Towards my personal Sex-Positive Feminist 101

There’s an aphorism from the early 1900s literary critic André Maurois: “The difficult part in an argument is not to defend one’s opinion but to know it.” Even though I identify as an activist and genuinely want to make a real impact on the world based on my beliefs … I often think that much of my blogging has been more an attempt to figure out what I believe, than to tell people what I believe. And sometimes, I fall into the trap of wanting to be consistent more than I want to understand what I really believe — or more than I want to empathize with other people — or more than I want to be correct. We all gotta watch out for that.

But I’m getting too philosophical here. (Who, me?) The point is, I am hesitant to write something with a title like “Sex-Positive 101″, because not only does it seem arrogant (who says Clarisse Thorn gets to define Sex-Positive 101?) — it also implies that my thoughts on sex-positivity have come to a coherent, standardized end. Which they haven’t! I’m still figuring things out, just like everyone else.

However, lately I’ve been thinking that I really want to write about some basic ideas that inform my thoughts on sex-positive feminism. I acknowledge that I am incredibly privileged (white, upper-middle-class, heteroflexible, cisgendered etc) and coming mostly from a particular community, the BDSM community; both of these factors inform and limit the principles that underpin my sex-positivity. I welcome ideas for Sex-Positive Feminism 101, links to relevant 101 resources, etc.

This got really long, and I reserve the right to edit for clarity or sensitivity.

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Some Central Sex-Positive Feminist Ideas, according to Clarisse Thorn

1) Desire is complicated, and people are different. These ideas both seem basic and obvious to me as I write them, but I wanted to put them out there because I think they’re useful anchors for all the rest.

2) Gender is not a binary, and gender cannot be determined by a person’s outer appearance or behavior. Different people experience and display gender in a galaxy of ways. No woman in the world is perfectly submissive, perfectly hourglass-shaped, perfectly kind, etc, although these are stereotypes commonly associated with women. No man in the world is perfectly dominant, perfectly confident, perfectly muscular, etc. While many people reduce the idea of a person’s gender to whether they have a penis or a vagina, the existence of trans people and intersex people proves that this isn’t a valid approach. Individual people have all kinds of qualities that are attributed to the “other” gender … and the concept of an “other” (or “opposite”) gender is weird in itself, because why does one gender have to be the “other”, and what does that imply?

All this having been said, gender is frequently perceived as a binary, and many people fit themselves into the possibly-arbitrary system of gender that currently exists. There are ideas of “men” and “women” that are culturally understood, widely adopted, and socially enforced. Feminism has its roots in women resisting men’s violent and social dominance, and in women resisting the cultural emphasis on stereotypical men’s desires.

3) Historically, sex has usually been defined in terms of two things: (a) reproduction, and (b) the sexual pleasure of stereotypical men. Cultural sexual standards are based on these things. For example, the sexual “base system” (commonly discussed among USA schoolchildren) describes kissing as “first base”, groping as “second base”, oral sex as “third base” and penis-in-vagina sex as “home base”. Why should this hierarchy exist? It only makes sense if we think of sex as being centered around reproduction. If we think of sex as being about pleasure and open exploration in ways that are different for everyone, then having a “home base” — a standardized goal — makes zero sense.

Another example: penis-in-vagina sex is often seen as “real” sex or “actual” sex, with all other sex considered “less real”. How many arguments have you had over the course of your lifetime about whether oral sex “counts” as sex? (Hint: more than the subject deserves.) For a recent example, there’s the Kink.com virgin shoot, wherein a porn model publicly “lost her virginity” notwithstanding the fact that she’d already had plenty of oral and anal sex on camera for years — she’d just never had vaginal sex.

As for sex being defined by the pleasure of stereotypical men: one example is how people usually think about orgasms. In my experience and that of people I talk to — and in the vast majority of porn — it seems commonly accepted that sexual activity ends with a man’s orgasm, whereas women are commonly expected to continue engaging in sex after having an orgasm … despite the fact that many women seem just as tired and less-interested in sex post-orgasm as many men are. In part, this goes back to defining sex in terms of reproduction: men have to orgasm in order for reproduction to happen, so men’s orgasms must (supposedly) be central to sex. It’s all influenced by these other constructions, like how penis-in-vagina sex is “real” sex, or “home base”: many people are confused by the idea that you’d shift sexual gears to (for example) manual stimulation if you’ve already “made it to home base”. But it also arises from centering stereotypical men’s desires — from a culture that just generally sees them as more important, more driving, and more necessary than women’s. (Note that the majority of women don’t achieve orgasm from penis-in-vagina sex in itself.)

When sex is defined in terms of reproduction and stereotypical male pleasure, the following things result:

+ People who aren’t men have a harder time understanding their sexuality, because there are fewer models (for example: it’s fairly common for women to figure out how to have orgasms much later in life than the average man — like 20s or 30s, if ever — and yes of course I’ve written about it)

+ Men who don’t fit masculine stereotypes have a harder time understanding their sexuality (for example: there’s a great essay by a former men’s magazine editor in Best Sex Writing 2010 in which he talks about how hard it was for him to come to terms with his desire for heavy women)

+ Even men who do fit masculine stereotypes feel limited from other types of exploration, and may derive less pleasure from sex than they would in a less broken world

+ Sex acts or sexual relationships that aren’t reproductive are devalued, are seen as weird, or aren’t even defined as sex (for example: stigma against gay sex, lesbian sex, many fetishes, etc)

4) Women are expected to trade sex to men in exchange for support or romance. Women who don’t get a “good trade” (e.g. women who don’t receive a certain level of financial support or romance “in exchange for” sex) are seen as sluts. Men who don’t get a “good trade” (e.g. men who don’t receive a certain amount of sex “in exchange for” a relationship) are seen as pussies. (Yes, “pussies” … don’t you just love that a word for female genitalia is a commonly used insult against so-called “weak” men?)

What this also means is that many people have trouble examining motivations outside this framework: women are always expected to be looking for more emotional or financial investment from a guy, whereas men are always expected to be looking for more (or more so-called “extreme”) sex. Women who actively seek sex, or men who actively seek intimacy, are shamed and hurt and confused for it — often even within their own heads.

5) Since stereotypical men have historically been much freer to explore their sexuality than people of other genders, the desires of stereotypical men have formed the pattern for “liberated sexuality”. As women have won freedom to act, work and explore outside the home more, we’ve been following patterns created mostly by men, and those patterns might look extremely different if women had created them.

