Denial is not a river in Egypt

by | Jul 2, 2022 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

The denial of sex addiction is a powerful obstacle to recovery.  Sex addiction recovery has been described as a grief process. When we let go of an addictive drug or behavior we are letting go of a coping skill that has served us well in the past.

In the first stage of confronting an addiction the addict is shocked into thinking about quitting their addictive behavior. But if the process proceeds past this initial shock, then the response to the potential loss is denial, the process of rationalizing, minimizing and excusing the problem away. No wonder the first task of addiction treatment is that of breaking down the denial, confronting the distorted thinking that all serve to dodge an unpleasant reality.

The predictable progression of denial

1.  There is no such thing as sex addiction

“Only things like drugs and alcohol can be addictive because only drugs and alcohol cause physical addiction, withdrawal etc.”

This of course is not true.  Behavioral addictions are real addictions.  Gambling has been recognized as an addiction in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and Internet gaming is under consideration.

“Sex is a natural process and it is good for you so how can porn and sexual acting out be a problem or an addiction?”

This just doesn’t follow. The fact that some people don’t have a problem with alcohol or gambling or porn doesn’t mean that it can’t be addictive and have dire consequences for others.

2.  Sex addicts exist but I am not one of them

“OK so I was secretly going to hookers all the time (or having multiple secret extramarital affairs or watching porn at work for hours) but I just have a high sex drive and now that I’ve learned my lesson it won’t happen again”.

Addicts who have been found out are often deeply ashamed and may honestly think that they feel so bad about their behavior that they could never do it again.  But they do.

“I can control it so it’s not addiction. I only did it because my spouse doesn’t want enough sex (or I don’t have a partner right now) so it’s not really my problem anyway”.

When someone is in the grip of an addiction they can engage in major thought distortion. These rationalizations and projections can be very persistent even in the face of repeated relapses, different partners etc.

3.  I may be a sex addict but it’s not that bad

“I do have a compulsive behavior but everything is OK anyway; my wife/husband knows about it; I love my spouse/partner; I can live with it; all those other sex addicts do really bad things, much worse than me.”

This kind of minimizing represents only a partial acknowledgement of the problem of addiction. The addict has not admitted how much the addiction controls and influences their life.

4.  I have a serious problem but it’s incurable

“There is no proven cure for this problem. Treatment programs are just brainwashing people into thinking they need rehab so they can make money. 12-step self-help groups have a poor success rate, why bother?”

This sounds like a logical argument but it’s just another dodge. “Even though all those programs work for some people they won’t work for me because I’m different. I can’t go to SAA meetings because I’m so famous and someone might recognize me. Anyway, I’m an atheist and you have to believe in God.”

Building up the barriers to getting help and seeing it as hopeless is a common way to continue avoiding reality.

There is a deep mistrust of anything which could change or restrict one’s behavior. People want to be free to do what they want without guilt, even if what they want to do is damaging to them. It took a long time for the U.S. population to break through the denial regarding the dangers of cigarettes, denial fed by biased research put out by special interests. You are still free to smoke, but now you have a right to know the truth about what smoking can do to you.  Today powerful industries line up behind the sex addiction deniers, industries like porn production, extramarital hook-up websites, webcam sites (including illicit trafficking) not to mention the pharmaceutical interests built on the exploding demand for drugs to treat erectile dysfunction.

Perhaps those who are activists in sex addiction denial will eventually need to come face to face with the impact of a problem that is not going away. They will need to hit bottom.

Beneath the Sheets: 3 things you never say to a sex addict

There’s a stigma associated with being a “sex addict” that differs from any other addiction label. It’s like a double taboo that no one wants to be associated with. Of course, whether you use the term “sex addict” or “impulse control disorder,” the treatment remains the same. The level of respect should as well.  As counselors, we have our challenges treating this population. One major solution lies not in how we classify them but in how they classify themselves.

There are three major areas for exploration with sex addicts, all of which require their own delicate balance.

Deceit

Confronting a sex addict on his or her actions is like confronting a sixteen-year-old on masturbation.  Asking about behaviors won’t lead either of you anywhere.

Since sex in our culture is not spoken about openly, we are trained to keep secrets. Sex addicts, in particular, are masters of keeping secrets, and many learned to keep their deviant ways a secret early on. In a 12-step recovery program, there is the saying, “We’re only as sick as our secrets.” It’s very true.

A sex addict probably didn’t get “the talk” from his or her parents (like most of us). He might have heard the locker room bragging of sexual conquests and how much sex this or that man claimed to be getting. She may have developed “relationships” with pictures, negative sexual actions, or inappropriate partners. Sex addicts often start to misinterpret sex, considering it to be the same experience as intimacy. The result: his or her sexual behaviors feel soothing rather than flawed.

Guilt

Recovery for the sex addict is incredibly difficult. Not only do most addicts live a life of secrecy, but they also hold the realization that they can never really get enough of what they are after. The cycle of desire and insatiability is continuous. The feelings sometimes associated with these acts are lost as the individual lives in quiet isolation.

I get asked over and over again:

  • Can I recover?
  • How difficult will treatment be?
  • Will I ever get over the “guilt” associated with the ones I have hurt?

The answers are yes, yes, and yes.

Brief orgasms and a few minutes of excitement can be followed by years of fear, pain, shame, self-doubt, self-criticism, judgment, and anger. However recovery moves an individual past all of this. As difficult as the process is, the discomfort is worth it. Of course, we know this is easy for counselors to say, right? It’s time to think about how we can make our patients truly know this, rather than just repeating the words.

