It’s so easy to be sex positive when the people you’re talking to are doing things just like you do. Talking about the sanctity of informed consent and seeing nods all around, or hearing agreement when talking about challenging our assumptions around gender is pretty darn affirming (and can lead to some pretty serious back slapping and ego boosting affirmation).
But when we get on the bus to head to the office, we’re surrounded by lots of conversation & concepts that aren’t what we are used to, in the rarified air of the sex positive community. Guys referring to pressuring their girlfriends or wives into sex, women who say they don’t have sex with condoms, people talking proudly about screwing around on their spouse without getting caught – it can leave folks with a sense of unreality. Sometimes, we get so caught up in our own ethics that we forget that not everyone shares them.
Of course, these are the times when we feel smug and self-satisfied…the times that we pull our judgypants on and they fit us oh so well. Sometimes, we listen and think about how unenlightened they are. Sometimes, we text our friends or send out a tweet or status update talking about how the unwashed masses are so sex negative. But guess what? We have, at that point, totally missed the boat.
The crux of sex positive outreach to others is that we have to acknowledge that they have the right to have the kind of sex life that they choose, even if we do not agree with it. It’s about personal power & personal responsibility – and yeah, while they may be doing things that make us cringe, they have the right to do with their bodies whatever they choose to. Shaming or blaming them for their attitudes is just as bad as shaming them for their orientation or for their sexual interests in fetishes or multiple relationships. We do not know them, and we do not have the right to comment on the life that has brought them to where they are today.
What we can – and are, often, obligated to do – is to act on our own ethics in our conversations. We can listen to them without shaming, and talk about our own reality without making it holier-than-thou. We can answer questions about sexuality from our own perspective, and still leave room for them to choose to act based on what they evaluate as important. We can keep in mind that people have their own reasons for doing what they’re doing, which they are not obligated to share with us (or explain to us, unless we’re one of the people involved). And as long as we are not turning a blind eye to the abuse of another human being, we can give them the space (and perhaps, the non-judgemental information) to consider what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and come to their own decisions about how to live their life. After all, that’s what we want to have as well, isn’t it?