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Artist: Mat Pal, Sydney

Cultures & Myths

The Difference Between Sex Positivity and Rape Culture

Many LGBTQ+ people embrace a sex positive culture, finding a way to make the things society struggles most to deal with (homosexual sex and non-conforming bodies) something to be proud of. Society has long struggled with the topic of sex, especially when it comes to our community, so we found ways to fight against that. No other community celebrates sex and sexuality in the way ours does. Being sex positive means we can talk about things others struggle with, we can negotiate sex more freely, and we can accept and support others even if we don’t have sex in the same way. This pride allows us to put words and language to the things other can’t or won’t. It frees us to talk about desire, relationships, identity and sex. We are freer to talk about what we like and don’t like, what we want and don’t want and how, when and where we want to do it. Our community found ways to be proud of sex, and who we are within sex.

Unfortunately many people and communities are not able to celebrate this in the same way and are uncomfortable with sex. Sex and rape are two very different things. Sex is something to be okay with, to enjoy and to want to do. Rape is a crime that causes harm to the victims personally and society more broadly.

Every time we don’t speak up or act like we don’t care, every time turn away or minimise someone’s abuse, we harm victims of sexual violence further. It silences victims of sexual assault when we do not care, and what has happened to them is already extremely difficult to process and manage.

As a community, we can do better. As community, we need to stick together and stand up against sexual assault and rape cultures.

In recent times there has been a focus on the concept of “rape culture”. Rape culture is a sociological idea that recognises that sexual violence occurs within societies where there is a power imbalance between different people, genders and community groups. Rape and sexual violence occurs because of gender inequality as well as other inequalities, such as age, education, positional power. Rape and sexual violence is the abuse of power of one person or group over another person or group. If these power imbalances did not exist, the abuse of power could not occur.

Rape culture is a way to make society accountable for the harm, not to view victims as damaged. People are often confronted by the use of the word “rape”, which is acceptable. It is a hard word and we should be confronted, but need to just ensure we feel this way for the right reasons. We should be confronted by rape because it is terrible, harms both adults and children, and has negative impacts on individuals and communities.

We should not be confronted because it is something we cannot or do not want to know about. We should not be confronted because it is too hard to deal with and is someone else’s issue. Rape is something we all have to deal with. We all have a part to play in being the solution to the harm of sexual violence.

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What About When Sexuality is a Secret?

The problem with sexuality and sexual assault is that both can be kept secret, but the reasons for each are quite different. Some of us choose to keep our sexualities secret to protect ourselves and give us choices about who and what we tell.

Sexual assault is kept secret to protect the perpetrator, not the victim, which makes it more complex and challenging to discuss. Try to remember that by opening up about your sexual assault you are taking back your power. Sexual assault is a crime and when you tell someone about it you are talking about something that happened that is not your fault.

When you talk about your sexuality, you are sharing who you are and your identity. Whilst it is also empowering to share your sexuality, it is really important for survivors of sexual assault to understand that we can keep these things separate and there is no need to discuss your sexuality while discussing your abuse. Sexuality and our choices are very different to being a victim of a crime.

Barriers and Myths

Myths are commonly held beliefs about sex and/or sexual assault. We call them ‘myths’ because they are not true, but they are very real, commonly held fears that can stop victims of sexual assault from recognising abuse or reaching out for help. We talk about them because we hope that by doing so, those who have been sexually assaulted will see that they are not alone in their fears, and these fears are held by many other survivors of sexual assault. Whilst they are real fears, we need to try not to let them remain the barriers to seeking help.

Some commonly held myths are:

  • I won’t be believed
  • Women can’t sexually assault men
  • Women can’t sexually assault other women
  • A man should be able to protect himself or fight back
  • We should have sex with our partner whenever they want it
  • Sex workers can’t get raped – that’s what they’re there for
  • Not all sexual assault is a problem, only violent assaults
  • It wasn’t rape if I had an erection or was turned on (in fact, this happens to many children who are sexually assaulted)
  • You’re not sex positive if you complain about sexual assaults
  • The police won’t do anything
  • Men can’t be raped
  • Sexual assault is normal on the scene and the places I go to
  • It is just a part of the job of being a sex worker
  • If you speak out abuse or sexual assault you could damage the whole LGBTQ+ community and the social acceptance we have worked so hard to achieve

Some other common barriers to seeking help:

  • The perpetrator told me that I would not be believed if I told
  • The offender’s status (e.g., they might be popular or seen as a good person)
  • My status (e.g., people don’t think I am a good person and will probably think I am lying or deserved it)
  • I am not ‘out’ about my gender/sexuality/lifestyle
  • The offender was my friend/partner/family member and I don’t want them to get in trouble with the law
  • I am afraid the offender will punish me if I tell
  • Where I was when it happened could get me in trouble
  • Maybe I deserved it
  • I was using drugs when it happened
  • The perpetrator is still threatening me
  • I was/am in an intimate relationship when I was sexually assaulted
  • I do not remember the details (e.g., where I was or who the perpetrator was)
  • I was doing sex work and nobody would help a sex worker in this situation
  • I did not say “stop” out loud or fight back
  • I froze when it happened
  • My assault wasn’t that bad, other people’s assault is way worse
  • It has happened before
  • The perpetrator said I enjoyed/wanted/asked for it (or any variation on these words/phrases)
  • The perpetrator is a friend and I don’t want to lose or hurt a friend
  • The perpetrator is my boss at work and I don’t want to lose my job or promotion
  • It was at a party and everyone was drunk
  • I have no physical injuries so it doesn’t matter
  • The assault was my fault
  • I don’t want people to know because they will look at me differently
  • I have heard bad stories about other people’s experiences when they tried to tell

If you can relate to any of these myths or reasons for not seeking help, we suggest you call a sexual assault service and talk it through with a professional. The antidote to uncertainty, misinformation and shame is speaking about what happened to you. Most sexual assault services are free and confidential. To find someone to talk to check out our Find a Service page. 

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