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We’re in an era of sex positivity, but what kind of sex are we actually having?

WORDS BY Rachael Akhidenor

Five Australians unpack how sex-positivity has influenced their sex lives, and what’s really going on behind their closed doors.

Let’s face it: in 2021, sex is everywhere. Whether it’s the hip-hugging jeans that sit flirtatiously low on our hips or the abundance of sex toys on our social media feeds, the topic of sex has never been more commonplace.

It’s been a long time coming. As we’ve become increasingly political in all areas of our lives, the importance of consent and pleasure has come to the fore. We are, slowly but surely, becoming a much more sex-positive culture (after decades of being sex-negative).


For more sex talk, head on over to our Life section.


Ironically, or perhaps unironically, this fascination with sex has gripped mainstream culture in one of the world’s darkest, un-sexiest times. We’re buying more sex toys and openly discussing the intricacies of our sex lives, but are we actually having that much sex? And if so, what type of sex? After all, there’s nothing quite like a global pandemic and a climate crisis to spark immense anxiety and stress (and basically obliterate our sex drives).

I was intrigued by this dichotomy. With mainstream culture rife with sexual wellness, sexual experimentation, and even sexually-charged fashion (hello, Y2K style), are we actually having the wild and carefree sex our social media feeds lead us to believe? I asked five Australians to reveal what’s really going on behind their closed doors.

Kieran*, 25

Prior to this era of sex positivity, how would you describe the kind of sex you were having?

Limited and anxious. It was marred by a sense of over-awareness, with questions like ‘Is this what it looks like?’, ‘What if he’s not enjoying it?’ and ‘Should it feel like this?’. I was confused half the time, and the other half was defined by a sense of shame because I couldn’t achieve the kind of sex I was seeing in movies.

How has sex-positive culture influenced your sex life?

It has allowed me to have questions answered that I previously couldn’t find answers to, and also allowed me to live in the moment. Prior to this, I thought I was alone in my concerns and queries around sex. I had thought it came naturally to everyone else. The current culture around sex has stripped away the mystery and shame that used to come with openly discussing [our] average sex lives.

What type of sex are you having now?

My sex life is more liberated and free. Although it’s hard to completely eradicate certain thoughts that once plagued me, they’re now met with a sense of rationality. Sex is meant to be fun, and I’m finally on that ride.

Mya*, 26

Prior to this era of sex positivity, how would you describe the kind of sex you were having?

When I was younger, sex had some trashy story to go with it. It never felt okay to just be sexual; a hangover, I think, from the mid-2000s and early 2010s where the slut-shaming culture was intense. My sex life was a product of the male gaze. It was confusing and immature. It was quite performative.

How has sex-positive culture influenced your sex life?

As a bisexual woman who is very comfortable with my sexuality, for me, [our] culture’s sex-positivity is almost preaching to the choir in a sense. While I’ve always loved and been open about sex, it’s allowed me to attribute [this] to a wider phenomenon.

What type of sex are you having now?

The sex I’m having now is casual and secure. I’m having sex for the joy of it, rather than the sake of it. It’s a celebration of sex, not an act of validation for me, my ego, or anyone else’s. I feel really free and don’t put any judgment on myself because it’s an entirely healthy and natural part of life.

Aaron*, 28

Prior to this era of sex positivity, how would you describe the kind of sex you were having?

To be frank, it was not the kind of sex I wanted; it was sex I thought I was meant to be having. While enjoyable at the time, it was very much confined by [the] limitations and boundaries of ‘conventional’ sex. Exploring my desires or fantasies was not something to really table in conversation – they were reserved for the privacy of my own bedroom/mind.

How has sex-positive culture influenced your sex life?

It has opened more of an external dialogue around enjoying and exploring sex. It’s just easier to talk about. Where I would previously have held back on sharing my reciprocal enthusiasm for dominating my sexual partner in conversation with a female friend, it’s instead now something to bond over and openly discuss.

What type of sex are you having now?

My current sex life is mind-blowing. My partner not only nurtures my sexual liberation; they actively encourage it. There’s something special about shyly mentioning a little something you’d like to try – which, in reality, is something you’d love to try – [and] being met with “That’s so hot, we should try that on the weekend”. Because there are strong foundations of security and trust, there is zero judgment.

Gina*, 23

Prior to this era of sex positivity, how would you describe the kind of sex you were having?

I’d say it was less liberated [and] more trepidatious. The increasing conversations that brands, digital role models, the creatives we look up to etc are having around sexual wellness are transcending IG and flowing through to the bedroom. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is between girlfriends, actually. We all speak openly about sex toys, self-pleasure and previously ‘TMI’ topics.

How has sex-positive culture influenced your sex life?

I don’t think it has too much, personally. But I will say, the more it’s spoken about, and the more I read about it from relatable people and connect with their experiences, the more comfortable [I feel] in my own sex life. As a writer, the interviews I’ve been lucky to conduct with industry leaders or sexologists or creatives have changed my perspective on taboos of the past.

What type of sex are you having now?

I’m a lot more comfortable and confident in my own skin than I was in the past, and I’ve learnt how to communicate. I do still have my own niggly insecurities, but that’s all part of it.

Ella*, 26

Prior to this era of sex positivity, how would you describe the kind of sex you were having?

When I was younger, I didn’t know how to own my sexuality and speak up about my sexual desires. I often didn’t demand respect or consent from partners. I thought it was a bonus, as opposed to a necessity. I took what I got, in a sense. It was often very one-sided. Being a straight female, I definitely put my pleasure second.

How has sex-positive culture influenced your sex life?

I’m a really sexual person. As such, I love how society has progressed in its understanding that someone can express their sexuality, and this doesn’t mean they are trying to attract [someone]. This has been incredibly empowering for me as someone who is sexual and wants to feel comfortable in expressing that, without having inaccurate implications associated with it.

What type of sex are you having now?

As my sexual desire comes in waves, I try not to put too much pressure on myself to always feel sexual. I have a safe space to explore things sexually with my intimate partner. Initially, we were having rougher sex where we’d have safe words. We’d talk about what fantasies we’d want to play out. Currently, I’m into trying new things. A friend just started a sex toy store called Posmo, where I recently stocked up on a few things. It feels amazing to be able to freely express my sexuality in this way.

*Names have been changed

For more on sex positivity, try this.

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