When we talk about sexuality, I think that leads us to examine what “liberated sexuality” looks like. “Liberated sexuality” is often stereotyped as promiscuous, for example. “Liberated sexuality” is also stereotyped as being unromantic, never involving any of those pesky pesky feelings, etc. I write about this cautiously: I have no intention of telling anyone what “real” men do or feel, or what “real” women do or feel. However, it seems conceivable to me that most men are generally more likely to enjoy promiscuity and emotionless sex than most women are — if only for hormonal reasons. Here’s a quotation from the brilliant trans man sex writer Patrick Califia on the effects of testosterone:

It’s harder to track psychological and emotional changes caused by one’s taking testosterone than it is to notice the physical differences. But I think the former actually outweigh the latter. It isn’t that testosterone has made me a different person. I always had a high sex drive, liked porn and casual sex, couldn’t imagine giving up masturbation, was able to express my anger, and showed a pretty high level of autonomy and assertiveness. But all of these things have gotten much more intense since I began hormone treatments. During the first six months on T, every appetite I had was painfully sharp. A friend of mine expressed it this way: “When I had to eat, I had to eat right fucking now. If I was horny, I had to come immediately. If I needed to shit, I couldn’t wait. If I was pissed off, the words came right out of my mouth. If I was bored, I had to leave.” My body and all the physical sensations that spring from it have acquired a piquancy and an immediacy that is both entertaining and occasionally inconvenient. Moving through the world is even more fun, involves more stimulation than it used to; life is more in the here-and-now, more about bodies and objects, less about thoughts and feelings.

… Casual sex has changed. When I want to get off, my priority is to find somebody who will do that as efficiently as possible, and while I certainly would rather have a pleasant interaction with that person, I don’t think a lot about how they were doing before they got down on their knees, and I don’t care very much how they feel after they get up and leave. It’s hard to keep their needs in mind; it’s easier to just assume that if they wanted anything, it was their responsibility to try to get it. I always preferred to take sexual initiative, and that has become even more ego-congruent. (pages 397-398, Speaking Sex To Power)

A trans woman friend once told me that not only did she get turned on more frequently pre-transition; also, she now has to feel more emotionally connected to her partner in order to enjoy sex. And she noted that she has to “take care of herself more” in order to feel turned on now — not just in the moment, but in life, and in the relationship.

If we accept that there is, speaking generally, a difference in sexual desires between men and women (although individuals will always be unique), then it leads to new questions. If women were socially and culturally dominant, what would so-called “liberated sexuality” look like? If people of all genders are following patterns set by stereotypical men, then what does that mean for attempts to think around those patterns?

6) Communicating consent is complicated, but consent is the only thing that makes sex okay, so we have to make every effort to respect it. All sex is completely fine with me as long as it’s consensual. Seriously, I really don’t care what you do — as long as it’s consensual. (Try to find a consensual sex act that shocks me. I dare you.)

Communicating consent can, however, be complicated, and there are lots of different ways to do it. Many BDSMers are eminently familiar with this, as you can tell by the fact that some parts of the BDSM community have developed an extensive array of tactics for discussing consent.

Most people don’t communicate directly about most things, and the stigma and high emotions around sexuality make it even harder for most people to communicate directly about sex. Hence, most sexual communication is highly indirect. Even among people who are accustomed to direct sexual communication — like many BDSMers — a lot of communication ends up being indirect and instinctive anyway; there’s just no way to discuss every possible reaction and every single desire ahead of time. Everyone fucks up sometimes. No one in the world has a perfect track record on creating a pressure-free environment for their partners to express what they want … or asking their partners for what they want … or even knowing what they want in the first place.

So, yes, I acknowledge that communicating about sex and getting what you want consensually can be really hard. However, it’s most important to not violate people’s boundaries. No matter how hard it is, it’s necessary to make a serious and genuine effort to measure and respect a partner’s consent every time sex happens. Feminist ideas of enthusiastic consent are designed to help this process.

(Here’s my attempt at a quick definition of enthusiastic consent:

The basic idea is simple: don’t initiate sex unless you have your partner’s enthusiastic consent. Not a partner who says, “Okay, I guess,” in a bored tone, but doesn’t actively say “no”. Not a partner who is silent and non-reactive, but doesn’t actively stop you when you start having sex with them. Not a partner who seems hesitant, or anxious, or confused. Enthusiastic consent means an enthusiastic partner: one who is responding passionately, kissing you back, saying things like “Yes” or “Oh my God, don’t stop” … or a partner who talks to you ahead of time about what will happen, as many BDSMers and sex workers do, and knows how to safeword or otherwise get out of the situation if you do something they don’t like.)

It’s worth noting that there are critiques within feminism of the concept of enthusiastic consent. For example, some feminist sex workers point out that when they have sex for money, their consent is not exactly “enthusiastic,” but they still feel that their consent is real consent, and that their choices must be respected. The same goes for some asexual people. Asexuality is commonly defined as “not feeling sexual attraction to others,” but some asexual people have romantic relationships with other people in which they have sex entirely to satisfy their partner, and some of them have said that they don’t feel included by feminist discussions of enthusiastic consent.

Hey, even some of my non-asexual, non-sex worker friends have problems with the idea that they aren’t “really” consenting unless they’re super-enthusiastic about the sexual act at hand. A married friend once commented wryly that if she and her husband always demanded 100% enthusiastic consent from each other, then the marriage would fall apart. But as we continued to discuss it, she and her husband both agreed that they have zero problem with the situation as it stands.

I don’t want to sweep those critiques under the rug. I figure that as long as everyone’s communicating about the situation openly, and working to keep things relatively low-pressure, then consent is likely to happen, even if it’s not perfectly “enthusiastic.” I’ve had extensive debates on the topic with other feminists, though, and I often seek more, because honing consent theory is one of my favorite things! (For example, here’s a discussion between me and Jaclyn Friedman where we try to hash out some of these ideas.)

All this having been said: the concept of enthusiastic consent has been very helpful for me personally. I know that it’s also been helpful for an enormous number of other people who are trying to understand boundaries in their sexual relationships. I absolutely believe that enthusiastic consent is an important and useful standard, and I do my best to observe that standard as much as I can in my own relationships. So, while I think the standard is important, I also think that the idea of enthusiastic consent is the best baseline assumption to start these conversations … if not to end them.

7) In practice, as long as everyone involved is having consensual fun, criticism is secondary. Practically speaking, consent is the most important thing; from a pragmatic standpoint, the question of whether sexuality arises from biology or culture doesn’t matter nearly as much. (I find the question of whether BDSM can be categorized as a sexual orientation to be more politically and theoretically interesting than practically important.)

Understanding sexual biology or culture may help us grasp some of the complexities of consent. For example, people often have trouble saying “no” to things directly: when was the last time you explicitly said “no” when you didn’t want to do something? Which of the following exchanges is more likely:

Person A: Hey, want to come over tonight?
Person B: You know, I’d love to, but I’m so exhausted from work, I really need to get some sleep.

or

Person A: Hey, want to come over tonight?
Person B: No.

People of all genders really don’t like saying “no” to things directly. Grasping this important cultural concept is one step on the path of learning how to communicate effectively about consent. But in my book, it’s really not as important to understand why people hate saying “no” directly, as it is to understand that people hate saying “no” directly. It’s necessary to understand that because it means that very often, pushing someone until they say “no” can mean pushing them further than they wanted to go.

I believe that the most important role of social criticism — including sex-positive feminism — is not to tell people what to do. If you have sex that appears to be in line with ridiculous and oppressive stereotypes, I really do not care as long as everyone involved is consenting and having fun. I reserve the right to occasionally have consensual sex where a gentleman friend beats me up before fucking me, and I reserve the right to enjoy it.

