Being sex-positive is difficult when the shame surrounding sexuality is pervasive. Almost anywhere you look you can find great examples of sexual shame. Indeed, perhaps one of the most prolific examples of shame and sexuality goes back to the Christian account of humankind’s creation, the story of Adam and Eve, which suggests that before the existence of sin, humans felt comfortable and unashamed about their bodies in all their glorious nudity.
Sexual shame is also present in the way most schools teach their students about sexual education. Many sex education programs focus almost exclusively on what you should not do, leaving little room or time to touch on subjects such as pleasure or the joys of sexual expression. This can inadvertently send the message that sexuality is dirty and riddled with shame. These messages can become internalized, taking years to process and heal from. How can we address negative feelings like shame, guilt, or embarrassment when it comes to sex? And feel empowered to discover our unique sexual identities and interests?
Sex positivity means adopting attitudes that are accepting of sexuality and its expression; giving people the freedom to explore their sexual identities (What does “sex-positive” mean?, 2022). It also allows for greater acceptance of self and others. Being sex-positive can present in a variety of ways. Feeling comfortable getting to know your body and your partners’ bodies is one example. So is allowing yourself to learn more about sex or particular aspects of sexuality. Being sex-positive does not mean you will never feel negative emotions like shame ever again, but it is an acknowledgment that you strive for increased self-understanding, openness, and compassion when it comes to sex.
As human beings, our emotions ebb and flow, shifting from one to another or even a colorful blend of several emotions. Choosing to adopt sex-positive attitudes is just the first step in a long, ongoing process where we can pick and choose what values and messages we want to keep, and which ones no longer serve us.
Here are three highly recommended books within the field of sexuality that are sure to guide you along as you begin examining and reframing the way you view sex and its place in your life.
Comes as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski
“Come as You Are” is perhaps the most comprehensive beginner’s guide to human sexuality available today. In this groundbreaking book, Nagoski dispels common misconceptions about sexuality and encourages readers to engage with their sexual preferences and identities with self-acceptance and curiosity.
This book examines common sexual concerns and frustrations with sex-positive advice as well as critiques that facilitate personal reflection and introspection. Nagoski does a really good overview of basic topics including male and female anatomy, binary thinking, arousal non-concordance, and the differences between “liking” and “wanting” when it comes to sexual activity. A must-read for anyone looking to further (or even begin) their sex education.
Vagina Problems: Endometriosis, Painful Sex, and Other Taboo Topics by Lara Parker
“Vagina Problems” is a phenomenal read. It is one of the only pieces of media to really delve deep into concerns that many vulva-owners may face. It is truly very rare to find such an honest, human account of what can be very personal, intimate experiences, like having painful penetrative sex and the emotional distress and confusion that experience can have on a person in a society where sex is supposed to always be easy, simple, or straightforward.
“Vagina Problems” normalizes very common experiences that vulva-owners may go through and it does so with such admirable honesty. Whether or not you have had personal experiences with vagina problems, this book is an incredible read that may just help you build your capacity to feel empathy for other people’s hidden struggles. Lana Parker’s wit, intelligence, and raw openness help to connect readers to one another through experiences that can otherwise feel quite isolating.
The Ethical Slut A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures by Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton
This is a really great read to consider even if you are not currently thinking about practicing consensual non-monogamy simply because the text invites readers to rethink their views when it comes to the nature of romantic relationships, how and why they function the way they do, as well as our perspectives on modern love and family.
Reading “Ethical Slut” encourages us to appreciate just how diverse and unique relationships can be. The book offers great advice when it comes to practicing ethical consensual non-monogamy and also takes the time to address popular misconceptions that people have about this lifestyle.
Cultivating being sex positive can be an exciting new adventure. I hope these three books provide the inspiration and confidence needed as they reflect on the sexual perspectives they have adopted along their journey, and determine which ones they wish to keep and those that no longer serve them.
Hardy, J.W. & Easton, D. (2017). The Ethical Slut A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures. Ten Speed Press.
Nagoski, E. (2015). Come as you are: The surprising new science that will transform your sex life. Simon & Schuster
Parker, L. (2020). Vagina Problems: Endometriosis, Painful Sex, and Other Taboo Topics Griffin.
What does “sex-positive” mean? (2022). ISSM. https://www.issm.info/sexual-health-qa/what-does-sex-positive-mean/