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A Gentleman’s Guide To Sex Positivity

The term “sex positive” is thrown around a lot these days, but do we actually know what it means?

Its origins are largely attributed to psychologist Wilhelm Reich who coined it in the 1920s. Studying under Sigmund Freud, Reich used to term to assert that sexuality is normal and healthy. Sex positivity as a movement, however, didn’t really gain traction until after the sexual liberation of the 1960s — a magical time in American history where young adults popularized the hacky sack and had orgies in the park.

By the 1980s, during the so-called “Feminist Sex Wars,” sex positivity rose to the forefront of feminist discussion. Feminists who were anti-pornography were pitted against feminists for pornography. While the anti-porn side was rallying for censorship, the pro-porn side decreed this as oppressive, thus creating more dialogue around sex and agency.

For years now, though, I’ve felt that the onus has been put on women to champion sex positivity — the message usually being that we should fuck around more: Be a slut. Embrace your sexuality. Don’t be ashamed of a one-night stand. While I wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments, this isn’t really what it means to be sex positive. You don’t have to sleep around, and the fact that most people equate a large number of sexual partners with sex positivity is probably why men are an afterthought in this regard. (The general notion being that men are inherently more sex positive than women, because they’re societally encouraged to sleep around, and are regarded as the gender with the higher sex-drive.)

Of course, this is largely anecdotal — based on years of fucking around and talking to platonic male friends about sex — but I’ve noticed personally, too, that women do much more work when it comes to sex and mental health. We’re constantly thinking, debating and redefining our sexuality and what sex means to us. And yet, few straight men I’ve come across feel the need to do the same.

Because they should — it makes for a healthier society when everyone is a little less fucked up after fucking — below, I’ve gathered what I find to be some of the biggest hang-ups men deal with when it comes to sex, along with some and advice guidance from experts on how to overcome them.

Understand the True Meaning of Sex Positivity

So if it doesn’t mean that you have to sleep around, what does sex positivity mean? Well, as sex educator Carol Queen defines the term, “It means that you see that sex can be a positive force in a person’s life, rather than a source of shame. Also, you recognize there are many ways to be a sexual person, and as long as those are consensual, you let others do what’s right for them.”

In other words, it’s about acceptance and removing judgement when it comes to all things sex (or lack thereof).

Also Understand That Sex Positivity Isn’t A Way to Get Women to Sleep With You

My friend Kate Willett, a comedian, has experienced this firsthand. “When I was living in the Bay Area, I was pretty regularly shamed by polyamorous guys for not wanting to sleep with them. There was one dude I met at a sex-positive event who was there with his wife. He asked me if I wanted to hook-up. I said I didn’t want to hook up with a married guy. He accused me of discriminating against married people. I didn’t know my vagina was a public accomodation.”

Needless to say, sex positivity isn’t a device you can utilize to manipulate women into fucking you. “No one must like or do certain things in order to be sex-positive — except respect consent and the other person’s boundaries and desires,” Queen explains.

Drop the Madonna-Whore Complex

First theorized by Sigmund Freud, the Madonna-whore complex “views women’s desirability/licentiousness and purity/maternal goodness as mutually exclusive traits. Love is seen as clean and virginal whereas sex is viewed as dirty and shameful.” On the surface, you might not think of yourself as guilty of feeling this way — you know that women are capable of being nurturing, kind and caring as well as sexual and provocative.

But if you look at your hook-up and relationship history, do you notice any sort of pattern that might reflect a Madonna-whore tendency? Are you incapable of viewing certain women in your life as sexual because you get along with them really well? Have you ever cheated on a girlfriend to have kinkier or fantasy-fulfilling sex with another woman? Do you find yourself immediately “turned off” by a woman after sleeping her? “In a lot of hook-up culture, in conversations with men, one thing I often hear is that it was fun to pursue her, but after having sex, it’s like there’s something off about her,” says certified sex coach Sarah Martin. “And so, he walks away, fires up Tinder again and is off on the next pursuit.”

