In case you haven’t noticed yet, I am a feminist. Among the many other labels that I occasionally affix upon my person is “slut” (only in contexts where the word is recognized for its reclaimed value). I believe in full reproductive rights and agency, comprehensive sex ed, the valuing of sex for pleasure, the destigmatization and full legalization of all forms of sex work, and the end of STI-shaming.

So you’d think that I’d be against the notion of sex-negativity in feminism. Sex-positivity a good thing for people like me, right?

Sex-positivity might mean something different in an academic and/or political sense, but I will address the ways in which self-identified sex-positive people manifest that particular ideology. In other words, I’m exclusively dealing with sex-positivity as it exists, not as we hope it exists. I intend to reflect lived realities, not to straw-man sex-positivity. The attitude that we cannot ever judge anyone for consensual sex acts (or even judge the acts themselves outside of the individuals participating in them) has become the de facto one among the sex-positive types I’ve met, read, and otherwise encountered.

I find the notion that all sex is awesome as long as there was consent to be more than a little troubling.

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On the surface, it does seem awesome. We live in a society that pathologizes mere sexual attraction when it falls outside a very narrow set of norms (let alone acting on those attractions) as well as de-prioritizes consent. Not being judgmental about anything and emphasizing consent appears to be a great counter to all that — and it can be. The problem is that we should be able to express criticism of consensual acts, especially when considering their greater context. At the very least, we should feel okay with expressing our discomfort about them. Sex-positivity can be used as a bludgeon by which to silence criticism of anything sex-related.

When I’ve expressed my discomfort regarding dominant poly men who date lots of submissive women who aren’t allowed to date anyone else (with the men often excusing their sexist behavior towards other women via their kink), I’ve been accused of being sex-negative. When I’ve brought up how sexist it is that porn, i.e. the way that most people learn about sex, primarily features fairly cis male-centric sexual acts, I’ve been told that those women consented, therefore I was being condescending towards them. When I’ve brought up the effect that depicting only a single body type as attractive might have on people’s expressed preferences, I’ve been told that I was shaming people for their sexual preferences and that I should just accept them.

Initially, all that wasn’t enough for me to abandon sex-positivity. Believe me, I wanted to stick to the sex-positive label. At first, I wanted to believe that consent was really all that mattered. Then, I wanted to believe that there was room in sex-positivity for thoughtful criticisms of consensual acts. Wanting for something to be the way you’d prefer it to be rarely transforms it, however. I felt that, especially as a woman of color, I needed to stop identifying as sex-positive.

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Indeed, what ended up getting to me was an issue that almost drove me from feminism: the big r-word. Nowhere have I witnessed more open “benevolent” racism, exoticization/fetishization, and cultural appropriation than among members of the sex-positive community. While this probably has something to do with the crossover occurs with sex-positivity, New Age, kink, and so on, sex-positivity is used as an all-too-effective silencing mechanism for criticisms related to race. How dare I be upset by someone’s assumption that the Kama Sutra represents all of Indian culture? How dare I feel uncomfortable around people who mocked the renaming of the “Asian Room” at the local sex-positive space to “The Red Room?” How dare I take issue with a perfect stranger telling me that their primary source of attraction to me is my “cinnamon skin,” a phrase this perfect stranger incessantly repeated throughout the night as if it were the only means by which to identify me? Those are people’s kinks. Who was I to judge?

It’s as if “sex-positivity” has come to mean “you must instantly and without criticism accept others’ sexual preferences and choices.” When exactly did sex become the one topic that’s above reproach among feminists?

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The answer, I’d wager, lies in the origins and use of the term “sex-positive.” To characterize those who aren’t sex-positive as anti-sex is similar to characterizing those who are not “pro-life” as “anti-life:” it’s a way to shut them down. Sex-positive feminism, or “pro-sex” feminism, arose in response to anti-porn feminism, not any alleged strain of “sex-negative” feminism. The way I see it, “sex-negative” is a deliberately provocative counter to the “rah rah, judge no one for nothing ever as long as they said yes before they got naked and got off” sex-positivity that is way, way more common than most feminists want to think about or admit exists.

For excellent yet brief coverage of the history of different kinds of feminism, check out Bitch’s feature.

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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78 Comments

  1. Avatar of Improbable Joe
    July 11, 2013 at 6:27 pm —

    I’ve seen plenty of “don’t be judgmental” turn into “don’t apply good judgment” within BDSM, so I’m not surprised to see it happen elsewhere or that there’s a backlash against it. I’ll be damned if I won’t judge, if what you’re doing/saying is harmful or problematic.

    • Avatar of Moniqa Aylin
      July 11, 2013 at 6:48 pm —

      Thanks for shedding light on the issue. I see this particularly among polyamory, where you’re not allowed to judge anyone’s relationship because “that’s what makes them happy,” but to point out that a person is NOT happy or is in an effed up relationship, and frankly is doing polyamory absolutely wrong (DADT, one penis policies, etc.) is forbidden.

    • Avatar of Phillip Hallam-Baker
      July 11, 2013 at 9:33 pm —

      It is often not immediately apparent who is in fact the top and who is the bottom in a BDSM relationship. The bottom might be the one getting flogged but it is the top who is paying attention to the bottom, not the other way round.

      Which is not to say that those people have all their stuff sorted out. But remember that a lot of people who turn to that stuff have serious serious issues before they start. And a lot of people turn to BDSM because they are trying to escape from exploitative and manipulative religious twaddle. And other people are, well just take a look at this fine bondage gear hand crafted by nuns http://www.cilice.co.uk/

      According to one article I saw recently, The Karma Sutra is not really what it appears to be. It is not so much a sex manual as the cipher manual for decrypting Indian porn. The various positions all have irrelevant details inserted like bells jingling from the ankles in the stuffed mongoose position. The idea being that when you read the straight fiction and there is a reference to jingling bells the educated reader knows that they are doing the stuffed mongose.

  2. Avatar of Biodork
    July 11, 2013 at 7:27 pm —

    Yup. I’ve seen a lot of abuse of the phrase sex-positive as a way to ward off criticism about crappy behavior, fetishes or preferences. When someone tells me that they “prefer” one type of feature in a person, I wonder how closely they’re examined that preference and why they think have it. It is exasperating when someone says that I’m not being sex-positive because I’m critical of their bad behavior, or when they use a dismissive phrase like “YMMV”, or “close-minded” (where have we heard that before, fellow skeptics?). A person who doesn’t want to examine their preconceptions about what they find attractive can hide quite easily behind the shield of sex positivism.

    A note about attraction and “preferences”: Sexual attraction isn’t so easy as romance novels would have it be – it’s not always a jolt of lightening racing through your body the moment you see someone, or a lust-at-first-sight sensation. There are some really cool, sexy people out there who you might be passing by if you dismiss them because they don’t possess a certain feature that you’ve fixed in your mind as a fetish.

    • Avatar of Improbable Joe
      July 11, 2013 at 8:28 pm —

      But we’re allowed to choose who we’re attracted to, right? We’re even allowed to dismiss and pass people by as potential romantic/sexual partners, and even as friends, based on whatever criteria we see fit, aren’t we? With or without critical thinking, with or without applying standards to ourselves that you approve of? Because if someone isn’t “cool, sexy” to me, you don’t get to be a part of that process and I’m not going to have any respect for you if you try to impose your standards over the top of mine.

      Or are you trying to say something else, and not doing a great job of it? Because if you’re aiming to talk about (for example) the dehumanizing aspects of fetishes, that’s something worth discussing.

      • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
        July 11, 2013 at 8:41 pm —

        I think what’s being said, if I’m not mistaken, is that our “preferences” don’t occur in a vacuum and are influenced by outside forces (i.e. aren’t as innate as we think they are), not that anyone has the right to tell you to be attracted to someone or not.

        • Avatar of Improbable Joe
          July 11, 2013 at 9:00 pm —

          There seems to be a bit of equivocation between preferences, fetishes, and “bad behavior” that’s set my teeth on edge, especially the last bit about how it matters that someone might “pass by” someone else, as though despite our preferences/fetishes (whatever their source) we’re required to give everyone a fair and equal hearing. That feels like it is creeping into seriously troubling territory.

          • Avatar of Unnullifier
            July 12, 2013 at 12:02 am

            I read it as “[...] crappy behavior, [crappy] fetishes, or [crappy] preferences [...]” not that fetishes, preferences and bad behavior are part of a common set. I don’t think that Brianne is saying all fetishes or preferences are bad.

          • Avatar of Biodork
            July 12, 2013 at 12:39 am

            I was trying to explore the idea that preferences and fetishes (which can be healthy and normal), if applied uncritically – are assumed to be innate (to borrow from Heina) or immutable – might cause one to miss out on some great experiences. Having a preference or fetish isn’t a bad thing, and doesn’t on its own merit constitute bad behavior (Dear FSM – for my own sake – I hope not!)

