You’ve heard the term “sex positive,” but do you know what it actually means?

While it definitely involves having a positive attitude about sex, the term is sometimes loaded with misconceptions. Being sex positive has nothing to do with what kind of sex you are having- or how much or little you are having it.

Sex positivity simply means maintaining a healthy attitude towards consensual expressions of sexuality for yourself and others, with an emphasis on embracing sexual diversity. Sex positive folks also promote sex education and safer sex. While sex positivity can be especially radical in destigmatizing female sexuality, people of all genders can (and should!) be sex positive.

Here are some of the key elements to a sex positive mindset: 

Educating yourself and others 

An easy way to make sex more pleasurable for yourself and your partners is to understand your body and theirs. That means learning both the basics of human sexuality and your partner’s specific physical and emotional needs. Whether doing research, asking questions, or doing some hands-on exploration with others or by yourself, learning about sex not only makes you more confident in your body and desires, but also prepares you to share that knowledge with others. 

Owning your desires (or lack thereof) 

One of the biggest misconceptions about sex positivity is that it means you want to have sex all the time, with anybody. Being sex positive is not about the amount or frequency of the sex you are having, but rather your attitude about sex. Sex positivity recognizes that having sex is healthy, but so is not having sex. You can be sex positive and asexual, autosexual (only have sex with yourself), sexually active with partners, and anything in between.

Being sex positive is not about the amount or frequency of the sex you are having, but rather your attitude about sex. 

Not everyone is sexual or sees sex as an essential part of their life. Part of sex positivity is acknowledging that sometimes people don’t want to have sex, either in the moment, or at all. On the other hand, wanting and having a lot of sex is equally healthy and valid. And while sex positivity means having the freedom to talk about sex with no shame, not everyone is comfortable talking or hearing about sex. Keep in mind that being open or private about sex is not a reflection of your attitude, but rather something to consider depending on how comfortable your company is.

No judgment 

A key component of sex positivity is respecting others’ sexual choices. As long as people are participating in safe, consensual sex, the type or frequency is not for anyone to judge. This includes rejecting slut-shaming and respecting sex workers.

Accepting others’ sexual desires and behavior means both refusing kink-shaming and also not shaming people who prefer “vanilla” sex. Sex positive partners respect each other’s sexual preferences while also honoring their own limits.

Respect for consent 

Consent is absolutely required for engaging in any sexual activity, and can be withdrawn at any time. Sex positivity recognizes that consent is explicit, ongoing, and mutual. Sex positive folks actively ask their partners to lay out boundaries. It can be difficult to not attach meaning to a no, but sometimes no really does just mean no. If someone doesn’t want something at that moment, respecting their choice without making them feel bad is essential for creating a sex positive space. 

Practicing safer sex 

Part of taking control of your sexuality is making sure you and your partners are protecting your sexual health. Safer sex includes discussing STI status and getting tested, using condoms or other barrier methods, and using birth control methods if applicable. Safer sex can also take into account emotional and psychological safety, such as supporting a partner with a sexual dysfunction or a history of sexual trauma.

Recognizing that intimacy is complex  

Everyone feels differently about sex — some people attach a lot of emotions to physical intimacy and others simply don’t.

While there is a stereotype that any type of sex outside of a monogamous partnership isn’t serious or emotionally intimate, this isn’t always the case. Sex can be emotionally, psychologically, and physically intense, even sometimes when you don’t mean for it to be. Safe and consensual sex requires open communication, which involves vulnerability and trust. Sex positive folks know that sex is complicated and don’t have assumptions or expectations about their partners’ feelings.