Extensive discussion of genitalia and sexual activity below, including brief mentions of non-consensual activity. I’ve made my best effort to stay away from gender essentialist and cissexist language, but if I’ve failed, please feel free to let me know. In that same spirit, please try to refrain from equating gender and genitalia in the comments. Additionally, this is written from an allosexual point of view and, very likely, a pansexual bias. My thanks to the friends who responded to the original version of this post on Facebook for helping me to refine and process my thoughts.
Myths about penises are the wurst.
I would apologize for the bad, bad pun, but an apology implies regret as well as a desire to refrain from the action in future, and I am claiming no such thing. I want in on this action.
It is said that when a man mounts a man, the Divine Throne shakes out of the fear of Allah’s Wrath and the Heavens Tremble.
Then the angels start reciting, “Say: ‘He is Allah, the One; Allah, the self-sufficient. He does not beget nor is He begotten, and there is none like Him” (Ikhlas 112 1-4) until his wrath subsides. Source
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.
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.
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?
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.
Once upon a time, a veiled girl grew into a decidedly bare-headed young woman. As criticisms based on sexual pleasure were usually levied against, rather than by, the religious, she paid attention when religious folk criticized atheism in that way. Namely, certain theists claimed that without taboo, sex couldn’t possibly be as much fun. If they had been serious, she would have pointed out that the argument was the more benign cousin of the notion that sex is only good and healthy within the confines of monogamous, heterosexual marriage (her old religious, pedantic habits had yet to truly die).
As they were generally being playful, her mind went in a more pleasant direction. This isn’t to say that all of her religion-tinged sexual memories were good ones. She felt no goosebumps on her skin, just a wry smile playing upon her lips, when she recalled how her first partner once insisted she wear a headscarf during sex. She ended up feeling overheated and annoyed, not aroused. Darker were her memories of a tortured adolescence, one where an injunction against masturbation was delivered to her all too late to break the habit but soon enough to instill guilt. Flick, fret, flick, fret.
But she didn’t want to dwell on that. She recalled how lovely it was to feel the gentle warmth of the spring sunshine on the back of her neck and shoulders as she awaited a date for the first time. The accompanying breeze added to the tingling already coursing its way up and down her spine as she waited for her date to show up. Later, the fear of being caught fed the hunger with which her mouth tore into the one against it as the movie credits rolled.
Suddenly, she realized that she hadn’t violated a sexual boundary in years. Well, fuck, she thought. How could she get her spine to tingle like that again? She had no boundaries left that weren’t truly based on ethical considerations. Her feminism couldn’t provide any for her, either, since it was intersectional and sex-positive. It was clear that she needed to go on a quest for answers.
She first asked a hedonist, who said that she should just relax and enjoy it. She did so, and it was good, but not good enough. She next asked a philosopher, who said that she could always attempt to set up universal rather than contextual ethics. Such rules, the philosopher declared, were bound to lead to actions that could be considered wrong at some point (drowning babies, amirite?). Try as she might, though, she could not feel that she had willfully broken any meaningful rules. The same thing happened when she attempted to follow the advice of the kinkster who told her to set up power exchange rules with her partner. While the games were great fun, she could ultimately control the situation and opt out at any point. The next person she asked, a sex worker, told her to feed off of the invariably married clients’ deep wellspring of cheaters’ remorse, but the impersonal nature of the transactions enforced too much of a distance for that to work. At her wits’ end, she finally asked a therapist, who said that just as she had eliminated rather than accommodated her god-shaped hole, she needed to destroy her guilt-and-shame-shaped hole.
“But,” she pleaded. “I worked so hard to fill that god-shaped hole! And really, part of what plugged it was the shameless, sin-free sex!”
“Indeed,” nodded the therapist sagely. “Welp, time’s up, and I’m on vacation for the next two weeks, but feel free to book with me for after that.”
Drat, thought the young woman. What now?
Never one to Hamlet her way out of sex, she found her sweat mingling with another’s not too long after the therapy session. Hoping to fuck her way to the elusive thrill with the most intense sex she could muster in herself (and coax out of her partner), she let herself go. She swallowed and was swallowed, touched and was touched, pounced and was pounced upon, bit and was bitten. At the very height of her pleasure, she cried, “Oh, God, yes!”
Suddenly, the sheets at which she clutched were a deeper red, all that she was pressing into her lover and what her lover was pressing into her felt heartbreakingly beautiful, and the eerie light from the monitor that provided the only illumination in the room threw everything into sharp focus.
Maybe it was the fact that she was taking a deity’s name in vain in the throes of decidedly heathenish sexual congress. Maybe it was the naughty recollection that saying “God” was safer than saying a name, since it would be all too easy for her to moan the wrong one. Perhaps it was the implicit deification of her partner (“god” rather than “God”) or of the sex itself. It could have even been the very meaninglessness of what she was crying out.
Whichever way it might turn out to be, it felt great.
Well pleased, she spread the word as far and as wide as she could. After all, she argued, the non-religious should be able to do whatever ethical things that they needed to do to get there. What was the harm in invoking a non-existent being? Others heard her words, and some tried it out, and for many, it wasn’t good — it was great.
And that’s why, to this day, more than a few atheists say “God” when they have sex.
A friend bought Bending for me for my birthday and it was, ahem, truly a gift that kept on giving. You can buy it for Kindle or Nook or via Smashwords.
college students often harbor a sexual double standard around dates that is relatively relaxed when it comes to in-the-moment hookups. In hookup scenarios, the study found, students are open to a woman taking the sexual lead.
We all know that standard (a.k.a. latex and polyurethane) condoms don’t have little holes in them to let the AIDS swim right through (as a woman accompanying Brother Jed once solemnly told me), that the amount of birth control pills someone takes doesn’t correlate with the amount of sex they are having, and that you don’t get STIs from having sex during menstruation (true story: one religious book I read claimed this was the case), right? One would hope.