            I also strongly believe that one is not a bad person for not being attracted to someone, nor should they be made to feel bad about not being attracted to someone, nor should any person think that they have any right to pass judgement on what someone else finds attractive.

    • Avatar of Improbable Joe
      July 12, 2013 at 11:20 am —

      Thanks for the clarification.

  3. Avatar of Smashley
    July 11, 2013 at 7:28 pm —

    Thanks for this, Heina. I read the xojane article on the topic you posted on FB yesterday, and it was the first time I even realized sex-positivity in the way we approach it could be a bad thing. Your post elucidates the issues better than hers, IMHO, perhaps because you’re coming at it from more of a a sex-positive position. One point she made really stood out to me, though — even consent is a sticky area, since women are socialized to not complain and conform to the desires of men. You combine that fact with the idea that disapporoving of any kind of sex is off limits, and you’ve got a sexual scar waiting to happen. (This is the link I’m talking about: http://www.xojane.com/issues/im-a-sex-negative-feminist )

  4. Avatar of skeith
    July 11, 2013 at 7:34 pm —

    There is such a thing as “sex negative” and it doesn’t only have to do with porn. There is a certain branch of (radical) feminism that views all heterosexual sex as inherently bad for women and oppressive. I’m happy that you haven’t run into it. However, it does exist.

    Cliff Pervocracy recently made a post about this and I can’t find anything in it that is disagreeable to me:

    http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2013/05/what-i-mean-when-i-say-im-sex-positive.html

    Cliff covered things like “fetishizing people based on racial stereotypes” and why that is bad. “Sex positive” is a fairly nebulous term and it helps when people who use terms like that define how they mean it. It’s not a term in common use with a standardized meaning (yet). One can’t meaningfully say “I am sex positive” or “I am sex negative” without defining those things, not at this point.

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      July 11, 2013 at 7:48 pm —

      There is a certain branch of (radical) feminism that views all heterosexual sex as inherently bad for women and oppressive.

      See, I used to think that such a thing existed, too, but I’ve never met anyone who literally thinks that nor have I found any evidence that it’s anything more than a straw feminist claim. I actually went back and read Dworkin (who, by the way, was married to a man) and I couldn’t find that statement anywhere.

      • Avatar of skeith
        July 11, 2013 at 8:06 pm —

        It exists. You won’t find it in Dworkin, but you will find it in places like this:

        http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/

        This is a blog by a (moderately) influential radical feminist. The gist of her view of sex is that the structure of modern society makes it impossible for women to truly consent to sex, therefore all sex is rape. I don’t agree with it, but she honestly does believe it and so do others.

        • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
          July 11, 2013 at 8:21 pm —

          I will point out that what you said here sounds a lot more nuanced than “all heterosexual sex [is] inherently bad for women and oppressive.”

          • Avatar of skeith
            July 11, 2013 at 8:29 pm

            I’m not sure how it’s more nuanced? but that may not be important. Twisty is sex-negative. Sex negativity is a thing, and while anti-porn is a part of it, that is not the whole of it.

            Additionally, “sex-negative” can be used to describe one of the dominant social views: namely that sex has a single “correct” manifestation and all others are deviant and to be quashed. Being told that you can’t practice sex until you are (heterosexually) married, and then it’s all right, but only when it’s procreative in nature, creates a social environment in which a huge proportion of actual sex is delegitimized. This is also referred to as sex-negative, and it is not a feminist movement by any lights, but it’s still a thing that exists.

          • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
            July 11, 2013 at 8:39 pm

            Perhaps a different term is in order, then, but overall, I’m speaking more against knee-jerk sex-positivity than for sex-negativity.

          • Avatar of skeith
            July 11, 2013 at 8:48 pm

            Well, nothing should be knee-jerk. Every position should be thought out. That doesn’t mean every position IS thought out, but there are self-identified sex-positive people like Cliff who have thought-out positions, call themselves sex-positive, and with whom I agree almost in total.

            There is a lot to be said for the arguments of the anti-sex-work position, but I’m wary of any position on sex work that is predicated on assumptions. You know, as opposed to asking sex workers about their jobs and how they feel about sex work, and believing their answers. The experience of sex workers will be different depending on the type of sex work, location of residence (both within countries and internationally) and socioeconomic status, and so blanket statements can’t really be legitimately made, no matter whether someone identifies as sex-positive or otherwise.

          • Avatar of kagehi
            July 12, 2013 at 2:03 pm

            There is a lot to be said for the arguments of the anti-sex-work position, but I’m wary of any position on sex work that is predicated on assumptions.

            One of the biggest ones I have seen pointed out is that there are a massive number of jobs where people are treated like shit, not allowed much choice, etc., and even put into physical dangers, all of which involve the same dehumanization, and often abuse, many people get in sex work, but.. there are laws that, in principle, limit how bad that can get. If it involves trading sex for money, then a) there are no laws to protect sex workers (instead of just arresting them), b) it isn’t legal to be doing it, and c) therefor, depending on your specific situation, you might be the sexual equivalent of a waitress, in a misogynistic bar, or a slave, in an old Roman gladiatorial match. The fact that (b) is true, and therefore (a) is also true, if you pick the wrong sort of work, or get roped into it, or even, in the worst cases, get kidnapped into it, you are pretty much screwed in all senses.

            And, yeah, the “assumptions” made by most idiots are, in order of stupidity – 1. Everyone somehow chooses the work, and therefor deserve what they get. 2. It ruins families (because, you know, the adult thing to do is act like a pair of petulant children, and ruin your own lives, and those of your own kids, and who ever else ends up involved, over infidelity, but its actually the sex workers fault for existing, not the idiot visiting them, or any of the other people that react with anger, and other destructive emotions…) 3. Sort of like the drug war, its “winnable”, rather than say.. controllable. and 4. Only sick people would be tempted by it (which makes it much easier to ignore the reality that it exists even in suppose “pure” societies, where they make up insane stuff like “temporary marriages” to let it happen anyway…).

            But, yeah, the best on has got to be that, “Making a mistake, or having the person you care about make one, means you should burn your life down, without regard to who else is effected.” This is the “adult” choice? o.O

        • Avatar of amm1
          July 11, 2013 at 9:10 pm —

          [a certain branch of (radical) feminism that views all heterosexual sex as inherently bad for women and oppressive.] exists. You won’t find it in Dworkin, but you will find it in places like this: [I Blame the Patriarchy blog]

          As a long-time reader of I Blame The Patriarchy, I disagree.

          What she says (and I think this is more or less Dworkin’s point, too, though I haven’t actually read Dworkin) is that (a) The Patriarchy frames male-female sex in a way that is oppressive to women and indistinguishable from rape, and that (b) if you grow up under The Patriarchy (as all of us here did), you cannot avoid being influenced by that framing. This does _not_ mean that it’s _inherently_ oppressive, only that in a society swimming in oppression, it’s almost impossible not to participate in that oppression to some extent.[*] In fact, she occasionally muses about her fantasy radical feminist utopia, and sex is hardly banished from it, only the tropes and structures that in her view are responsible for making it oppressive.

          [*] I would argue that one can _reduce_ the extent to which one participates in the oppression, but it takes work: first, to become aware of how one is participating, and second, to figure out and carry out alternative ways of doing things so one participates less. But this is a never-ending process (sort of like housework :-) )

          • Avatar of skeith
            July 11, 2013 at 9:17 pm

            Maybe I should have described her position as, “Heterosexual sex as we experience it today, and the ONLY way we can experience it today, is unavoidably oppressive to women and bad,” but that seems to be functionally identical to what I originally said. Twisty’s utopia will never exist and actually cannot exist for reasons I won’t go into because I don’t have time or inclination to refute pie-in-the-sky nonsense. So to say that heterosexual sex is unavoidably oppressive and cannot be any other way is the same as to say it is inherently oppressive. It’s a distinction without a difference.

            Also: I trust people to know when they have and have not given consent to sex. It’s infantalizing and condescending to say that some person who has never met me is capable of knowing better than I do whether or not a sex act in which I have participated was consensual on my end. And that means I trust women to know this, because women are people.

          • Avatar of amm1
            July 11, 2013 at 10:03 pm

            “Heterosexual sex as we experience it today, and the ONLY way we can experience it today, is unavoidably oppressive to women and bad,”

            I don’t agree with your nuances here, but rather than haggle over the details, I’ll cut to the chase:

            Under The Patriarchy, sex is _always_ oppressive to women to a greater or lesser degree (as are many things besides sex.) This is simple observation, like observing that it’s cold in the Arctic, and if you don’t see it, it is because you have been trained by The Patriarchy not to see it, much as Southern Whites were trained not to see the oppression in slavery.

