Sex-positive does not mean misogyny-friendly!

I can’t speak for any other ‘sex-positive’ feminist (versus ‘anti-porn’ feminists, who are in no way required to be ‘sex-negative’), but I can speak for myself and my values. Vociferate’s Andrea wrote what I consider to be a very disappointing rant on sex-positive feminism. I don’t know who she’s reading, but categorizing all of us as (basically) patriarchy-apologists is as bad as if I decided to label all radical feminists as transphobes based on commenters like funnie. I don’t have a chance to reply to her post on her blog, as she only allows blogger members to comment, but it probably would have been a case of Attack of the 50-line Comment anyway.

What I got from her post is that, in a nutshell, Andrea believes that (all?) sex-positive feminists:

  1. Dismiss the potential harm of porn.
  2. Perpetuate the ‘myth’ of rape fantasies because it’s what men want to hear.
  3. Believe that radical feminists, or any non-’sex-positive’ feminists, are anti-sex.
  4. Use the label to be a constant reminder that they like sex.
  5. Are defined solely by their one label as ‘sex-positive’.
  6. Must, by nature, be seeking a ‘compromise’ with male sexual entitelment.

Please, Andrea, don’t speak for me; you have neither the knowledge, nor the right. Engage with the argument, engage with the issues, but do not label us all by what you have seen in your limited research. That is no better than the kind of stereotyping all feminsits get from anti/non-feminists. Like the feminist movement as a whole, sex-positive feminists are not one trick ponies. We have different takes, and different interpretations, on pornography and sexuality. Taking the main points from Andrea’s post that I outlined above, I will present a different, but most assuredly sex-positive, take on that branch of feminism.

I. The potential harm of porn

Andrea accuses us of ‘dismiss[ing] the idea that porn causes men to view women as objects for their use,’ and I won’t deny that I have seen some sex-positive feminists do just that. It is hard, for both sides, to draw the line between embracing one’s sexuality (and sexual desires) and objectifying (or being objectified). And, you know what? It’s not an easy distinction. It’s not always as easy as Playboy or Hustler. I don’t agree with flat out saying, ‘yay porn!’ but I can understand the mentality. Of course, just as I don’t agree with flat out saying, ‘boo porn!’ I can understand that mentality, too.

In simplest terms, my stance on porn is that I am pro in its most basic form (material that arouses), but anti-mainstream (and not-so-mainstream like Suicide Girls), anti-industry, and anti-porn culture. There is nothing wrong with me wanting to get off on sexually explicit pictures, stories, videos, scenarios, etc. And, for the record, I don’t think anti-porn feminists are saying that there is. The difference between me and anti-porn feminists is that I believe that, while hard, it is not impossible to have pornography in this culture that doesn’t objectify/degrade the participants (not always women, as with the case in male gay porn).

My mom is anti-porn, and with good reason. She has been tangibly harmed by American porn culture. She has been held up to those impossibly high standards and has been found wanting. She has, in essence, been a victim of pornography. I get that. My sex-positive stance does not and should not preclude me from acknowledging and criticizing harm pornography has done, and will continue to do for as long as it remains unchecked. Just as Andrea’s feminist stance does not, and should not, preclude her from engaging in a critique of another feminist stance she doesn’t agree with (however regrettable I think her chosen way of addressing it was).

II. Rape: Fantasy versus Reality

I dislike Andrea’s insinuation that rape fantasies are a ‘myth.’ She is not omniscient (nor do I think she would claim to be), and therefore she cannot have definitive evidence of what does, and does not, turn a person on. I do think, though, that her concern that it’s “dangerous for women for this idea to be around,” is a valid one, and one that should be considered before bringing up rape fantasies in any conversation.

