I’ve identified as sex positive since I first learned it was a thing while working in my college’s LGBT office. I love sex, I love pleasure, I support folks having sex and pleasure; sex positivity just makes sense. Why would anyone have a problem with a movement that promotes consent, safety and pleasure? I didn’t consider that sex positivity isn’t always empowering until a friend shared an article from Everyday Feminism. That article made me examine my own potentially problematic views on sex positivity. I interviewed the friend who posted it to get a perspective from a queer feminist who does not identify as sex positive.

Karen* is a queer artist of color in San Francisco, who chose to remain anonymous “only because I have had sex positive feminists get very angry at me before and say I’m going to Hell, even though I’m basically saying sex positivity is good, it just won’t be the cure.” That statement from Karen shows how sex-positivity can be oppressive to women. I’m bummed that she feels she can’t publicly talk about her views on sex positivity without being shamed. That is a failure of sex positivity, not a failure of Karen. To me, sex positivity means embracing all views on sex, including people who are not that into sex. That is clearly not the message folks like Karen are receiving, though, and I can see why she feels that way. Here is a conversation between us, two Bay Area queer artists with very different views on sex: 

*name has been changed. 

Related: How Talking about Sex With My Partner Improved Someone Else’s Sex Life

What does sex positivity/negativity mean to you?

Karen: Sex positivity for me means not shaming other people, in terms of their sexual preferences and choices. We aren’t going to sexually liberate ourselves and then suddenly be equal to men. There are so many other issues and disparities: income, leadership, etc. Sex isn’t going to solve everything. We can’t fuck our way to equality.

Ash: Ooh, I really like “we can’t fuck our way to equality.” I hadn’t thought of sex positivity on a broader level like that. I see it as personally empowering for women to be able to have sex how and when they want (including not having sex). But on a broader level, I can see how sex positivity puts pressure on women. To me, sex positivity means not judging anyone’s sexual preferences, from desired gender, to frequency, to positions, to kink/vanilla, to penetration, to not having sex at all, etc.

Do you identify as sex negative?

Karen: Sex negativity I don’t really consider a term, but I do consider myself more of a sex negative feminist, meaning I don’t think sex is the way women will achieve gender equality.

Ash: I identify as sex positive, with the caveat that I am exploring ways that sex positivity can be oppressive, starting with writing this article.

Do you feel pressure from the sex-positive movement in the queer community?

Karen: Personally I don’t feel like I “need” sex in my everyday life. If I’m not dating anyone, I don’t feel like I have to have sex with people I meet. That doesn’t mean I don’t think other people should have sex. Sometimes I feel “pressured” by other feminists — like somehow I’m a bad feminist because I don’t want to have sex all the time.
Ash: I didn’t used to feel the pressure, because I have historically had the insatiable sex drive of a teenage boy, so the pressure came from my own libido. But as I get older, I’m less motivated by sex, and my sex drive gets more and more inconsistent. I wish that sex positivity had more room for the ebb and flow of sexual desire. Sex positivity seems to be regarded as “all sex, all the time” but to me, it means “sex on your terms.”
What is feminism’s role in either sex-negativity, sex-positivity or both?
Karen: Sex positive feminism is an easy-to-grasp concept of feminism, and I appreciate its goal, but it also doesn’t challenge men to do anything about dismantling patriarchy. It also reinforces the idea that women only exist as sexual beings.
Ash: I disagree here. I don’t think it reduces women to just sexual beings. Women are historically taught to be sexually submissive to men, and I like that sex positivity encourages women to communicate what they want, and not just try to please men. As a dyke with a high sex drive, I’ve always been bothered by the stereotype that women don’t like sex that much, or that we only have sex to please men. As a lesbian, my sexuality doesn’t exist for men at all, so I don’t have to deal with men’s desires. I think it does challenge men, in that it promotes consent and hopefully shows that women are more nuanced than the Madonna/whore complex allows us to be.
I learned a lot from my conversation with Karen and I would love to hear feedback from other women regarding their views about sex positivity. Are you sex positive? Sex negative? Neither? Both? Send your feedback to [email protected]
For further reading: This article in New York Mag gives a great perspective on how sex positivity affects women who have sex with men.

 

Comments