Intimacy

Experiencing intimacy is something an addict may secretly want but will wholeheartedly fear. Don’t ask if they want it directly, because their addicted minds will say, NO WAY. When a sex addict loses control around sex, the behaviors can regress to that time when they were sixteen years old, looking at pornography in secret and masturbating to ease the pain. And this behavior has been a comfort for a long time. Disrupting this relaxing normalcy would mean the addict has to face his or her fears and start on the path to freedom. Acknowledging that one has a problem would be the first step, and included with that would be acknowledging that he or she is acting regressively (like that sixteen year old the addict once was). An addict may also admit that he or she does not understand intimacy and has confused intimacy with sexual activity, if they believe they have experienced it at all.

When working with this population, I have learned to meet them where they are in their recovery process. Confrontation is not always the best option. Rather, allow these addicts to ask for help—that is why they are seeking your expert advice, isn’t it?—on their own terms. And they will. And you’ll be ready.

For people with sex addiction, it can be such a challenge to face up to the fact it is even happening. Perhaps it follows an arrest, being caught by a spouse, or making excuses for sexual behavior online, sex addiction can be difficult to overcome without first admitting the need for help, then seeking out help from family and friends. Denial is a key player in keeping addiction going strong, unless a person is willing to face their addiction head on.

Shame and Blame

The shaming and blaming game is not unique to people suffering from sex addiction. It occurs in many people’s lives and keeps them tied into negative behaviors that can eventually get them into serious trouble. Denial by people with sex addiction is about:

  • Blaming problems on others
  • Blaming problems on situations
  • Not accepting responsibility
  • Refusal to see escalation of problems in life

As a result of denial, active sexual addiction can become harmful to relationships, even dangerous, resulting in arrests, financial woes, or unwanted pregnancies, among other things.

Role of Denial

Denial is about internal and external lies a person tells themselves to support addiction. Each lie is rationalized, every action is given the okay in their mind and nobody can tell them no if nobody knows about it. Denial may be so deeply rooted they have come to believe their own dishonesty. From this point, the person may:

  • Expect others to buy into their denial
  • Neglect the concern of others and keep doing behavior anyway
  • Blame, defend, or minimize the pain to themselves or others
  • Neglect personal health, hygiene, or well-being of kids and others to support addiction

Some common forms of denial include:

  • Entitlement: I work hard to support everyone at home, I deserve a reward
  • Externalization: my partner or family criticizes me and nothing I do is right so I’m going to enjoy myself
  • Justification: all single guys/gals do this. I’m not in a relationship so I can do as I please, no harm done.
  • Minimization: as long as nobody is getting hurt or in danger, this is a one-time thing that won’t hurt anyone I know
  • Rationalization: I am not engaging in real sex with people, it’s all online. How can that be cheating or harming anyone is beyond me

Even though compulsive sexual behaviors may not harm others, per se, they are hurting themselves and, eventually, these behaviors carry over into harming loved ones. Denial keeps a person locked into addiction. Until the person admits a problem exists, the addiction is likely to continue. With support and therapy, a person with sex addiction can address the underlying issues and start to deal with the consequences as they go down the path of healing.

With sex addiction, it can seem like excuses piled on excuses. Denial is a very strong emotion and behavioral pattern which can keep a person stuck in addiction. People who struggle with sex addiction tend to blame problems on anything (or anyone) other than themselves. Rather than underlying causes, they are just escaping from pain. Find out why denial keeps people locked up in addiction and how they can seek help to escape.

Entitlement

A person may be stuck in denial because they feel entitled to what is rightfully theirs. It is okay to have a ‘little reward for hard work.’ It may also feel like it is not such a bad thing to go online or out with people and explore their sexual addiction. Entitlement is a huge barrier in denial of sexual addiction.

Externalization and Blame

It is easy to blame everyone for everything that is going on in your life. You can make lots of excuses while you are hurting yourself and others. While you externalize and blame others, you are keeping yourself in denial.

Minimization

Even if you think you are not hurting anyone or putting people in danger, you are not going to find what you are looking for in sexual addiction. When a person is locked into addiction, they will minimize everything to keep it going.

Rationalization

Even with all the rationalizations a person can make, you can justify it to the end but it is doing harm to yourself and others around you. Even if your partner does not suspect it (in your mind), they more likely than not know it is going on and there is a problem, whether you rationalize it in your own mind or not.

Compulsive sexual behaviors are harming not only themselves but their loved ones. People with sexual addictions see themselves as victims. This is a variation of denial that is unique and feeds other forms of denial. The people with sexual addictions feel burdened by the needs of others and feel justified in their use of an escape mode because they are the victim. Family members may also be subject to denial but the most important thing is to recognize it for what it is and begin to heal the wounds through therapy and rehab.


FACING DENIAL IN RECOVERY FROM SEX ADDICTION

Denial is a refusal to admit the obvious. Denial is at work when you minimize, rationalize, justify, or blame. When you were in your addictive behavior, you may have denied your addiction by telling yourself things like:

1.  There is no such thing as sex addiction

“Only things like drugs and alcohol can be addictive because only drugs and alcohol cause physical addiction, withdrawal etc.”

This of course is not true.  Behavioral addictions are real addictions.  Gambling has been recognized as an addiction in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and Internet gaming is under consideration.

“Sex is a natural process and it is good for you so how can porn and sexual acting out be a problem or an addiction?”

This just doesn’t follow. The fact that some people don’t have a problem with alcohol or gambling or porn doesn’t mean that it can’t be addictive and have dire consequences for others.

2.  Sex addicts exist but I am not one of them

“OK so I was secretly going to hookers all the time (or having multiple secret extramarital affairs or watching porn at work for hours) but I just have a high sex drive and now that I’ve learned my lesson it won’t happen again”.

Addicts who have been found out are often deeply ashamed and may honestly think that they feel so bad about their behavior that they could never do it again.  But they do.

“I can control it so it’s not addiction. I only did it because my spouse doesn’t want enough sex (or I don’t have a partner right now) so it’s not really my problem anyway”.

When someone is in the grip of an addiction they can engage in major thought distortion. These rationalizations and projections can be very persistent even in the face of repeated relapses, different partners etc.

