Sex-positive movement

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The sex-positive movement is a social movement and philosophical movement that promotes and embraces sexuality and sexual expression, with an emphasis on safe and consensual sex. Sex-positivity is "an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, encouraging sexual pleasure and experimentation". The sex-positive movement advocates these attitudes. The sex-positive movement also advocates sex education and safer sex as part of its campaign".[1] Part of its original use was in an effort to get rid of the frightening connotation that the term "positive" had during the height of the AIDS epidemic.[2] The movement generally makes no moral distinctions among types of sexual activities, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference.


The terms and concept 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 sexual expression as essentially good and healthy, while other societies take an overall negative view of sexuality and seek to repress and control the libido.[3][4] Other terms used to describe this concept include pro-sex,[5] or pro-sexuality.[6]


In opposition, sex-negativity takes on conservative definitions of human sexuality. Sex is seen 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.[7] 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).[7]

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. Some sex-positive positions include acceptance of BDSM and polyamory as well as asexuality. Most elements of the sex-positive movement advocate comprehensive and accurate sex education as part of its campaign.

Some sex-positive theorists have analyzed sex-positivity in terms of the intersection of race/culture, gender, sexuality, class, nationality, and spirituality.

Erotophobia is a model of a continuum polarized line. At one end is negative attitude or fear of sex and on the other end is a positive attitude about sex. A culture or individual can have just one or multiple erotophobic attitudes. Fears can range from homophobia, sex education, discourse, and nudity. Erotophobias can be clinically, psychologically, or politically driven.[8]

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 difference and possibility.[9]

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, dangerous. Sex-positivity allows for and in fact celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent.[10]

Free love[edit]

The "love outside the box" symbol, sometimes used to represent non-monogamy, polyamory, and LGBT relationships, though not an official symbol of any one group or organization.

The term free love has been used since the 19th century[11] to describe a social movement that rejects marriage, which is seen as a form of social bondage. According to this concept, the free unions of adults are legitimate relations which should be respected by all third parties whether they are emotional or sexual relations. In addition, some free-love writers advocate for both male and female rights to sexual pleasure. This was a radical notion in the Victorian era. Later, a new theme developed, linking free love with radical social change, and depicting it as a harbinger of a new anti-authoritarian, anti-repressive pacifist sensibility.[12]

While the term free love is often associated with promiscuity in the popular imagination, especially in reference to the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, historically the free-love movement has not advocated multiple sexual partners or short-term sexual relationships.[13] Rather, it has argued that love relations that are freely entered into should not be regulated by law.[14] Thus, free-love practice may include long-term monogamous relationships or even celibacy, but would not include institutional forms of polygamy, such as a king and his wives and concubines.

Laws of particular concern to free love movements have included those that prevent an unmarried couple from living together, and those that regulate adultery and divorce, as well as the age of consent, birth control, homosexuality, abortion, and prostitution; although not all free love advocates agree on these issues. The abrogation of individual rights in marriage is also a concern—for example, some jurisdictions do not recognize marital rape or treat it less seriously than non-marital rape.[15]

Free-love movements since the 19th century have also defended the right to publicly discuss sexuality and have battled obscenity laws.[15] One of the forerunners of this movement was Emma Goldman. She advocated passionately for the rights of women, writing: "I demand the independence of woman, her right to support herself; to live for herself; to love whomever she pleases or as many as she pleases. I demand freedom for both sexes, freedom of action, freedom in love and freedom in motherhood".[16]

In the 20th century, some free-love proponents extended the critique of marriage to argue that marriage as a social institution encourages emotional possessiveness and psychological enslavement [17]

1960s and onwards[edit]

In general use, the term "sexual liberation" is used to describe a socio-political movement, witnessed from the 1960s into the 1970s.[18] However, the term has been used at least since the late 1920s[19] and is often attributed as being influenced by Freud's writing on sexual liberation and psychosexual issues.[20]

During the 1960s, shifts in regard to how society viewed 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 behaviour, many of which are now integrated into the mainstream.[21]

The 1960s 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 was a natural biological phenomenon which should not be denied or repressed. Changes in attitudes reflected a perception that traditional views on sexuality were both hypocritical and male-chauvinistic.

