In Defense of Sex Negativity

AJ Tanksley
7 min readNov 12, 2023
Photo by Adrian Lange on Unsplash

This article is part of the series “Sex, Love, and Connection on the Spectrum,” in which I explore sex, intimacy, and bonding through a multifaceted and neurodivergent lens.

Several months ago, I watched a video of two drag queens reacting to season two of the popular Netflix television show Heartstopper. Although the video is no longer available on YouTube (likely due to copyright reasons), it inspired in me a desire to write an article about sex negativity, particularly in defense of it from the perspective of a neurodivergent young person.

Trixie and Katya — the two drag queens — are in the older Millenial and younger Gen X age ranges, respectively. The comment frequently throughout the video on how strangely chaste the show seems to be for a show about LGBTQ+ teenagers. They also frequently compare their own experiences with coming of age as gay teenagers to those of the two main characters in Heartstopper, noting that there seems to be a glaring generational difference between their generations (who were often pressured into having sex at an early age) and Gen Zers (who they observe as being more sex-negative than previous generations).

There’s all sorts of wonderful opportunities for discussion that can be had on LGBTQ+ generational differences, why some younger queer people seem less sex-positive than previous generations, and making a space for sex-negative attitudes in queer spaces. Unfortunately, this cannot be done effectively in the YouTube comments section, so I’m hoping this piece opens up the floor for those kinds of discussions on Medium. In the meantime, I’d like to share my own experiences with sex negativity as a neurodivergent young person.

To preface, I will not be commenting on specific research regarding Gen Zers and their attitudes about sex; political and social commentary is not really the focus of this blog. Instead, I wanted to focus on my lived experiences with sex negativity, and how sex-positive people can learn how to meet sex-negative people where they’re at.

I’ve written here and here about what developmental factors and mental health issues shaped my generally-negative attitudes towards sex growing up. At the risk of repeating myself, I will not rehash them all here; to sum it up, a combination of religiously-infused purity culture, knowing way too many survivors of CSA, a natural inclination to be morally scrupulous, and late-diagnosed OCD have worked in tandem to give me a very, very complicated relationship with sex.

I am not as sex negative as I once was, but sex negativity still heavily influences my mental health, my philosophy of the world, and my relationships with other people a great deal. If you developed a specific view of the world to protect yourself from danger, it is very, very difficult to break away from that paradigm. From a very early age (around puberty), I learned to associate sex with violence and destruction against AFAB and child bodies. Having an intensely-pessimistic view of men and sex has protected me against rape and assault many times, as I listen to my gut and have no problem asserting myself when intimacy goes sour.

I think the inclination towards sex negativity, therefore, is not always a bad thing. The urge to self-preserve is one of the most vital core instincts to human survival, and one should never suppress that urge for the sake of pleasing an intimate partner. In small doses, pessimism can save your life.

Sex negativity also has its drawbacks, of course. I won’t describe the cons of sex negativity here, as people who disagree with my defense of sex negativity will probably list them all out in the comments anyway (and yes, I give you permission to, fire away).

Regardless of your thoughts on sex negativity, I do believe it is important to meet sex-negative people where they’re at, and not try and alter their viewpoint of the world. Many sex-negative people are sex-negative for a very good reason, and trying to dissuade them could cause them to dig their heels in further. Additionally, being sex-negative should never being conflated with being hateful or bigoted, as many sex-negative people are neither (we just want to be left alone!).

Here are some common misconceptions I’ve seen about sex-negative people I’d like to address:

  1. Sex-negative people are anti-sex worker — Many sex-negative people may not have the most positive views on sex work necessarily, especially if they are sex-negative as a result of having a destructive relationship with porn. However, even at my own sex-negative, I am not opposed to people selling sexual services or working in the adult industry as a way to make a living. I’m from Vegas, for Christ’s sake. Likewise, I can imagine there are many other sex-negative people who are also fine with people “getting that paper,” but choose not to consume porn or subscribe to someone’s OnlyFans account. At the end of the day, you do what you gotta do to survive.
  2. Sex-negative people are all religious prudes — To be fair, the right-wing evangelical obsession with purity culture is certainly responsible for many sex-negative attitudes within Christianity itself (that and St. Augustine, who had a hedonistic lifestyle in his youth and 180'd to making it everyone else’s problem for all eternity). I’ve met a small but significant handful of sex-negative people in LGBTQ+ spaces, for example, who are not remotely religious. They are just extremely repulsed by sex to the point where other people talking about sex around them can be deeply distressing.
  3. Sex-negative people were all molested as kids — Again, this is an overgeneralization that’s not necessarily true. While having a history of CSA can definitely turn some people off from sex for good, I’ve had the chance to know many survivors of CSA who are very sex-positive, and vice versa. I also know some CSA survivors who can only ever associate sex with violence and destruction against the body, and their philosophies are valid and completely understandable. Additionally, I am sporadically sex-negative and not a survivor of CSA, although I do have some baggage from being exposed to sexually-distorted situations and comments throughout my preteen and teen years. Honestly, going through puberty when AFAB is just its own form of trauma.
  4. Sex-negative beliefs are inherently pathological — Some people who are sex-negative can have intense levels of fixation with it that can cause suffering or impair functioning. I am one of those people. OCD gives me disturbing and deeply-intrusive thoughts about sexual violence and harmful sexual practices, and flare-ups of intrusive thoughts can make me sex-negative for weeks on end. However, not everyone who is sex-negative suffers from it. Respect those who aren’t suffering, and show grace and kindness to those who do.

Now, sex negativity is a complicated and multi-faceted subject, and there are varying levels of how it can manifest. It’s impossible to address all of these nuances in a single blog post, although I’d like to go more in-depth about this topic in a book someday.

What I can confidently say is that there needs to be a space for sex-negative people to share their experiences and feel seen, heard, and respected, without being made fun of or accused of bigotry. I am optimistic that sex-positive can learn to meet in the middle with sex-negative people, and come to a compassionate understanding about what shapes their worldview without trying to convert them. If you are a sex-positive person, here are ways you can meet sex-negative people where they are at:

  1. Avoid making assumptions about why someone might be sex-negative — As stated above, anyone can be sex-negative for all sorts of reasons not related to prejudice, religion, or childhood trauma. Hell, some people might just be wired that way!
  2. Don’t try to convert sex-negative people to a more sex-positive worldview — If a sex-negative person starts to question their sex-negative beliefs about the world and wants to become more sex-positive, that’s a journey they can make on their own. However, a sex-negative worldview is not by default hateful, bigoted, or destructive, and it should not be treated as such. Some sex-negative people will always stay sex-negative, others might change their mind; let them.
  3. If someone struggles with obsessive thoughts about sex negativity to the point where it starts to interfere with their happiness, well-being, or ability to function, kindly engage in distracting activities with them — If you sense that someone’s sex negativity is causing them distress, or they are fixating on the subject in a way that is causing them suffering, try redirecting the topic to something they like. Go on a pleasant hike with them. Maybe do a paint-by-numbers together. Trying to change their mind will only make them cling to their beliefs, and (as stated earlier) not everyone who is sex-negative experiences it in a pathological way. For those who do suffer from their beliefs, be gentle.

What’s been your experience with sex-negativity? Do you identify as a sex-negative person yourself? How’s your experience been if you’ve opened up to others about it? If you aren’t sex-negative, what are your thoughts on sex negativity?

Memento mori, and please keep the conversation going! This is a very complex and weird topic, and has all sorts of potential to spark some great discussions.

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AJ Tanksley

A lifelong learner and poet, AJ (they/she/he) writes about the intersection of neurodiversity, mental health, spirituality, and identity.