It’s easiest to describe my relationship to sex positivity by starting with my experience with the lack of sex positivity. I was devoutly Catholic when I was in high school (which, to be fair, began with a huge crush on one of the guys in the band at church). All of my early boyfriends were Catholic boyfriends, and some of my earliest sexual experiences were fraught with guilt. I can’t ever let go completely of those memories and those feelings, nor would I want to, my experiences made me who I am. However, I have the unique perspective of understanding what it is like to grapple with those feelings and move forward with my life. I still have moments that I realize my Catholic guilt is catching up to me, but as a whole I feel quite liberated knowing that I could move past those things in my life.
My guilt-laden past also helps me keep in perspective how important sex positivity is in the world. If I weren’t able to accept sex positivity, I would be stuck in that part of my life where I felt doubt and shame for things that merely make me a human. Sex positivity is accepting the humanity of our sexual desires, really seeing that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to feel good about our bodies or our sexual experiences. Sex positivity is accepting that other people’s sexual desires may differ greatly from my own, but the need to feel wanted in our own way is what binds us all together. The lack of sex positivity can lead to bigotry, isolation, and hate crimes. A sex positive person will never beat someone up for not understanding sexuality in the same way as they do. There’s something much more noble about acceptance.
Not everyone is sex positive, clearly. My awareness of sex positivity has led me to seek out others who are sex positive. If I keep a community of like-minded people around me, it helps shield me from the world of hate out there. I surround myself with people who celebrate sexual diversity and respect others' (consensual!) decisions, even if it isn't what they would do themselves. My new people allow space for everyone to have as much or as little of the kinds of sex that they want to have, without putting limits or moral limitations on things that make their bodies (all of our bodies) feel good. They support social justice and human rights, and freedom of sexual expression is an integral part of their activism in these areas. I hope that others find that community. I hope that our ability to have these tough conversations can lead to enlightenment of others, and not by bullying back, but by seeing through the hate and pulling out the good. This is the career that I’ve chosen to pursue. Sex positivity directly affects my life because I have committed myself to sharing what I’ve learned with others.
It’s only been the last few years that I’ve had the privilege of the higher education that gave me the words and the time to think about how sex positivity has completely shifted my life around. Since high school, I’ve slowly and gradually worked through my shifting perspectives from believing that sex is shameful to believing that sex itself can be sacred, and also from feeling guilty about my sexual pleasure to feeling empowered by my sexual freedom. I have found ways to justify my own sexual thoughts and behaviors, but without a deeper understanding of the true meaning of sex positivity, it was merely a slow, personal shift. The way that I now see sex positivity in the world affects my interactions with others and my level of activism regarding these things that affect me deeply.
I think that sex positivity has changed how I look at myself and how I see others. Sex positivity has me accepting all the people who want to have sex and the people who don’t want to have sex. My confidence is increasing. I am learning more about myself because I’m not afraid of examining what I see anymore. I lean into uncomfortable conversations with others because my sex positivity begs me to listen and not judge. It’s all OK.
Jessica Floresta, MSW, MEd., LSW lives in southern New Jersey. She has a private practice in Center City, Philadelphia and specializes in relationship and intimacy issues, parenting, sexual development, childhood sexual abuse, and trauma. She works with members of a wide range of sexual communities, including LGBTQ, kink, and polyamorous folks. You can find more information about her at http://jessicafloresta.com
She can also occasionally be found on Twitter @confsexologist