I’ve grown up in a home where my parents always encouraged an open and honest conversation around sex. We could ask our parents anything, and they’d do their best to answer questions in a way that was easy to understand.
Having raised two girls, the ‘talk’, for the most part, was always about ‘preserving one’s chastity’, given their catholic bent. However, it was my father who’d always encourage us to speak up if something were to ever go unplanned.
I was one of the fortunate ones to have grown up in a sex-positive atmosphere. Of course, back then, I wasn’t aware that it was sex positivism that was unconsciously ingrained in my outlook.
However, not all men and women, particularly in India, have the privilege of an open upbringing, and why the concept of sex positivity needs to be widely understood and practised.
But what is sex positivity? Bhavya Arora, founder and CEO of New Thought Therapist, a social enterprise working to expand access to quality mental health support and simplified psychoeducation, says, “Sex positivity is an alternative narrative around sex that is free of shame, blame and hushing.
It is about adopting a positive attitude towards consensual sex that looks at it as an important part of our lives and encourages exploration and diversity when it comes to our sexuality.”
Apurupa Vatsalya, a Mumbai-based sexuality educator, further explains, “One needn’t be sexually experimental or even sexually active to be sex-positive, as long as they recognise individual autonomy and do not attach a value judgment to their choices.
The sex-positivity movement also recognises that sex without consent and communication isn’t sex, it’s assault.”
Respect and reciprocity
Society and religion tend to look at sex as a practice couples should engage in for reproduction alone. Indulging in sexual acts for pleasure is viewed as shameful or wrong.
After all, sex-negativity is ingrained in the way society functions. Take for example telling women to stay indoors after dark, to avoid wearing short clothes because they’ll be ‘asking for it’, or even passing homophobic remarks that can be distasteful.
Vatsalya opines, “Given the taboos surrounding sex in general, coupled with the shame and stigma anything non-normative is shrouded in, any form of vocal advocacy for sexual autonomy may be misconstrued as something negative or against our culture.
Unless one is actively choosing to practice sex-positivity, one may be inadvertently subscribing to sex-negative ideals.
For instance, not deeming sex work as work, not recognising a person’s need for self-determination when it comes to their gender and sexuality, or judging one’s right to remain child-free, can all be sex-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, sex positivity is largely misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, having a sex-positive attitude isn’t encouraging people to have more sex, but rather having a well-rounded, open, and inclusive outlook towards consensual sex.
“It is a rights-based and pleasure-centric approach to viewing sex, sexuality, sexual health and safety,” Vatsalya explains.
“Given the high rates of STIs, unwanted pregnancies, gender-based violence, or sexual oppressions owing to regressive cultural and traditional norms, a sex-positive attitude is crucial. It encourages open and ongoing conversations on boundaries and consent and helps enhance the quality of healthcare.
It gives a person access to affirming tools and resources and improves the quality of life and relationships. The motive is social justice and reimagining the way that we relate to our bodies and with each other.”
People with a sex-positive 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 isn’t happening. Shrouding sex under sheets of shame does not help anyone. Sex positivity comes with a welcoming attitude towards sex education and Indian society can use a lot of that,” says Arora.
Who is a sex-positive person?
If you find yourself questioning whether you’re sex-positive or sex-negative, you need to take a closer look at your attitude towards sexual expression — heteronormative or inclusive.
Vatsalya elaborates, “A sex-positive person is open to learning more about their own body and identity, and other people’s bodies and identities, operates from a space of body positivity/neutrality. They practice consent not just in sexual situations, but also in social situations.
They are willing to communicate about topics surrounding sex, sexuality and safety in a shame-free manner and are continually doing the work to unlearn their prejudices.”
Arora adds, “They are also people who are accepting and respectful of the diversity of consensual sexuality and its expressions. They don’t hide at the mention of sex and talk about sexual health in 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 dynamics involved when it comes to sex.
Moreover, they don’t equate pleasure with sinful behaviour. They also challenge heteronormativity and welcome the rainbow of experiences when it comes to sex.”
The concept that has feminist roots and was helmed by those marginalised by society has today morphed into a global movement.
The objective is to shift cultural attitudes and norms around sexuality and to promote the 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 mainstreaming of conversations through pop culture, we see sex positivity gaining momentum, and becoming more accessible (at least to one slice of society).
We now see everyone from doctors and educators, to storytellers and celebrities use social media platforms to spread awareness and foster conversations on sex positivity,” says Vatsalya.
Arora believes that this cultural shift towards sex-positivity begins at an early age. The foundation lies in the approach to sex inculcated from an early age at home, and even though formal sex education in schools.
“A sex-positive culture can help us prepare young adults with a healthy mindset towards sex. Sex positivity early on also means that the access to education and information is healthy, instead of the children getting all their education from exposure to porn.
It encourages healthy exploration, even their gender and identities. A sex-positive approach makes the exploration safe and comfortable, which is necessary for healthy development. More importantly, it nurtures the culture of consent,” she signs off.