3.  I may be a sex addict but it’s not that bad

“I do have a compulsive behavior but everything is OK anyway; my wife/husband knows about it; I love my spouse/partner; I can live with it; all those other sex addicts do really bad things, much worse than me.”

This kind of minimizing represents only a partial acknowledgement of the problem of addiction. The addict has not admitted how much the addiction controls and influences their life.

4.  I have a serious problem but it’s incurable

“There is no proven cure for this problem. Treatment programs are just brainwashing people into thinking they need rehab so they can make money. 12-step self help groups have a poor success rate, why bother?”

This sounds like a logical argument but it’s just another dodge. (see also my post Sex Addiction is Real, Just ask a Sex Addict)

“Even though all those programs work for some people they won’t work for me because I’m different. I can’t go to SAA meetings because I’m so famous and someone might recognize me. Anyway, I’m an atheist and you have to believe in God.”

Building up the barriers to getting help and seeing it as hopeless is a common way to continue avoiding reality.

“I can control it so it’s not addiction. I only did it because my spouse doesn’t want enough sex (or I don’t have a partner right now) so it’s not really my problem anyway”.

When someone is in the grip of an addiction they can engage in major thought distortion. These rationalizations and projections can be very persistent even in the face of repeated relapses, different partners etc.

3.  I may be a sex addict but it’s not that bad

“I do have a compulsive behavior but everything is OK anyway; my wife/husband knows about it; I love my spouse/partner; I can live with it; all those other sex addicts do really bad things, much worse than me.”

This kind of minimizing represents only a partial acknowledgement of the problem of addiction. The addict has not admitted how much the addiction controls and influences their life.

4.  I have a serious problem but it’s incurable

“There is no proven cure for this problem. Treatment programs are just brainwashing people into thinking they need rehab so they can make money. 12-step self help groups have a poor success rate, why bother?”

“I can control it so it’s not addiction. I only did it because my spouse doesn’t want enough sex (or I don’t have a partner right now) so it’s not really my problem anyway”.

When someone is in the grip of an addiction they can engage in major thought distortion. These rationalizations and projections can be very persistent even in the face of repeated relapses, different partners etc.

Other forms of Denial include:

“Forgetting” how often we engage in certain behaviors. We can practice selective memory when the truth is too painful to admit. For instance, a person might think he or she masturbates once or twice a week, when in reality they are masturbating every day.

A subtle form of minimizing often surfaces when people are first telling me their stories. As they start talking about their sexual acting out, they will include lists of things that they have not done. It’s a way of letting ourselves feel better about avoiding certain behaviors … and not having to face the reality of the damaging things we HAVE done.

Recognizing Powerlessness

It is important to recognise that you are ‘Powerless”.

It is rea; simple to prove. If you to stop watching porn in order to masturbate to a fantasy and it now is damaging the relations at home or work, ‘You are Powerless”

Denying the pain of others

Another important aspect of denial has to do with our awareness of how our addiction has affected other people. Most spouses of sex addicts express great frustration that their addicted husband “just doesn’t get it,” by which they mean that he doesn’t understand how much his behaviors have hurt her.

Many addicts struggle to acknowledge how their addiction has affected their kids, or their work. Some of us have spent lots of money on our addiction … but even those of us who didn’t spend money on pornography or prostitutes or affair partners still have lost untold thousands of dollars through lost productivity and creativity. Denying the harm that our addiction has caused undermines our motivation for recovery, and interferes with our ability to make amends.

Sex addiction treatment isn’t sex-negative, but its denial can be destructive.

THE BASICS

The sex addiction recovery movement not only complements the progress made toward a sex-positive culture, it reinforces it. In the past decade, the public has gradually gained an awareness and careful acceptance of the sex addiction concept – namely that out-of-control sexual behavior for certain people can become an addiction similar to drugs and alcohol. Many therapists now specialize in treating sex addiction, and support groups have sprung up in every corner of the nation. Today there are sex addiction rehabs, as well as a plethora of literature on the topic. This movement affirms that airing not just our greatest sexual joys and discoveries, but our struggles and pain as well, is the path to an integrated and holistic model of sexuality.

A sex addict is generally defined as a person whose sexual behaviors cause serious problems for them, including trouble with the law, dishonesty and the destruction of cherished relationships, avoidance of intimacy, and an overall diminishing of their lives around the areas of work, finances, health and so forth, all of which lead to psychic pain. Sex addicts struggle with severe guiltshame, remorse and despair, yet feel a compulsion to repeat behaviors that ignite these negative feelings. As with addicts of all stripes, “wanting” overrides “liking” keeping the addict in a vicious cycle.

While support for sex addiction is more available and comprehensive than ever, there are still quite a few critics of the concept itself. Certain psychologists have voiced objections that the sex addiction model is puritanical, encourages repression of natural urges, and prizes traditional, monogamous heterosexual relationships above all other types of sexual expression. However this injurious criticism is not based on hands-on experience as it paints a picture of sex addiction therapy as nothing more than a moral crusade with the goal of dampening a client’s entire sexuality. Of course, the reality of treating problematic sexual behaviors – those which drive clients to reach out for help such as serial infidelityexhibitionism, compulsive masturbation to the point of self-harm – is that only this healing allows a more authentic and truly satisfying sexuality to emerge.

The problem with the objections of sex addiction deniers is that they present an either/or universe, where the concept of sex addiction cannot comfortably co-exist with sex-positive lifestyles. Those who choose to help sex addicts to recover are not condemning polyamorysadomasochism or any other alternative lifestyle as negative, but rather affirming that there should be resources for people who suffer from sexual problems, whatever they may be. To deny that people are suffering in this realm is actually more sex-negative than advocating sexual conservatism. Having resources to deal with sexual diseases, erectile dysfunction and pelvic pain are all positive things. It follows that having resources for those expressing distress and psychological pain due to their sexual activity is also innately positive.