Consideration, however, is not the same thing as blanket denial based on what seem to be misattributed sentiments. I would like to point out that what she blames on sex-positive feminists arguing for people’s rights to have rape fantasies is, in fact, better attributable to the patriarchy’s rape culture. I, personally, have never heard a feminist (of any stripe) tell a survivor that she’s “making a fuss over nothing,” or that “the biggest turn-on for a woman is rape.” I have, however, heard misogynists who wouldn’t listen to a feminist argument even if it came out of Rush Limbaugh’s mouth espouse that BS. And, personally, I think victim blaming is one of the few things that would merit someone’s “feminist club card” (so to speak) being revoked. I don’t think it’s fair to malign all sex-positive feminists based on misogynist crap that may or may not have actually been advocated by someone claiming to be a “sex-positive feminist.”

Part of the problem, I think, is that what she thinks of as a ‘rape fantasy’ is vastly different than the explanations for it that I’ve seen. Her claim that these fantasies are tantamount to women “getting moist about people raping them” is based on the reality of rape, rather than the idealized power play that the fantasizers wish to interact with. After all, a fantasy is, by definition, something not real. I have never encountered, met, or heard of a person who wants to actually be raped. Which is not to say that such a person cannot exist, but rather that when people (sex-positive feminists or otherwise) talk about ‘rape fantasies’ they are talking about role playing between consenting adults. That, right off the bat, removes the core of what makes rape a disgusting and heinous act: violating a person against their will.

What’s left is the eroticization of power, which is a double-edged sword. One argument is that the eroticization of power is a vestige of influence left over from the centuries of patriarchal oppression and therefore it cannot exist in a truly egalitarian society, and furthermore hampers the formation of such. The other argument is that, regardless of its origins (taught or innate), people do eroticize power, and it is more productive to do so in an informed, consenting way than to let it manifest itself in harmful ways (hiding under ‘romance’ and leading to anything from unequal relationships to domestic violence and even rape). I can understand the first argument, but I must confess that I lean more towards the second.

III. Sex-positive’s opposite is not ‘sex-negative’

No matter what the unfortunate name may imply, “sex-positive” isn’t an accusation that anyone not agreeing with us must hate sex. The two basic camps I’ve seen are ‘sex-positive’ and ‘anti-porn,’ with the dividing line between the two being their stance on whether or not pornography has the potential to be non-exploitative. I sparked a long, but productive, conversation on the terms and ideals over in the comments on a post at Mind the Gap. The entire thing is worth a read, but I’ll just pull the relevant parts to illustrate my point.

I don’t know why the group chose “sex-positive” for their label. Although thinking about it, I can’t come up with another term that isn’t equally problematic.

I’ve taken up the term because that group, in general, typifies my understanding of feminism and pornography. The sort of “opposite” camp is the anti-porn feminists (again, their terms).

I argued that all feminists object to exploitation of female sexuality. Personally, I think exploitation and equality are mutually exclusive. Anti-porn feminists, I said, believe that the product (pornography, sex work, etc) cannot be separted from the industry (and I’d like to add, the culture) and therefore is unacceptable in all forms. Sex-positive feminists, on the other hand, believe that it is not that the product needs to be removed, but rather that the industry and the culture need to be changed. As I’ve mentioned before, both positions are deserving of respect no matter where you stand on them.

IV. Like, omigawd, I like sex so I must be a sex-positive feminist!

I am not some green virgin who goes around talking about how much she likes sex. I will talk about sex, sure, and liking it – when appropriate. Sometimes when not appropriate, but that has nothing to do with being a sex-positive feminist and everything to do with me having a habit of saying inappropriate things. I’m not sex-positive because I’m horny, I’m sex-positive because that is the school of thought that best meshes with my stance on sexual culture.

As part of her argument, Andrea says:

Sex positive feminists defend their position by stating sex is only one of their areas of interest, which is what other feminists do day in, day out, and receive no special recognition for. My suggestion is that if you do not wish to be indentified by the characteristic of your ‘position’ on sex, do not choose such a characteristic to define yourselves by.

When I saw that, my reaction was, excuse me? If I’m reading it right (which, I confess, I may not be as the paragraph is confusing to me), she’s saying that sex-positive feminists should be defined solely by that characteristic. As should be obvious from my blog, sex is only one of my areas of interest. One that I don’t blog about often, and when I do I probably come across more as anti-porn (or even anti-sex) than sex-positive. At least to those who conflate correlation with causation, or believe that attacking a product/industry/company that perpetuates the exploitation of women is the same as claiming men are sexual beasts who are slaves to their hormones.

