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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Long, Dark Night of My Sex-Positive Soul

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.

(Posted at SexGenderBody)

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 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 pretensions”, 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.



  1. Part of the problem comes from the fact that much of the sex positive movement tends to be coached in language that alienates, or at least, tends to not be entirely be engaging past the cerebral level. At least not in the public discourse.

    Part of that is an attempt to guide folks away from a lot of thought about hot, dirty sexxin’.  By making the conversation about rights and philosophy, it deflects criticism that folks are just dirty perverts who want to be shielded from judgement.

    Which, really is what sex positivism is. It boils down to something that my Grandma taught me: Don’t like it? Don’t eat it. But never mind what other people have on their plates.

    The language and forums chosen to deflect perception of perversion are likewise the same things that tend to alienate some folks from the conversation. And in order to bring more folks into the conversation, a voice needs to be found that is not necessarily “folksy” but it needs to be one that ties folks together.  

    I don’t care what folks do in their own bedrooms. Or living rooms. Or in clubs with other consenting adults. By concentrating on the consenting adults portion of the show, and the ultimate sin of rudeness and being a damn Nosey Nelly for looking at doors to be vexed, I think that the movement will be better served.  In many ways, it shares the problems of over cerebation that has plagued many back rooms and coffee shop feminism.

    Boils down to simple things: consenting adults?  No one hurt that didn’t agree to a little ass smacking and zip tie marks?  Drive on then. Not your thing?  No worries, it’s not for everyone.

    That is part of the problem, is the high horse that a lot of activists, even for polyamory, sometimes get locked into. That their own views on sex are better and more enlightened. Nothing wrong with old fashioned missionary and on alternating Tuesdays, if that is what the folks involved in are comfortable with. What they like even. You cannot promote sex positive attitudes, and then denigrate folks who don’t share some folks’ tastes.

    The one thing that rules human sexuality is variety.  So long as everyone is consenting, and folks don’t get hurt that didn’t agree to it, and have a safe out, then drive on, but likewise, you have to accept that some folks aren’t going to follow down that path.  And many in sex positive circles tend to feel superior to the Vanilla folks who just aren’t into much else than straight humping and laughing over some wine or beers.

    Acceptance runs both ways. And perhaps if folks come away without a feeling of superiority, but of acceptance and unity, then we might see more diversity within such circles.  

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