The more we can affirm that treatment for sex addiction is not at odds with the celebration of sexuality in all its forms, but rather a complementing factor to the sex-positive movement, the sooner those who suffer over their sexual behaviors can begin to truly heal. To accuse a recovering sex addict or sex addiction counselor of hindering the sex positive movement is ultimately counterproductive and holds us back as a society.

Click Here to Subscribe to our free daily email meditations focusing on healthy sex and sexuality from my upcoming book Mirror of Intimacy: Daily Reflections on Emotional and Erotic Intelligence available on Amazon in mid-December 2014.

  1. SEX
  2. PLEASURE

What Does Sex Positive Mean?

Have you ever heard the term “sex positivity” and wondered what it meant? Nowadays, talking about sex has become much more acceptable. The taboos surrounding sex are decreasing, and the benefits of sex are much more well known. But do you know what being sex positive entails?

 “Sex positive” examples and meaning

As its name implies, sex positivity is based on the belief that sex isn’t something that we should be embarrassed about. People who believe in being sex positive have a positive attitude regarding sex and respect other people’s sexual preferences. Sex positivity is also about feeling comfortable with your own sexual identity.

Sex was a taboo subject for thousands of years and still is in many cultures. However, in recent years, a large portion of society has come to accept sex and sexual desire as a normal part of human life. 

One definition of sex-positivity states that it is an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, encouraging sexual pleasure and experimentation. That said, as long as all parties consent to sexual activity and enjoy it, there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to having sex.

These are several examples of sex-positive behaviors:

  • Being open to discuss your sexual preferences and dislikes with your sexual partner
  • Understanding and being comfortable with the fact that your partner might not want to have sex every time you do 
  • Getting tested for sexually transmitted infections whenever needed
  • Practicing safe sex, using condoms and other methods of birth control to protect yourself and your partner
  • Being accepting of other people’s consensual sexual practices, even if they differ from your own
  • Learning more about our own bodies, how they work, how to keep them safe during sex, and what provides sexual pleasure
  • Discovering what gives you pleasure and being open to trying new things
  • Developing communication skills that ensure that both you and your partner are getting what you desire from sex
  • Advocating for comprehensive sex education so that everyone knows how to have safe sex, what consent means, and that having sex is a natural part of life

What is the sex-positive movement?

The sex-positive movement encompasses all individuals who believe in sex positivity. The sex-positive movement focuses on emphasizing safe and consensual sexual activities, regardless of what the activity is. Each person’s preferences are regarded as their own personal choice, without judgment.

Sex education is another key factor in the sex-positive movement. Every individual needs to receive a comprehensive sex education to be able to explore sex safely. Providing sex and reproductive education is also a way to decrease the taboos that still surround sex in certain cultures and areas.

The opposite of sex positivity is, of course, sex negativity. Sex negativity is based on the belief that sex is destructive unless it’s practiced strictly within the confines of heterosexual marriage. For many years, physicians and science contributed to these sex-negative beliefs. Nowadays, however, science has discovered the many benefits of sex, and you can find doctor-approved tips to improve your sex life.

Sex-positive culture

The sex-positive movement has grown exponentially thanks to social media platforms and modern media. In the past, sex was a taboo topic that was perceived as shameful and embarrassing to talk about. 

But in recent years, sex has been recognized as a normal part of life that should be talked about and discussed openly. These positions have also helped to encourage safe sex, especially after HIV and its prevention became a part of everyday culture in the 1990s.

A sex-positive culture also seeks to battle sex-related shaming. While sex negativity shames people for their sexual activities, for being victims of sexual abuse, or even for having sex for the first time outside of marriage, a sex-positive culture accepts that everyone has a right to make their own choices about their sex life.

Sex-positive asexuality

Sex positivity can be practiced by anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. This includes the LGBTQI community and asexual individuals. Asexuality is defined as a lack of sexual attraction towards others and having low or no sexual desire at all.

But that doesn’t mean that all asexual people feel the same way about sex. While some asexual people aren’t interested in sex at all, other asexual individuals also identify as sex-positive. That simply means that they’re accepting of other people’s sexual preferences and might be interested in learning more about them even if they’re not interested in taking part in those activities themselves.

You can be asexual, avoid shaming culture, and promote a comprehensive sexual education — all parts of sex-positive culture.

Sex-positive parenting 

Sex-positive parenting

Sex-positive parents seek to teach their children — especially teenagers — about safe sex and consent and to empower them to make their own decisions about their sex lives.

Studies have shown that teenagers who have discussed sex openly with their parents are more likely to wait until they’re older to pursue an active sex life. They’re also more likely to approach their parents with any sex-related questions they might have. Growing up in a sex-positive household also increases the likelihood that teenagers will engage in safe sex and use condoms and birth control appropriately.

Overall, sex positivity seeks to change negative perceptions about sex and empower all individuals to take control over their sex lives. As long as sexual activity is pleasurable and all parties enthusiastically consent, being sex-positive can lead to safer sex and more pleasure for everyone involved!

Sex Positive vs. Sex Negative

The debate between sex therapy and sex addiction therapy.

THE BASICS

The controversy in sex addiction therapy is most vocal when you come across clinicians who consider themselves sex therapists. Many subscribe to the notion that sex addiction therapy is a manifestation of an overzealous, conservative religious or moralistic community hell-bent on squelching an individual’s freedom to express themselves sexually.

“The sex addiction model has become a vehicle for moral and religious forces to mask their moral judgments behind pseudo-scientific and quasi-healthcare-related facades. Religiously motivated groups have adopted the concept of sex addiction as a means to attack homosexuality, alternative sexualities, and pornography,” says Dr. David Ley, the author of The Myth of Sex Addiction. 

Unfortunately for Dr. Ley and many in the sex therapy community, they are either unaware or unwilling to acknowledge that sex addiction therapists are also “sex positive” but only in ways that don’t impact a person’s conscience or relational vows.