And, anyway, why should my sex-positive feminist aspect be any more important than my feminist gamer one? Or my geeky feminist one? Or my angry feminist one? I am not a single issue kind of girl. I am the sum of all my parts, and my sex-positive stance is but one of many. To say I’m a sex-positive feminst (full stop) would be to cheat me of my unique humanity. I’m a sex-positive feminst, yes, but I am also a fantasy-reading, game-playing, people-loving (and hating), green-haired freak and so much more.

V. Sexuality != sexual entitlement

And here I find myself in a ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t, so I may as well go with what works for me,’ scenario. Some anti-porn feminists (as I wouldn’t say that anti-porn feminists are necessarily anti-sex-positive feminists, just not in agreement with us) believe that our stance is taken for the express purpose of becoming ‘acceptable’ to the patriarchy. Non-feminist pro-porn people I’ve talked to seem to think quite the opposite about me. Who’s right? Both and neither.

Both because 1) I do use my stance as a way to reach out to those who would never give the time of day to an anti-porn argument, however rationally it is presented. I suffer no delusions that my words will give them an ephiphany and they’ll say, “You’re right! I promise to stop supporting the industry and the objectification of women.” However, I do hope that by showing them a different side of the sexual culture, it may cause them to be more critical of what practices they support and why. And 2) Because I am uncompromising on issues like the treatment of sex-workers (who are, surprise!, overwhelmingly female) and that puts my ‘grey’ a little too dark for many avid porn advocates to stomach. One side effect of being a sex-positive feminist, I suppose. I care about women as if we were people. Oh, wait, we are.

Neither because, when it comes down to it, it isn’t about being ‘acceptable’ to menfolk, or viewing the world in a black and white frame. For me, it’s about finding an egalitarian sexual atmosphere that welcomes all consentual adult expressions of sexuality, whether I personally like them or not. After all, how can I preach gender democracy and then turn around and form a sexual dictatorship? No one should have a right to tell a woman what to do with her life, whether it be becoming a stay-at-home-mom or being tied up because she likes it.

VI. Conclusion

I’m not asking Andrea (or any other person who feels the same as she does) to agree with, or like, sex-positive feminism in any of its incarnations. I’m not asking her to refrain from examining the rationale behind it, or thinking about how it affects society. Critical thinking is good. Constructive criticism is good. Ranting, even, is good. But, I don’t think that it’s helpful to write off an entire school of thought as “immature,” especially not when you’ve only seen the most extreme elements. Deconstruct the arguments, sure, but don’t alienate those of us who respect you and your opinions (even if sometimes they differ from ours).

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Add to favorites
  • Reddit
  • Tumblr
This entry was posted in Feminism, Personal, Pornography, Sex, sexuality, and sexual politics. Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to Sex-positive does not mean misogyny-friendly!

  1. Lake Desire says:

    Great post, Andrea! You do a great job finding common ground on something you acknowledge you aren’t impartial to.

    I’d like to see a most specific term than sex-positive. I am reluctant to use it (besides being undecided on many pro-sex/anti-porn debates) because my own sexuality is mostly dormant, and I feel labeling myself sex-positive sounds otherwise.

  2. tekanji says:

    Thanks for that; LD. I was afraid that I came across as too judgemental, seeing as Andrea’s post upset me and I wrote my response late at night. I do wish that I could post over there, though, because her commenters are unlikely to see this and therefore will get a skewed (and bad) impression of sex-positive feminism. Damn trolls who made her go account-only! ._.