            The most anyone can do is to try to manage things in individual relationships so they are a little less oppressive in the ways that matter to them. As Twisty points out again and again, each woman has to find her own way to live with, to push back against, and ultimately to make peace with the omnipresent oppression. Some decide that the pleasures they get from sex with men are worth the oppression that comes along with it, some decide they aren’t — and, after all, women get screwed over anyway, whether they’re celibate or not.

            If this sounds bleak and depressing, well, the world _is_ bleak and depressing: just look at the (hard) news in your newspaper. Wars, massacres, disasters, murders, torture, you name it (much of it committed in the name of us USAans), the world is filled with more atrocities than you can imagine. It’s no wonder most people retreat into denialism — the fantasy that the world is a kinder place than their eyes, their ears, and their bruises tell them it is. Or that they want to believe there’s a sky-daddy up there who’s going to protect them from all these atrocities.

            Radical feminism is the red pill. The Patriarchy’s propaganda (and many of the flavors of “sex positive” feminism) is the blue pill. You decide.

          • Avatar of skeith
            July 11, 2013 at 10:16 pm

            “It’s no wonder most people retreat into denialism — the fantasy that the world is a kinder place than their eyes, their ears, and their bruises tell them it is.”

            It’s absolutely weird to me that you can, with a straight face, call yourself a feminist and type out something like that. (You call yourself a feminist, right? Seems like you do, although you haven’t said it outright as far as I’ve seen so correct me if this is wrong.)

            You’re saying that women are too stupid and blinded by The Patriarchy to know whether or not they are happy. ??? Your comparison with the Antebellum South does not hold up. Slaves knew whether or not they were happy (they were not happy). Slaveholders had this myth that slaves were perfectly happy and carefree, but that was a self-deluding myth and every slave narrative (South =and= North) emphasized that slaves hated slavery and wanted out.

            If we carry your analogy out correctly, that means that men (the slaveholders) have a myth that women (the slaves) are happy, but THE WOMEN KNOW BETTER. They aren’t stupid. Women aren’t stupid! They know if they are happy or oppressed. Women everywhere have sex and know it to be consensual. They can tell the difference when it’s not consensual and use a different word for it (rape). Your assertion, and Twisty’s, that the poor, poor, deluded dears are so =oppressed= but too blinded by The Patriarchy (and too stupid to overcome this blindness) to know otherwise is the absolute 180-degree opposite of a feminist position.

          • Avatar of Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe
            July 11, 2013 at 10:23 pm

            See, *this* is the gnarly bit I worry about when people talk about consent not being consent. I certainly understand the idea of false consciousness–people not understanding how oppressed they are is sort of a given in a system like ours.

          • Avatar of skeith
            July 12, 2013 at 7:04 am

            “See, *this* is the gnarly bit I worry about when people talk about consent not being consent. I certainly understand the idea of false consciousness–people not understanding how oppressed they are is sort of a given in a system like ours.”

            The term for this (one of them) in the power literature is the radical conception of power, as outlined by Steven Lukes. It’s a real thing, that exists at all levels of society, not just the gender one. But there’s a problem baked into it, and that is, how do you go about identifying it and/or altering the situation? What makes this person off to the side more qualified, more clearsighted, =better=, than those who are involved in a power transaction, to judge what is happening? Power is being exercised if one person acts contrary to his/her real, objective interests and in the favor of another person, but how can anyone identify an “objective” interest?

            Take a hypothetical extreme: domestic violence. We on the outside might say, it’s in that woman’s objective interest to get the heck out of that situation. But she might know, from the inside, that if she tries he’s going to hunt her down and kill her. So, although we think we are being objective in judging her actions and calling her an idiot for not following our recommendation, she has more information than we do and has come to a different conclusion about her interests. This has applications in politics: why do some people vote against their best interests? It’s so frustrating! But maybe what we, on the outside, arrogantly, think are the “best interests” of those people actually aren’t from their own, best-informed perspective.

            So this is an identified thing, but it’s honestly impossible to identify, with certainty, when it is in action.

          • Avatar of amm1
            July 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm

            You’re saying that women are too stupid and blinded by The Patriarchy to know whether or not they are happy.

            I never said anything about happiness. You’re making assumptions, and you know what they say about “assume.”

            People who live under oppression, especially one that is systemic and long-standing and apparently immutable like Patriarchy, learn to find ways to feel happy and fulfilled (sometimes) in spite of the oppression — well, most of them do. They can do that even while being unhappy about about the oppression. Or angry about the oppression. Or resigned or in denial about the oppression. This was true of the slaves in the South of the USA. It’s true of women today. Some can’t, of course, but society generally blames their misery on faults within themselves, not on the oppression they suffer. (Look up “drapetomania”.) FWIW, Twisty seems to enjoy life, to judge by her current blog, and her happiness lives side-by-side with her “patriarchy blaming”
            (which I think she enjoys, too.)

          • Avatar of skeith
            July 12, 2013 at 6:28 pm

            “People who live under oppression, especially one that is systemic and long-standing and apparently immutable like Patriarchy, learn to find ways to feel happy and fulfilled (sometimes) in spite of the oppression — well, most of them do.”

            You totally did not understand what I was saying. Maybe I wasn’t clear, so I’ll say it again.

            Slaves in the old South =were not happy.= The idea that they were happy is a =myth= that was spread about by slaveholders (who may or may not have really believed it, who knows). No, their lives were not necessarily one long string of misery from birth to death, but they weren’t dumb and they knew their lot in life was horrible. If you asked a slave how s/he liked life, you would get a story about how terrible it was to be a slave. We know this because people asked slaves and believed they knew what they were talking about when they answered.

            If you analogy held, then women =should know= (all of them) that their position and lot in life is horrible. You should be able to walk up to any woman on the street and ask her, and she should be able to give you a litany of reasons why life is intolerable. But you can’t do this, and your answer is … that they are so deluded/resigned/in denial that they don’t know they should be miserable! You ask women what they think and how they feel, but you don’t believe their answers and you think they can’t be trusted to accurately report their own experience.

            This is a fabulously misogynist position! If a man said, “Oh, you poor dear, you just don’t know what’s good for you, but it’s so cute that you believe you’re thinking for yourself!” you would (rightly) deride him as a misogynist plucked straight out of the 19th century. The misogyny is not mitigated one whit by virtue of coming from the keyboard of another woman.

            Twisty and her notions are actively harmful. You’re not doing a (female) rape victim any favors by saying that the unwanted sex that was forced onto her is functionally identical to the consensual sex she had a week earlier. And you’re certainly not helping her by promoting the notion that women can’t tell the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex (because you think there is no difference). That plays directly into the narrative that a woman might cry rape on an innocent guy, and therefore women who cry rape should never be believed.

            You’re not doing feminism any favors by calling yourself a feminist and in the same breath espousing an idea that is so completely counterfactual and self-evidently false as “all heterosexual sex is the same as rape.” Patriarchy hurts men, too, and men could (and should, and do) assist in dismantling it, but you actively push them away by saying every time they have sex with women they are rapists, and oh they are also the same as slaveholders. Yeah, men love to hear that kind of thing and are totally open to what you have to say after you tell them that.

            You’re not doing women any favors by trying to yank away their agency and likening them to slaves.

            It’s ludicrous and damaging and should stop.

          • Avatar of kagehi
            July 12, 2013 at 10:08 pm

            I kind of wonder. Does this clown have a definition of “heterosexual sex” which doesn’t include oppression? Or, is this sort of like a faux-feminist version of the Christian, “Atheists don’t know what they are missing by denying god!”, trope, where.. every definition they try to come up with is contradicted by the evidence, but it just *must* be true anyway, otherwise, their faith in the idea is fundamentally shattered, and they are left with an absurd assertion about how much “better” it all would be, if there was, like.. the sexual equivalent of Heaven. Existence is unfair. Power struggled happen all the time, between both sexes, day to day, moment by moment, and they don’t magically vanish in the few societies where the women are in the control of the sex either, they just change. In some ways they can be better, in others.. they are shocking to our view of things, and… in at least one case I had someone say, “Lucky guys”, as though, somehow, the system was stacked in their favor anyway, even though the women where the ones deciding when, where, and if, certain things happened. Why? Because they where more open about it, and had multiple partners. So, **of course** this had to be wrong, it had to be the men benefiting from this, because it just looked too much like the completely idiot, rare, and usually condemned, imaginary sexual practices that some would like to see happen in our corner of the world, where its completely taboo. I.e., if it resembles a fantasy some people might have, then its about “male power” anyway.

