Sex Positivity vs. Bodily Autonomy

This blog post critiques the concept of sex positivity for implying that sex is always positive, nice, and valuable to all people. For people on the asexual spectrum, that is not the case. For people who consider themselves sexual but are survivors of rape or assault, sex is more complicated than “nice.” Instead, it proposes a sexual ethos of “bodily autonomy”:

in lieu of sex positivity, i propose a sexual ethos of bodily autonomy.  i believe that all people have the right to dictate how others interact with them sexually.  i believe that all people should be free to structure their sex lives and pursue their sexual interests in whatever way makes them most comfortable, happy, and fulfilled, as long as they are not violating the bodily autonomy of another.  the central concept of bodily autonomy is not that sex is nice, but that your body is yours, and no one else’s.

bodily autonomy attaches no value judgments to sex — it treats sexual contact as an activity that comes with potential risks and rewards like any other.  sex is just a thing you can do with your body, if you choose to.  there is room for the a person to like or dislike sex, have sex frequently or rarely, to hate sex, to fear sex, to love sex, to want sex, and on and on.  the statement “sex is good!” makes no sense in terms of bodily autonomy — one would instead say, “sex is good for me.

bodily autonomy centers consent explicitly, not implicitly.  it leaves room for a vast multiplicity of experiences with and feelings toward sex without erasure or judgment.  sex positivity is moralistic, but bodily autonomy is flexible.  it’s a big umbrella with room under it for all of us, not just those who enjoy or desire regular sexual contact with others.  what’s more, it’s an ethos that makes me feel safe as a sexual assault survivor, rather than alienated and threatened.  for that reason alone, i think it’s a concept well worth exploring.