How Sex Positivity Can Become Negative

How Sex Positivity Can Become Negative

Too bad there’s no condom to protect your mental health after casual sex.
October 12, 2016
8 mins read

Colleges have been known as a hotbed for sexual experimentation for decades, largely because there is some truth to that idea.

While pursuing your degree, there are also plenty of opportunities to experiment with your sexuality and try new things with different kinds of people, including people of different genders, and, overall, just find out what makes your body feel good. But how do college campuses manage this when the vast majority of the world, ironically, has a stick up its ass about anything remotely sexual?

Most of the world is happy to take part in slut-shaming, aka telling women that having sex lowers their value as people. College campuses, thank God, have started to combat this mentality with one of sex positivity to encourage consenting adults to have sex with whomever they like and to not let their decisions devalue them as people.

For a majority of people, this philosophy kicks ass.

Sex positivity is a godsend for the countless women that have been treated as “less than” for simply having sex, but it has come with its own set of problems. There is now a common mentality of “Go suck a dick!” as a call of empowerment and encouragement for women and other purveyors of dick to proudly pursue their own sexual exploits wherever possible and to shed the burden of slut-shaming. The phrase highlights how sex positivity can do great things to combat social stigma, but can also lead to some painful and distressing situations.

While this is not a fault with sex positivity as an idea, it is still contributing to a major problem—those that encourage one night stands often do not consider the mental health of the people involved. For a lot of people, sex is not a simple biological function like scratching an itch or yawning. It often comes with emotional consequences in some form or another, and the well-intentioned students preaching about having fun without shame don’t seem to realize this when they advise people to have casual sex whenever possible.

I am a perfect example of how sex positivity can steer someone into a difficult situation. I came into college as an 18-year old freshman and had the idea that my first year was going to be my time to explore my sexuality and have new sexual experiences without any sense of shame. My new friends encouraged the mentality and applauded me for not allowing myself to be bogged down by gendered expectations of sexuality, and so I had my fair share of consenting sexual encounters with people that I then remained either friendly or completely aloof to.

And I felt horrible. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was putting a lot of myself into the sexual acts.

Casual sex made me feel beautiful and desired, but not being romantically pursued made me feel cheap and unwanted. I went into the acts with the idea that sex was a simple thing and that I would only make myself feel good for a night, but I consistently awoke to mornings of depression and loneliness.

I own all of the decisions that I made during that time, of course. I was an adult who made her own choices and dealt with the consequences. That aside, I can’t help but wonder how things might have turned out if my friends had stopped affirming that I could have sex with any willing partners that I wanted and asked me if I should be having these encounters instead. This is the major failing of many people that discuss sex positivity on college campuses: They only know that everyone should be allowed to have consensual sex, but so few ask whether or not casual sex is a good idea for everyone.

I have particularly noticed the trend in the feminist circles that I travel as a Women’s Studies minor. One night stands are no longer viewed as taboo acts that will strip a woman of her humanity, but are now accepted as a vehicle to sexual liberation. In this way, it becomes almost a challenge to have casual sex as a way of defying patriarchal values in the face of a culture that universally demonizes women for enjoying themselves.

For a lot of women, this works as a way of reclaiming their sexuality. It allows them to feel empowered and free to enjoy themselves in safe, respectful ways. For an untold number of women, however, their experiences look more like mine. In such situations, sex is used as a kind of emotional crutch to satisfy a deeper, more intimate need than just getting someone’s rocks off.  Just like an addict getting their fix, it’s only a temporary solution and comes with a similar feeling of “coming down” from the high.

Sex positivity can be, and typically is, an excellent form of empowering women to take control of their bodies.

There is no reason for anybody to feel shame for enjoying themselves in the bedroom (or wherever you like to get your freak on), but certain considerations need to be made by those that encourage sex positivity. Instead of advising everyone to go have casual sex as a way to feel liberated and powerful, have a conversation about why that person wants to have sex. Is it because they genuinely want to have a good time for a night, or is it just a way to fill an emotional void? These conversations can be difficult and awkward, but they’re also important for protecting everyone’s mental health.

If you would make sure that your friend is using condoms when pursuing casual hookups, then why wouldn’t you make sure that they’re protecting their mind along with their body?

Heather Ware, Bowling Green State University

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