Promoting a Positive Sex Culture

Promoting a Positive Sex Culture
Gracie Weiderhaft

Gracie Weiderhaft

Walking past the display of photographs and paintings, one particular image captured my attention. It was a photo of a flaccid human penis in a glass jar. This was my first erotic art show.

Looking at the photograph, my initial reaction was naturally, “I have to snapchat this.” But after its novelty wore off, I began to think about whether or not I actually liked the image. I didn’t find it offensive. In fact, it was actually pretty funny. But was this really art that should be embraced or just a bad attempt at being edgy? Or was there something more problematic about the display? Erotic culture is often hard to decipher. It can be difficult to be sex-positive when mainstream sex culture has so many problematic aspects.

Strip clubs tend to position women as objects whose sole purpose is to appeal to the male gaze, and they often deprive dancers of certain benefits and protections by classifying them as “independent contractors” rather than employees. Popular pornography has a tendency to strip women of their agency as well and often normalizes acts of violence. Clearly not all strip clubs or pornography have these problems, but they are not uncommon.

The erotic art show, however, promoted a more positive sex culture. The paintings and photographs lining the wall depicted nudity but nothing violent or perverse. There were all kinds of performances as well—burlesque, drag, pole dancing, a chair routine, and some kind of weird thing with a disgruntled clown and a man in a monkey suit. Though the outfits were risqué (both on stage and in the audience), actual nudity was prohibited. In between performances, the emcee would ask for volunteers from the audience to come up on stage and compete for prizes (i.e. sex toys) by dancing on stage or even simulating sex acts.

At the end of the show the owner of the sex shop that was sponsoring the event came up on stage and began throwing sex toys out into the audience—LOTS of sex toys. They ranged from your run of the mill cock rings to massive double-sided dildos. Once all of the sex toys had been distributed, a Depeche Mode cover band began to play.

Though such a display seems shocking to some, I saw nothing immoral in the show. It was a 21 and up event, so everyone involved was a consenting adult. The entertainers were framed as performers to be admired for their skill, not sexual objects. There was a mix of both male and female performers who all received the same respect and praise from the audience. The atmosphere was friendly and accepting as well. I chatted with a lot of people throughout the show, and no one even attempted to lure me into a sex dungeon. I never felt unsafe.

Though much of today’s mainstream sex culture is problematic, it would be wrong to condemn sex culture as a whole. Burlesque, drag, and pole dancing all have very positive impacts on many people’s lives. So where do we draw the line? It can be difficult to discern which displays of sexuality are positive and which are negative. For many of us, sex has some deeply-rooted moral aspect to it. We are constantly sent a message that our value is directly related to our sexual choices. Women are pressured to toe the line between being a prude or a slut while always presenting themselves in a physically desirable way. Men are often caricatured as unable to control their primal urges and sexual prowess is seen as a symbol of status.

It’s no wonder we have mental hang-ups about sex. Our various neuroses could skew our thinking about erotic culture. I certainly haven’t deciphered all of the social and moral aspects of mainstream sex culture, but I can make some suggestions of things that a critical consumer may want to keep in mind. The next time you’re selecting a porno or heading to a sex show, ask yourself:

– Are all participants informed, enthusiastically consenting adults?

– Are any participants treated as sexual objects?

– Does it involve any acts of violence (physical, mental, emotional)?

– Are there set boundaries, and are those boundaries respected?

– What messages does it send about gender and sexuality?

– What types of behaviors are normalized? Are these healthy behaviors?

This list is not extensive, but these questions are a good starting point for thinking more critically about how we approach erotic culture. Even if we are not personally comfortable with engaging in this culture, we should not condemn those who do as long as they do so in a safe and healthy way. Additionally, we should not get swept up in the fun of erotic culture and ignore its problematic aspects. We all have a responsibility to consider the impact of the products and industries we support. This Valentine’s Day, let’s make an effort promote a healthy and positive sex culture.

If I may make a recommendation, a framed photograph of a flaccid penis in a jar makes a perfect gift for that special someone.

Gracie Weiderhaft is a Rogers native, currently residing in Tulsa, Okla. She is a graduate student in Educational Studies at the University of Tulsa (TU), the President of the Society for Gender Equality at TU and an avid blogger. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author. Gracie can be contacted via email at

Categories: Commentary