Sex addiction ironically isn’t even about sex per se but the need to have sex as a means to cope, disconnect, or satisfy a relational void that addicts cannot find in their current relationships. In other words, sex addiction treatment is about helping clients develop healthy emotional intimacy with their partners in ways that don’t infringe upon their values.

I think this is where sex therapists may get matters confused. Ley contends the sex addiction label is an attempt to keep society sexually repressed: “It is also used just as frequently to shame and suppress the sexual behaviors of others, reflecting moral and religious values towards sex. Ultimately, these dynamics reveal that the concept of sex addiction is based upon the idea that there is a ‘right’ form or amount of sex. This is a moral concept, not one based on scientific or medical research.”

The governing body for sex therapists, the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), mentions its vision of sexual health to be one where “…all individuals are entitled to enjoy:

  • Freedom of their sexual thoughts, feelings, and fantasies.
  • Freedom to engage in healthy modes of sexual activity, including both self-pleasuring and consensually shared-pleasuring.
  • Freedom to exercise behavioral, emotional, economic, and social responsibility for their bodily functioning, their sexual liaisons, and their chosen mode of loving, working, and playing.
  • AASECT believes that these rights pertain to all peoples whatever their age, family structure, backgrounds, beliefs, and circumstances, including those who are disadvantaged, specially challenged, ill or impaired.”

Sex therapists in this group believe freedom is compromised by sex addiction therapists when the addiction therapists are helping clients stop their behaviors associated with problems that have developed from one’s use of pornography, chat-lines, prostitutes, and the like. Freedom in their eyes may also be compromised when sex addiction therapists do believe pornography, extra-marital affairs, swinging, etc. does negatively impact a person’s sexual life and his/her sexual health.

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Psychologist Raj Sitharthan in Sydney, Australia condones porn use and deems it “healthy.” He states, “If a male client is enjoying a healthy use of soft-core porn…then I’d probably advise him not to tell his girlfriend for fear of hurting her.” So his view is one’s sexual activities and desire to keep it hidden trumps transparency in a relationship.   

In an online interview titled, “Porn is a Creative Marriage Boost,” Dr. Aline Zoldbrod, a sex therapist and Diplomat in Sex Therapy with AASECT champions pornography use among couples and individuals: “I think a lot of people, especially men, use pornography as a shortcut to stimulate themselves when they have been in a long term, committed relationship with the same person for a long time.  Actually, this is understandable. It’s normal.  But lately, with all the talk about sexual addiction, I would hate to see perfectly normal sexual behavior become stigmatized.”

Dr. Zoldbrod and others like her view sex addiction therapy as detrimental to couples and individuals when their definition of “normal sexual behavior” is questioned. Unfortunately, if people feel that their conscience (i.e. personal, cultural, moral, or otherwise) directs them not to engage in certain sexual behaviors they find negatively impacting their lives, sex therapists may try to invalidate those feelings as being prudish or extremely moralistic. 

Furthermore, Zoldbrod implicitly shares her own views on healthy sexuality by affirming one of her male client’s needs for sexual excitement. “One of my patients quipped, ‘For guys, having lots of different women is the same as women and their shoes. No matter how neat the shoes you already have are, it’s always exciting to get a new pair.’ So, we are looking at a normal developmental process which ups attachment and lessens excitement: not a recipe for easy, exciting sex in a long-term relationship.” But this viewpoint on sex can misguide not only sex addicts but the general population by confusing sexual intensity and arousal with emotional intimacy and/or love.

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So if a client comes to therapy wanting to stop a certain sexual behavior, they will invariably get two very different treatment approaches depending on who they saw (i.e. if they saw a traditional sex addiction therapist compared to a sex therapist). 

For example, let’s say a female client is struggling with pornography and sexually acting out with multiple partners without her husband’s consent. In addiction circles, we would help validate the client’s feelings that these behaviors (if non-consensual and done in secrecy) are indeed harmful to the relationship and need to be disclosed to the husband as a means towards reconciliation, honesty, and intimacy. If this client saw a sex therapist, the therapist may explore the deeper meaning behind the fantasies while affirming the sexual desires are “normative” based on the sex therapist’s own views on sexual health. Disclosing on one’s sexual actions may not be encouraged if one was more aligned with the AASECT community.

In short, within sex addiction therapy, the goal is also of sexual health but one where therapists hold the client accountable to the vision he/she professes they want in their relationships instead of trying to change that vision.

The sex-positive movement is a social and philosophical movement that seeks to change cultural attitudes and norms around sexuality, promoting the recognition of sexuality (in the countless forms of expression) as a natural and healthy part of the human experience and emphasizing the importance of personal sovereignty, safer sex practices, and consensual sex (free from violence or coercion). It covers every aspect of sexual identity including gender expression, orientation, relationship to the body (body-positivity, nudity, choice), relationship-style choice, reproductive rights, and anything else society has lumped under the umbrella.[1][unreliable source?][2] Sex-positivity is “an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, encouraging sexual pleasure and experimentation.”[1] The sex-positive movement also advocates for comprehensive sex education and safe sex as part of its campaign.”[3][1] The movement generally makes no moral distinctions among types of sexual activities, regarding these choices as matters of personal preference.[4]

10 Things Sex Positivity Is Not

Put two feminists in a room together and you’ll have three definitions of the term “sex positive.” For all that we love to use this label, it’s hard to agree on exactly what it means.

To me, sex positivity has always been about two things: 1) affirming that sex can be a healthy part of human life that shouldn’t be shamed or stigmatized, and 2) affirming the choices others make regarding sex, even if those choices are different from the ones we would make (as long as those choices are consensual).

And by the way, the “healthy part of human life” part doesn’t mean it has to be part of every human’s life – more on that later.

But all of that probably sounds pretty vague. Sometimes it’s easier to define a term by what it isn’t than what it is.

