Sunday, 6 October 2013

5 problems with sex positivity

Although I am a sex positive activist, I don't believe subscribing to any tradition, political perspective or community, uncritically, is a good idea. The problems outlined below are things I've encountered in spaces that aren't explicitly feminist. But they are important, and they do matter.

1. Men dominating conversations on women's sexuality and bodies
I've found that in a spaces that aren't feminist the oppressive power dynamics found in any other place are reitterated and validated in discussions. The discussion is usually male centered, binarist, cissexist, heteronormative, etc. Some men use sex positivity and the discourse of 'preference' as a cloak to excuse their patriarchal generalisations. E.g. 'body hair (on women) is revolting'. Sex positivity should be about challenging patriarchal notions and normative, oppressive ideas about sexuality, and it saddens me that some men are accessing sex positive spaces to do the opposite.

Benjamin Rush, Carl Von Linné, Julien Offray de la Mettrie, Sylvester Graham, Richard Von Kraft-Ebing, John H Kellog, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey, Claudius Galerius, Samuel Tissoflt- the discourse on human sexuality has been dictated by white men, some making progressive arguments, some scientific and some oppressive, but all men. Most people in the world are not white men. And our sex positive spaces should endevour to not silence those who aren't, otherwise it's just the same old shit, under a different name.

2. Shallow analysis of the roots of sex negativity
Sex is political, just like anything else. Sexual behaviour has been policed, villianised, or encouraged thoughout history depending on the political climate. There's definitely positives in addressing the symptom (the experience of sexual shame and repression) but the discussuon of the cause is important for true progression. Sex positivity in relation to capitalism, sex positivity in relation to disability, to patriarchy, to the nuclear family? These  dialogues are missing. Sex positivity cannot simply be a tool for self validation alone, but for ensuring we can break the the cycle of sexual repression.

3. Pressumptions
I believe a sex positive space should be one in which people aren't subjected to others making tired presumptions about gender, sexuality, or experience of sexual desire. When writing about sex positivity leads to relative strangers (all men) contacting me pressuming that I want to have sex with them, this reinforces the idea that a woman discussing the politics of sex is a 'cert'. No, I don't want a photograph of your sex organs. Thank you. No, talking about sex doesn't automatically mean I experience a high sex drive, or that I want to answer questions about my sexual behaviour. Thank you. No, talking about sex doesn't mean that I'm heterosexual. This dialogue is not another tool to service male pleasure, it's a tool to challenge the assumptions, not reinforce them.

4. Slighlty missing the point
Sex positivity is not about uncritically claiming that all sex is great.
a)Sex is not always positive
b)and it's not essential for everyone.
Many people have a strained relationship with sex, and their own body, they may have sexual triggers or have survived sexual abuse or rape. The sex positive movement cannot make progression if we simply plaster over the fact that sex can be a negative experience and a tool of oppression. We are failing at communicating the true purpose of sex positivity if we exclude people with sexual triggers. It's not about saying 'woohoo, sex is always fabulous' it's about recognising that human sexuality is diverse, complicated and often an emotive topic. It's about saying that there is no 'wrong' way for a person to express their sexuality, or asexuality. We shouldn't be silencing survivors of sexual abuse, we should be shaming institutions that normalise it, we should be discussing consent.

People may choose not to engage in erotic behaviour and still lead rich, fulfilling lives. Sex positivity should not be about interveining to educate people who choose not to have sex, to tell them what they're missing. Sex positivity should not be about forcing people to discuss their own sexual behaviour if they don't want to, or pressuming that those who don't are victims of sexual shame.

5. Body negativity
I cannot count the number of times I've seen or partaken in discussions that transcend into body negativity. Why? Because although it's essential that sex positivity and body positivity are linked, someone forgot to put that on the group email, or the general memo. Fatshaming, thinshaming, disability shaming, normative beauty standards, body policing= not sex positive. Body positivity absolutely has to be a part of this movement because if not, then we're saying 'you only deserve sex positivity if you fit these narrow critera'. Expressions of sexuality are not hierarchical, hopefully most people realise that penetrative sex is not the Golden Chalice of erotic acts? Body types and appearences should also be discussed in a non-judgemental, non-heirarchical manner, too. Otherwise we are  shaming the tool used for the expression of human sexuality, and therefore we are encouraging sexual shame.

Conclusion? My sex positivity will be feminist, intersectional, self-critical, LGBTQ inclusive, disability positive, and radical, or it will be bullshit.

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  1. Well said, and rah. Heternormativity in particular drives me up a fucking wall.

    1. Me too! Thank you for taking the time to have a read!

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