“I went on a few dates with a guy who straight up told me that he loses interest when women sleep with him in the first few dates,” adds Alexandra Tweten, author of Bye Felipe: Disses, Dick Pics and Other Delights of Modern Dating. “He said he was aware of it, and didn’t want that to happen with us, so we purposely didn’t sleep together and focused more on getting to know each other. He later said it had to do with knowing that if a woman sleeps with him too easily, he assumes she does it with other men too, which was a turn-off for him. I stopped seeing him after that.”

According to Martin, men with a Madonna-whore complex believe that women they sleep with are lower in value because of the simple fact that they slept together. The logic is, “she’s ‘not the kind of person I could introduce to my parents,’ and most of the time, that’s because he’s discovered firsthand that she’s a sexual woman.”

Be Honest About Your Intentions

This is “the talk” about whether or not you’re interested in pursuing a relationship, or just want to keep things casual. Do so before you engage in sex, and be okay with whatever results from the discussion. Not everyone who sleeps with you will want to date you, but either way, it’s important to clarify things and to ask the same from the person you’re planning to sleep with.

Another discussion worth having is about how you prefer to behave in bed. If you’re into, say, choking your partner during sex, that’s something that should be discussed ahead of time. Never make assumptions, especially regarding rough sex, and never guilt someone for not liking the things you like. Again, sex positivity isn’t a scapegoat you can use to make others feel like they’re “too vanilla” — or to pressure them into something they don’t want to do.

Above all, don’t worry if you find it difficult to have these conversations, because pretty much everyone else does, too. “It requires a really different orientation to sex than the one most people get via pop culture and our problematic sex education,” explains Queen. “It means that you know that different people are comfortable with and desire different things — that you have to share what yours are, find out what theirs are and determine if you’re compatible in those desires.”

Make Sure Your Partner Has Just As Good A Time As You Do

While orgasms don’t have to be present for great sex to occur, it sure helps a lot. So regardless of whether or not it happens, you should want it to happen. If nothing else, consider it making up for lost time. That is, for centuries, sex has been positioned as an act that’s started and finished by men. Women’s sexual pleasure has alternated between being a complete mystery to downright terrifying. It wasn’t until Alfred Kinsey’s research on the sexual lives of men and women in the 1940s that people truly fully realized that women have and enjoy orgasms, too. (Yes, it really did take that long.)

How best can this be done? By taking directions. We don’t all like the same things, and most of us have had enough individual practice to know exactly how to get the job done. So don’t get offended or feel insulted when directions are provided. Similarly, if your partner isn’t providing you with directions and you can sense that they’re not having the best time, step up to the plate and ask for some pointers.

Furthermore, don’t think of foreplay as just the stuff that happens before sex. Foreplay is sex, and should be treated as such.

Embrace All of Your Erogenous Zones (Yes, Even Your Butt)

Your dick isn’t the only body part that receives pleasure. Your entire body is capable of being an erogenous zone. For many straight men, it’s difficult to embrace this. As Sarah Martin notes, “Society fails men, especially intellectual men, by alienating them from their bodies while glorifying their brains.” She continues, “One of the best places to start as a man is to find things and ways that help you to be more present in your body.” This includes massages, dance classes, yoga, etc. According to Martin, “All of these help to enhance sexual pleasure for men precisely because, by becoming aware of the body and being better able to tune into the body, men can unlock deeper sensation.”

Speaking of deeper sensation, ever consider anal play? Curious, but hesitant? “Anal hesitation tends to rely on myth. ‘Anal sex means you’re gay.’ No it doesn’t — desiring men means you’re gay (or bisexual, or pansexual),” says Queen. “Men have the same nerve endings that women and non-binary people do — we’re more similar in our capacities to experience pleasure than is usually acknowledged.”

Martin has some advice on how you can get started: “I recommend beginning externally only. Using a glove if you want to and a little bit of lube, explore touching, caressing and massaging your anus externally.” From there, notice what feels great, what feels okay and what feels like a big no-no. Keep focusing on the stuff that feels good, preferably with a vibrator. “Take it slow, there’s no rush. And if you wish to explore penetration and prostate stimulation down the line, there’s lots of great resources and toys out there to help.”

What’s more positive than that?