    I think the problems with finding a better term are twofold: 1) “sex-positive” is already a widespread and widely known term; and 2) finding one equally problematic is no easy task (and I did try). If you find that your values mesh more with the sex-positive side, but don’t want to label yourself that because of your potential asexuality, you can always take the same tactic that some feminist-leaning men do: call yourself a pro-sex-pos feminist. ^_^

  3. Laura says:

    I am fairly new to feminism so obviously I haven’t read that much yet, but so far every sex-postive article/blog I have come across has appeared to reflect the views mentioned in Andrea’s blog, so it was great to read your response. I was wondering what your thoughts were on whether it is actually possible to create sexually explicit material/pornography that is based on equality considering the extensive influence of the mainstream misogynistic porn industry and the current levels of inequality and disrespect for women existent in almost every area of modern society. Is this achievable, and if so, how?

  4. tekanji says:

    I am fairly new to feminism so obviously I haven’t read that much yet, but so far every sex-postive article/blog I have come across has appeared to reflect the views mentioned in Andrea’s blog…

    Welcome to the club! ^_^ For some views similar to mine on sex-positive feminism, I recommend Amanda of Pandagon (you can read her take on what it means to be sex positive) and Bitch | Lab.

    I was wondering what your thoughts were on whether it is actually possible to create sexually explicit material/pornography that is based on equality… if so, how?

    Yes. In some aspects, like certain kinds of erotica writing, I’d argue that it already exists. In others, such as mainstream pornography, the battle is much harder to fight. I think the best way for us to move in the direction of egalitarian porn is to examine and critique the misogynistic conventions and practices that make up the culture currently. Only through understanding the ins and outs of the harm, I think, can we hope to subvert it.

    I know the proposed solution is rather… esoteric… but, living in a misogynistic environment means that it’s not as easy as a feminist producing pornography and saying, “Look, it’s equal!” because we are not immune to sexism, either.

  5. Darth Sidhe says:

    Quick note: one of the largest appeals of the rape fantasy, from the people I’ve discussed it with in a power exchange environment, is that the “victim” doesn’t need to put any work into it. Certainly, there is the thrill of the fight-or-flight response moderated by the knowledge that the situation isn’t real, and there is also the thrill of pretending you’re powerless for a while — and if Vociferate’s Andrea doesn’t believe that there are people of all genders who are both mentally healthy and like to give up control over themselves to the person of their choosing at the time of their choosing, there’s really no point in discussing such matters with her. But there is also the fact that you can get that thrill without having to set up an elaborate seduction at the end of a tiring day.

    Also: I still can’t highlight sections of your entry to quote them.

  6. tekanji says:

    Thanks for the insight into the dynamics of rape fantasies.

    And, yeah, I haven’t tried to fix the IE problem yet. It’s sort of low on the list, although if I was a good little blogger I’d put the entire site through the grinder and make sure that it is W3C compatible. It may not be the 100% cure, but at least then I could say, “See, I did everything I could!” I promise I’ll get on it soon… ish….

  7. Darth Sidhe says:

    Also, “The vast majority of women would not like anal sex…”

    Oh, bullshit. Has she even asked “the vast majority of women” whether they like buttsex or the idea of it? Or is she just extrapolating from the fact that women in most porn flicks have whatever shoved up their rear ends with spit as lube and act as if it’s the best thing ever? (Note to whoever out there is interested in buttsex: if you think you’re using too much lube, it’s probably not enough.)

    And “the vast majority of women” would not like it if what? At all? Or just if their SO just started banging them in the butt without any warm-up? Or if they just did it to make their SO quit whining about how they never have buttsex? Even if their SO took some time to discuss it with them, present it as something no-pressure and interesting to try, and take it slow and easy if/when they decide they want to give it a try?

    Augh. Such a little statement to piss me off so much. And now that I’m reading the article over again, it makes me want to stab someone.

    Sex positive feminism is also incredibly immature. Most people by adulthood have accepted sex to be a normal part of some adult relationships. They feel no need to constantly remind everyone they enjoy sex like some teenager attempting to convince his friends he’s not a virgin.
    Sex positive feminism giggles its sexual willingness and prowess, whilst sneering at all the ugly prude feminists.