            Power dynamics are not always about one side winning, or stacking the deck in their favor. To believe so is as delusional as denying that the deck *is* stacked, when, and where, it is. And, its delusional in precisely the sense that everyone arguing for magical utopian conditions, when they can’t even define them, or how to get there, and when they, especially, make up nonsense about human behavior, or pretend, in their own heads, that everything will magically disappear, when utopia is reached, is deluded, whether they be some fool arguing for “the free market fixing the problem, because I refuse to recognize that the market **already** fixed itself, by denying people the means, resources, or opportunity to ‘choose’ another place to buy there food/clothes/food, etc.”, or someone arguing that religion can “fix every problem, as long as everyone follows my version of it, so doesn’t sin!”, or, in this case, “If everyone, somehow, stopped trying to control the situation they where in, men wouldn’t be oppressing women during sex!” Yeah.. sure.. since, the only way that happens is if a) they are both tied up, so they can’t, either one, try to control anything in the situation, or b) they just don’t have any sex. But, if you get two people in the same room, sex involved or not, same sexes, or opposite, or otherwise, they are **not** going to agree on everything, they are not always both going to want to have to decide what is going on, they certain don’t want to sit in comity, over every single choice, and, at best, they might trade off on who is in charge, from moment to moment. But, they are not going to bloody agree about everything, or not try to convince each other to try things they wouldn’t otherwise try, or anything else that someone might care to call “evidence of the oppressive nature of heterosexual sex”. And, that is the reality. The bar is being set so bloody high here that, by the time you somehow reached it, both people in the relationship would be dead by asphyxiation, and not because they where trying to be kinky, but because, at the level the bar is being set, there isn’t any bloody air left.

          • Avatar of Jack99
            July 13, 2013 at 2:37 am

            Ha! Kagehi, I don’t know if I agree with you fully or at all but I enjoyed that last sentence about the bar being set so high! (TBH when I read your rants I kind of go yes, yes, no, dunno, and then lose track).

          • Avatar of jadehawk
            July 15, 2013 at 9:04 pm

            “So to say that heterosexual sex is unavoidably oppressive and cannot be any other way is the same as to say it is inherently oppressive. It’s a distinction without a difference.”
            Except as you just noted, she doesn’t say “cannot be any other way”, she says “isn’t any other way right now”. That’s the difference between “because of patriarchy” and “inherently”, and it’s an important distinction.

          • Avatar of jadehawk
            July 15, 2013 at 9:45 pm

            Women everywhere have sex and know it to be consensual. They can tell the difference when it’s not consensual and use a different word for it (rape).

            But that’s objectively not true. There are a lot of coercive scenarios that don’t get called rape, by either men or women. We have studies on that, and both men and women are reluctant to call coerced sex “rape” if it doesn’t fit the stereotype of rape (which often means male victims of rape don’t refer to their rapes as rapes at all). Hell, in many countries marital rape didn’t exist as a concept (meaning, neither men nor women as a whole believed that was a possible thing) until a few decades ago, but that doesn’t mean women weren’t raped.

            Your assertion, and Twisty’s, that the poor, poor, deluded dears are so =oppressed= but too blinded by The Patriarchy (and too stupid to overcome this blindness) to know otherwise is the absolute 180-degree opposite of a feminist position.

            not really. there’s a long list of sociological and psychological frameworks that show how people’s beliefs even about themselves are shaped by the dominant ideological framework/the dominant system. To point out the enculturation of women into patriarchal beliefs is no more sexist than pointing out the enculturation of black people into racist beliefs (like the ones demonstrated by the doll tests, for example) is racist.

            What is anti-feminist though is to use this enculturation as a reason to dismiss those women’s experiences as less real or true.

            Power is being exercised if one person acts contrary to his/her real, objective interests and in the favor of another person, but how can anyone identify an “objective” interest?

            this is so simplistic as to be useless. Internalized oppression does mean that people’s “real” interests might be harmful to themselves and beneficial to those in power instead. That’s what enculturation into oppressive systems does, especially given the psychological flaws known as Just world Bias and System Justification.

            And you’re certainly not helping her by promoting the notion that women can’t tell the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex (because you think there is no difference)

            while such arguments exist (usually in regard to sex workers), that’s not what you’re arguing against right here. Some non-consensual sex is NOT considered rape by those who experience it because of rape myths. And some power imbalance always exists in heterosexual sex, because the patriarchy doesn’t stop at the bedroom door. That’s not the same as saying there’s no experiential difference between situations where consent (as it exists) was given, and situations where it was not given.

      • Avatar of jadehawk
        July 15, 2013 at 9:02 pm —

        I don’t think there’s any “branch” of radical feminism that thinks hetero sex is INHERENTLY oppressive for women. There are individual radical feminists who do; and there are branches of radical feminism which postulate that given patriarchal power dynamics, it’s nonsense to say that “yes means yes”. I believe transradfem somewhat unwillingly summarized that as “Yes means Maybe means No”*, and is very similar to arguments that point out that other extreme power-imbalances make consent not a thing: if you can’t safely say “no”, then a “yes” can’t be reasonably considered consent. Which isn’t a bad way of looking at it until you get to the part where people outside a particular social dynamic decide for the people inside of it that they can’t consent at all, regardless of their own opinion on that topic (same essay by radtransfem I quoted above also includes a bit where she lists power dynamics in which she believes it’s impossible to defuse oppression enough for there to be the possibility of consent; the list includes client-prostitute relations)

        – – – – –
        *or the somewhat longer version: “Yes” means “I choose to say ‘yes’, understanding the consequences of saying ‘no'”, where the more punitive the potential consequences of a “no”, the less free the “yes”.

        • Avatar of Richard Sympson
          July 16, 2013 at 12:38 am —

          “and there are branches of radical feminism which postulate that given patriarchal power dynamics, it’s nonsense to say that “yes means yes””

          This might also be true outside of only considerations of patriarchal power dynamics. Phillip’s comment near the top might provide a starting point for such discussion.

          It’s also not clear to me that coercion has to be put under the Patriarchy umbrella, but maybe you’re (a general “you” here) are referring to a different type of coercion than is typifying itself in my mind.

          • Avatar of jadehawk
            July 16, 2013 at 2:42 am

            i have no idea how that addresses anything i mentioned. i didn’t say coercion can only be patriarchal.

          • Avatar of Richard Sympson
            July 16, 2013 at 7:30 am

            It was not meant to address anything. I was merely providing a small comment on how “yes means yes” could be a troubling platitude for reasons in addition to the patriarchal dynamics at play; and, I was also confused by the tone in several of the preceding comments in this particular chain, not just yours, that seemed to be saying that coercion is inherently patriarchal. But that is why I also qualified my statement by saying that perhaps you’re talking about coercion in a way that’s different from the type that I’m thinking of. There’s no need to be defensive.

        • Avatar of kagehi
          July 16, 2013 at 10:50 pm —

          same essay by radtransfem I quoted above also includes a bit where she lists power dynamics in which she believes it’s impossible to defuse oppression enough for there to be the possibility of consent; the list includes client-prostitute relations

          Well, since, in most places, its illegal, and the power dynamic is, “You do this job or I will kill, beat, drug, you, etc.”, then yeah. But then, that isn’t what you mean is it? No, the idea, which is laughable, is that its bad to agree to provide sex as a service, where you might end up with an ass as a client, and somehow you can’t **ever** refuse, unlike, say.. being a defense lawyer, or someone in the military, or.. any number of other jobs, where, depending on the circumstances, you not only won’t have a choice what to do, the consequences can be anything from losing your job, to your life, and telling the “client” to go F themselves isn’t an option. Unlike, you know *legal* sex work, or escort services, etc., where part of the job description is, “If the person that hires you is a freak, you have the right to walk out, or call security.” Of course, the later is only possible in Nevada, since its also the only place its “legal” at all. But, even there, “Call the cops”, is probably not one of the options you can expect to be at all useful.

          No, the power dynamics in question exist in **many** jobs, and in some cases, they are vastly worse, and the consequences as high, or higher, and not always just to the worker themselves, if they refuse the job. To claim otherwise is to falsely place sex in a special category, which no other human activity, from fire rescue, to toilet cleaning, to nuclear cleanup, to, as I said, military engagements, somehow, ever, fall into. And, that is just so utterly stupid….

  5. Avatar of Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe
    July 11, 2013 at 8:19 pm —

    Seriously, you’ve never met a lesbian separatist?

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      July 11, 2013 at 8:22 pm —

      Maybe once or twice, but they’re far from dominant in either numbers or in the discourse around sex. Nor are they particularly highly politically powerful.

      • Avatar of Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe
        July 11, 2013 at 8:54 pm —

        Well, neither is anyone who calls themselves “sex-positive.” Seriously, don’t try to make us an event in you Oppression Olympics when slut-shaming is still the national language.

        • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
          July 11, 2013 at 8:56 pm —

          Sex-positive types who tell me that consent is all that matters dominate the discourse in the poly, kinky, and feminist spaces in which I find myself. YMMV.

          • Avatar of Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe
            July 11, 2013 at 9:12 pm

            Again, poly, kinky, dominating discourse? These are tiny, tiny demographics–we couldn’t dominate a discourse on where to do lunch. On the other hand, anti-porn, anti-sex, whorephobia, and slut shaming are literally everywhere you look. And that aside…
            You’re confusing “being a thing” with “using a thing as a smokescreen.” I don’t feel any compulsion to not call myself a feminist because of pearl-clutching church ladies who appropriate the term to use as a weapon against my friends in the sex industry. I don’t feel any less liberal because Barack Obama’s a mass-murdering SOB–he’s the one who failed to measure up to something, not me. And I’ll still be an atheist no matter how many times Richard Dawkins says something stupid on Twitter.
            If you feel so tainted by somebody else’s use of a label that you can’t use it anymore, then just how attached were you to it in the first place?

          • Avatar of Luarien
            July 11, 2013 at 9:31 pm

            @John
            Your refusal to acknowledge that there are tropes and themes within a subculture that can be influential in that subculture despite the narratives of the meta-culture around it shows that you have no understanding of nuance nor an understanding of how cultural transmission within counter-culture works.

            Regardless of whether the meta-culture speaks only in slut-shaming, there are *large* cultural forces in the counter-culture around kink, queer activism, feminism, polyamory, and other sexually differentiated cultures that center on the Sex-Positive zeitgeist (whether this is rigorous, nuanced, or academic understandings of “Sex-Positive” or not). These spaces have become dominated by anti-“Sex-Negative” feminism speakers for nearly a generation now who are responding to a straw man version of Dworkin’s initial argument.

            Arguing that the meta-culture still slut shames and that being why problematic sex-positivity isn’t a problem is largely the same as the people who argue that Saudi Arabia is worse to women so women’s issues in the US shouldn’t be talked about. It whitewashes and ignores real problems by screaming, “What about them?”

          • Avatar of Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe
            July 11, 2013 at 9:46 pm

            You know, I was literally typing “How exactly is sex-positivism the problem, then?” I was going to follow it up by saying that it sounds like the problem is all these distinctly sub-par human beings who’ve gone and… and then I got your point.

            Sorry for being a dumbass.

            One thing does still make me a little wary. Where exactly do you think the line is? Is it actually, say, ethically suspect to be attracted to a certain skin tone or body type? Or is it more that people seem to confuse personal preferences with objective standards?

          • Avatar of Phillip Hallam-Baker
            July 11, 2013 at 9:46 pm

            That might be what they are saying but it is not necessarily what they believe.

            The sex-positive types I know are pretty big against exploitation and manipulation. But defining what those are is pretty tricky. Take the case of the poly couple with a ‘one penis rule’. That could certainly be seen as exploitative if it is set by the man but it might be there because the bi-wife wants to play with other girls but isn’t interested in dating men other than her husband.

          • Avatar of skeith
            July 11, 2013 at 9:54 pm

            @Jon,

            Please allow me to interject. My opinion is that everyone has a right to reject anyone else as a sex partner, for any reason or for no reason, and that means that racist reasons are acceptable, too. That doesn’t make racism itself acceptable, and I believe the two can be separated.

            It may be that a person will never feel the “spark” with anyone but a thin, conventionally-attractive white woman. That’s different from a person saying, “my =type= is a thin, conventionally-attractive white woman and I refuse to so much as look at anyone who doesn’t fit that description.” One thing is something that can’t be helped no matter how many people who don’t fit that description a person gets to know, while the other represents a deliberately closed mind. Both lead to the same thing but the means by which each arrives there differ and that difference is meaningful.

          • Avatar of Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe
            July 11, 2013 at 10:10 pm

            You know what I’m suddenly reminded of? The islamophobia debate. Seems like the same basic question about our learned reluctance to pass judgment on others, and the accompanying fear that it might be used as a smokescreen to get away with actual wrongdoing.

          • Avatar of Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe
            July 11, 2013 at 10:11 pm

            Well, not *might*. It *is,* in both cases–the question is where the line is drawn.

          • Avatar of jadehawk
            July 15, 2013 at 10:02 pm

            One thing does still make me a little wary. Where exactly do you think the line is? Is it actually, say, ethically suspect to be attracted to a certain skin tone or body type? Or is it more that people seem to confuse personal preferences with objective standards?

            “ethically suspect” in what sense?
            Few people are at fault for the sexist/racist/fatphobic/whatever preferences they were enculturated with. Like I said, people don’t actually chose their desires. But going to the extreme and saying that it’s not a choice, therefore it’s not problematic is bullshit. Especially given that “not chosen” isn’t a synonym for “unchangeable”, only that they can’t be altered at will. Being willing to look at the possible kyriarchal underpinnings of one’s personal preferences should be considered ethically sound instead of being decried as an attack on sex-positivity.
            It’s a tough line to walk, between just accepting everything someone says uncritically as “just their preference” (compare to “just my opinion” or “that’s their belief, you can’t judge them”) and holding people personally responsible for things they didn’t chose and can’t necessarily change. But it’s important to acknowledge and point out the enculturated and/or systemic reasons for problematic beliefs/preferences, even if all that changes at first is just the awareness that there are oppression-based bits embedded in one’s preferences.

        • Avatar of dr. dr. professor
          July 11, 2013 at 9:09 pm —

          John, read her points and understand them. Don’t just do the knee-jerk “BUT! BUT!” shit, that’s fucking lame.

          • Avatar of amm1
            July 11, 2013 at 9:18 pm

            John, read her points and understand them.

            But then he would learn something, and would no longer merit the epithet “der ewige Noobe”. His well-defended ignorance is “his rock, his sword, his shield.”

          • Avatar of Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe
            July 11, 2013 at 9:22 pm

            Basically, yeah. Go easy on me, I was an MRA this time last year.

      • Avatar of Cygore
        July 12, 2013 at 12:23 am —

        I think lesbian separatists and “sex negative” feminists might have had more influence 25 to 30 years ago, but not so much any more. Heck, I lived in a housing coop in college that had a lesbian only house.

  6. Avatar of ethicalcannibal
    July 11, 2013 at 9:48 pm —

    Thank you so much for this article. It reflects a lot of what I’ve been thinking lately, in relationship to what I see in the poly/kink community. Some of the relationships I saw were definitely in the unhealthy vein. Dom’s with multiple subs, one penis policy, and doms’ looking for specific races in their subs so they could have a “complete set”. I’ve met good people too, but these wangholes swagger around using their kink/poly status to perpetuate some serious ism’s on the rest of us using the shield of sex positivity to get away from it.

  7. Avatar of rabbitwink
    July 11, 2013 at 11:59 pm —

    From my experience, there is a subset of feminists involved in nontraditional sexual practices, and they bring a great deal of thought & insight to these communities. They write, teach, make videos, speak, hold workshops, etc. They are doing the work to get the word out. They are the ones who have really helped pioneer the popularizing of concepts like “enthusiastic consent”, and indeed to helping remove the stigma from alternative life choices. However, if you look at the people in that same nontraditional sexual practice population, very few of them came to it via feminism, have any actual association with feminist thought or theory, or would associate themselves with that terminology. The majority of them reflect the makeup of the general population, that is, not very educated or thoughtful, used to taking in a lot of secondhand information at face value, and grab on to (as they should) any slogans that aim to release them from stigma and allow them to enjoy their life without persecution. We don’t live in a vacuum, and our “desires” are very much informed by the mediascape we’ve grown up with, the images, the assumptions of older generations, the social structures so many want to be free from. I do feel it is necessary to criticize unfair relationships cloaked in the name of polyamory, (DADT, one-penis-policy, as described above). Especially since so many women still derive their primary sense of meaning from their relationship to men, it’s necessary to intervene at times and point out the problems. We’d do that for a hetero-mono relationship, right? I mean, even recently I watched an absolutely dreadful old documentary about some tool in the body mod biz, and right away there were red flags aplenty- the girlfriend says “he TOLD me we were not going to see other people but we’d have sex with them”, the acolyte enters a physically dangerous situation in the name of pleasing some dude, etc These women want to take charge of their lives and bodies, but are still held up by sexist bullshit & think they have to go along with it. They think they’re doing it for themselves. But they’re just settling for a less rigid set of social/sexual standards, like voting for the least offensive candidate- it’s not the same as enthusiastic support. There’s a lot to be said for letting people do what they want, but I don’t think blanket acceptance of everything people say “yes” to is helpful. We’ve all had the chance to do questionable things when we we crave acceptance and attention and are lonely. We hope our friends and allies will be there to say “hey, maybe think about what this is really bringing to the table”.

