Why Men Are Left Out of the Sex Positivity Movement

If you feel excluded from sex positivity as a man, it's because you are. Allow a woman to explain why, and how, that can change.

April 7, 2021 5:52 am
Rear view of man standing alone looking into space
There's room for men in sex positivity, but things need to change first.
InsideHook/Getty Images

I want everyone to be included in the sex positivity movement. I know this may be difficult for some cis-hetero men to believe, particularly those who complain of feeling “attacked” by women and queer folx, but I think there should be space in sex positivity for one and all. Unfortunately, while the sex positivity movement is theoretically for everyone, it has been predominantly populated by women and sexual minorities. This, according to Dr. Justin Lehmiller, an expert for adult retailer Lovehoney and author of the book Tell Me What You Want, is largely due to the fact that sex positivity is rooted in anti-patriarchy. As Lehmiller explains, “Any time there is a re-centering of power, those who previously held the most power are often resistant to change.”

Both the sex positivity movement and culture as a whole suffer from this rift. But first, we should begin by defining what sex positivity actually is — and what it isn’t. Being sex positive doesn’t mean you need to go out and bang every person you see (though it can, if you want). Sex positivity is an attitude. It means viewing sex as a natural part of human existence and choosing not to judge others on their own sexual preferences, no matter what those might be. Basically, it means being down with sex, in all its forms, as long as everyone is a consenting adult. As a movement, it aims to instill these values in society as a whole. In a sex-positive world, everyone would be able to express themselves sexually, sex education would be comprehensive and inclusive, and all people (women, sexual minorities, and yes, even men) would be safe from sexually predatory behavior.

We need straight men to participate in sex positivity in an active and meaningful way. But before that can happen, we need to address one major, glaring issue — one that has a tendency to rub many of those straight, cis men the wrong way. We need to talk about toxic masculinity. 

Toxic masculinity is the very reason it often feels like there is so little space for cis men among sex-positive folx. Heterosexual men have a reputation for crossing boundaries, which has conditioned women and queer folx to always be on guard in their presence, ready to fight or flee at a moment’s notice. We feel on edge. 

Cis-heterosexual men don’t know what this feels like, leaving them unaware of — or perhaps simply unwilling to address or acknowledge — the inherent and often destructive power they wield over those not born into the privilege of maleness. Those people, in turn, feel the effects of that power, even when it’s not actively weaponized.

“Many men don’t feel comfortable talking about their emotions or any sexual insecurities. And because of this, they don’t want to have hard talks that address how the ways they’re behaving towards women are both harmful to women and [to] themselves,” says Zachary Zane, sex columnist and sexpert for Lovehoney. And because those men have always felt in control and safe, they don’t have to.

However, it’s harmful to men themselves to be left out of sex positivity. It alienates them and only feeds the dangerous notion that sexual minority groups and women are “against” straight men. That said, I understand why men feel this way. There is a lot of anger, resentment and fear projected onto men — not without reason, of course, but it’s pretty obvious why men feel left out of sex positivity: they are left out. 

“Over the years, I’ve heard many sex-positive people say things about straight men that essentially treat them as a monolith and characterize them in pretty negative ways, such as being lazy and selfish in bed or being inherently predatory,” Lehmiller says.

I want cis-het men in the sex-positivity movement. Guys, I want you here. I want you all here. I applaud those cis men who stand up against sexist, heteronormative bullshit and fight for equality. I just wish there were more of you. 

“The sex positivity movement is built on great intentions and has the potential to help all of us improve our sex lives by eliminating sexual shame, breaking barriers to sexual communication, enhancing sex education and empowering people to take control over their sexuality,” Lehmiller says. This means not leaving men out. 

But how? We need avenues that may be available to men who are interested in entering the sex-positive safe space and we must do the work, collectively, to create those avenues. We need to find real, tangible ways to get men into this movement because leaving them out is causing serious damage. “Listening to women and trusting our perspectives is the best place to start. The beauty of sex positivity is there’s no one way to experience sexuality, so naturally it calls for diverse perspectives,” says Kristin Fretz, Co-founder and CMO of Emojibator, a shame-free, accessible pleasure-tech brand.

This means men need to be willing and able to work on themselves. “I think women are more open to working through their emotions, while men push them down. I think therapy is a great avenue to undo toxic masculinity,” explains Joe Vela, CEO of Emojibator

Kenneth Play, an international sex educator and creator of the Sex Hacker Pro Series, says the easiest way into the sex positivity movement is to attend sex-positive social events, of which there are many. For instance, Play runs the sex-positive collective Hacienda House, which throws a bunch of events that all are welcome to attend. He does offer a cautious reminder to newcomers, however: “If you’ve never been to a sex-positive event and you’re a single guy, don’t go and hit on all the girls.” Instead, Play recommends making friends with the men, who will then probably be more than willing to provide introductions — and maybe even put in a good word — to the women there. Basically, be genuine and chill and you can come party with us, literally. Honestly, intentions are everything. If you’re there with good intentions and no ulterior motives, they will shine through.

As long as patriarchry prevails and toxic masculinity turns men into predators, sex positivity cannot become fully realized. Toxic masculinity is real, it’s dangerous, and the only way folks in the sex-positive community are going to be able to let our collective guards down and invite straight men to engage with us in a way that allows us to feel safe (and to be safe) is if we stop teaching men that they have a right to women’s bodies: that women are objects, that we are there to feed their desire, that they have the power and deserve to keep it.

It’s going to take a full reframing of our cultural understanding of what it is to “be a man” before change can happen. It may seem daunting, but that change can (and must) begin on a personal level. Zane says that men must be vigilant and dare to challenge the status quo. “Recognize where you can change your behavior and do better,” he says. “Call out other men who engage in shitty, toxically masculine and sex-negative behavior.” It’s the bravery to stand out in a world that praises these poisonous character traits that will shift the tides of understanding.

Men, we want you here, but some serious things need to change first.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.