But I want to offer sex-positive feminist analyses in order to help people understand themselves and their desires … and also understand their partners and their desires. I think that many people have sex they don’t like, sex that’s in line with ridiculous and oppressive stereotypes, because they haven’t been exposed to anything they like better. I think many people have sex they don’t like because they don’t feel like they can look for something different — they think it’s the best they can get. I think many people have sex they don’t like because they think it’s what their partner wants — and I think those people are frequently wrong, and I think most partners would genuinely prefer that everyone be having fun.

Which is why I try to deconstruct sexual norms and stereotypes. Which is why I encourage people to look for what they like. Which is why I always emphasize talking about it.

8) Awesome, respectful, joyful, mutual sex means approaching sex as collaborative rather than adversarial. Aside from solo sex (such as masturbation), sex always involves another person. And at its best, it’s about having a good time with other people — understanding their reality, accepting it, playing with it. The best metaphors I’ve ever heard for sex were all about collaborative art, like a musical jam performance. Here’s a bit from Thomas MacAulay Millar‘s totally brilliant essay “Towards a Performance Model of Sex” (please do read the whole thing someday):

The negotiation is the creative process of building something from a set of available elements. Musicians have to choose, explicitly or implicitly, what they are going to play: genre, song, key and interpretation. The palette available to them is their entire skill set — all the instruments they have and know how to play, their entire repertoire, their imagination and their skills — and the product will depend on the pieces each individual brings to the performance. Two musicians steeped in Delta blues will produce very different music from one musician with a love for soul and funk and another with roots in hip-hop or 1980s hardcore. This process involves communication of likes and dislikes and preferences, not a series of proposals that meet with acceptance or rejection.

… Under this model, the sexual interaction should be creative, positive, and respectful even in the most casual of circumstances.

(“Towards a Performance Model of Sex” was first printed in Yes Means Yes, the brilliant sex-positive anti-rape anthology that I want everyone in the entire world to read. It was also reprinted in Best Sex Writing 2010.)

9) All people deserve equal rights, including sexual minorities. As long as people are having consensual sex, they do not deserve to be stigmatized, harassed, or otherwise harmed for their sexuality. Period. No one should be fired for their sexual or gender identity. No one should have their kids taken away for their sexual or gender identity. Rape is still rape, even when it’s perpetrated against a sex worker. I support decriminalizing sex work for a lot of reasons; for example, I’d love it if the law would quit harassing and jailing sex workers for having consensual sex, and I’d love it if sex workers could organize for better workplace safety. (Here’s a wonderful site for Sex Work Activists, Allies and You.) The bottom line is that people — all people — have rights. It’s time to treat them that way.

* * *

In terms of actual ways to be sex-positive in everyday life, here are the three ways I usually encourage people to spread the sex-positive love:

A) Avoid re-centering. Sexuality shouldn’t be societally “centered” on any particular norm, idea, or stereotype (except consent). It is frequently tempting to re-center “objective” ideas about sexuality onto ourselves, if we’re different from the norm, or onto people we admire. But the truth is that — on a societal level — queer sex is just as awesome as straight sex; that BDSM sex is equally admirable as vanilla sex; that cisgendered people are not any more or less amazing than trans people. The decision to have sex is no better than the decision to avoid sex, and asexual people are just as great as hypersexual people who are just as great as anyone with any level of sex drive.

In alternative sexuality subcultures, one often encounters a kind of superior attitude, perhaps because we have to push back so hard against the norm. In polyamory, for example, some of us use the sarcastic term “polyvangelist”: a person who insists that polyamory is “better” or “more evolved” or “makes more sense” for everyone, everywhere, than monogamy does. Neither monogamy nor polyamory is better than the other; they’re just different. Polyvangelists are trying to re-center onto polyamory. Not cool.

B) Start conversations. One of the most damaging problems around sexuality is the overwhelming and constant stigma. It hurts people with certain sexual identities, preferences or pasts. It hurts them spiritually. It can hurt them societally, like when LGBTQ folks have difficulty adopting children, or former sex workers are not allowed to work at other jobs. It can even hurt them physically: 40 years after doctors started noticing the HIV pandemic, too many people are still refusing to talk about sex openly, or give healthcare to sexual minorities directly affected by HIV. To say nothing of people who are attacked or killed for their sexual minority status. Sexual stigma kills.

So when someone says something icky about sex and gender, or stereotypes a certain sex or gender identity, it’s so great to challenge them — or at least to question them. (“Really? What makes you think all gay people are abuse survivors?”) And some of the most powerful sex activism out there involves starting discussion groups, creating venues for discussion, hosting sexuality speakers or sex-related art, etc. (Not that I’m biased or anything.)

C) Be “out” or open, without being invasive. This can be tricky, because I don’t want to encourage people to aggressively talk about sex at totally inappropriate times — and again, I’m against re-centering. On the other hand, the most powerful tool for destigmatizing sexuality appears to be coming out of the closet — whether a person is queer, BDSM, or whatever. Openly acknowledging, owning, and discussing your sexual preferences can help others respect those preferences — and can help others who share those preferences respect themselves. (Can you tell that I cried when I saw the movie “Milk”?)

* * *

Some relevant links:

* A student once emailed me a bunch of questions about sex-positive feminism, which I then republished (along with my answers) in interview form

* My old post “There Is No ‘Should'” and the Sex-Positive “Agenda”

* My old post Liberal, Sex-Positive Sex Education: What’s Missing

* Some thoughts that came out of a sex-positive 101 discussion over at Feministing

* Why some common complaints about sex-positivity are misguided by Holly Pervocracy

* FAQ: Isn’t the Existence of the Term Sex-Positive Feminism Effectively an Admission that Many Feminists Are Anti-Sex? at Finally!: The Feminism 101 Blog

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This was originally posted at Clarisse’s personal blog.

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About Clarisse Thorn

Clarisse Thorn is a Chicago-based, feminist, sex-positive activist and educator. Personal blog at clarissethorn.com; follow her on Twitter @clarissethorn; you can also buy her awesome book about pickup artists or her awesome best-of collection, The S&M Feminist.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Sex and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

57 Responses to Towards my personal Sex-Positive Feminist 101

  1. This is fantastic and I really appreciate it. The troubles I’ve run into frequently are people who simply aren’t ready to discuss sexuality so openly. Such behavior rarely stops at sexuality, it also concerns parts of themselves that they find shameful. And until you can earn trust and encourage confidence, there’s no way any discussion on consent can proceed.

    When I’ve found someone who is, to use the term “liberated”, it’s amazing. But there are so many people, male or female, who have severe hangups with sexuality. And I know the reasons why, at least partially, but it is still frustrating to see someone so confined by their own phobias.

  2. andrea says:

    This was a great read, and I plan to check out some of the links and posts you’ve mentioned here.

    I’ll also be sharing this on the FB and the twitter (later when I’m not at work)

  3. andrea says:

    I just glanced at the link for the FAQ at the bottom of the article, and it touches on a good point…

    Sex-positivity also includes being okay and accepting of NOT having an interest in sexual behaviour (whether it’s just ‘not being in the mood’ or identifying as asexual and all things in between). Being asexual is not the same as being anti-sex or sex negative, and I think this may be a common misconception.

    Being sexually liberated doesn’t mean someone is going to engage with anyone and everyone. Being liberated means being free to choose to engage in what you want, and who you want, or to NOT engage with anyone, in anything, without stigma.