    • Avatar of Phillip Hallam-Baker
      July 12, 2013 at 10:08 am —

      “However, if you look at the people in that same nontraditional sexual practice population, very few of them came to it via feminism, have any actual association with feminist thought or theory, or would associate themselves with that terminology. ”

      Neither are a lot of the folk in feminism.

      I think your attitude is rather condescending and elitist. There are a lot of uneducated people in all walks of life and that includes universities. I spent ten years in elite universities and I met more than a few people who were intellectual frauds who used a pretentious private language and a citation cartel to hid the fact that they didn’t really know anything. Thats why the Evolutionary Psych folk are so upset by RW’s ‘women evolved to go shopping’ piece, they are not upset because they think RW got her fact wrong, they are furious because they know deep down that she got them right.

      Claiming that people would agree with you if only they were more educated is a despicable rhetorical tool. Most of the sex-positive people I know have degrees. Several have doctorates from universities like MIT. So don’t you dare play the credential game. It is an ugly move when people try to use it to dismiss RW’s sendup of EP and it is just as ugly when you use it.

      There have always been puritans in society and puritanical attitudes often manage to push contrary views aside when there is a new media emerging. The puritanism of post Tudor times in England was driven by the broadsheet. Then in the Victorian era it was cheap paper and the newspaper. In the 30s it was radio, in the 50s television. What breaks the puritanical chains is when the population at large the ‘uneducated masses’ that you were sneering at get their hands on a mass media. It happened in the late 60s when the music business slipped out of control of the establishment and it is happening now because the Internet is designed from the ground up to be out of establishment control.

      And yes, I have a personal stake here, I am one of the people who developed the early Web at CERN and MIT.

  8. Avatar of Richard Sympson
    July 12, 2013 at 12:16 am —

    This actually parallels some of the discussion during a conversation (maybe debate would be a better word) I had with someone about incest; I was asking why incest was set aside from rape and health of the mother as its own exception in abortion cases, when such abortion restrictors also refuse related exceptions like fetal deformities or unstable non-familial relationships.

    Part of what the guy I was debating was saying that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time was that incest in many cases has at its roots a power paradigm that is not consciously consensual, even if the sex itself has technically been consented to. And, I understood and allowed that this was probably the case and that one would be able to argue a similar case for an abortion exception as one makes for rape, but I was still insistent that we touch upon the instances where the incest is indeed completely consensual, and how those cases should be considered for abortion.

    The abortion part is not necessary for the point though, that there is something to be said about the potential damage that a passive view toward consent can have as the one that I held (still hold in some part – this is actually the first time I am trying to express my opponent’s views in ways I can better grasp). It’s certainly uncritical, as you’ve said Heina.

    I think that a question that we should be prepared to give some serious thought to, so that we can better approach the issue of consent, may be posed as this: while no certainly means no, what really means yes? And I think it worth considering, even if in most cases it may seem banal. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore this question with anyone else.

    • Avatar of Richard Sympson
      July 12, 2013 at 12:21 am —

      Two things too:
      1) To quickly comment as well on the other points you’ve brought up Heina, such as racism, while this isn’t something that I have seen personally nor have thought was actually a thing, I will take your word for it that it happens and will also at the very least similarly condemn those practices, not needing to see their extent.
      2) I just read rabbitwink’s comment above and his mentioning of “enthusiastic consent,” and I recall the phrase and think that my statements above would be better qualified. This is very likely something that other people have indeed given thought to; I myself have not participated in this discussion yet however. And I’m curious what progress has been made in answering this question I posed, and what progress people think might still have yet to be made.

  9. Avatar of lofgren
    July 12, 2013 at 2:39 am —

    I think either you or your opponents are conflating separate issues. I believe in sex-positivity and that two people should not be judged for engaging in mutually consensual sexual behavior. I ALSO believe that there is a perspective from which you can approach the issues described above that is both sex-positive and also acknowledges the context of that consent.

    Take, for an example, a man whose ideal woman is a submissive Asian half his age. There is nothing he can do about that. He has as much power to change his preferred mate as a gay person has to be straight. I sincerely hope he finds the submissive younger Asian woman of his dreams and they live happily ever after.

    But that doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge the problematic cultural atmosphere that helped shape that desire. It’s very, very likely that this man has fixated on Asian women due to a perception that they are exotic and mysterious (if he is not Asian or is attracted to Asians of a different cultural heritage to his own) or because he feels a compulsion to mate within his own race and culture (if he is Asian and is only attracted to Asian women from within his tribe). He has probably fetishized the the submissive role of Asian women in most Asian cultures, and the perceived submissive of Asian women. He has embraced a near-universal human obsession with youth and sexual desirability as symbols of status. In a sense, he is a victim. Not in the “poor, poor, pitiful me” sense, but in the “product of his environment and forces beyond his control” sense). These are attitudes and beliefs that cause problems for people outside of this guy’s bedroom, and they can and should be opposed by sex-positive and sex-negative people alike. It’s not what goes on between this guy and his hypothetical partner that causes a problem or is anybody’s business except their own. It’s the broader situation that nurtured and molded their desires.

    However I also believe that if we eliminate all of those negative forces – orientalism, racism, strict gender roles – we would probably still end up with a handful of men who are only attracted to submissive Asian women who are half their age, because on a planet of 3.5 billion men and counting, at least a few are bound to end up wired that way by chance alone.

    Looking at the examples cited above:

    I’ve expressed my discomfort re dominant poly men who date lots of submissive women who aren’t allowed to date anyone else

    There is nothing wrong with this in the abstract if everybody is consenting and happy. Where the problem arises is whether there are forces at work that make these women or this man feel like they can’t freely consent (or, to split meaningless hairs, feel that they have little choice but to consent even though the arrangement is not really fulfilling to them). For example, women who express a desire to be dominant or to date multiple men receive some of the harshest shaming in our society, while the worth of a man is judged based on his sexual experience and his ability to control women. I intend to oppose those larger cultural forces, and if I am successful I highly suspect that the result will be that fewer women and men are interested in this kind of arrangement in the future. The cultural tide will have shifted and sexual fantasies will be dragged along in their wake. (I ALSO believe that no matter what we do, there will probably always be some men and women who seek out this arrangement, because again 7 billion people have a lot of variety).

    I’ve brought up how sexist it is that porn, i.e. the way that most people learn about sex, primarily features fairly male-centric sexual acts

    Keyword PRIMARILY. If porn is morally acceptable, we can’t say that it’s morally unacceptable to depict male-centric acts. We CAN say it is morally unacceptable to feature ONLY (or mostly) male-centric acts. Asking for MORE porn from different perspectives can’t possibly be sex-negative, if the term is to have any meaning at all, right?

    Nobody’s sexuality is being criticized here. Unless your sexuality specifically involves suppressing alternative sexual acts in porn consumed by other people – in which case we will criticize your sexuality because the people whose porn you want to suppress are not consensual participants.

    I’ve brought up the effect that depicting only a single body type as attractive might have on people’s expressed preferences

    This is much the same as above. There is absolutely no shame in finding rail-thin, pale, sweet-faced twenty-somethings attractive, even more attractive than all other people. The problem only arises when you start preaching that message to the exclusion of other points of view. And there are a lot of other points of view on this matter. So when you see one body type absolutely dominating popular entertainment as the “attractive” type, there is good reason to think that somebody is not being fairly represented – and that IS a problem.

    If we succeed in broadening the image of what is desirable in popular culture, I have no doubt that the result will be a broadening of what many people find desirable. That doesn’t mean that any individual who currently finds young, pale, skinny, soft-featured women deserves any kind of reprimand or criticism.

    Finally I will say that I think that sex-positive people can reasonably disagree as to the scope and relevance of each of these problems. There is no possible way that we could generate conclusive data that the preponderance of porn being male-centric actually causes a broadly recognizable problem. It will always have to be a gut call, based on what evidence we can gather (e.g. how unbalanced is it, really?). So if you are calling somebody sex-negative for holding a different position on at least some of these matters I would say that you are out-of-line already. As long as you are coming to the issue from the perspective that mutually consensual sex is healthy, desirable, and morally good, we are both sex positive and we are really just hashing out details and nuances within that broadly defined position.

    Ultimately I believe the key, as with most aspects of feminism, is to approach to question from the perspective of maximizing options and the freedom to choose from amongst those options. That’s why I would say that a brand of feminism that shames porn stars, sex workers, Olivia Munn, and the patriarchs who enjoy them doesn’t deserve the label. But I would also say that we have a responsibility to ensure that no woman ever feels like she had no choice, and that means in part pointing out the complicated and problematic role that these women and men can play in the broader cultural narrative. I see no conflict between these two positions.

