I have been meaning to write a blog post on this very topic for a long while so it was nice to come upon this post from the Goodvibes blog. Here is how it starts.
I have been using the term “sex-positive” for over 25 years–I first heard it when I moved to San Francisco in the 1980s to get my PhD at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. It immediately became part of my vocabulary; I had been doing LGBTQ activist work since the mid-1970s, which included taking about homophobia, and the way “sex-positive” illuminates and helps to address a broader erotophobia was immediately clear to me when I heard the term. I could never have believed back then how widespread this phrase would become. (Shout-outs to United Feminists at Georgetown and their Sex-Positive Week, currently being celebrated there!) But I have begun to feel lately that it has come to be misunderstood in some circles. This is the kind of sex-positivity I learned about–and when I use the term, this is what I mean.
CLICK HERE to read more.
Now that you have read Carols discussion I have a bit more to add on the pitfalls of being sex positive and a mistake that I made (as a sexual health counsellor and educator)) under the pretext of sex positivity.
Working under a Sex Positive Framework – A Word of Caution
I consider myself a sex positive person. I am a qualified sexologist and have been providing sexual health and relationships education and counselling for over twenty years. I blog, I Facebook and keep up to date on sexological issues. I am a member of WAS (World Asociation of Sexual Health), SAS (Society of Australian Sexologists) and ASSERT (Association of Sex Educators, Researchers and Therapists - NSW). I believe that every human being has a right to enjoy and implement the sexuality of their choice as long as it harms no one. I also believe that generally most societies are too puritanical, too uptight and stifle many individuals rights to a positive sexual life. As a person I love the human body (no matter what it looks like) and believe that society could benefit from a more expansive and accepting view of diversity. As an educator I believe that sexuality education needs to be explissit, clear and informative and tailored to the students learning needs. As an individual, nudity, imagry and explissit language hold no fear for me. As a
sex positive worker it is important to push the boundries of others perceptions and oppressions to enable the world to move to a place of acceptance in all aspects of sexuality.
Ahhhhh. So much positivity. As a sex positive person it is easy to move in social circles that have the same philosophy. The blogosphere is full of sex positive bloggers and followers. As a human my life is surrounded by nudity, sexological discussion , the study of sexual health and sex itself in many forms. I watch all the latest movies that cover sexuality issues, follow many TED sexological speakers, participate in linkedin groups about sexuality. As a professional I speak at conferences, teach in schools, work with individuals and organisations. In short I see myself as a sexologist in the most positive sense of the term.
I forget sometimes – not everyone sees the world this way – nor does everyone want to move to this place of sexual freedom. Some people see this approach as harmful, as morally damaging, as suspect or at the very least as too cavalier.
Let me tell you a story of how my approach has caused a storm in the field of intellectual disability. About how my approach caused a professional mistake that threatened my own career. About how my approach almost stopped the very people that need my sexual health and relationships services from receiving them.
21 year old man
Mild Intellectual Disability
Problematic sexualised behaviour
History of abuse
Referred for 1:1 work by agency for education and work around sexualised behaviours.
For more than 12 months the work progreses well: Much learning takes place, problematic behaviour decreases markedly, a positive working relationship develops with mutual respect. Many topics are covered such as anatomy and physiology, deconstructing gender, deconstructing pornography, developing safe relationship habits, deconstructing
families and what a positive family relationship looks like ahhhhhh – here is the mistake. Because of this persons intellectual disability he is unable to engage in discussion on this sensitive topic (for him). None of the family resources made specifically for people with an intellectual disability would engage this man. So..(bright idea). I bring in a box of hundreds of old family photographs. I can show a photograph – identify the persons
relationship with me – discuss what makes that a positive relationship – then compare these relationships with the young man’s historical relationships.. This worked brilliantly with enthusiastic engagement from both of us. Finally the young man had a real example of how family and friendship relationships should be. However as a SEX POSITIVE
SEXOLOGIST. AS A PERSON WHO DOES NOT WORRY ABOUT NUDITY AND ENCOURAGES ALL PEOPLE TO CHALLENGE THEMSELVES AROUND OUR CULTURAL IDEAS OF HEALTHY SEXUALITY.
I made a mistake. I did not ‘vet’ the photographs.
In fact I knew that only positive relationships were portrayed in my
collection. What I did forget was that some of my old photographs had pictures of myself and others naked. Of course this doesn’t bother me (and maybe not you). But when this client grabbed the collection and went through it himself – and unfortunately found one of the naked photographs of me (of which I apologised and then deconstructed and
normalised); the image stayed in his mind. He mentioned it to his care staff, they became worried that a male sexologist, working in private, on the topic of sexuality, with a vulnerable person , was showing photographs of himself nude. A full scale investigation from the referring organisation took place. Police clearances re checked – and in my
opinion this was justified!
So…….. What does this mean?
1. There are clear societal and professional boundaries around sexual health and relationships education. Be ever vigilant that clear that personal beliefs do not compromise client work.
2. Seek out and explore others views (that are different than yours) around sexual health and relationships education: Do not accept your own views as ‘right’ and justified without further exploration.
3. If you seek to push the boundaries first engage in discourse around this with peers and professional bodies.
4. Sex positivity means approaching sexual health and relationships education from a human rights perspective – not a cavalier approach to challenging the status quo.