My aim here isn’t to negate the fact that some people use the term “sex positivity” differently than I do. Disagreements about meanings are inevitable when it comes to feminism and social justice.

Rather, I aim to envision a sex positivity that is inclusive and intersectional, one that welcomes folks with a variety of identities, experiences, and perspectives. Sex positivity isn’t just for straight, cis, able-bodied white women. It can – and should – be for everyone, even people who aren’t interested in sex themselves.

Here are some common things that people think are sex-positive, but really aren’t, necessarily:

1. Liking Sex

If sex positivity were as simple as enjoying sex, there’d be a lot more sex-positive people. Alas, it’s not that easy.

Plenty of people who love sex nevertheless judge and shame other people for the way they have sex.

Plenty of people who love sex are queerphobic and transphobic, and that’s not compatible with any sex positivity I want anything to do with. Plenty of people who love sex coerce others into having sex with them, which proves that they don’t really believe that others should get to do what they want with their own bodies and sex lives.

As sex educator Charlie Glickman writes, “The fact that someone enjoys sex doesn’t necessarily mean that they can honor and celebrate sexual choices and practices that they don’t do.”

On the flip side, the fact that liking sex isn’t synonymous with sex positivity also means that you can be sex-positive without liking sex at all – as long as you support people who do. Disliking or being uninterested in sex is part of the spectrum of human sexuality, so any sex positivity worth its salt affirms that.

2. Thinking Everyone Should Like Sex

If sex positivity isn’t the same as liking sex, it’s especially not the same as thinking everyone should like sex.

People have all sorts of reasons for being disinterested in, scared of, or repulsed by sex, and all of those reasons are valid – even if they don’t make sense to you.

Unfortunately, some people think that sex positivity is about introducing everyone to the joys of sex, whether they’re interested or not. To these folks, you can’t be sex positive if you’re not (happily) sexually active, and if you don’t want to be, you must have “internalized sex negativity.”

While internalized sex negativity is absolutely a thing – for instance, when we feel shame over how little or how much we have sex – everyone doesn’t have to like sex in order for us to create a truly sex positive culture.

3. Not Having Any Boundaries

Some people worry that they can’t be truly sex-positive if they have sexual boundaries, such as being uncomfortable with being called certain words by a partner or with having sex in certain positions.

If I’m really sex-positive, they wonder, shouldn’t I explore different ways of having sex and expand my comfort zone?

Sure – if that’s something you want. You don’t have to do it for anyone else, or for the sake of claiming a label.

And even the most sexually adventurous people have boundaries of some sort, and most people who think they have no sexual boundaries at all are simply unaware of where those boundaries lie.

That’s why the scariest thing I can hear from a partner when I ask them what they’re interested in is “Anything you want!” (Really? Anything?)

Knowing your boundaries and doing your best to articulate them clearly to your partner(s) is among the most sex-positive things you can do. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth doing.

4. Being Up For Sex All the Time, With Anyone

Similarly, some people think that being sex-positive means having sex with anyone who’s interested, as much as they want.

For some people in progressive communities – especially women – this has created a new set of sexual expectations. Rather than “just” being expected to be sexually available for a (monogamous) boyfriend or husband, now they’re supposed to have sex with everyone, all the time, because sex positivity!

It’s not just an expectation placed by some people upon themselves, though. Abusive people sometimes co-opt the language of sex positivity to get others to have sex with them: “Come on, I thought you were supposed to be sex-positive!”

But that’s just old-fashioned sexual coercion cloaked in faux-progressive language.

If someone is calling you a prude or sex-negative for not having sex with them, they’re violating your consent and their opinion of you is invalid.

And just because you want to create a world in which everyone is empowered to make the sexual choices they want doesn’t mean that you personally have to be interested in casual sex. You get to be as picky (or not) as you want.

5. Sexually Objectifying Others

Another way that some people co-opt the concept of sex positivity is by using it as an excuse to objectify other people.

I’ve called out guys making graphic and unsolicited comments about women’s bodies only to hear that they’re “just expressing my sexuality” and how could I be so sex-negative?

If that’s sex positivity, it sounds exactly like the status quo for centuries.

Real sex positivity is not treating other people like props for your enjoyment. If the only way you can view others (or others of your preferred gender[s]) is through the lens of sexual attraction, that’s something you need to work on.

You can’t truly affirm others and their sexual choices if all you can do is project your own desires onto them.

6. Feeling Entitled to Sex

Some people don’t just sexualize others – they believe that others owe them sex.

That’s sexual entitlement, and sometimes folks claim that their entitlement is actually sex positivity. Don’t fall for it.

Because supporting others in their own sexual choices is such a key part of sex positivity, entitlement has no place in it.

Sure, it’d be great if everyone you wanted to have sex with also wanted to have sex with you, but nobody lives in that world and sex positivity won’t bring that world about. That’s because other people get to have agency, too.

Sexual entitlement lies at the root of sexual violence, so dismantling rape culture means destroying forever the idea that anyone ever owes anyone else sex. It means learning to view other people as individuals with their own needs, desires, and priorities.

As Greta Christina writes, “Sex-positivity does not mean treating the entire world as a sexual buffet.”

7. Making Other People Listen to Your Sex Stories

Some people who identify as sex-positive – especially those who have recently come to that identity – are very passionate about reducing the collective discomfort our society encourages around sexual topics.

“Why shouldn’t talking about sex be just like talking about the weather or what movie you saw over the weekend?” they ask.

It’d be cool if we could someday get to that point, but we’re not nearly there yet. That means that most people don’t necessarily want to hear everyone’s graphic sex stories all of the time, and that’s a boundary they get to set.

If you want to share some sexual details with someone, ask for consent first. And if someone asks you to stop discussing sex with them, apologize and stop.

