I grew up in a home where my parents always encouraged open and honest conversation about sex. We could ask our parents anything, and they did their best to answer questions in an easy to understand way. Having raised two daughters, the ‘talk’ for most has always been to ‘preserve one’s chastity’, given their Catholic leanings. However, it was my dad who always encouraged us to talk if anything ever happened unexpectedly. I was one of the lucky ones to have grown up in a sex-positive atmosphere. Of course, at the time, I was unaware that it was sex positivism that was subconsciously embedded in my outlook.
However, not all men and women, especially in India, are privileged with an open upbringing, and that is why the concept of sex positivity must be widely understood and practiced. But what is sex positivity? Bhavya Arora, Founder and CEO of New Thought Therapist, a social enterprise that works to expand access to quality mental health support and streamlined psychoeducation, says, “Sex positivity is an alternative narrative around sex that is free from shame, blame and silence. It’s about adopting a positive attitude towards consensual sex that sees it as an important part of our lives and encourages exploration and diversity when it comes to our sexuality.
Apurupa Vatsalya, a Mumbai-based sex educator, further explains, “You don’t have to be sexually experimental or even sexually active to be HIV-positive, as long as they recognize individual autonomy and don’t attach value judgment to their choices. The sex positivity movement also recognizes that sex without consent and without communication is not sex, it is assault.
Respect and reciprocity
Society and religion tend to view sex as a practice that couples should adopt only for reproduction. Engaging in sexual acts for pleasure is considered shameful or wrong. After all, sexual negativity is embedded in the workings of society. Take, for example, telling women to stay indoors after dark, to avoid wearing short clothes because they’ll “ask for it”, or even to make homophobic remarks that can be unpleasant. .
Vatsalya opines, “Given the taboos surrounding sex in general, coupled with the shame and stigma surrounding anything that is non-normative, any form of vocal advocacy for sexual autonomy can be misinterpreted as something negative or against our culture. Unless one actively chooses to practice sex positivity, one can inadvertently subscribe to negative sexual ideals. For example, failing to view sex work as work, failing to recognize a person’s need for self-determination regarding their gender and sexuality, or judging their right not to have children, can all be sexually negative attitudes. Naturally, sex positivity propagates the ideology of to each his own, or live and let live.
The Benefits of a Sex-Positive Mindset
The fact remains that sex positivity is largely misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, having a sex-positive attitude does not encourage people to have more sex, but rather to have a balanced, open, and inclusive view of consensual sex. “It’s a rights-based, pleasure-centered approach to seeing sex, sexuality, sexual health and safety,” says Vatsalya. “Given the high rates of STIs, unwanted pregnancies, gender-based violence or sexual oppression due to regressive cultural and traditional norms, a sex-positive attitude is crucial. It encourages open and ongoing conversations about boundaries and consent and helps improve the quality of health care. It gives a person access to affirmation tools and resources and improves quality of life and relationships. The motive is social justice and the reinvention of how we relate to our bodies and each other.
People with a positive sex mindset often display sexual maturity and openness and are more receptive to change, learning and growth. “Just because we don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Wrapping sex in sheets of shame doesn’t help anyone. With sex positivity comes a welcoming attitude towards sex education and Indian society can benefit from that,” says Arora.
Who is a sex positive person?
If you’re wondering if you’re HIV-positive or sexist, you need to take a closer look at your attitude toward gender expression – heteronormative or inclusive. Vatsalya clarifies: “A sex-positive person is willing to learn more about their own body and identity, as well as the bodies and identity of others, and operate from a space of body positivity/neutrality. They practice consent not only in sexual situations, but also in social situations. They are willing to communicate about sex, sexuality and safety topics without shame and continually do the work to unlearn their biases.
Arora adds, “They are also people who accept and respect the diversity of consensual sexuality and its expressions. They don’t hide from the mention of sex and talk about sexual health across the spectrum of health. This includes educating others about safe sex practices, talking about the mental and emotional health implications of sex, physical changes and the dynamics involved when it comes to sex. Moreover, they do not equate pleasure with sinful behavior. They also challenge heteronormativity and welcome the rainbow of experiences when it comes to sex.
The concept which has feminist roots and was led by the marginalized in society has now evolved into a global movement. The goal is to change attitudes and cultural norms around sexuality and promote recognition of sexuality and all forms of (consensual) sexual expression as a natural and healthy part of the human experience. “With the advent of social media and the mainstreaming of conversations across pop culture, we are seeing sex positivity gaining momentum and becoming more accessible (at least to a slice of society). world, from doctors and educators to storytellers and celebrities, use social media platforms to raise awareness and foster conversations about sex positivity,” says Vatsalya.
Arora thinks this cultural shift towards sex positivity starts at an early age. The foundation lies in the approach to sexuality inculcated from an early age at home, and even as part of formal sex education at school. “A sex-positive culture can help us prepare young adults for a healthy mindset toward sex. Sex positivity from the start also means there is healthy access to education and information, instead of children getting all of their education from exposure to pornography. This encourages healthy exploration, even their gender and identity. A sex-positive approach makes exploration safe and comfortable, which is necessary for healthy development. More importantly, it feeds the culture of consent,” she concludes.
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Posted: Sunday, January 30, 2022, 9:49 AM IST