    You’ve not said anything here that would indicate that you believe this is NOT the case, but if you’re aiming for a comprehensive ‘101’ this may be an area that needs more clarity (although it DOES fall under the ‘enthusiast consent’ area)

  4. Yonmei says:

    I like this. (Particularly the jam metaphor. Sex as jam! Mmm, sticky. In my own field of art I like the metaphor of sex as mutual construction of a narrative.)

    One of my favourite posts on this topic is Portly Dyke’s at Shakesville: A Modest Proposal: THe Thorny Issue of Sexual Consent. Sample quote: “See, I’ve never really thought of it as a problem if my lover was chanting (or screaming) YES! YES! YES! “over and over for hours without interruption” during sex. (“Don’t Stop!” and “Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing!” also do not disturb me in the slightest.)”

  5. Hugo says:

    So awesome and welcome, Clarisse. Lengthier than it feels because it’s so crisp and so on. And to #7 and #8 on your list, a hearty amen.

  6. SingOut says:

    Person A: Hey, want to come over tonight?
    Person B: You know, I’d love to, but I’m so exhausted from work, I really need to get some sleep.

    or

    Person A: Hey, want to come over tonight?
    Person B: No.

    Oh, who was it that just wrote a really great post about this very thing? For the life of me, I can’t remember. Why didn’t I bookmark that?

    It was about how deflection and non-verbal cues are generally considered acceptable forms of communication, but when it comes to sexual consent, anything other than YES or NO is unclear. And even when the NO is clear, it’s still questioned. Ugh.

  7. Nahida says:

    Thanks for this Clarisse! I have nothing much to actually say on it or contribute because I am as inexperienced as anyone can possibly get (loaded with useless “textbook info” though) but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and somehow found it comforting.

  8. SingOut says:

    P.S. Great post, Clarisse!!

  9. chipchop says:

    SingOut, you might be thinking of Deborah Cameron? There’s an excellent excerpt from her book that talks about just what you mentioned here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/oct/02/gender.familyandrelationships

  10. Rae says:

    SingOut, that sounds like a post from the Yes Means Yes blog, a few weeks ago:

    Long story short: in conversation, “no” is disfavored, and people try to say no in ways that soften the rejection, often avoiding the word at all. People issue rejections in softened language, and people hear rejections in softened language, and the notion that anything but a clear “no” can’t be understood is just nonsense.

    Thanks for the post Clarisse, great discussion points.

  11. SingOut says:

    Thanks, chipchop and Rae! I’m bookmarking both posts now, in addition to Clarisse’s post.

  12. Bushfire says:

    I’m going to come across as a troll here, but I’m a regular commenter and I wonder if there is room for this opinion here. I read the FAQ that you linked regarding the question: “Isn’t the Existence of the Term Sex-Positive Feminism Effectively an Admission that Many Feminists Are Anti-Sex?” and the answer over there is that, yes, some feminists are anti-sex. I think this is a totally bizarre answer. The “evidence” they seem to use is that anti-porn feminists from the 70s were anti-sex. Also, Twisty from I Blame the Patriarchy has been listed as being anti-sex in the comment thread. I’ve gotta say, I’ve just read two books by Dworkin in the last week and I’ve been reading Twisty regularly for several years, and neither of those people are anti-sex.

    I think everything you wrote here makes perfect sense, and I think most people would agree with you (I do anyway) but I can’t embrace the term “sex-positive” because it does, in fact, reinforce the existence of the strawman of the anti-sex feminist. After reading the FAQ, which was apparently supposed to change my mind about this term, I disliked it even more. They’re listing people who are opposed to the graphic description of rape (i.e. pornography) as being anti-sex. WTF.

  13. ozymandias says:

    Bushfire: While some pornography might be the graphic depiction of rape (Deep Throat, anyone?), it seems oversimplified to call that the entire genre: the vast majority of porn stars, to my knowledge, consent to being filmed, and there is a good deal of “proud people having happy sex” porn (Comstock Films, for instance, films real couples talking about their relationship and then having sex).

  14. Kristen J. says:

    @Bushfire – probably a productive of the Blow Job Wars of aught* 6 and the BDSM Wars of aught 9…then there is the Porn Wars aka The Hundred Years War. You’ll note I am NOT re-engaging these battles…just providing context/background.

    *If your going to be old in blog years, then you should be able to use aught which is hilarious.

  15. Kristen J. says:

    Damn you autocorrect!!! “Product” not “productive”

  16. Thanks everyone.

    @andrea, I agree and I thought it was clear from the OP, but I added a sentence under (A) to make it clearer.

    @Bushfire, I’m not seeing anything in the Finally! post about how any particular feminists are anti-sex. There’s some talk about it in the comments, but I don’t see anyplace where the original poster states that specific feminists are anti-sex.

  17. Aaron W. says:

    Clarisse,

    Thank you for writing this post. I think it is a very articulate and spot on articulation of a sex-positive feminist philosophy, and it resonated strongly with my experiences. But, as good as that was, I especially appreciate the suggestions for how to turn the philosophy into positive action outside of the scope of a sexual relationship. I think that piece is all to often missing (I know I have given it far too little attention in the past) so I really appreciate that you addressed it and that you provide what strike me as good practical suggestions.

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  19. Mr. quiet says:

    Ill just say if nothing else, this post explains the idea behind “yes means yes” better then their site does. For the longest time I thought the message from that campaign was that “ONLY yes means yes and all the other little tokens of feed back just mean varying stages of no”. I’m sure people familiar with the individuals behind the project were not as confused as I was but I must say after reading the “and there are lots of different ways to do it” link and the rest of the post I feel very much relived ;).

    In my experience not only do “people not like saying no” but people don’t really like saying a blunt “yes” to intimacy either. I really like the idea of trying to discover all the funny ways we interact with each other about sex as apposed to the idea of calling everything that does not fit into a single mold a form of sexual assault.

  20. #5 really made me think, I’d never considered that before!

    It makes me really angry that issues of consent are not taught in schools because that really is the most important part of sex. It’s even more pertinent now with potential legislation in the UK to enforce abstinence education for girls only. Yeah, that’s going to work out real nicely and churn out a load of sex-positive people…

    Great post.

  21. rkel says:

    I always enjoy reading your works; the fact that they address a diverse range of sexualities (including male sexualities and discussions of masculinity) really makes your pieces feel warm and inclusive.

    I enjoyed your part about otherwise stereotypically masculine males probably enjoying sex in a less broken world. I fully agree. My appearance as a man is especially masculine but after reading so much on gender studies I just find it so hard to feel masculine as a person. The concept of masculinity is just so broken to me personally. I also find fairly typical male dominant sex with my partner sometimes disturbing. She is extremely feminine and prefers me to initiate and use quite dominant positions as this is what turns her on. But sometimes when in the middle of the act I just get this niggling ‘Man this is so fucking… masculine’ in a *creepy* way and it takes some serious willpower to continue.

    Keep writing this stuff, its awesome and I always feel delight whenever I see a post with your nametag on it at this site.

