We Need to Talk about Sex Positivity in Politics

How do we integrate sex-positivity in politics when our culture is steeped in sensationalism? 

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We Need to Talk about Sex Positivity in Politics

Following California’s Democratic congresswoman Katie Hill’s resignation from her position, I’m struck that there has been little to no conversation promoting empowering language about women in politics and their sexuality.

In other words, we must support a culture of sex-positivity for all women—including those in politics.

The sequence of events amidst this affair and abuse of power is more insidious—and has inspired me to explore the deeper implications about gender equality in politics with the release of private nude photos of Ms. Hill. At this point, Hill took responsibility for her actions and the subsequent consequences, yet there continues to be media attention about the nude photos that were released—what we know as “revenge porn.” 

In no way was this information needed to substantiate the conversation about whether or not Hill was violating policy about sexual relationships in her role. This act of revenge porn was intentional to shame and humiliate Hill and yet another event of using sexuality to degrade women in politics.

Public information on women engaging in sexual behaviors has serious psychological and professional implications.  One of the most significant barriers to women entering politics is harassment and threats of violence, particularly sexualized harassment and threats.

Photo: Katie Hill speaking at a 2018 conference.

Revenge porn is unequivocally an act of harassment.

Although nude photos are normal for both men and women (about 70% of young people aged 18-24 take nude photos, women disproportionately suffer more such as losing jobs and receiving threats.

In no way was this information needed to substantiate the conversation about whether or not Hill was violating policy about sexual relationships in her role.”

What’s even more terrifying and disturbing is that sex has been so pathologized in our culture that women feel such intense shame and despair in response to this depth of privacy violation that some have chosen to end their lives.

In order to promote a sex-positive culture in politics—a culture where no woman is threatened in her political or professional career by sexual humiliation—the conversation must shift away from victim shaming toward an open dialogue about sex. 

In order to promote psychosocial wellness and reduce shame about sex, we need to move toward a culture of sex-positivity.

 

So, what is sex positivity?

Sex positivity is a perspective that emphasizes openness, nonjudgmental attitudes, freedom, and liberation about sexuality and sexual expression.

The concept is rooted in the belief that sex is a healthy and necessary part of human existence. It’s about acceptance and inclusion of the ways individuals choose to express themselves sexually.

 

But is sex positivity really that important?

Yes. Yes, it is.

According to the World Health Organization, a sex-positive framework, including an individual’s sexual intimacy, orientation, and eroticism are viewed as enhancing the individual’s personality, communication, and love.

This perspective includes sexual and physical wellness and extends to intersecting biological, psychological, social, and emotional elements of functioning.

In short, sex positivity is associated with improved health and psycho-emotional outcomes.

Sex positivity is a “positive and respectful approach to sexuality” for all persons along with the sex and gender spectra, highlighting the right for people to make choices regarding their bodies and their abstention from, or involvement in, a wide diversity of intimate relationships and sexual behaviors.

 

Let’s debunk some common myths about sex-positivity. 

Colorado State University’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center outline some of the most common misconceptions surrounding what it means to be sex-positive.

“Sex positivity is about having lots of sex with anyone and everyone.”

The foundation of sex-positivity is the idea of informed consent and agency within one’s own sexuality. Sexual behaviors look different for everyone; some people may have a lot of sex or multiple sexual partners, others may abstain from sex altogether. Sex positivity embraces a non-judgmental stance to remove stigma and shame in response to all sexual choices. 

“Sex positivity is only for women.”

Human sexuality includes all people. To challenge cis-gendered, heteronormative stereotypes, this includes men who wish to abstain and women who love one-night-stands. As long as it’s consensual, there is no judgment.

So, how do we integrate sex-positivity in politics when our culture is steeped in sensationalism? 




How to integrate sex-positivity in your life and our politics.

Non-consensual publication of nude images is a form of sexual abuse and harassment.  As such, policies need to be further developed to penalize people and platforms from distributing these images.  We can advocate for Congress to develop legislation that prevents and sentence these acts.

There shouldn’t be a dialogue about sex without sex education, which includes discussion about consent, pleasure, and emotions. Remember that sex education does not have to be in the confines of school—you can engage anyone in this conversation!

Especially when young people are asking questions about human sexuality, encourage and normalize that questions are not criticized.

Sex positivity is associated with improved health and psycho-emotional outcomes.”

In dialogues with survivors of the non-consensual release of sexual information, we need to step away from blaming the survivor and step into a conversation that includes empathy. Instead of saying “you shouldn’t have taken that photo,” instead say “I can’t imagine the kind of pain you’re in. How can I help?”

Be inclusive of all expressions of and approaches to sexuality. No sexual identification is “better” or more “normal” than any other, which includes accepting the sexual expression of all races, genders, classes, orientation, ability, and age without preconceptions or discrimination.

Challenge your judgments and the judgments of others. Sexual engagement, abstinence, and all behaviors in between is the choice of each individual.

Ultimately, talk about sex.

Research supports that conversations about sex change sex-related stereotypes promote healthier sexual decisions.  Avoidance of talking about this topic implies shame and inhibits opportunities for learning. Sex is inherently part of being human and should not be shamed or maligned. So let’s normalize safe, consensual sex, which in turn reduces victim-blaming and dehumanization.

When you hear remarks about sex that are derogatory or pejorative, find ways to introduce information and challenge these perspectives!

Sex shame, harassment, and violence are notoriously evident in politics. By changing the culture of sex perspectives, we can change our political arena to be a more inclusive and equal representation of all people. 

 

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