    • Avatar of jadehawk
      July 15, 2013 at 10:24 pm —

      There is nothing he can do about that. He has as much power to change his preferred mate as a gay person has to be straight

      That’s not actually necessarily the case. Sexual preferences are not sexual orientations. They are enculturated, unlike sexual orientation. Given a suddenly changed social climate, they could be enculturated out again, given a long enough time-period. I really don’t think you’re doing anyone any favors by conflating enculturated traits with inborn ones (nor, conversely, with freely chosen ones)

      a near-universal human obsession with youth

      no.

      It’s not what goes on between this guy and his hypothetical partner that causes a problem

      that’s not necessarily true either; and it’s certainly not true that he won’t cause damage while looking for that partner.

      If porn is morally acceptable, we can’t say that it’s morally unacceptable to depict male-centric acts.

      The inherent moral acceptability of porn is neither here nor there when we’re talking about porn as it is currently situated in the matrix of oppression. And it is; it absolutely is, and it perpetuates a lot of sexist myths about sex because of it. And more alternative and women-friendly, non-heterosexist, non-racist, etc. porn alone might not fix that, unless cultural acceptance of the more bigoted stuff goes down.

  10. Avatar of simonsays
    July 12, 2013 at 9:46 am —

    You raise a valid point. During the real estate boom there were plenty of people who also likewise “consented” to some rather terrible terms on their mortgages (there was also fraud but we’ll leave that aside). Would anyone serious advocate that this should be the end of *that* discussion?

  11. Avatar of criticaldragon1177
    July 12, 2013 at 11:48 am —

    Heina

    Speaking of bigotry and sex positive feminism, My sort of buddy, youtuber “HannibaltheVictor13″ abandoned his support for sex positive feminism because he found that many sex positives were trying to form alliances with sexist “mens rights activists” in order to fight radical anti porn feminists, and he would have none of it. politics makes strange bed fellows I guess, especially when you forget that the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.

  12. Avatar of MyMelody
    July 12, 2013 at 3:16 pm —

    “I believe in full reproductive rights and agency, comprehensive sex ed, the valuing of sex for pleasure, the destigmatization and full legalization of all forms of sex work, and the end of STI-shaming.”

    Awesome, and I completely agree. I’m pretty comfortable with identifying as sex positive, I’m also very comfortable criticizing issues pertaining to sex: racism in pornography, media representations of sex, etc.

    I agree, we don’t live in a vacuum. Ex: there are instances of fat women consenting to being in hidden sexual relationships with men because the men are ashamed to be seen with them, despite the fact that they are attracted to these women, etc. This is because we live in a society that has a very limited view on what women “should” look like.
    In this example women have consented, but there is a problem nonetheless.

    However, I think something to keep in mind when it comes to using “don’t shame my kinks” as a silencing tactic, it’s a defense strategy that came about because of shaming etc.

    Ex: Person A sees a woman sleeping with multiple partners. Person A forms an opinion about woman: She is trying to please as many men as she can because patriarchy causes women to feel that being sexually desired by as many heterosexual men as possible =worth.

    The problem? Person A may very well be right, but that person never bothered to ask the woman why she thinks she behaves the way she does. Person A never considers that perhaps the woman receives pleasure from this. Or that the woman actually is aware of Person A’s analysis, thought about it herself, and after some self-reflection, realized that is not why she is having all that sex.

    The problem is, feminists telling people about their experiences. I’ve had this done to me a lot. I’ve had some one tell me because I’m poor and a minority that I just can’t see how my choices aren’t really my choices. And that’s one of the reasons I dropped the feminist label. My experiences being told to me by white upper-middle class feminists (because they somehow have this knowledge of how the world works that others are not privy too. I say there is more nuance then they think), and not being listened to.

    For some people, yes, folks do things because of coercion, because of exploitation, because of poverty and racism. We don’t know what they would have done, action wise, in a world that isn’t full of sexism and racism and classism etc. So, while I think it’s extremely important to be critical of things involving sex, we also need to listen to folks who talk to us about their experiences, whether one believes them or not, just listen.

  13. Avatar of ragdish
    July 12, 2013 at 4:13 pm —

    Doesn’t the whole sex-positive and sex-negative distinction only lead to bitter divisions that impede sociocultural progress? Let’s face the obvious fact. If 2 sex positive and a sex-negative feminist lambs walked into a den of misogynist wolves…….

    My sex-positivity could be your sex-negativity and vice versa. Let’s agree to disagree. Therefore, shouldn’t the label simply be sex-positive for everyone with each individual ascribing to some variant of that label?

  14. Avatar of dxman
    July 12, 2013 at 7:24 pm —

    Good article and wonderful comments. Once more I feel like I’ve learned something more about feminism. If only I were I woman, I might actually “get it” all. The problem of power disparities in sex is something I try to actively introduce into my intimate life.

    >>Unless your sexuality specifically involves suppressing alternative sexual acts in porn consumed by other people – in which case we will criticize your sexuality because the people whose porn you want to suppress are not consensual participants.
    Gosh, meta-sexuality. I’ve always wondered why I find rule 34 sexy, despite having serious moral reservations or disgust towards some of its manifestations.

  15. Avatar of hellboundalleee
    July 14, 2013 at 1:04 am —

    I find it extremely frustrating when individuals who support workers’ rights and worker safety will throw that all out the window when discussing porn–an industry that’s been openly fighting against the use of condoms on film. If that’s not an issue of worker safety, I don’t know what is.

    The word “porn” is extremely weighty, and usually brings up mainstream straight porn for men. I have no doubt that less mainstream porn is just as lax in protecting their actors.

    • Avatar of kagehi
      July 14, 2013 at 4:06 pm —

      Not all of them are apposing it, but.. its also about fantasy, and a lot of people are not going to fantasize about having sex the “safe” way. The argument is often, in fact, if you pay attention to many of them making it, not about the safety of the workers in porn, but the “message” it sends to the people watching it. Because, of course, watching people fuck without condoms leads rational adults to not use them either. And, again, a lot of the health issues are ones that a) ordinary people have to deal with, perhaps even on their first date, never mind if they actually have more than one partner, and b) only arise when the people involved don’t take proper steps, which includes testing. Testing which, in fact, even normal people often do now, though probably not often enough, to make sure they are not going to catch something from someone else.

      So.. Its a bit more complicated than, “If we just made them use condoms, and, well.. also never swallow, or have several partners in a scene, or **any** other risk factors, where something can go wrong, it will fix the problem of them catching things.” Uh.. no, it won’t. It doesn’t for people outside the industry, why would it for the ones in it? So, again, we are left with, professionals, getting themselves tested, taking “most” precautions, except for one – which just happens to be in the category of, “What if someone sees this and thinks its OK, outside of the porno, to not use a condom?!”

      Also.. To be honest, the “professional” stuff tends to suck, but, ironically, tends to stick to known stars, and the same people, so they are no more “at risk” than any other group of, say, friends that swing with each other, most of the stuff on the internet is made up of people that certainly don’t start out “professional”, or which really are just vids people make themselves, even if they have some professionally filmed. The thing being.. whether or not these “temps” end up using condoms, never mind sleeping with someone that is a “professional”, depends on the site, and their particular quirk. Some of them “always” use them. Some use them most of the time. Some, never do, and probably should. And, finally, you can’t really argue much with the ones that only make one video, with no real intent to do more, and decide, at the time, to not use one, since those people are not “in the industry” in the sense of being actors in the first place.

      All of which, makes the whole thing a big mess, and, somewhat stupidly, the arguments about it being “required” absurd, since the ones that “are” in the industry either, as I said, a) don’t sleep around with a huge number of people they don’t know, or b) already have started using them, almost all the time. Its the “amateur” ones, either home made, which, again.. its hard to do anything about, or stuff like the long list of blatantly exploitative sites, like ‘cream pie surprise’, and the like, which are, by the very nature of their particular asinine product, *never* going to use them. The whole point with those sites is to “not” use them. And, requirements that they use condoms is hardly the first thing on the list of reasons they are a horrible business.

  16. Avatar of hellboundalleee
    July 14, 2013 at 1:06 am —

    I forgot to add that the issue is consent. We can weigh the word consent in a social context when talking about workers in Bangladesh, but what of consent we mention in porn? No social context? It’s not rich people who get into porn.

    • Avatar of kagehi
      July 14, 2013 at 4:18 pm —

      Except for the ones, of course, who make a tape, then it mysteriously “leaks” to the public..