  22. Kristen J. says:

    Interesting discussion over here about asexuality and enthusiastic consent.

    http://writingfromfactorx.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/lets-have-a-conversation-about-compromise-and-consent/

  23. DP says:

    Bushfire:
    I’m going to come across as a troll here, but I’m a regular commenter and I wonder if there is room for this opinion here.I read the FAQ that you linked regarding the question: “Isn’t the Existence of the Term Sex-Positive Feminism Effectively an Admission that Many Feminists Are Anti-Sex?”and the answer over there is that, yes, some feminists are anti-sex.I think this is a totally bizarre answer.The “evidence” they seem to use is that anti-porn feminists from the 70s were anti-sex.Also, Twisty from I Blame the Patriarchy has been listed as being anti-sex in the comment thread.I’ve gotta say, I’ve just read two books by Dworkin in the last week and I’ve been reading Twisty regularly for several years, and neither of those people are anti-sex.

    I think everything you wrote here makes perfect sense, and I think most people would agree with you (I do anyway) but I can’t embrace the term “sex-positive” because it does, in fact, reinforce the existence of the strawman of the anti-sex feminist.After reading the FAQ, which was apparently supposed to change my mind about this term, I disliked it even more.They’re listing people who are opposed to the graphic description of rape (i.e. pornography) as being anti-sex.WTF.

    Twisty Faster? Really? TF who snidely dismisses all hetero sex as “pronging?” Who says the best you can hope for from a man is not to be beaten, raped and robbed? Who believes a woman is incapable of enjoying oral sex (w/a man – presumably she’s totally fine with some oral stimulation from a lady friend)?

    TF is anti-sex for about 80-90% of the world, if not more.

    I know that there are a lot of fraught things with conventional sex but the IBTP take on it is to effectively tell almost all hetero women, you’re not enjoying sex, and if you are, you’re lying to yourself.

    Very feminist, that.

  24. sophonisba says:

    But sometimes when in the middle of the act I just get this niggling ‘Man this is so fucking… masculine’ in a *creepy* way and it takes some serious willpower to continue.

    You are allowed to say no. There is, or should be, no shame in feeling pressured and boxed into doing sexual things you aren’t comfortable or even willing to do, and people should talk about it more, but it is really kind of upsetting to hear someone describe giving in to it as an exercise of willpower.

    I’m not saying you’re not being accurate about how difficult it is, or the fact that it’s voluntary on your part. But forcing yourself to do things that bother you because they are expected to you does not seem likely to make masculinity seem any less broken to you any time soon. It is ultra-taboo, for really good reasons, to tell other people what they should do sexually. I will break that taboo long enough to say that you should not force yourself to do things that viscerally upset you just to get someone else off.

    Also, just as an aside, describing a person who likes to be physically passive and submissive while being emotionally dominant in bed as “extremely feminine” is really offensive. Both of those qualities should be value-neutral but they are not the same fucking thing.

  25. sophonisba says:

    despite the fact that many women seem just as tired and less-interested in sex post-orgasm as many men are

    And, you know, sore. I would like to choke that “She Comes First” dude with copies of his own book. How many guys would enjoy it if they came, and then you kept up the high-speed, high-pressure squeezing for five or ten more nonstop ouchy minutes?

  26. Kristen J. says:

    sophonisba:
    despite the fact that many women seem just as tired and less-interested in sex post-orgasm as many men are

    And, you know, sore.I would like to choke that “She Comes First” dude with copies of his own book. How many guys would enjoy it if they came, and then you kept up the high-speed, high-pressure squeezing for five or ten more nonstop ouchy minutes?

    Really? I had no idea. That’s dreadful.

  27. glitterary says:

    Thanks, @KristenJ, for that link to Writing From Factor X!

    The concept of “enthusiastic consent” never sat completely right with me for the reasons covered in that post. The fact that it excludes asexual people is the most obvious objection, but on top of that sexual people may have sex for a variety of reasons that don’t involve enthusiasm.

    For example, I wasn’t massively in the mood when I lost my virginity–but my boyfriend and I had been trying unsuccessfully for weeks, had finally bought some lube and I just wanted to get the first time over with, so when he suggested trying again I agreed. That’s not to say the situation was ideal and there’s nothing I’d change, but the consent was definitely there.

    Desire isn’t always the only motivator in sexual relations. Sex can be used, for example, to comfort or reassure the other person; or because you’re kind of indifferent but they’re really horny and you love them and want to give them what they want; or because you’re going to be apart for a long time, and you think you’ll regret passing up the opportunity for sex later if you don’t do it now; or because you’re a sex worker and this is your job; etc. People have more complex motivations than turned on/turned off.

    All that said, all my examples do assume a more or less indifferent partner who is still willing to engage in sex in a non-coercive setting. There are definitely situations in which the principle is very valuable, but I’m not sure that the concept of enthusiastic consent is as universally applicable as it is generally suggested to be.

  28. DouglasG says:

    I would have been so bad at Enthusiastic Consent it would have been quite funny. Or not.

  29. Bushfire says:

    Twisty Faster? Really? TF who snidely dismisses all hetero sex as “pronging?” Who says the best you can hope for from a man is not to be beaten, raped and robbed? Who believes a woman is incapable of enjoying oral sex (w/a man – presumably she’s totally fine with some oral stimulation from a lady friend)?

    TF is anti-sex for about 80-90% of the world, if not more.

    I know that there are a lot of fraught things with conventional sex but the IBTP take on it is to effectively tell almost all hetero women, you’re not enjoying sex, and if you are, you’re lying to yourself.

    Very feminist, that.

    I do have things to say about this, but if we start getting into it here we will derail the thread. If you’d like to talk about it elsewhere, I will, otherwise I am going to attempt not to be a troll and allow people here to discuss the actual post.

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  31. Bushfire says:

    @Clarisse: I will try to clarify.

    Finally! FAQ: “Sex-positive’s opposite is not sex-negative. The terms sex-positive, sex-pos etc came about as a movement in opposition to the feminist anti-pornography activists of the late 1970s/early 1980s.”

    This FAQ states that the opposite of sex-positive is not sex-negative, but then goes on to contrast current “sex-positive” feminists with “anti-pornography activists”. The placement of these two elements in opposition to each other implicitly states that they are opposites. So here we have “sex-positive” and “anti-porn” viewed as opposite positions. The FAQ goes on to state: “sex-positive feminism is largely reactive, responding to various other movements which are perceived to threaten freedom of sexual expression” . If “sex-positive” is the opposite of “anti-porn”, and sex-positive is a reaction to “other movements which are percieved to threaten freedom of sexual expression”, then the implicit statement is that “anti-porn” is one of those movements which are percieved to threaten freedom of sexual expression, which can be simplified to “anti-sex”.

    Therefore, although the FAQ does not explicitly state “the opposite of sex-positive is sex-negative”, it does lead the reader to the conclusion that there are movements which are anti-sex, or, as the FAQ words it: “threaten freedom of sexual expression”, and that the sex-positive movement is against this threat.