Don’t accuse them of being insufficiently sex-positive. It’s important to reduce the stigma of talking about sex, but trampling over other people’s boundaries is not the way to do it.

8. Ignoring Power Dynamics and Intersectionality

Critiquing the ways in which we talk about and have sex is part of any anti-oppressive framework. But some people think that critiquing consensual sex practices is wrong because it’s the same thing as shaming people for them – as being sex-negative.

Here’s the thing, though – we don’t have sex in a vacuum any more than we buy products, work jobs, or consume media in a vacuum. While it’s important not to get hung up on what some particular individual does or doesn’t do, overall, thinking critically about how we “do” sex is vital.

Because of power dynamics, sex can be consensual on the face of it, but still deeply damaging for one or more of the people involved. While it’s not our place to patronizingly tell individuals that they’re hurting themselves, it is our place to look at the bigger picture.

When someone consents to sex with someone they’re not attracted to because their body is deemed so undesirable by our society that they feel they ought to be grateful for the attention, there’s something going on there.

When a professor sleeps with a college student from their class, there’s something going on there. When a middle-aged person consistently seeks out much younger people as partners, there’s something going on there.

That something is mismatched power dynamics, and if we’re going to approach sex positivity through an intersectional lens, that means we have to critically analyze that.

9. Believing That Some Ways of Being Sexual Are Inherently Better Than Others

For many people who are exploring sex positivity, it’s important to push back against some our cultural values about which ways of having sex are acceptable or valid. That means celebrating and affirming people who choose polyamory, kink, BDSM, and other non-vanilla approaches to sexuality and relationships.

And that’s great! But it’s no longer sex positivity when it includes ridiculing people who enjoy vanilla sex and monogamous relationships.

Of course, the power dynamics are obviously different– ridiculing vanilla monogamous people isn’t going to get them fired from their jobs or separated from their children, like kinky and polyamorous people sometimes get. But that doesn’t mean it’s sex-positive.

Sex positivity encourages people to try new ways of having sex and relationships – if that’s something they’re interested in. If they’re not, that’s fine, too. You can have missionary sex with your monogamous other-sex partner for the rest of your life and still be as sex-positive as the kinky polyamorous queer person next door.

10. Having an Uncomplicated Relationship with Sex

Sex positivity can be a misleading term. “Positivity” makes it sound like it’s all about being happy and having a good time when it comes to sex. It makes it sound like things always have to be easy and simple.

They don’t. Sex can be painful, regrettable, traumatizing, and forgettable – and I want a sex positivity that recognizes that.

I want a sex positivity that is here for all the trauma survivors, all the asexual and aromantic folks, all the people who don’t love their bodies, everyone who’s ever felt ambivalent about sex, anyone who feels like sex has done them more harm than good.

I want a sex positivity that fights for these people, too.

In fact, very few of us have an easy and simple relationship with our own sexuality, let alone with the sexual experiences we have had so far. Many of us have been inspired to build a sex-positive culture specifically because of some of those complicated feelings and histories.

If you don’t feel like sex positivity has space for you right now, that’s okay, and I don’t blame you. But I hope that one day we can build one that does.

Here’s What It Really Means to Be Sex Positive

It’s not about having or wanting more or less sex, but about respecting your own expression.

Sexual expression is everywhere. Lighting up billboards in Times Square. Seducing us from a fragrance commercial. Spilling out of our headphones and screens. And while a natural part of being human, it is something many people struggle to express openly—oftentimes not until the lights are low and the bedroom shades are drawn. Because stigmas and taboos are rampant.

Enter sex positivity. It’s a term that’s been circulated in recent years, and arouses revolt against the shaming that has long been braided through society. But it’s more complex than that. Activists claim that sex positivity isn’t merely a trend, but a framework that seeks to inform, heal and reveal, while turning its nose up at ageism, discrimination, and marginalization. In essence, it sort of starts with tossing out the perceptions of what is and is not sexually normal, and begins with a non-judgmental receptivity of the sexual styles and interpretations (or lack thereof) that feel genuine to each individual.

So if you’re on the fence about how sex positivity may benefit you, ahead are a few experts to help you examine the way you engage with your right to pleasure, while honoring that of the next person.

In order to understand sex positivity, we must first confront its opposite—the culture of sex negativity.

This perception implies that human sexuality is inherently dangerous and overindulgent, and must be contained in a majority of circumstances. It incites fear, restriction, and polarization—only encouraging sex that is expressed in a specific way, within a narrow range of demographics. And it only condones discussion of it between the bedsheets.

“There was a movement a couple of decades ago that urged young people to wait to have sex until marriage. Many of the intentions with it were probably good, but it created a sense of shame when they failed to adhere to that ideal,” says Dr. David Yarian, Ph.D., licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist. “If they had a sexual thought or feeling, they came to believe there was something wrong with them. This kind of thinking is detrimental, and only thrives in the absence of realistic information.”

Dr. Yarian, who says that the human body is wired for pleasure, believes a restrictive mindset about sex, and the actions that result from it, may contribute to a variety of dysfunctions, such as a young person feeling shame about their developing body and escalating sexual curiosities during puberty—something he says is “the opposite of what results from healthy, supportive sex education.” Because having a sexual thought is as natural as coughing, sneezing or experiencing thirst.

“Sadly, this whole strategy of quieting the sexual curiosities of young people is rarely left in their youth, but carried with them well into adulthood. And it leads to all sorts of confusion and problems,” says Dr. Yarian.

… and while the cultural stigmas are tough, sex positivity wants to take them down.

None of us navigate every aspect of our lives perfectly, and most humans are able to accept this about others. Accidents and mistakes occur every moment of every day—in the kitchen, in traffic jams and in the workplace. Yet society often finds it hard to uphold this ethos when applied to human sexuality.

Being sex positive means you get to say, ‘This is my body. This is my life. These are my desires.’

