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Sex-positivity refers to the belief that open-minded acceptance of sex can be a vehicle for positive social and political reform, and to a worldview centered around that belief.

Basic beliefs[edit]

The beliefs of "sex-positives" can vary widely, but most think that society's view of sex is too restrictive and that changing this is an important social issue.

It's the antithesis of the "there's only one way to have sex" idea put forward by magazines.[1]

Sex-positive beliefs are tolerant of all sexual orientations and encourage sexual diversity and "experimentation" between consenting adults.

Many sex-positives see pornography and prostitution as potentially liberating — when meeting strict criteria of equality and safety for everyone involved — and only consider cases where these criteria aren't met (such as those involving exploitation, abuse or lack of consent) as categorically wrong and deplorable.

In general, sex-positivity promotes how to go about having a good experience, rather than deriding certain deliciously naughty adult activities as morally "good" and "bad", placing the latter off-limits (and disastrously repressing one's own urges).


Sex-positivity in its modern form began with the 1960's counterculture, when hippies started challenging the conservative sexual norms that had been around for centuries.

Abortion, interracial marriage, and homosexuality all began to gain more widespread acceptance as people became more open-minded about the positive potential for love and sex to help heal the divides in society.

Especially in the view of the conservative movement, this all paved the way for an explosive rise in premarital sex and murder abortion, making the sex-positive movement an enemy of Phyllis Schlafly in the so-called feminist sex wars.Wikipedia

Prudes vs liberation[edit]

During the early 1980's women were largely split on sex-positivity, with most happily embracing it as a form of liberation and appreciation of the human form, while some fearfully rejected it as an expression of objectification.

Gayle RubinWikipedia summarizes the conflict over sex within feminism:[2]

There have been two strains of feminist thought on the subject.

One tendency has criticized the restrictions on women's sexual behavior and denounced the high costs imposed on women for being sexually active. This tradition of feminist sexual thought has called for a sexual liberation that would work for women as well as for men.

The second tendency has considered sexual liberalization to be inherently a mere extension of male privilege. This tradition resonates with conservative, anti-sexual discourse.

The cause of sex-positive feminism brings together anti-censorship activists, LGBT activists, feminist scholars, sex radicals, producers of pornography and erotica, among others (though not all members of these groups are necessarily both feminists and sex-positive people).

Sex-positive feminists reject the vilification of male sexuality that they attribute to many radical feminists, and instead embrace the entire range of human sexuality. They argue that the patriarchy limits sexual expression and are in favor of giving people of all genders more sexual opportunities, rather than restricting pornography (Queen, 1996).

Sex-positive feminists generally reject sexual essentialism, defined by (Rubin, 1984) as "the idea that sex is a natural force that exists prior to social life and shapes institutions". Rather, they see sexual orientation and gender as social constructs that are heavily influenced by society.

The split ultimately led to the decline of the sex-negative second-wave feminists, who generally expressed a loathing of natural human sexuality almost rivaling that of medieval monks.

Role in feminism[edit]

Since the 1980s, many feminists embraced sex-positivity, arguing that equal sexual rights and the rejection of gender-specific sexual stigma would be the next step towards a less inequal society.

In doing so, they scared off many older and sex-negative radical feminists, who felt that even home-made pornography between loving partners, or consentual prostitution as a way to provide sexual rights to the disabled, inherently objectified and dehumanized all women.

The debate spiraled into what became known as the "feminist sex wars". From the 1990s on, sex-positivity was much more accepted among feminists, showing that they had won the "war".

Today — while ultimately victorious — sex-positivity has lost some of its initial steam, instead living on through books (such as The Ethical Slut) and through the continued efforts against both conservative sexual repression and the blatant double standard of shaming sexually active women (all the while labeling sexually active men "studs").

Sex-positivity still comes under fire from "feminist" authors such as Ariel Levy and Pamela Paul, who see the movement as "selling out to the sexual desires of men".

Others still endorse sex-positivity, but believe that it is just one component to the overall struggle for abortion, LGBT rights, and equality in the workplace.

Examples of sex-positive feminists[edit]

Women who have advocated sex-positive feminismWikipedia include:

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. See basically any edition of Cosmocking, but this one is more in depth about it.
  2. 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 0-04-440867-6