Sex-positivity is not an easy concept to explain. However, a clearer understanding emerges once put into practice. Julia Napolitano, an HIV Test Counselor at Chicago House, is a strong advocate for sex-positivity. Julia uses her understandings of the concept in her every day work at the agency.
As Julia explains, “[Sex-positivity] is encouraging understandings of sex, sexuality, bodies and work related to these things that is not shaming [but] affirming, and that hopefully can get people excited and comfortable talking about sex in a way that works for them.” This idea is all about finding a place where one is encouraged to have an open dialogue about sex-related topics, but in ways that are not abrasive or demeaning.
“It’s not something that is … a universal reality for a lot of people. There’s a lot of privilege that comes along with being able to talk about sex and sexuality.” Thus, Julia constantly evaluates the way she brings up sex because not everyone is comfortable, or even wants to be present, in an environment where sex-related conversations are standard. Whatever the case, Julia points out that it is important to remember that sex-positivity also involves “not pushing things on people, but allowing people the space and the room to talk about…and understand sex in hopefully healthy and happy ways.”
Like her colleagues in the Prevention Department, Julia works with individuals she tests to create a plan to minimize sexual risk. During conversations with clients, Julia introduces methods of practicing safer sex, such as using lubrication, condoms or the preventive HIV medication PrEP. Julia notes, “Each one of us in our own way is always working to maintain a sex-positive attitude about the work that we do. It’s important to figure out new ways to talk to others about sex all the time.”
Affirming and communicating effectively with people are key to successful sex-positive counseling. The more education and information we share with one another will hopefully lead to a society where safer sex, in whatever form is desired, becomes the norm.