Angelus Morningstar explains how men can enjoy being promiscuous without having to resort to pick-up tactics and other behaviors that can demean their sexual partners.
Content Warning: Rape Culture
One important lesson that many people could stand to learn is the difference between sex positivity and sex entitlement. For men in particular, negotiating the two is the difference between indulging sexual desire while being aware of male privilege as opposed to simply exploiting it for sexual advantage.
In this article, I want to address how to embrace sex positivity as a man. In doing so, I want to develop a framework for men to enjoy being promiscuous, have casual sex, and generally fuck without guilt, without having to resort to pick-up tactics, and other behaviours that can be demeaning of their sexual partners.
One of the critiques discussed by contemporary feminism is the notion of sex entitlement, being the prevailing attitude and behaviour that suggests that men expect to have sex. At its mildest, it creates passive aggression following the rejection of an advance, but at its worst it informs rape culture and homicidal actions.*
Granted, this is a very reductive statement, and I can almost see people poised over their keyboard ready with a #NotAllMen retort. However, as I’ve noted before when discussing cultural problems, the key is not to focus on the individuals who don’t conform to the problem, but to recognise its existence at a systemic level.
A big part of this is the underlying cultural message that inflates and idealises male virility. It’s the same message that celebrates dick size, panders to sexual interests, and aggrandises body standards. Yet, at the same time there is a spate of men that find themselves emasculated by these ideals, because they don’t or won’t conform.
So we have a society set up with a built in double standard that at once shames women whilst also expecting them to live up to an ideal and unrealistic expectation of beauty (See the Beauty Myth); yet, at the same time that same society expects its men to live up to an Ubermenschian standard of virility and power that is also unrealistic (which is basically the underlying theme of Fight Club).
Sex positivity is more than just fucking or fucking a lot, even though it’s probably an ulterior motive for most of us who are. In fact in some ways, it’s being able to reconcile ourselves with that desire, and thumbing our noses at convention for recognising that fact.
It’s about embracing sex as a sufficient motive in and of itself, while also cutting through all the societal neuroses we’ve managed to accumulate over the act of sex. It’s being conscious that my use of the word fuck is both offensive and exhilarating, but choosing to use it anyway to delimit its offensive nature.
This is because sex positivity is a political act at its heart. By that I mean the way sex positivity takes a fairly conventional act, and gives it new meaning or purpose. It means being aware of the way society values, constructs, exploits, and subsequently sells sex, and then conscientiously accepting or rejecting the features of that system that don’t work (for you, or maybe more generally).
If you look at the history of feminism, of gay liberation, and even the emergence of the kink scene, all of these groups find power in defying social convention and living a lifestyle in the face of that opposition. There is empowerment in embracing that deviance, even as there is social censure. In some respects, sex positivity has its own politics of respectability to contend with.
For the straight** white male, the problem lies in being the default setting itself (i.e. the lowest difficulty setting). When you are part of a minority group, the features of society that are against you become significantly more visible, because society doesn’t direct you to the path of least resistance.
For the straight white male, there are few requirements to think about these arrangements. This means there are fewer circumstances to hone the social skills or mental tools to handle the challenges of non-conformity.
Add to this the normalisation of sexual entitlement, and you get a double bind, which creates the abovementioned emasculation. Men who don’t live up to the alpha male ideal, which includes the conquest of sexual partners, have failed to claim this ‘entitlement’ and become lesser in the minds of their peers.
Perhaps the biggest change from sex entitlement to sex positivity is learning to understand and respect the agency of your potential partners (sexual, intimate, and romantic). This is what I mean by the matter being one about recognising the agency of your prospective sexual partners. You don’t have to have a living history of your casual encounters, but you do need to have some awareness about their tastes, predilections, and limitations.
This change is facilitated by active consent. It can be as simple as asking before you share nude pictures with a prospective interest on dating sites/apps, and as involved as negotiating safety words for more extreme scenarios. The reason consent is powerful is because it breaks down the underlying taboo around discussing sex, and being enthusiastic about sex.
It’s about the way you communicate. One of the ways that you can respect your potential partners is the difference between a request and a demand, or otherwise outlining your desires and expectations without also suggesting they must cater to them. It’s also about learning to live with rejection, and giving people space to say no without condemnation.
There is a world of difference between a proposition that invites someone to an activity (“I’m keen to have some fun, if you are”) and one that insists upon it (“I’m gonna fuck you”). It’s also a two-way street, in the sense that you should be trying to find out what the other person wants, rather than focusing on telling them what you want. They are both honest and direct approaches, but one emphasises the other person’s choice to participate or not.
It is also about accepting rejection. Sex positivity means being brave enough to be candid with forthright propositions, while accepting that you can’t always get what you want. Moreover, realising that sex positivity is not the norm, and so you’ll probably provoke stringent reactions. Just learn to politely take it in stride and move on. I guarantee you’ll forget about it the next day.
Fundamentally, you’re trying to sound out another person’s personal and sexual boundaries. When done right, it is actually part of the foreplay and engaging interest. Talking about sex in an inviting and engaging way is a great way to elicit sexual excitement and anticipation; you just have to make sure everyone’s on the same page first.
More broadly, sex positivity is also about negotiating spaces. People with mutual sexual, romantic, and other interests generally come together in communities. This includes the queer communities, the kink communities, the poly communities et al. These communities tend to form implicit (and explicit) rules of engagement over time.
The rules of engagement are going to be distinctly different in a sex club, where the underlying understanding is that people are here for sex, as opposed to a poly social forum where people are attempting to socialise over a common lived experience. Moreover, the more established these groups become, the more normalised those implicit rules become.
It’s a form of tribalism writ large, where the ability to adapt or respect the social rules signals the entry into the tribe, while blatant disregard or ignorance for the same flags that person as an unwanted intruder and outsider. A little bit of investment in discovering those norms can be the crucial difference between leaving a positive and a negative first impression that lasts.
This can come as a big shock for the straight white male, whose general lived experience is one where societal norms are as ubiquitous as they are unspoken. Most men have been socialised to recognize the general rules of the big wide world without having to understand them. Stepping into a social setting without a frame of reference for dealing with these kinds of things can be incredible alienating.
Sometimes the line between signalling sexual interest in someone and objectifying them can be very murky. You are simultaneously exposing yourself to rejection and coming up against a lot of underlying hostility towards sexual liberation. Making mistakes and maybe transgressing social or personal boundaries you weren’t aware of might happen. If that happens, apologise and move on.
However ultimately, sex positivity is liberating. It’s about reconciling with yourself honestly about your sexual wants and desires, and not having to comply with the turgid system of social censure that demeans your sexuality. It is empowering because you can approach and discuss sex with potential partners, without having to go through a whole charade of thinly veiled pretense (unless that’s your style of flirting).
Most of all, sex positivity is about humanising sex, and celebrating it for all its visceral hedonistic whimsy; it’s good, it’s bad, and it’s ugly.
* I am not saying that sex entitlement is the cause of these activities, but they do inform motive and intent.
** cisgender heterosexual for those of you playing the queer theory game at home.