    Interestingly, the FAQ links to a Wikipedia article on sex-positive feminism, where, under the heading “pornography”, a paragraph states: “Rubin writes that anti-pornography feminists exaggerate the dangers of pornography by showing the most shocking pornographic images (such as those associated with sadomasochism) out of context, in a way that implies that the women depicted are actually being raped, rather than emphasizing that these scenes depict fantasies and use actors who have consented to being shown in such a way (Rubin, 1984). Sex-positive feminists argue that access to pornography is as important to women as to men, and that there is nothing inherently degrading to women about pornography (McElroy, 1996; Strossen, 2000). Anti-pornography feminists however disagree, often arguing that the very depiction of such acts leads to the actual acts being encouraged and committed.[4]” This is a really bizarre collection of statements. The fact that not all pornography is extremely violent does not in any way excuse the fact that much pornography is extremely violent, or the fact that even “mild” pornography is somewhat violent. Many women in pornography are actually being raped, and the article is suggestion that this is a lie. Saying that “pornography is important to women” is extremely fucked up. I would agree that depictions of humans engaging in consensual sex could be important to women, but depictions of women being raped are certainly not. Saying that pornography is not inherently degrading is extremely fucked up. If being used as a sexual object without being respected as a person is not inherently degrading, then what is?

    The more I read explanations of what “sex-positive” means, the more it sounds like a group of women who want to embrace the porn culture we live in, which is a culture that harms women, and the less I can really believe that these women are actually interested in positive experiences of sexuality. A positive experience of sexuality would involve consensual sex, but not depictions of violence against women defended as “free speech”.

  32. Kristen J. says:

    @Bushfire, et al

    You can re-engage the battle here if you like (so as not to derail). I just threw up an open thread:

    http://kristensnotablog.blogspot.com/2011/05/battle

    I’m not going to mod much FWIW

  33. DouglasG says:

    Oh – it just dawned on me I should clarify that I meant to bemoan my lack of brilliant success at *giving* enthusiastic consent. I initiated so rarely that it only occurred to me a few minutes ago that at least I always *received* EC.

  34. Tori says:

    … but on top of that sexual people may have sex for a variety of reasons that don’t involve enthusiasm.

    Me too this. I do give free and active consent (or withhold said consent, depending on the situation), but that doesn’t always equate to being enthusiastic. I have chronic pelvic pain that’s often made worse by sex (where “sex” = anything that involves contact with my genitals). I also get horny and want sex. Understandably, those desires are sometimes at odds within my own body. Sometimes “no” wins out and I decline sex without fear of repercussions. And sometimes “yes” wins out — but not by a whole lot. I would say that I’m 100% in control of my choice then and that my consent is active and willing — it’s just not always enthusiastic.

  35. Aydan says:

    Wanted to co-sign with glitterary @ 26. Some definitions of enthusiastic consent make it impossible for some asexuals to ever consent, which is erasing. You can consent without being “passionate” or saying “Oh my God don’t stop.” You can consent for other reasons besides sexual attraction or sexual arousal.

    In general I think the idea of “yes means yes” is a big step forward from “no means no”– it just needs a few of the bugs worked out so it doesn’t erase people’s agency.

  36. Aydan says:

    I just wanted to add that one concept I’ve heard of– not my idea– is the phrase affirmative consent instead of enthusiastic consent.

  37. rae says:

    Absolutely fantastic post Clarisse. Almost everything you write has this incredible flexibility and nuance to it while still making important points, which I think may actually have a lot to do with the fact that you write blog posts partially as a way to figure out and articulate what you think. So thanks a lot!

    I will divert my de-rail regarding “what is the opposite of sex positivity?” to Kristen’s thread.

    P.S. Woah, there’s another Rae ’round these parts!

  38. rae says:

    Aww, except that link doesn’t work for me. :-( So I guess here it goes (not trying to restart the Sex Wars, I promise!)

    The question of what the opposite of sex positivity is interests me. I think we can mostly agree that things like rape, coercion (especially that stemming from traditional gendered sexual roles), etc. are sex-negative. But there are also people that are explicitly sex-critical. I find Twisty, Nine Deuce, etc. often have fascinating points about mainstream sexuality if you take them with a bit of salt; I don’t consider my interest in their arguments contradictory with my whole-hearted endorsement of what Clarisse has to say. But it is worth noting that those two, among others, position themselves against the sex-positive movement (“sex pozzies” they sometimes call them) – because they are critiquing it. The point to me is that the sex-critical movement, like the sex-positive movement, has both some interesting things to say and some problems to be addressed. I find them particularly enlightening when read in light of each other (although to be honest I personally need a higher dose of sex-positivity relative to the alternatives to preserve my ability to enjoy what I enjoy).

  39. Kristen J. says:

    @Rae

    Blast it all…trying to comment from a phone has serious limitations.

    Lemme try one more time for anyone else.

    http://kristensnotablog.blogspot.com/2011/05/battle-of-la-rochelle.html

  40. glitterary says:

    @Aydan

    Aydan: In general I think the idea of “yes means yes” is a big step forward from “no means no”– it just needs a few of the bugs worked out so it doesn’t erase people’s agency.

    Very well put, I think. Yes, “affirmative” consent sounds much better to me than “enthusiastic” consent. If there’s no coercion in place it’s reasonable to let people determine their own level of enthusiasm without having to worry that their partner could be seen as assaulting them because their consent was granted freely but without confetti and a parade.

    @Tori Thank you for pointing out an ableist gap in my post–I hadn’t considered physical limitations. I used to have a condition which made sex uncomfortable, but did it for the same reasons you mention, plus wanting to be able to have sex, dammit, regardless of my condition. I’ve also suffered from depression in the past and been unable to summon up actual enthusiasm, but still wanted to engage in sex because I thought it was an important aspect of a relationship.

    I’m fortunate enough not to have either of those issues be very problematic anymore, but as an able-bodied (and neurotypical, six months of the year) person I’ve still experienced sex when I was pretty much done but my partner wasn’t, and let them know I was happy for it to end whenever they were ready (figuring, Hey, it won’t be another five minutes till this gets actually uncomfortable…)

  41. Enthusiastic consent isn’t an airtight concept, but I think it’s better than anything else out there right now. Jaclyn Friedman wrote a post a bit back called The (Nonexistent) Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Consequences of Enthusiastic Consent, and some of the comments contain critiques or attempts to hammer it out more clearly, including a discussion between her and myself.

  42. Hershele Ostropoler says:

    Aydan:
    I just wanted to add that one concept I’ve heard of– not my idea– is the phrase affirmative consent instead of enthusiastic consent.

    Affirmative consent is probably sufficient but enthusiastic consent is relatively unambiguous. I don’t classify compliant sex as rape, or even as non-rape sexual victimization*, but I’d advise against relying on that unless you’re sure you can tell the difference between compliance and non-consent.

    *Er. I’m trying to get at the idea that what’s legal and what’s ok aren’t coterminous, and that someone is entitled to feel exploited or victimized even if nothing that happened violated applicable laws.

  43. Hershele Ostropoler says:

    Hershele Ostropoler: Affirmative consent is probably sufficient but enthusiastic consent is relatively unambiguous. I don’t classify compliant sex as rape, or even as non-rape sexual victimization*, but I’d advise against relying on that unless you’re sure you can tell the difference between compliance and non-consent.

    None of which, of course, is meant to keep people who are temporarily or permanently unlikely to show any more enthusiasm than compliance from having sex if they want.