      Seriously though.. rich people don’t do this, except maybe in secret, not because of economics, but because society views “any” involvement in this sort of thing so badly that it can ruin what ever carrier made them rich in the first place. Some of them end up doing it anyway, but its rare, and its usually someone’s stupid kid. But, the trend in the industry has been a decline in “studio” porn, and an increase in, so called, amateur. This can mean anything from working for some online site, doing something like regular porn, but in the amateur scene, to web cams, or running your own “studio”, of sorts, and any number of, if not rich, then at least not *poor* either, people have gotten into trouble with their regular work, and a lot more either have bosses that don’t care, or haven’t found out, doing porn, web cams, etc., on the side. So.. with respect, its not like prostitution, and hasn’t been for some time. No one is running away from home, or moving to a new city, and discovering that the only thing they can find to do is make porn movies. Well, at least not on the scale that maybe that was once the case. A lot of them are people that get into it while having normal jobs, or otherwise “without” choosing it due to lack of money.

      Rich people don’t flip burgers either, unless they are doing it as part of some sort of PR campaign. That doesn’t mean that only people who start out, or stay, poor, ever get jobs flipping burgers, or that, later on, they don’t open their own restaurant (the equivalent of a lot of these people that now have their own studios/sites, and some of which, if they could be honest about it, would have a pretty fair sum of money now).

      So, yeah, there are all kinds of reasons “rich” people don’t get into it. But, that doesn’t say a damn thing about consent, or who any of the other people in it are, or why they did so, unless, of course, you simply assume that every single one of them who every did, and claims it wasn’t about being poor, is lying.

    • Avatar of jadehawk
      July 15, 2013 at 10:50 pm —

      given that the standard solution to the problems of consent in sex work is to get rid of the sex work, I don’t think parallels to e.g. worker’s rights in Bangladesh work. Outlawing manufacturing jobs there won’t help those workers either; nor would denying them the agency and saying that you know better than them how they should navigate their class-oppression.

      • Avatar of kagehi
        July 16, 2013 at 10:58 pm —

        Ah, well, that is just obvious really, they just need to listen to the “libertardian” experts we have over here in the US. You know, like the ass that felt that the end of his “liberal” show needed to be a whine about the government targeting Walmart (and other small companies), but he insisted, specifically Walmart, for paying their employees far less than they could live off of, and doing it, basically, intentionally, instead of, “Letting the market decide.”

        See, the market decides what everything is worth, including people, and if some company in Bangladesh is hurting, or even killing, there workers, but the company is flourishing anyway, then, well.. obviously people are not worth that much in the market. Or.. Err.. Somehow I don’t think that is what the morons want it to mean, but I think they are required, to join the political movement, to pluck out which ever one of their eyes originally let them see things like context, resource shortages, monopolies, unstable systems, excess privilege, and anything else that throws sand, or monkey wrenches, into the gears of their bloody “free market”.

  17. Avatar of Wallace Cleverness
    July 24, 2013 at 8:42 pm —

    Wow… Well, what can we expect from a group that toss out any form of morality and decent standards? They strive for pulling down any “stone-aged” barrier against their vile lusts, and then, they get confused, mad with pretty nasty behavior, rape, sexual harrassment, sexism, STD’s, i.e., the aftermath of their nut ideology…

    So many smart, clever people, that nonetheless happen to choose the most stupid and insane things, the sort of atheism… You’d better grow up, kids; attempting to take side on incorrect, useless philosophies such as atheism is crappy.. Your noxious premises help with nothing but making the society even more sick and chaotic than it ever was. It’s a shame that such group considerer themselves as seekers of “reason, science” and etc, when they are actually the most reasoning-killers that the world has ever hear about!

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      July 24, 2013 at 8:48 pm —

      I’d cite statistics about how secularism is excellent in helping reduce things like “rape, sexual harrassment [sic], sexism, [and] STD’s” but instead, I’m going to congratulate you on having the most self-congratulatory Internet handle I’ve ever seen.

  18. Avatar of Lisa Millbank
    July 31, 2013 at 8:30 am —

    I wrote about this about a year and a half ago in a way which I believe gave a significant push to the reclaiming of “sex-negative” which is becoming more popular lately. You could link to the article if you like: The Ethical Prude: Imagining An Authentic Sex-Negative Feminism.

  19. Avatar of Amanda Evans
    August 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm —

    As a feminist who retains the label of sex-positive, your concerns are completely valid and challenged me to think about my own conceptualization of what it means to be sex-positive. I think the examples you bring up actually get into the more gray areas when it comes to consent, such as a controlling poly relationship, androcentric sex work, or racist fetishization of women of color. These examples do not necessarily involve the consent of ALL parties, and therefore do not fall under the principles of sex positivity in my mind. Consent itself is a bit more complicated that a simple verbal “yes” – it’s also about enthusiasm, body language, and asking for consent throughout the process, not just at the beginning. I would hope sex-positive feminists would keep these nuances in mind. But I understand you said you’re examining sex positivity as it is actually used, not the ideal. I personally will keep identifying as a sex-positive feminist in the hope of teaching others that there is a difference between judgement/criticism and simply calling for a discussion, because all the issues you brought up in this piece are important issues to discuss.

  20. Avatar of Jack Mackenna
    August 13, 2013 at 6:57 am —

    Your post seems to mostly cover the hypocrisy of sex-positive feminists and not the theory of sex-positive feminism itself. Every feminist movement [in fact every movement, no matter how progressive it paints itself] has it’s fair share of bigots, etc. Why ditch sex-positive feminism but not feminism as a whole if a lack of principles amongst its adherents is a concern?

    • Avatar of Heina Dadabhoy
      August 13, 2013 at 10:23 am —

      The premise for my piece is:

      Sex-positivity might mean something different in an academic and/or political sense, but I will address the ways in which self-identified sex-positive people manifest that particular ideology. In other words, I’m exclusively dealing with sex-positivity as it exists, not as we hope it exists.

      So I don’t really care too much about theory, more about practice.

      I disagree that I was discussing alleged “bigots” in my piece. The sentiments I find so troubling are found among leaders and thinkers in sex-positivity, not just some marginal “bigots.”

  21. Avatar of Mankoi
    September 13, 2013 at 1:02 am —

    I’m fairly late to the party here, so I’m not sure if anyone is actually going to see this or not. I actually read this post, and a lot of the comments section when it was new, and I’ve had it in the beck of my head, on and off, since then. I guess I just wound up feeling like I had to share my thoughts, even if no one is listening.

    This is actually a topic I wind up thinking about a lot. I think it is good to talk about, and discuss sexuality, even the problematic aspects, but I also think it should be done very carefully, and I think accusations of shaming should be taken very seriously. Not to say that every accusation is true, or valid, but I do think they should be considered seriously, and we should be careful how we talk about these things.

    For my part, I’m a male with some… very dominance oriented kinks. It’s not something I like to admit to, even here, in case it gets traced back to me. And I do recognize that they’re problematic. But, on the other hand, I spent years feeling like a terrible, sick person. I hadn’t done anything wrong, I did my best to good person, and a good ally, but I always felt like there was this horrible, evil part of me. So my response, on several occasions, was to seek out feminist perspectives on BDSM. And I did, in fact, find some good stuff, but I seem to remember finding a lot of stuff that just made me feel worse. It’s very hard to critique sexuality without shaming a person, and the takwaway I got from some places was that I was okay. It was just those thoughts and fetishes I had that were evil. Almost a sort of “love the sinner, hate the sin” type message. It still made me feel something was wrong with me, and that my preferences were wrong.

    This only really changed when my long term (female) partner confessed to some compatible kinks that went back a long time, before we’d even met (I admit, I got freaking lucky on this one). Seeing how happy it made her when she found out we were compatible there was the only thing that really made me stop and wonder if I was so awful.

    Obviously, none of this is the fault of feminism, or any specific feminists. My feelings of guilt and shame were caused almost entirely by me. But it is really easy for someone who is already having a hard time dealing to feel shamed by a critique. This isn’t to say not to critique. My motto is to critique and examine everything. But I do feel this is a place where it should be done carefully, and complaints of kink shaming should be listened to, and considered. It’s entirely possible that you might listen to them, think about them, and decide that, no, that guy really is just an asshole (As appears to be the case in all the examples in the post above.)

    Having said all that, I didn’t see any shame in this post, and the fact that it’s been floating around in my head for a couple of months now goes to show it was thought provoking. The above is not a criticism of this post, or this comment thread. But possibly some food for thought, while we’re on the topic.

  22. Avatar of mariannconyers50
    November 6, 2013 at 10:05 am —

    This whole sex positive / sex negative movement has been making my head spin. I can’t help but feel it’s just a way of attempting to control the biased and often times misogynistic society we move around in. This was an excellent read though, thank you for taking the time to write it Heina. If you’re interested take a look at this other article on the same topic, it’s always been a favorite of mine due to its inspirational tone https://www.slixa.com/under-cover/426-a-critique-of-kelly-rose-pflug-blacks-why-sex

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