I don’t remember learning about sex in middle or high school. In fact, I don’t even remember having many conversations about it in college. No one ever asked me what I wanted sexually, and I never thought about it myself because I didn’t know I was allowed to. Wasn’t I supposed to be ashamed that I’ve had sex with more than five people (gasp!) and be modest about my body and desires?
Unfortunately, many women have developed these same philosophies about sex, which keep us from fully enjoying, embracing and promoting our sexuality. Instead, these beliefs tell us we’re sluts if we have too much sex, prudes if we don’t have enough, or teases if we’re not really sure what we want. And conversely, our society tells men that they should always want sex and constantly be turned on, and that if they aren’t, they aren’t “real men.”
Sex positivity, on the other hand, allows us to embrace and advocate for our sexual desires without guilt or remorse. It calls for us to explore what we like and don’t like, practice safe and informed sex, and feel good about sexual pleasure and experimentation. Sounds good, right?
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, now’s the time to fully start enjoying your sex life, whatever that may be, while also advocating for healthy sex for others. Here’s how:
1. Set your boundaries: Only you get to decide what you’re comfortable with, and you’re entitled to communicate those boundaries and expect that your partner(s) will respect them. Sexual limits are different for everyone, but they may include things like “I don’t want to have sex without protection,” “I don’t like my breasts being touched,” or “I’m not cool with being on top. ”On the other side of the spectrum, letting your partner know your sexual desires—things like “I like having sex with the lights on” or “I’m all about role-play” —is also hugely beneficial.
It’s empowering and it can drastically improve your sex life. Maybe you’ve never thought about what your turn-ons and turn-offs are, and that’s okay too. It can be exhilarating to discover what gets you hot, and it can be equally freeing to know what doesn’t. The first step in advocating for your sexual needs and asserting your boundaries is exploring what you want and don’t want sexually. If that sounds overwhelming, I suggest first looking over a list, like this “Yes, No, Maybe” chart that aids you in uncovering your sexual desires and comfort levels.
2. Drop the gender stereotypes: From the time we’re young, we’re expected to fall in line with the gender stereotypes our culture has set for us. We’re told that girls should wear pink and be sensitive, humble, and self-conscious about their appearance, and that boys should wear blue, be powerful and assertive, and have a strong sex-drive. These stereotypes put us in boxes that hinder our ability to engage in healthy relationships that honor our desires and respect our limits—something everyone deserves.
The truth is people have complex and unique ways of defining their sex positivity, and none of them are bad or wrong. For some people, it may be having exclusive, emotionally driven sex with one person for the rest of their life. For others, it may be having sex with a lot of partners without any type of emotional attachment. And others, like those who identify as asexual, may not experience sexual attraction at all.
When we allow people to be themselves, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, we can create a culture where people feel empowered in their bodies and able to say “yes” to what they want and “no” to what they don’t without shame or fear.