SPINKS: Talking about sex
We must change our attitudes toward sex in order to build healthy and realistic expectations
Just like those jazzy hip-hoppers Salt-n-Pepa, I’m about to implore you, Wahoos: Let’s talk about sex. Sexuality and sexual behavior get a lot of attention. But they don’t get the right kind of attention. We have been raised in a sex-negative culture. Society, whether through insufficient and inaccurate sexual education classes, movies, books or our parents, has taught us that adolescence and young adulthood is supposed to be a cringingly awkward time. We have been conditioned to believe that our sexuality is shameful: something to be hidden, something we shouldn’t mention.
This is particularly true for people who find that their sexual preferences fall outside of what is widely considered “conventional.” It is unfortunate that many college students find themselves unable to claim or feel confident in their sexuality, because the freedom and social atmosphere of college presents an occasion to explore your preferences and your self-image, and you should not miss out on that opportunity because of a sex-negative culture. Sex negativity also leads to a fear of sex and a fear of seeking out resources or advice. Buying protection or talking openly about the sexual choices you are planning to make is seen as “embarrassing,” and this can lead to unsafe or unhealthy sexual experiences. I would suggest a sex-positive alternative. If college students could embrace sex positivity, they would lead much happier and healthier lives overall.
You may ask, what exactly does it mean to be sex-positive and how can I incorporate this philosophy into my own life? The answer will certainly be multi-faceted. Sex positivity is a concept that is slowly gaining adherents through blogging platforms such as Tumblr and popular Youtube channels like Laci Green’s “Sex ” and Dr. Lindsey Doe’s “Sexplanations.” Broadly speaking, people who are sex-positive advocate an openness about and comfort with sex. They champion sexual decisions that are safe and healthy, regardless of the subjective “morality” of those decisions. They encourage people to claim and take pride in their sexual preferences, whether that means sexual orientation, sexual desires or even a choice to abstain from sex. Sex positivity encourages understanding sex as a biological, natural behavior, rather than a dirty or shameful act.
It can be difficult to be sex-positive after being raised in a culture such as ours. Sex positivity is a slightly abstract idea — it sounds good in theory but is tough to implement in practice. The journey to being sex positive must largely begin within yourself. Evaluate what you want in a relationship, sexual or otherwise. Let yourself take the time to figure that out if it is not clear, and don’t feel embarrassed by your uncertainty. Decide how you feel about labels; determine whether you need a label for your sexual orientation, or if you feel more comfortable without one. Do you prefer committed or open relationships? Are titles like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” important to you? Is monogamy an expectation or simply an option? Whatever your answers to these questions are, know that they are acceptable. You are allowed to be a serial monogamist, for instance, even if some people may not see the value in monogamous relationships. The only person who has to approve of your choices is you. And being able to vocalize them to your significant other can help you have a stronger relationship or perhaps understand why a relationship is not right for you.
Being sex-positive can also be achieved by regulating your own speech and judgments. You should never let your impression of a person be shaped by how much sex you think or know that they’ve had. A person who dates a lot or hooks up a lot — as long as their partners are consenting and they are being safe — is doing nothing wrong. They are not a slut or stupid. We should take personal statements about sexuality at face value. It is neither sex-positive nor respectful to question the validity of someone’s sexual orientation, for instance. If someone says they are gay, but you believe that their behaviors or some arbitrary stereotypes contradict that claim, you should keep those opinions to yourself. The same goes for heterosexuality and bisexuality. The only person who gets to decide what their sexual orientation is is that person. We should challenge ourselves to stop thinking of sex as either black or white. Standards that leave no room for ambiguity can feel constricting, judgmental and filled with pressure. Sometimes a situation doesn’t have a clear answer — people are not always “gay” or “straight”, “together” or “broken up”, “slutty” or “prudish.” These types of dichotomies help no one. The black-and-white perception of “virginity” is problematic as well. We should stop placing so much value on virginity. In addition to being a heteronormative and sexist concept, it is irrelevant. Whether or not someone is a “virgin” tells you nothing about their worth or who they are, and we shouldn’t pretend that it does.
There are so many other issues tied up with and related to sex positivity — rape culture, slut-shaming, sexism, LGBT rights — that I could write an entirely separate 800-word column trying to explore them all. But if college students were to embrace a sex-positive attitude, I do believe that their (sex) lives would be healthier and happier. Sex positivity can lead to a better self-image, more confidence, and the ability to ask questions like, “Are you okay with this? What do you want to happen next?”, which will help facilitate safer sex for everyone involved.
Ashley Spinks is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. Her columns run Mondays.