    The whole fucking point of sex-positive anything is to dispel the shame that’s piled up around discussing sex as rational adults and not in the hushed, “giggling” whispers characteristic of immaturity. It’s great that Vociferate’s Andrea is so secure in her sexuality — most other people don’t have that luxury and will still be controlled by the shame surrounding sex.

    Or has sex positive feminism forgotten reproduction happens because of sex through its pre-occupation with defending BDSM and pictures of boobs?

    Oh, is this person the one you’ve previously quoted who’s an “ex-kinkster” and insists that BDSM is an expression of mental illness?

    I think I need to rant at length about this, so I’m going to stop before it becomes The Attack of the 50-line Comment.

  8. Ragnell says:

    You’ve jsut covered one of my pet peeves and illustrated why I love to read your blog.

    Political Simplicity.

    Why do people feel a need to polarize an issue and assume people’s stances are the extreme? Most people fall into a wide range politically, and it seems to me that characterizing any movement based on the extremes, and putting words into its advocates’ mouths, is a way to avoid thinking. And that is a dangerous way to be making decisions. I fall into it, too, though it’s a habit I’m trying to break. I freely admit, this being my first introduction to “sex-positive feminism” as I’m not very knowledgeable political theory (but I can easily rattle off the unfortunate fates of superhero love interests), I probably would’ve reacted like her commenters if I’d seen her post first instead of yours.

    (You didn’t come off as judgmental at all, btw)

  9. tekanji says:

    Why do people feel a need to polarize an issue and assume people’s stances are the extreme?

    Black and white is a whooooooole lot easier to conceptualize than grey, I’m afraid.

    I probably would’ve reacted like her commenters if I’d seen her post first instead of yours.

    Which is another reason why her post upsets me so much. She does a very good job of making sex-positive feminists come off as jerks without, you know, actually knowing anything about sex-positive feminism. I feel like a radical feminist – coming from a group that is subjected to that same exact BS stereotyping – should know better.

    I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I hope that it gets some play so people will know that the kind of sex-positive feminism portrayed by Vociferate’s Andrea is not typical for sex-positive feminism.

  10. Andrea says:

    It’s interesting that you recommend Bitch Lab, Andrea, since that’s one of the pages I read fair bit of and was distinctly unimpressed. Nor did I actually assume Bitch Lab was an extreme version of sex postive feminism, since it has such a readership. Had I wanted to do that I would have probably fairly easily found a suitable site.

    I also assume anyone reading my blog is capable of forming their own opinions, my blog posts are expressions of my opinion, not an instruction manual to ‘followers’.
    It is true that my assertion that most women do not desire anal sex is an assumption, based on the many women I have known, and the rather sensible idea that most humans avoid physical pain. Assumption or not, I suspect it is true.

    A lot of the points here seem to be based on what individuals have decided I have said, rather than what I have actually said, and so I won’t waste my time on them. But whether it is disappointing or not, that is my opinion on sex postive feminism. I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but I have the right to express my own opinions on my own blog, I think.

  11. kristy says:

    I for one am sex positive yet very very anti-porn.

    I can’t imagine any porn ever being helpful to fighting against the patriachy.

    You really should read ariel’s book as she talks quite a it about it and no shes not completely anti-sex feminism.

  12. Andrea says:

    Part of my point was intended to be, and fair enough maybe I didn’t make it very well, my neighbour had me up at 4am, that I think the idea of ‘sex positive’ being in opposition to radical feminism is ridiculous, since there is nothing ‘sex negative’ about radical feminism, and I feel those who need to define a seperate feminism based on the position on sex are pandering to male judgements.
    I haven’t been a virgin for quite some time and quite some men, and like any other adult female, enjoy sex a lot. I didn’t really want to start getting into my personal life online, but much of what pisses me off is the assertion I’ve seen many time from sex pos feminists that rad fems are ‘bitter’ or ‘prudish’ or ‘just can’t handle a woman open about sex’.

    Anyway, this has taken up enough of my time, I think.

    And Andrea, I didn’t say any feminist has had that response toward a rape survivor. Sex positive feminism echoes the view of masochistic women already prevalent in society, and if we have feminists stating women are masochistic, it makes the job of keeping women safe harder.

