The term "sex-positive" was comprehensively and articulately addressed by Alyssa Royse in her recent blog post "Are WE Sex Positive?" in The Buzz, the Good Vibrations Online Magazine. Sex-positive is defined differently by many sex educators and counselors. Royse states that she doesn't particularly like the term sex-positive, but quotes Charlie Glickman as saying "it should be the relevant measure of a sexual act or practice where there is consent, pleasure and well-being by those affected and involved by the sexual activity." She also argues that the term sex-positive is not always so positive when it is defined as sexual progressiveness and is then exclusionary. For example, sexual progressiveness can be a judgmental term when polygamy is viewed as progressive and monogamy is considered backwards.
We understand why Royse feels so ambivalent about this term. Many sex educators and counselors refer to our book as being sex-positive and we are flattered by this description. When we wrote our book, Healing Painful Sex: A Woman's Guide to Confronting, Diagnosing and Treating Sexual Pain, our main mission was to help women suffering from sexual pain understand their medical conditions, reduce their sense of isolation, learn how to obtain proper medical and psychological treatment, understand that they are suffering from a medical condition that has debilitating emotional consequences, redefine their sense of sexuality and give women hope when so many feel despondent after suffering from frightening and devastating painful sexual conditions. So many women who suffer from sexual pain conditions feel desexualized and their sense of sexuality has been damaged and diminished.
How can a woman feel sexually-positive when an act that is supposed to provide pleasure is only associated with pain? That was one of the hardest challenges we faced when writing our book -- how do we help women feel sexy and sensual when so many feel like "damaged goods" or "freaks of nature"? These are terms that so many of our patients use to describe themselves. We feel that we successfully accomplished this in our book by helping women reframe the term sexuality. Feeling good about yourself sexually is a mindset, not the ability to have hot and steamy sex in multiple positions or enter into polygamous relationships. If these are your choices, that is fine. We never judge any one's sexual preferences or practices. However, our main concern is that women understand that their sense of sexuality and sensuality is how they view themselves.
Even if you have vulvovaginal pain and cannot have sexual intercourse (until you heal), you can be a vibrant, sensual and sexual woman. Sexuality is defined by so many elements of your personality -- intelligence, sense of humor and personal style -- not by your genital anatomy. Yes, we do consider our book to be sex-positive and ask women to undertake the super-human task of not letting their sexual pain define their sexuality.
We agree with Royse that the term sex-positive can have many negative connotations. However, we hope that all women, whether they have sexual pain or are pain-free, can broaden their definition of sexuality -- being sexual has nothing to do with your anatomy. We know one patient who had a double mastectomy (with reconstruction), a hysterectomy and suffers from vulvovaginal pain and still feels sexy and the feeling is reciprocated by her partner. That is what we mean by sex-positive. Don't let anyone, including yourself, define your sense of sexuality by the sum of your parts. Every woman can feel sexual or sex-positive as long as she broadens her definition of the term "sex."