It’s Women’s History Month and March 8th is International Women’s Day. To celebrate, check out these ten superstars who have been (and continue to be) vital to the sex-positive movement. We’ve included a number of present-day sexuality professionals and activists because history unfolds in the present and they deserve their flowers in real-time.
*A note on sex-positivity: Sex positivity means different things to different people. For me, sex-positivity involves having the option to embrace sex in whatever way suits you. It involves an attitude and approach to sex that minimizes moral judgments and honors personal agency and preferences — with an acknowledgment that not everyone has access to the same agency and options.
Marsha P. Johnston (she/her) was an LGBTQ rights activist who is credited as a key figure in the Stonewall Riots and is accordingly considered an important founder of queer liberation movements including pride celebrations.
Johnson, together with Sylvia Rivera worked to support those who were not represented by other LGBTQ organizations — youth dealing with homelessness, trans youth, folks in prison, and other folks forced to the margins by purposeful exclusion. They organized to help provide food, shelter, and other supports in New York City and beyond.
Without queer liberation, there is no sexual liberation and accordingly, Johnson’s work helped paved the way for sex-positive movements across the globe.
Dr. Jocelyn Elders (she/her) is an American physician, public health administrator, professor, and advocate for sexual health education.
Appointed to the role of the U.S. Surgeon General in 1993, Dr. Elders spoke up in support of comprehensive sex education, abortion access, national health care, HIV/AIDS education, and other topics that are essential to public health but are often seen as controversial.
As an evidence-based physician, Dr. Elders acknowledged that masturbation is a part of human sexuality and that its inclusion in sex education was worth exploring. This apparently controversial stance coupled with her support for condoms (which she remarked are less likely to break than abstinence vows) led to a backlash that culminated in her resignation just 15 months into her term as Surgeon General.
Dr. Elders returned to medicine and academic life as a faculty researcher and professor of pediatric endocrinology at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
In 1996 she published her autobiography, Joycelyn Elders, M.D.: From Sharecropper’s Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America.
Each May, we celebrate Masturbation May in honor of a former Surgeon General whose work paved the way for sex-positivity in schools, hospitals, and communities across the United States of America.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Elders a few years ago and her sex-positivity as well as her commitment to supporting youth shone through in her 80s as I’m sure it did throughout her earlier years. She was ahead of her time in the 90s when she was Surgeon General and the impact of her sex-positive work in public health will live on for generations to come.
Betty Dodson (she/her) was an American sex educator and artist whose BodySex workshops encouraged personal exploration, self-love, pleasure-seeking, and shame relinquishment.
Her guided nude workshops have helped thousands of women to overcome pleasure anxiety, transform body image, and to reach new heights of pleasure. And her books including Sex For One, which I read when I was studying human sexuality, continue to line the bookshelves of bedrooms and clinics near and far.
I recall sitting next to Betty when she received her honorary doctorate in San Francisco and she was a bundle of positive energy with just the right amount of spunk — the perfect personality to share sex-positivity with filks from all walks of life.
Dr. Beverly Whipple (she/her) is a sex researcher, educator, counselor, and author of many publications including The G Spot and Other Discoveries About Human Sexuality, which is now available in 23 languages.
Dr. Whipple’s research has helped us to understand so much more about physiological sexual response — from touchless orgasms and sex post-surgery to painful sex and brain response during arousal, her research has paved the way for new understandings of pleasure.
Aside from being a powerhouse researcher, Dr. Whipple is a supportive ally. When I was brand new to the field and writing my first book, she responded to my out-of-the-blue email with insights that helped inform my research and writing. I remain eternally grateful for her support of an unknown budding sexologist.
Robin Wilson Beattie (she/her) is a disability and sexuality educator, speaker, and writer from whom I continue to learn a great deal about ableism, sex positivity, and more. She helps individuals, organizations, groups, schools, universities, and society learn how to #AccessBetter sexual and reproductive health in their environments.
Her work includes speeches, training, and writing on a range of topics including:
- Disability and Sexuality
- The intersection of sex work and disability
- Accessible and Inclusive Reproductive and Sexual Health Justice
- How Twitter Has Impacted Disability Advocacy Worldwide
- Cultural Competency and Inclusion
Loretta J. Ross (she/her) is a leader in reproductive justice. And without justice, there is no sex positivity.
Sex positivity requires an acknowledgment that not everyone has the same definition nor the same options when it comes to embracing sex and pleasure. We don’t all have the same choices and our sexual freedom varies according to age, gender, race, ethnicity, income, ability, and other factors. Sex positivity embraces the freedom to choose, but we also have to consider how oppressive structures limit this freedom for some people more than others.
As an activist, public intellectual, professor, and author, Loretta J. Ross has authored multiple books on reproductive justice including Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, which is essential reading for anyone exploring the field of sexuality.
Her forthcoming book, Calling In the Calling Out Culture will be published later this year and it reflects her belief that calling-in can lead to rich learning opportunities.
Jet Setting Jasmine (N. Jasmine Johnson, LCSW, she/her) is a licensed clinical therapist, gerontologist, adult entertainer, educator, and co-owner of Royal Fetish Films.
Not only is she an all-around lovely human being, but Jasmine expertly merges multiple worlds in her work: she teaches about porn literacy, sex-positive parenting, mental health, sex work, pleasure, BDSM and so much more, all with grace, thoughtfulness, and practicality.
If you don’t follow her yet, you’re missing out (follow here!). Jasmine is a wealth of knowledge for individuals and professionals alike and you’ll learn so much about sex positivity from her work.
Justine Ang Fonte (she/they) has been disrupting health education for 11 years as a sex educator fighting for a more sex-positive world and she has kept her foot on the sex-positive pedal even in the face of resistance.
Her workshops focus on agency, empathy, and equity from an intersectional lens and she believes that comprehensive health education has a responsibility to focus on social justice because health is a human right.
Justine is a sex-positive leader in the educational community who is changing lives at the most important of levels — in classrooms across the country.
Melissa Pintor Carnagey (she/they) is the founder of Sex Positive Families, a brilliant community providing education and resources that help families raise sexually healthy children using a shame-free, comprehensive, and pleasure-positive approach.
If you have any questions about raising healthy kids, Melissa and her team have likely answered them on their blog, on Instagram, or via one of their comprehensive web resources which include links, downloadable guides, videos, and podcasts. Melissa’s advice and insights are always practical, accessible, and framed in a way that makes them easy to apply in real life.
Sex-positivity often involves breaking intergenerational habits and Melissa is doing just that as a leader in the sex-positive family movement whose work reaches all corners of the globe.
Mona Eltahawy (she/her) is a reporter, survivor, feminist, and author of “Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution.”
Her work as a speaker on Muslim issues and global feminism has been featured by nearly every major news outlet across the globe. Newsweek magazine named her one of its “150 Fearless Women of 2012”, Time magazine featured her in its People of the Year issue and the European Union awarded her its Samir Kassir Prize for Freedom of the Press
She shares her sex-positive activism via her newsletter, FEMINIST GIANT, which she describes as a “global feminist resistance to patriarchal fuckery”.
This is only the tip of the sex-positive iceberg, so if you have recommendations and resources you’d like to share, please let us know!
* According to NYHistory.org, “Today, historians and former friends of Marsha describe her as a trans woman. During Marsha’s lifetime, the term transgender was not commonly used. Marsha described herself as a gay person, a transvestite, and a drag queen. She used she/her pronouns.” Accessed from https://wams.nyhistory.org/growth-and-turmoil/growing-tensions/marsha-p-johnson/#:~:text=Today%2C%20historians%20and%20former%20friends,She%20used%20she%2Fher%20pronouns.