 148995818.
  8. ^ Queen, Carol (1997). Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture. Pittsburgh (Cleis Press). ISBN 1-57344-073-6
  9. ^ Queen, Carol; Comella, Lynn (2008). "The Necessary Revolution: Sex-Positive Feminism in the Post-Barnard Era". The Communication Review. 11 (3): 274–291. doi:10.1080/10714420802306783.
  10. ^ a b Allyn, David (2000). Make love, not war: the sexual revolution, an unfettered history. Warner Trade Publishing. ISBN 978-0-316-03930-7.
  11. ^ Time. 1967.
  12. ^ McElroy, W (2002). Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-First Century. Chicago.
  13. ^ a b c Rodriquez, M.J.M. (2005). "EL FEMINISMO "PRO-SEXO" O ANTI-CENSURA: UNA LECTURA SEXOLÓGICA". Anuario de sexología: 18.
  14. ^ McGeeney, Ester; Kehily, Mary Jane (2016-05-03). "Young people and sexual pleasure – where are we now?". Sex Education. 16 (3): 235. doi:10.1080/14681811.2016.1147149. ISSN 1468-1811. S2CID 147522408.
  15. ^ Tentaciones (2017-08-23). "Por qué es tan importante que las mujeres hablen abiertamente de sexo". El País (in Spanish). ISSN 1134-6582. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
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  18. ^ Kismödi, Eszter; Corona, Esther; Maticka-Tyndale, Eleanor; Rubio-Aurioles, Eusebio; Coleman, Eli (2017-07-12). "Sexual Rights as Human Rights: A Guide for the WAS Declaration of Sexual Rights". International Journal of Sexual Health. 29 (sup1): 22–23. doi:10.1080/19317611.2017.1353865. ISSN 1931-7611. S2CID 148862236.
  19. ^ Neill, Emily Rider (2019-05-20). "Troubling the Body: A Feminist Critique of Corporeal Politics": 27–28. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ Lampen, Claire (23 February 2020). "The Disturbing Rise of the '50 Shades' Defense for Murder". The Cut.
  21. ^ a b Rubin, Gayle (1984). Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality. In Carole S. Vance (Ed.), Pleasure and Danger: exploring female sexuality, pp. 267–319. Boston (Routledge & Kegan Paul). ISBN 0-7100-9974-6
  22. ^ a b Verkerk, Willow (2017), Gandesha, Samir; Hartle, Johan F. (eds.), "Reification, Sexual Objectification, and Feminist Activism", The Spell of Capital, Reification and Spectacle, Amsterdam University Press, pp. 149–162, ISBN 978-90-8964-851-8, JSTOR j.ctt1pk3jqt.11, retrieved 2021-02-26
  23. ^ Bauer, Nancy (2015). How to do things with pornography. Cambridge, Massachusetts. ISBN 978-0-674-05520-9. OCLC 893709461.
  24. ^ Glick, Elisa (2000). "Sex Positive: Feminism, Queer Theory, and the Politics of Transgression". Feminist Review. 64 (64): 19–45. doi:10.1080/014177800338936. ISSN 0141-7789. JSTOR 1395699. S2CID 145181041.
  25. ^ Sun, The Cornell Daily (2013-09-03). "JOHN: Rethinking Sex-Positivity". The Cornell Daily Sun. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
  26. ^ Verkerk, Willow (2017), Gandesha, Samir; Hartle, Johan F. (eds.), "Reification, Sexual Objectification, and Feminist Activism", The Spell of Capital, Reification and Spectacle, Amsterdam University Press, p. 157, ISBN 978-90-8964-851-8, JSTOR j.ctt1pk3jqt.11, retrieved 2021-02-26
  27. ^ Nguyen, Tram (2013). "From SlutWalks to SuicideGirls: Feminist Resistance in the Third Wave and Postfeminist Era". WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly. 41 (3–4): 158. doi:10.1353/wsq.2013.0102. ISSN 1934-1520. S2CID 85288792.
  28. ^ Nguyen, Tram (2013). "From SlutWalks to SuicideGirls: Feminist Resistance in the Third Wave and Postfeminist Era". WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly. 41 (3–4): 159. doi:10.1353/wsq.2013.0102. ISSN 1934-1520. S2CID 85288792.
  29. ^ a b c Nguyen, Tram (2013). "From SlutWalks to SuicideGirls: Feminist Resistance in the Third Wave and Postfeminist Era". WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly. 41 (3–4): 160. doi:10.1353/wsq.2013.0102. ISSN 1934-1520. S2CID 85288792.
  30. ^ Nguyen, Tram (2013). "From SlutWalks to SuicideGirls: Feminist Resistance in the Third Wave and Postfeminist Era". WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly. 41 (3–4): 161. doi:10.1353/wsq.2013.0102. ISSN 1934-1520. S2CID 85288792.
  31. ^ Fahs, Breanne (2014). "'Freedom to' and 'freedom from': A new vision for sex-positive politics". Sexualities. 17 (3): 267–290. doi:10.1177/1363460713516334. S2CID 144575799.
  32. ^ Tolman, Deborah L.; Anderson, Stephanie M.; Belmonte, Kimberly (2015). "Mobilizing Metaphor: Considering Complexities, Contradictions, and Contexts in Adolescent Girls' and Young Women's Sexual Agency". Sex Roles. 73 (7–8): 298–310. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0510-0. S2CID 141668694.
  33. ^ "9 Celebs Getting Candid About Sexual Health". Shape Magazine. 2015-09-25. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  34. ^ "These 9 Sex-Positive Women Celebrities Should Be Your Role Models". YourTango. 2017-03-24. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  35. ^ Christoph Benkeser (22 November 2018). "Sex-Positive in Wien: Alles, was ihr über die neue Party wissen müsst". Vice. Retrieved 21 March 2021.