Sexual liberalisation heralded a new ethos in experimenting with open sex in and outside of marriage,[22] contraception and the pill, public nudity, gay liberation, liberalisation of abortion, interracial marriage, a return to natural childbirth, women's rights and feminism.[23][24]

Celibate hippies were not critical of others who chose the paths of "free love" and "sexual liberalisation".[25] In the late 1970s and 1980s, newly won sexual freedoms were exploited by big business looking to capitalize on a more open society, with the advent of public pornography and some forms of hardcore.[26]

Historian David Allyn argues that the sexual revolution was a time of "coming-out": about premarital sex, masturbation, erotic fantasies, pornography use, and sexuality.[18]

In more recent times, movements such as SexPositiveWorld are creating pockets of sexpositive culture locally, and seeking to continue growing the movement globally. With its roots in Portland in 2012 and with existing chapters in Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston, Chicago and Nashville in the USA, and Internationally in Amsterdam, Brussels, Warsaw, London and Singapore, SexPositiveWorld currently counts over 6,000 members worldwide.

Sex-positive feminism[edit]

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.[27] 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. Authors who have advocated sex-positive feminism include Ellen Willis, Susie Bright, Patrick Califia, Gayle Rubin, Carol Queen, Avedon Carol, Tristan Taormino, Diana Cage, Nina Hartley, and Betty Dodson, who could be regarded as the grandmother of the movement.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gabosch, Allena (2008-02-26). "A Sex Positive Renaissance". Retrieved 2014-09-12. 
  2. ^ The Fabulous MiSylvester. 
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ See, for example, Wilhelm Reich, The Invasion of Compulsory Sex-Morality (Der Einbruch der Sexualmoral, 1932); The Sexual Revolution (Die Sexualität im Kulturkampf, 1936).
  5. ^ Philipson, Ilene. "The repression of history and gender: A critical perspective on the feminist sexuality debate." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 10.1 (1984): 113-118.
  6. ^ Cunningham, Scarlett. Interventions in Woman as Spectacle: The Political Economy of Desire in Late Capitalist Societies. Diss. University of Alabama Libraries, 2010.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Ince, John (2005). The Politics of Lust. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1591022787. 
  9. ^ Queen, Carol (1997). Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture. Pittsburgh (Cleis Press). ISBN 1-57344-073-6
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ The Handbook of the Oneida Community claims to have coined the term around 1850, and laments that its use was appropriated by socialists to attack marriage, an institution that they felt protected women and children from abandonment
  12. ^ Jakopovich, Dan. "Chains of Marriage". Indymedia UK. Indymedia UK. Retrieved 10 October 2017. 
  13. ^ Smith, T (1990). "A Report: The Sexual Revolution". The Public Opinion Quarterly: 415–435. 
  14. ^ Babie, P; Savic, V (2018). Law, Religion and Love: seeking ecumenical justice for the other. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. 
  15. ^ a b Khosla, R (2015). "Sexual Health, Human Rights, and the Law". Human Rights Documents online. 
  16. ^ Wexler, Alice (1984). Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life. New York: Panthenon. 
  17. ^ Jakopovich, D (January 2, 2005). Chains Of Marriage. 
  18. ^ a b Allyn, David (2000). Make love, not war: the sexual revolution, an unfettered history. Warner Trade Publishing. ISBN 978-0-316-03930-7. 
  19. ^ The term appeared as early as 1929; the book Is Sex Necessary?, by Thurber & White, has a chapter titled The Sexual Revolution: Being a Rather Complete Survey of the Entire Sexual Scene.
  20. ^ Sex liberation or, more radically, revolution, would be the historical opposite process to the process of repressing sexuality. But Freud never thought that was a desirable aim for sexuality, as he thought the repression of sexuality is the general cultural dynamics. For Freud the opposite of sexual repression would be social chaos and irrepressed violence among people. As well as for the classical European political theorists (as Hobbes, Locke or Rousseau), and in conflict with the socialist and anarchist (Engels, Kropotkin, Bakunin, Malatesta, Armand) sexual repression is the positive base of the social contract.
  21. ^ Time, 1967.
  22. ^ Escoffier, 2003.
  23. ^ Germaine Greer and The Female Eunuch
  24. ^ The 1960s Cultural Revolution.
  25. ^ Dudley 2000, pp. 203–206. Timothy Miller notes that the counterculture was a "movement of seekers of meaning and value...the historic quest of any religion". Miller quotes Harvey Cox, William C. Shepard, Jefferson Poland, and Ralph J. Gleason in support of the view of the hippie movement as a new religion. See also Wes Nisker's The Big Bang, The Buddha, and the Baby Boom: "At its core, however, hippie was a spiritual phenomenon, a big, unfocused, revival meeting". Billy Bob Joe Nisker cites the San Francisco Oracle, which described the Human Be-In as a "spiritual revolution".
  26. ^ Sexual Revolution by Erica Jong, Jeffrey Escoffier, Fred W. McDarrah.
  27. ^ McElroy, W (2002). Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-First Century. Chicago.