  44. Andrea says:

    Aydan:
    I just wanted to add that one concept I’ve heard of– not my idea– is the phrase affirmative consent instead of enthusiastic consent.

    I think that’s workable. The term I usually use is explicit consent. How literal one wants to get with the ‘explicit’ part is totally up to the person involved.

  45. figleaf says:

    @DP #22: Just to be clear, even Twisty Faster isn’t anti-sex, she’s just anti-hetero-sex. Now I happen to think that’s a really negative attitude that (if taken seriously) would invalidate huge chunks of sexual practice, but it’s not at all the same thing as being anti-sex, period.

    For instance: Lesbian sex? She’s all for it. Men having sex with each other? She recommends it! Masturbation? She thinks it’s great. She’s even willing to go along with vaginal penetration for women who like it… as long as it’s not penetration with a man’s penis.

    This is not, incidentally, an attempt to re-derail the thread. Instead it’s to observe that Clarisse’s Item #5 articulates the real deal breaker for people like Twisty: by history, tradition, and even common usage (see DP’s unconscious equation of “anti-PIV intercourse” with “anti-sex”) sex is almost always defined relative to men’s enjoyment of it. (Can you imagine Cosmopolitan or Details without their slavish adherence to item #5? They’d just be two covers, some staples, and a blow-in subscription insert!)

    figleaf

  46. lyn says:

    Sorry to contribute to the derail, but Dworkin described heterosexual sex as inherently violent in her book Intercourse. She argued that it, at base, involved the violation of a woman’s bodily integrity by a man. I’m not saying she didn’t also have good arguments about many things, but she seemed to construct heterosexual sex as inherently violent as well as violent because of social constructs. I always thought that sex-positive feminism was about rewriting that set of assumptions, and about creating a dynamic whereby women could consent to and enjoy sex without being coerced etc.

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  52. Rididill says:

    For this post, I see very little in here that distinguishes what Clarisse writes from other forms of feminism. I don’t see what the term ‘sex-positive’ adds to this, except to imply that other forms of feminism are ‘sex-negative’. As I posted on Feminism 101 (with u on this one Bushfire), the post does nothing to explain why, if the term arose ‘in response’ to anti porn feminism, they chose to call it ‘sex-postive’? When, in actual fact, these are arguments about commercialization, and what constitutes sexual exploitation. Calling it ‘sex-positive’ erases this distinction and makes it look like it’s a question only of pro or anti sex. Now, the feminist anti-sexual prude, a stereotype we’re all familiar with, yes? How can this term be helpful, or useful, when it plays into the some of the worst patriarchal and conservative techniques for delegitimising feminists in the first place?

    I may be inexperienced in reading sex positive literature, so I say what I’m about to say with caution and please forward me on to any other literature. I have yet to see any justification of this perspective which actually grapples with the very real issues of structure/individual which lie at the heart of this distinction between sex-positive and other kinds of feminism, and that really bugs me. Not least because that has been one of the most useful aspects of feminist analysis, and also because often attempts to criticise it you get labelled as oppressive as the patriarchy, or a killjoy, or a prude, rather than engaging in actual arguments. Sex positive feminism just sounds like liberal or free choice ideology put into sexuality, which entirely denies that our desires and our society are inextricably linked.

    For example:

    Clarisse:

    In practice, as long as everyone involved is having consensual fun, criticism is secondary.

    ‘I believe that the most important role of social criticism — including sex-positive feminism — is not to tell people what to do. If you have sex that appears to be in line with ridiculous and oppressive stereotypes, I really do not care as long as everyone involved is consenting and having fun….

    Which is why I try to deconstruct sexual norms and stereotypes. Which is why I encourage people to look for what they like. Which is why I always emphasize talking about it. ‘

    Yeah, but that doesn’t really cut it, does it. It’s not enough. Isn’t the most important role of social criticism to lay bare the images, lies and stereotypes that are pushed to us, so that we can examine their impact on our own lives, and start to think differently, seeing them for what they are? Rather than, first and foremost, not telling people what to do. That’s not the point of social criticism exactly in my view – sure, it’s about giving people the knowledge and freedom to not be told what to do by the forces that be, but jumping straight to this goal actually erases the necessary critique when you want to talk about, for example, what does it mean to eroticize dominance, power or humiliation in the context of a patriarchal society. While you cannot immediately label certain behaviours as intrinsically oppressive even though they may look that way, there’s a hell of a lot more to it than, ‘if they like it its fine.’ You say you like to deconstruct stereotypes, but you’re avoiding the most important deconstruction here.

    More of this kind of examination what I would like to see from sex-positive feminism – http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/domism-role-essentialism-and-sexism-intersectionality-in-the-bdsm-scene/

    As a 101, this has clarified very little for me. Not trying to troll, just saying, the core problem with sex positive feminism (as I see it) has not been addressed here. I have yet to see anything from sex positive feminism which isn’t just an attempt to distance themselves from ‘sex-negative’ feminists (even if they pretend they’re not doing that, they haven’t explained well enough exactly what IS the rationale, and everything else that is said, points to that) and which doesn’t just erase the necessary examination of domination, autonomy and exploitation which lies at the heart of these issues.

    PS – why do people keep calling this discussion a derail? Isn’t this a discussion of exactly what the post is about, what is sex positive feminism?

  53. @Rididill —

    I haven’t called anything a derail. I actually thought that was interesting myself (people’s apologies for derailing, that is).

    Yeah, but that doesn’t really cut it, does it. It’s not enough. Isn’t the most important role of social criticism to lay bare the images, lies and stereotypes that are pushed to us, so that we can examine their impact on our own lives, and start to think differently, seeing them for what they are? Rather than, first and foremost, not telling people what to do.

    The point of what I wrote was not to define social criticism as “not telling people what to do”. The point was that social criticism isn’t about telling people what to do. Obviously, the actual definition of social criticism would be something else.

    When, in actual fact, these are arguments about commercialization, and what constitutes sexual exploitation. Calling it ‘sex-positive’ erases this distinction and makes it look like it’s a question only of pro or anti sex.

    It’s not always about commercialization. Sex-positive feminism didn’t just arise to talk about sex workers’ rights and autonomy, it also arose to push back against feminists who condemned stuff like gender transition, or BDSM.

    Some examples: the Michigan Womyn’s Festival has at various points in its history barred or condemned both trans people and BDSM people. The famous German feminist Alice Schwarzer has outright stated that “female masochism is collaboration”.

    The documentary “Boy I Am” includes some really excellent and thoughtful examination of these issues when it comes to the history of trans men and feminism.

    I have yet to see anything from sex positive feminism which isn’t just an attempt to distance themselves from ‘sex-negative’ feminists

    Did you read any of the blog posts from me that were linked from this article? Or the book Yes Means Yes? Have you heard of feminist sex bloggers such as Maymay, Maggie Mayhem, or Charlie Glickman? (random sample off the top of my head) I’ve written pieces somewhat similar to the Millar piece you linked to, and so have they. I’ve also written quite a lot of more constructive analysis, like my post about safewords (which Millar reposted and annotated).

    which doesn’t just erase the necessary examination of domination, autonomy and exploitation which lies at the heart of these issues.