For example, when we learn that our neighbor has a cold, we may bring them chicken soup. When a co-worker experiences an injury, we may collect their mail and drop it on their doorstep. But if someone we know contracts an STD or experiences an unwanted pregnancy, we may become uncomfortable and avoid them when we would otherwise deliver an outpouring of support. Interestingly, some of the individuals who create taboo around those types of situations may have comparable sexual histories—despite never having experienced any life-altering ramifications as a result of them.

Nadine Thornhill, Ed.D, sexuality educator, challenges her students to look at sexuality much the same way that we view eating habits. “Sometimes we eat well, and sometimes we eat food that is unhealthy or that upsets our stomachs. It isn’t reasonable to say that because somebody wasn’t perfectly careful in terms of using contraception or practicing safe sex that it’s okay to judge them or withdraw from them. It’s no different than anything else a person may do imperfectly.”

Almost as a cautionary tale to the rest of the world, Thornhill says we often turn our backs on those who are suffering as a result of their sexual choices. This, she says, is not only unreasonable, but unfair. “In many cases, shaming someone for contracting an STD or experiencing an unwanted pregnancy is no different than saying, ‘Well, you went outside during the winter without a heavy sweater on and now you have a cold, so I can’t have compassion for you.’ It’s also easy to forget that none of the methods of prevention are 100 percent effective, so sometimes it isn’t a lack of responsibility, but a responsible plan that failed,” she says.

When sexual expression is shoved into the dark, it doesn’t become less powerful.

When sexuality is forced into hiding, an individual may come to feel an internal war with their own body. Thornhill says this often leads to reckless and impulsive sexual behavior. “Desires and sexual feelings may erupt in moments when a person may not be armed with information to control them, monitor them, or fully enjoy sex the way they could if not forced to suppress it.” Sex positivity aims to combat that self-imposed suppression.

Vanessa Marin, M.S., sex therapist and licensed psychotherapist, says she has a long list of clients whose sexuality was strong-armed into obscurity for various reasons. She believes this leads to a multitude of disconnections within the scope of an individual’s sense of self—something that can torment them for decades. “So many people come to me and realize they were taught, whether directly or indirectly, that their sexuality is innately bad. This can lead to every possible repercussion imaginable—poor body image, low self-esteem, never being able to be present with their partner, and finding themselves in unsafe sexual situations because they were never given the resources to know how to protect themselves.”

What to Do If You’re in a Sexless Marriage

Yeargin says he is most astonished by the level of ignorance people have about sexuality—especially their own. And he’s not talking about the mechanics. Often challenging his patients to imagine the way children or puppies play, and the innocent curiosity and joyfulness spouting through it, Yeargin says a healthy attitude about sex starts with making room for light-hearted experimentation. “Fundamentally, I think sex positivity is about looking at sex through the lens of natural playfulness and curiosity that has no strict agenda, judgment, or pressure.”

But, becoming sex positive brings about unique results for everyone.

Sex positivity says there is not one type of normal, and that we must honor another person’s right to their own curiosities, expressions and interests—so long as those never dishonor or violate the curiosities, expressions and interests of others. It says we should allow ourselves and others the freedom to ebb and flow in terms of how frequently we desire to engage in and talk about sex. Because taking a positive stance on sexuality means everyone involved in the act should feel authentic and safe, and within the scope of that authenticity and safety, there are a myriad of experiences.

Sex positivity is about looking at sex through the lens of natural playfulness.

For example, you may give away your lace lingerie collection because you realize you detest wearing it. Or, your partner may cease to engage in certain sexual positions with you because they realize that something you have long found pleasurable caused them years of boredom or discomfort.

It’s essentially giving yourself permission to continuously rewrite your own sexual script, so long as it never disrupts the script of others. “Being sex positive means you get to declare, ‘This is my body. This is my life. These are my desires. I am an adult and I get to ask myself, as often as I please: ‘What do I want in terms of my sexuality?’” says Marin. “It’s not about having or wanting more or less sex, but about respecting your own sexual expression as well as that of others, which is free to change at any time.”

When you take agency over your body, you get to toss out the damaging messages you were given about it.

Human beings honor their right to pleasure every day—whether it’s hitting the snooze button, sipping a latte, enjoying a slice of pizza, or going on a walk. So why is there this hesitance to support ourselves and others experiencing sexual fulfillment in a model of our choosing?

Marin explains that the process of becoming sex positive is less complicated than one may imagine, yet requires bravery and patience. She says that it begins with taking an examination of your programming—all the way back to your formative years. “You must first ask yourself if you agree with the messages you were given about sex, or if you naively carried them over from childhood into adulthood. The next step is to ask yourself, ‘All baggage aside, what it is that I want to believe? What are my values surrounding my own sexuality? Am I meeting my desires or have I been ignoring them?’”

Thornhill says it involves being open to the ways that sexuality has long been misunderstood through generations, and the willingness as a society to collectively change the way we think, teach and talk about it. “It has only been in the last 150 years that female orgasms were deemed as normal, as opposed to being a thing of hysteria,” she says. “I believe we have made progress, but there are still so many misconceptions that are culturally inbred. As we come to understand our sexuality, it’s up to us as a society to take the emotional step to remove the restrictive parameters that say sexual expression can only be related to planned reproduction.”

Embracing human sexuality in a positive way is much like embracing human diversity in a positive way…

Once again calling upon the food analogy, Thornhill says it’s rarely difficult for one to accept that their friend’s eating habits are different than their own, and that’s how we should begin to understand sex positivity. Because while you might be a picky eater who prefers simple flavors that comfort you, your friend may gravitate toward adventurous platters of charcuterie. And, at the end of the day, much like eating habits, a person’s sexual expression and orientation is no one’s business or right to dictate but their own. “You can apply almost any concept about food to sex. If you can accept your friend’s right to eat the way they choose, so long as they are not violating the choices of someone else, you can be respectful of their sexual choices,” she says.