Avowed sex nerds are probably already aware that there are multiple schools of thought regarding the intrinsic moral value of sexual activity and sexuality.
Dear the rest of y’all:
Did you know that there are like, a billion different people who lay claim to two terms that are supposed to help us in the way that language does, by attaching an abstract value to a symbol called a name, except they often don’t help a whole lot because people don’t agree on what the terms mean so we have lots of fights about semantics, whether or not we disagree about what is morally good or bad? Those terms would be “sex-positive feminism” and “sex-negative feminism.”
On Wednesday, xoJane, which I often love, published a piece called “Unpopular Opinion: I’m a sex-negative feminist.” In it, the author rails against a perception of an entrenched feminist bloc dictating that everyone have all the sex, all the time.
Her tone is defiant. She throws out all sorts of things she is in opposition to, supposedly countering sex-positive feminists, without ever clearly saying what the hell she actually means by “sex-negative feminist.”
So I’m going to attempt to describe 4 groups that trade the two terms between them. Spoiler alert: I belong to one of the “sex-positive” groups.
So the groups are, roughly, as follows:
- “Sex-positive”: Everyone should have all the sex, all the time! If you think you don’t like sex, you just haven’t had good sex yet! You should really keep trying, and when you find the right sex to have, you’ll want to have lots of it, we’re sure! “Sex is nice and pleasure is good for you.” [The Ethical Slut is pretty far in this direction, and I’ve certainly seen/heard it espoused less formally.] Edited to add: I would include “everyone should do whatever they want and we don’t need to talk about it because yay sex, yay feminism!” to this group. Those who consider sex good, full stop.
- “Sex-positive”: Everyone should have all the sex they want, even if that is none. Making examined choices about our sexual behavior (anyone, but especially women) is a radical act in a culture that pressures everyone to subscribe to a single dominant narrative that includes the virgin/whore dichotomy, the myth of straight male sexuality as uncontrollable and predatory, the commodity model of sex where women ‘produce’ it and men ‘purchase’ it, the myth of men always want it and always want it more than their female partners, and on and on. [me]
- “Sex-negative”: I don’t really want to have sex, or be a “slut,” fuck you very much. Patriarchy is telling me to corral my sexuality one way, and you the other, and I reject all that shit. Also I really don’t want to be grouped with the sluts. Have we covered yet that I’m not a dirty slut? [apparently the author of the xoJane article]
- “Sex-negative”: Can we really have meaningful consent when the patriarchy has really influenced us all, in ways we may not have even examined? Is sex actually good? Do we dare call sex good when there are so many for whom sex has never been good? And compulsory sexuality co-opts ‘sex positivity’ so readily that I don’t want to identify with that term. [“The Ethical Prude“]
Not confusing AT ALL.
So groups 2 and 3 tend to argue with each other a LOT, which is fucking annoying, especially when groups 2 and 3 are arguing ABOUT beliefs 1 and 4, but talking to each other. People get prickly when they feel their terminology is being co-opted, especially… um… our people. nawmean?
But I also get prickly when someone is shitty about it as the xoJane author, because I sure as hell, for example, don’t believe in “compulsory sexuality,” or that sex is apolitical, or that we should not examine sexual politics. That is some straw bullshit.
That being said.
Like Christians who try and say “we’re not all like that” when confronted with all the virulent religious homophobes, if those of us in group 2 want to own the term sex-positivity, we need to make our voices heard. I’m trying to do that here, and I know a lot of the other kids here at DDP (and assorted ddppl) are, too. I have tried to acknowledge in each of my posts about sex, that not wanting to be sexual, or not wanting to do certain sex acts, are valid choices with no less moral value than yes wanting to be sexual or yes wanting to do certain sex acts.
In case I haven’t done a good job making it clear yet: I believe that not wanting to be sexual, or not wanting to do certain sex acts, are valid choices with no more but certainly no less moral value than yes wanting to be sexual or yes wanting to do certain sex acts. I consider that belief, and myself, to be “sex-positive.” Every sex a wanted sex*!
Most of what is going on is not conscious antipathy towards “sex critical” people, or people who are less likely to act in traditional accordance with/identify as “sluts.” I think most of it is just that those of us who are sluts are overrepresented in vocal feminist circles because we simply do not pass under the dominant narrative.
It’s the same reason that the stereotype of gay people forever, and the people who tend to come out at the youngest ages, still, are the very effeminate men and the very butch lesbians. They can’t pass– nobody will believe they are straight. So they quit trying to fake it.
A feminist woman whose desires are to be in a loving, long-term relationship with someone before she has sex, if ever, isn’t necessarily going to feel her sexuality examined and policed in the same way as a woman who would like to have a new partner every couple of weeks does. There is less social cost for the first woman to exercise her choices than the second women exercising hers. Woman #2 doesn’t pass, seeks out like minds, and ends up overrepresented among vocal feminists.
So what we end up with is less antipathy and more erasure of non-“sluts” in so called “sex positive” circles. We congratulate our friends effusively on their sexual adventures; we tell outrageous stories when we get together. Are we equally supportive of our less rambunctious friends?
Those of us in group 2 need to make sure that when we talk about a spectrum of sexuality, we don’t start that spectrum at “some.” The spectrum starts at none. Which is fine. And we should probably examine ourselves and our speech for the supercilious implication that having lots of sex is a more enlightened choice.
To ever get a meaningful yes, you have to support a meaningful no. And not no-with-a-social-cost. Just a value-neutral “no.” One of my fervent aspirations is to be able to interact with a partner who takes my questions as real questions (which they are) and receive honest answers. About sex, or if they’ll make me coffee, or anything.
“Sex positive” group 2 can and should do better. Real yes takes real no, so I support people who want to identify as sex-negative. But the “sex negative” kids could act a little less like they’re throwing mud and daring someone to chase them because they want to start a fight. ::cough:: that xoJane article ::cough::
*that could seriously apply to several different things.