What is meant when you use the term “sex positive?”
This is an excellent question. And like many terms (i.e. feminism, spirituality, academics, philosophy, etc.), it can be defined in different ways by different people and organizations. However, I will try to explain the basis of how we generally use this term within the mental health profession and fields of sexology.
The following definitions provide framing to the term:
“…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, dangerous. Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent.”
-Carol Queen, UO Class of 1985, Phi Beta Kappa, founding director of the Center for Sex and Culture
“Sex positivity is the concept that the appropriate uses of sex extend beyond reproduction to enhancing pleasure, interpersonal relationships, spiritual growth, and emotional and physical health. In a sex positive world, everyone would be free to find a sex life that delights and empowers them.”
-The Foundation and Center for Sex Positive Culture
“Sex positivity strives to counter the fears, secrecy, misinformation, judgment, and general negativity that currently surround sexuality. It emphasizes medically accurate sex education and safer sex. It makes no moral judgments about what forms sexuality does or does not take. Sex positivity refers to a way of thinking that embraces and promotes all forms of sexuality and consensual sexual experience, placing these values on equal footing with the choice not to engage in sexual activity.”
–University of Oregon Health Center
Most people, cultures, religions and family systems hold both sex-positive and sex-negative positions, biases and beliefs. There are some beautiful sex-positive concepts in Mormonism (i.e. understanding of pleasure being an important aspect of mortality, the body and sexuality are gifts from God, that sexuality is meant to enhance committed relationships and not only used for procreation, that there is something special, sacred and transformative about marital sexuality even referred to as a sacrament, and the belief in the feminine divine just to name a few). But there are many ways Mormonism also espouses sex-negative messages (i.e. emphasis on fear-based sexual education, disciplinary actions for sexual behavior, emphasis on personal worthiness being correlated with sexual behavior, the only types of sexuality seen as positive/healthy/appropriate are those that fall within the religion’s values/mores/doctrinal understanding, and normative human sexual behavior treated as sin — such as masturbation and sexuality between even married homosexual members — again, to name a few).
I wish we did a much better job of channeling the many sex positive parts of our doctrine. We are missing out on so much when we don’t — and unnecessarily harming people in the process. I regularly get to sit with members who have been emotionally and psychologically harmed by sex-negative messaging within Mormonism in the work I do. This reality was what motivated me to become certified in sex therapy (via AASECT). That process has challenged many of my own biases and blind spots as a Mormon therapist in regards to how I defined or define healthy sexuality through the cultural/religious/familial systems I come from. And has continually made me face the important ethical question all mental health professionals should be asking of themselves: Do I impose those biases and blind spots on my clients?
I was part of a wonderful panel of sex therapists that addressed sex-positive messages found within Mormonism with Dan Wotherspoon, host of Mormon Matters, Kristin Hodson, Kristin Bennion and Shannon Hickman (all members of the Mormon Mental Health Association) — coproduced with Mormon Mental Health. I highly recommend Sex Positivity in Mormonism.