“Sex-positivity,” a term often associated with sex-positive feminism, is meant to signify a social and even philosophical belief that embracing sexuality and sexual expression is healthy and desirable—provided it’s safe and consensual, of course. It’s somewhat of a reactionary term in the sense that its existence is a response to the sexual oppression imposed by organized religion, conservatism at large, as well as certain flavours of feminism that are viewed as discouraging free sexual expression and/or sex work.
Setting aside the plethora of ways one can interpret or indeed enact any defined concept, I want to first acknowledge that a) the sensational depictions of sex that we see everywhere are not evidence of a sex positive culture, b) people rarely talk about what sex positivity might look like among men, and c) people of all genders still hold onto starkly sex negative beliefs and values. No matter what our reasons are, many of us still struggle with sexual shame, fear, and judgement, both of ourselves and others.
So if those who have heard the term “sex-positive” associate it with empowered women; with feminism that doesn’t urge the abolition of sex work; with the acceptance of all genders and orientations; with top quality sex ed for kids in schools; and with a society that doesn’t slut shame, lock up their daughters, or clam up when faced with important conversations about sex, where exactly do men (or those who identify as men) fit in?
Well, if we take the same principles that already apply to sex positivity and superimpose them onto the world of men (cue dramatic background music), I venture to say that the resulting vision is a reality that would include the following elements:
Think body hair, menstruation, curvaceousness, cellulite, stretch marks, imperfections of any kind not normally represented in those aforementioned sensational depictions of sex. It’s hard not to be disgusted by our own or others’ bodies (even if the disgust is extremely subtle or occasional), regardless of our gender. I once dated a man who refused to have any sexual contact whatsoever if I produced even a tiny drop of menstrual blood. He was also a prude. Coincidence? I think not. The “and make this known” part? The reality is, we inhabit a world of imbalances. Men who are inspired to make known their attraction to features that mainstream voices say we should be grossed out by known, are, in their own small way, simply doing their part.
This means believing womens’ #metoo stories, it means not degenerating into “not all men” rhetoric, and it means standing up for those who could use it. It means discussing sexual boundaries and desires with one’s partner. It means not battling it out every time a partner wants one to wear a condom, but taking initiative oneself. It means not sacrificing one’s own or another’s safety for instant gratification. “Safety” here includes respecting women enough to help them prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Imagine a world in which the status quo man is someone who, regardless of his own sexual identity, is secure enough in himself and his masculinity (or femininity, or androgeneity, or whatever the case may be), to not just “tolerate” people (and indeed, other men) with different sexual identities, but to actually able to learn from and welcome them. None of this half-assed, deeply problematic “I don’t care what others do, as long as I don’t have to see it” crap. And none of this cringing at the image of another naked man while nurturing an addiction to images of naked women. Get a grip.
Both points are key here: giving and receiving. Men have trouble doing both. While some men are selfish lovers and still treat women’s pleasure like a potential/occasional byproduct of their own pleasure, other men are highly generous in bed and yet cannot relax into their own bodies enough to receive pleasure, achieve release, or even stomach simple compliments. The ideal, of course, is balance, as always. Easier said than done—you don’t have to tell me.
Many men say they are open to trying new thing sexually. Maybe this is in part because men are told they are supposed to be virile and sexual and raging with testosterone—so much so that any lack of sexual drive can be perceived as less than masculine. And then there’s the narrow slice of sex that mainstream porn focuses on—a slice that shapes us all. No matter what the reasons, many men are afraid to explore new territory sexually. For example, a fear of anal penetration/prostate stimulation is fairly common among straight men, although I do believe this is changing. Many men are also uneasy about dressing sexy or prettying up for their partners. Interestingly, the popularization of BDSM culture, problematic as it may be sometimes, has opened some men up who would have otherwise been afraid to dominate or submit to a partner.
And the emotions that can sometimes go along with sex, of course. Communication is both King and Queen, and it’s about time aloofness and the default anger setting that so many men fall prey to stop being associated with some vapid concept of manliness. Men who communicate are more capable of feeling, both physically and emotionally. And men who feel are more capable of giving and receiving more freely. And men who can do that, in large enough numbers, could change the world as we know it.
There is no substitute for self-love, and none of the rest of this shit holds any water without it. No matter how any of us feel about ourselves, most of us instinctively know this to be true. Many men (and indeed people in general) have their shit together in numerous ways, at least on a surface level. But when it comes to their eating, sleeping, or grooming habits, something is amiss. Why? Because they don’t necessarily love, or even like themselves. Let me tell you something: it’s hard to be aware of one’s body and in tune with all it can do and feel when one is grossed out by or at odds with said body. Being at odds with oneself makes it hard to make anyone else feel good without doubting their own experiences.
I think all any of us can do is encourage the men in our lives to express their sexualities (and their fashion sense) freely—with respect for the above principles. And we all, each and every one of us, has our own part to do in the fight for self-love. Let’s win this thing! <3
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