    I wonder what you think of an article I just published at the Good Men Project:
    http://goodmenproject.com/sex-relationships/myth-sex-crazy-nympho-dream-girl/

    Exploring issues of domination, autonomy and exploitation is important and worth doing. On that note, I’ve been thinking that I probably should have included more about sex workers’ rights when I wrote the 101 above. But, that having been said, I don’t actually think that those issues have to be central to every given person’s sexual identity. And I have no intention of centering those issues in a sex-positive 101, because doing that, in itself, implies that those of us who practice or identify with a non-normative sexuality have a responsibility to examine it, even if we’re not hurting anyone.

    A consenting adult sex worker just plain gets to have sex for money, full stop, even if he/she/ze chooses not to deconstruct his/her/hir experience nine ways from Sunday. I guess it’s your prerogative to call that statement an “erasure” of “necessary examination”; those of us who work with and think about this stigma all the time might call it “giving people a break”.

    If you don’t get why the “examine!” call can come across as policing, I recommend this old post from the SM-Feminist blog archives:
    http://sm-feminist.blogspot.com/2009/03/examination-burnout.html

  54. maymay says:

    Rididill:

    More of this kind of examinationwhat I would like to see from sex-positive feminism – http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/domism-role-essentialism-and-sexism-intersectionality-in-the-bdsm-scene/

    I’m obviously jumping into this discussion rather late, so I apologize if this misses the mark, but being mentioned by Clarisse in her recent comment and also being mentioned several times as a source for Thomas’s “Domism” post that Rididill linked, I can’t help but wonder if Rididill would find my post, “‘Good boy’, and other kinds of complicated sex” helpful or at least interesting as a starting point to other blog posts/bloggers who are doing the kind of examination of sex-positive feminism requested. I suggest that post because the links in it are basically a mini-reader, and as such may lead you to the kind of analysis you seem to be looking for, Ridill. Cheerio.

  55. Rididill says:

    Thank you for your fascinating and considered responses. I have just begun to start finding writings that address these issues and indeed it is a world of discovery. I haven’t had time to read everything you’ve linked to yet, but a couple of comments.

    ‘It’s not always about commercialization. Sex-positive feminism didn’t just arise to talk about sex workers’ rights and autonomy, it also arose to push back against feminists who condemned stuff like gender transition, or BDSM.’

    Perhaps I was unclear, but when I was saying the arguments are about what constitutes sexual exploitation, I included BDSM under that. Namely because, the arguments against BDSM (simplified) is that BDSM ers support the patriarchy by eroticising and celebrating gendered domination (regardless of which genders are doing the dominating) – if we accept that a patriarchal culture (or any culture for that matter) both creates these tropes among individuals and is created by these individuals’ personal practice (which I think is a central tenet of feminist analysis if not all deconstruction), then it is quite obvious why feminists would be uncomfortable around BDSM. And that this is really about the individual/society and what constitutes oppression, it is most definitely not about being for or anti sex. As for trans people, I know nothing about that so will wait til I’ve seen the doc.

    For example, for myself, I see the primary value of feminist social criticism as having enabled me to see where certain desires were coming from, and their logic of operation, and through this, freeing me from that into a more conscious choosing. In the past, for example, I was generally more aroused by someone desiring me, than by actually desiring them. But this never lasted very long and went horribly wrong pretty quickly, usually producing immense feelings of guilt, suffocation and resentment towards the partners in question. This behaviour was unquestionably the result of patriarchal conditioning, and being able to examine that allowed me to explore alternative and better ways of being.

    ‘Exploring issues of domination, autonomy and exploitation is important and worth doing….And I have no intention of centering those issues in a sex-positive 101, because doing that, in itself, implies that those of us who practice or identify with a non-normative sexuality have a responsibility to examine it, even if we’re not hurting anyone…I guess it’s your prerogative to call that statement an “erasure” of “necessary examination”; those of us who work with and think about this stigma all the time might call it “giving people a break”. ‘

    This, and the linked article on SM safe spaces, I guess makes a lot of sense to me in explaining this reaction in sex positive circles (on another post on the same blog, the answer to one person’s question similar to mine, could basically be summarised as ‘I choose not to think about it’, which again I find kind of inadequate). I understand that a call to examine can be construed as an attack or an indication of freakishness – and perhaps from some people, it is. But I’m not saying that only alternative sexualities should examine, and I find it hard to believe that most others are either, as feminism involves so much of self examination for standard heteronormative monogamy.

    I’m coming from the point of view that examination has been so amazingly liberating for me, and something I engage in extensively, I just didn’t see why people were so defensive about it. Sure, no one HAS to explain why they feel that way, but if you’re writing about sex positive feminism it seems to me like you should apply similar analysis that has been so central to feminism in these cases. Otherwise why not just call it choice feminism, which deliberately has a central tenet NOT to examine the societal influences upon our choices.

    When I read that post from SM safe spaces, it actually seemed like some healthy examination would have done the writer a world of good. What they were talking about was less examination than repression and fear. A call to examine does not have to mean, you’re a freak, examine yourself because you’re guaranteed to find it wanting. IMHO I think we should all be examining our desires (in an ideal world), be it a desire to be humiliated or the desire to get a new X Box, because it is better to understand why you do things than to just blindly follow impulses. But I appreciate that others may not find this liberating in the same way as I do.

    To me, the first step to examination is, what I am feeling, does this make me feel good or feel bad, what about this relates to certain cultural tropes, is this causing problematic behaviour in my life, what do I want to do with it, can it be something else, etc. It’s most definitely not the kind of self-blaming hand-wringing that it seems to be perceived as by those decrying a call to examine. But yeah, I get how it can be seen that way, probably after a lifetime of being judged freakish by people who don’t examine themselves.

    At the same time, I would argue that say, a high class prostitute advocating for the sex industry (note – NOT every single person in it, but if you are pushing an agenda), DOES have a responsibility to examine these issues, because they may well be promoting something they personally benefit from but harms women on a wider scale, and if they choose not to think about that, they’re no better than financial speculators who promote laissez faire capitalism for the good of the general public, who then pay for their bail outs and lose their homes… Sounds more like ideologically masked self-interest to me than any noble cause.

    ‘Did you read any of the blog posts from me that were linked from this article? Or the book Yes Means Yes? Have you heard of feminist sex bloggers such as Maymay, Maggie Mayhem, or Charlie Glickman?’

    Yes to the first, but didn’t really find any satisfying answers and the feminism 101 honestly did more to convince me that sex positivity WAS about labelling other feminism as anti-sex rather than anything else. I suggest one of you good people do a rewrite if you can be bothered… It was the worst thing I’ve seen on that normally pretty solid blog. No to the others, so I will get reading thank you very much!

    A final question then, which I think is really the key one for me at least. Why did the sex positives call themselves sex positive? Why do any of you call yourselves that? I mean feel free not to answer as this may become clear through reading, and as we all know it’s not necessarily the job of bloggers to do the basic education! But if you have an answer, I’d love to hear. Sorry for the epic essay there…

  56. Rididill says:

    Oh dude. I was totally the sexy dream girl nymph shell. Hah.

  57. I added a point 9 about sexual minority rights. It’s not very comprehensive, but this post is designed to be a 101, not comprehensive.

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