The Long, Dark Night of My Sex-Positive Soul

arvan's picture

So first, a little background on sex-positive.  

There is no organized sex-positive movement.  It is a discussion that has grown over the recent years, starting in the 1930's.  It can mean a great many things to just about everybody and that is kind of the point, really.  The basic idea is that sex is a natural part of human, mammalian existence and that we can embrace it in its variety as a part of normal life. 

People in many groups organized around specific aspects of sex and identity often participate in sex-positive conversations and find the ideals and values of their individual and group identities overlapping sex-positive thoughts and goals.  Some of the more frequent of such groups and individuals identify in terms of Sex work, BDSM & Kink, LGBTQI "Pink" , disability, feminism, genderqueer, transhuman and many, many more.

If you want to read some good primers on sex-positivity, try this post by Clarisse Thorn, The Center for Sex-Positive Culture or any of the links on our blogroll listed under 'sex-positive'.

Note: I spend a good portion of this post, talking about my own experience.  This is not because I'm particularly enamored with myself, but rather to offer my recent thoughts as one person's reactions to something that may echo in your life someplace.  It may not.  I won't pretend to know how anyone else should feel or react and I won't dictate to others the terms of their identity.

I have been having a crisis of faith lately.  This is of course funny because I am not religious and the faith in crisis is more about my own identity than how I feel about invisible beings.  In the larger sense it is about what it means to be 'sex-positive' but it really is about how to deal with privilege.

In the span of a week or so, I attended several Sex-Positive events.  One was the showing of a documentary film with discussion afterward, the second was a discussion on sex-positive at a BDSM social club and the last was an invitation to join a group of sex-positive activists.  I suddenly realized how very privileged the conversations and these groups were.  At one event, there were some people of color but at the others, it was all white, professional, educated, middle to upper class and english speaking US citizens.  I like everyone in these groups and this post is not about them but about my experiences and thoughts about privilege.

I have been involved in a great many sex-positive conversations for a couple of years now.  I identify with a lot of the ideas this topic centers around.  Self-identity, consent, acceptance of each other as human and sex as an aspect of our humanity that varies from one person to the next.  It is a very liberal and progressive conversation and I certainly have no problem with any of that. 

I am drawn to many open, respectful conversations around identity expression and the myriad of human sexual experiences.  In retrospect, I didn't see the privilege for a very long time.  I didn't see it because I am  privileged and I did not want to see the privilege in these circles that I did not want to see privilege in myself.  My vanity and insecurity blinded me from seeing what was there all the time.  Now, it was everywhere and I was suddenly very self-conscious.  More on that, below.

So, a couple of things got my attention on all this.  First, I noticed the extreme lack of diversity and the privileged groups of people participating in these conversations - including my own membership in the ranks of the privileged.  Second, I had some conversations about diversity within these groups. 

I really started thinking about Privilege.  It is a fact of human social structure.  It will never go away.  So, there is no point where we say "that's handled, let's move on now".  I think that liberals and conservatives deal with privilege in two different ways.  Conservatives embrace privilege and seek it, hoping to hold onto it forever.  Liberals seek to eliminate privilege by rising above it.  Both are wrong, in my view.

Privilege is sort of like Samara Morgan in The Ring - it never sleeps.

I am a liberal / progressive...whatever, but I am a white, cis-gendered, male, middle-class, from christian families.  In short, I'm the goddamn poster child of privilege.

There is a difference between an advantage and privilege.  An advantage is some preferrable skill or condition that one person has in comparison to another.  A faster runner, quicker thinker, wealthier and so on.  Privilege is when someone gains at the loss of another.  At the heart of privilege is the choice to prosper at the expense of other person(s).

My initial reaction as I noticed the privilege I perceived in these sex-positive conversations was to be frank - revulsion.  I was suddenly taken by the urge to flee from these (I surmised) "bourgeois sex-positive pretentions", never to return.  I'm old enough now to recognize vanity when I see it  - even my own. 

It occurred to me that the conversations about sex-positivity and the people involved in them are not the reasons why I was in those social gatherings.  Those groups and talks don't define me: my actions and choices define me.  To be honest, I had not really been thinking about why I participate in these sex-positive conversations for some time.  I had been on auto-pilot, managing tasks and basically just showing up.  So, I took a step back and thought about what brought me into these sex-positive conversations to begin with. 

I am a rights activist, focused on finding ways for individuals to live together in a group in ways that support both the individual and the group.  I participate in sex-positive conversations to that end.  Along the way, I am challenging myself as well as others to look where I and we can make choices that will benefit us as individuals, us as a group and the generations of individuals and groups to follow.

So, I won't stop being part of a privileged class of people, but I can choose to act in ways that apply any advantages I have in ways that benefit myself, my family and the communities around me.  For me, it seems the goal is to balance selfishness and selflessness by being aware and acting intentionally.

As I surmised all this, I climbed in off the ledge of the sex-positive skyscraper, dusted my pant legs and poured a fresh cup of coffee.  This is not about sex-positivity, but about vanity, denial and awareness.  It is about dealing with challenges, even when - especially when we are working on something we care about.

So, all of this kinda means very little unless some action comes out of it...or so it seems to me.  It became clear to me that I would not be serving my commitments to equality and diversity by participating in two of those groups I mentioned above.  There are a lot of communities and voices in the world where I can engage in conversations about equality, rights, identity, acceptance and even sex-positivity.  Really, my greatest gifts to and from people come in the moments when I am listening.  If I have any advantages I can bring to bear on making contributions to my own life and the lives of others, then I can happily do just that.



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In a sex positive world,

lisaj's picture

"In a sex positive world, everyone has the freedom and resources to pursue a fulfilling and empowering sex life."

I just saw this on the Center for Sex Positive Culture's website and I thought it was a really simple explanation of the movement... and also an indication of why privilege is a necessary part of the conversation.

We don't live in a sex positive world for 2 reasons- one, that folx don't have the freedom to pursue a fulfilling sex life. That's because of the hegemonic forces- political, cultural, ideological- that control our lives.

The second reason is that folx don't have the resources to pursue a fulfilling sex life. That's because of the disparaties that exist between us... economic, educational, geographic, etc. Those of us with privilege have access to those resources. Those of us without them do not, and our sex lives do suffer. To provide an obvious example, women without education and access to birth control struggle to find freedom and empowerment in their sex lives. Those who can't learn about healthy BDSM relationships will have more difficulty attaining them.

This is why I think the sex positive movement HAS to include these conversations about privilege in all of its forms. If we ignore this elephant in the room, then when we say we're sex positive, what we mean is that we're only in favor of extending our own rights when it comes to sexuality and pleasure. And there's nothing more masturbatory than that.


Where the rubber meets the road... when someone who is not of the priveleged class joins in on the conversation. If nobody blinks and everybody welcomes them, then that part of the problem is solved.

The other part of the problem is attracting all types of people to the conversation. You could actively seek those missing participants, but what strikes me now is that just by creating this online space, you have begun to democratize the movement. At least for those who have internet access and time to read or comment. For those struggling at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid, just trying to survive, and especially single mothers in poverty, this movement, while positive and empowering, doesn't put bread on the table or pay the electric bill.

That's where activism and advocacy comes in. One could say that the sex-positive movement is low priority in terms of what it can bring to those who struggle for survival, but this isn't entirely true. Our personal relationship with our own sexuality drives us to make some of the decisions we make that can negatively impact our world. A deep-seated shame for one's natural sexuality can lead some to commit horrendous crimes or simply pick the wrong partner. There are people in prison today because of, among many other socio-economic and political factors, their disconnection from the humanity of their sexuality. It's why, after a one-week stint as a "call girl" in my late teens, which was mostly humorous and at the same time empowered me with money during a powerless time in my life, I have had the desire to create some sort of empowerment and outreach program for sex workers. I've never figured out how to do that, but would love to.

I say all this with hesitation because a) I never knew about this movement until I had the pleasure of getting to know Arvan and b) my own feelings about my sexuality are complicated and less than positive and I approach the sex-positive concept with a good deal of fear as well as curiosity. :-)

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