  13. Darth Sidhe says:

    I hope that it gets some play so people will know that the kind of sex-positive feminism portrayed by Vociferate’s Andrea is not typical for sex-positive feminism.

    I would love to see where the kind of sniggering attitudes she calls “sex-positive feminism” exist as an actual movement, and I would like to know why anyone would feel the urge to apply that name to said attitudes, unless it’s simply to have an easy target to attack. It puts me in mind of an anti-feminist defining all feminists as anti-medicine bra-burning humourless hysterics in order to make it easier to justify — and receive support for — an unjustifiable contempt for feminist ideals.

  14. tekanji says:

    And here again, Andrea, I’m disappointed in your response. Because I respect you, I tried to show an in-depth, non-judgemental differing view of sex-positive feminism. I had hoped that you could at least read it and get what I was trying to say. Instead you come back with a, “I stand by my black and white view about sex-positive feminists, and I have a right to say what I want to say, nyah nyah.” You may have wrapped it up in polite words, but how, Andrea is that mature? How is it mature to judge me on ideals I don’t subscribe to because you can’t get over semantics, or what others have said? How is it polite?

    I have never condemned radical feminists for their beliefs, so do not treat me as if I did. And that is exactly what your second comment is doing, especially since I stated (quite clearly) in my post that sex-negative is not the opposite of sex-positive.

    And you continue to misunderstand the kind of stance sex-positive is. It is not a 1:1 with radical feminism. Radical feminism can easily work as a stand-alone view. It encompasses many different areas and can be applied to several aspects of a person’s life. I see you identifing as a radical feminist like I identify as a third-wave feminist. Identifying as a sex-positive, feminist, however, is an expression on my stance on the sexual culture (porn, industry, actual culture), with the other main group being anti-porn. It is part of my personality, just as being a feminist gamer is. My feminist gamer is an expression of my stance on gaming culture (games, industry, culture). Or female geek. It’s an important distinction to make, and more than a few of the misconceptions you choose to hold stem from that.

    If you want to hold your black and white view of sex-positive feminists and continue to malign them, then that is your right. I, however, have no wish to be unfairly judged by someone who should be my ally. I hae no desire to be dismissed, maligned, and called names. I have given you the benefit of the doubt until now, but I don’t have patience for someone who obviously doesn’t respect me and my beliefs.

  15. K (confused Swede) says:

    Please forgive this ignorance from a non-us visitor…
    I never understood the term “sex-positive”, it sound weird to me, like there are sex-negative people, what are those: asexuals? Very moral christians?
    What does it mean for you, Tekanji, to be “sex positive?” It would be great if you explained…

  16. tekanji says:

    kristy: By “sex positive” what do you mean? I’m using the term not in a literal sense, but as a label.

    All feminists, as I’ve said, are in favour of women being in touch with their sexuality. Outside of porn, the main issues I see dividing the two groups I’ve observed (and there could be more that I’m not aware of) are issues like BDSM, play parties, etc. Where do you fall on those? Sex-pos are in the spectrum that thinks they are overall good (though not above critique), while anti-porn people tend to put them in the overall bad category. It’s also very possible to consider yourself to be in neither camp, but somewhere in between.

  17. tekanji says:

    kristy: I meant to cover this in the first response and forgot. I don’t think it’s that sex-positive feminists think that porn will “help fight the patriarchy,” per se. It’s more that we believe that porn isn’t inherently a tool for the patriarchy, but that it has been used (and continues to be used) as such. In that way, it is entirely possible to separate porn from the patriarchy.

    K: The label “sex-positive” is not the same as the dichotomy of the concepts of “sex positive” versus “sex negative.” I address that in article III of my post. I suggest you focus on that section, because it also outlines pretty clearly what it means to me to be a “sex-positive feminist.”

  18. K says:

    Thank you for being patient and pointing it out, I think I understand now.

  19. tekanji says:

    K: My pleasure. If you want some more information, you can also check out the Wikipedia article. I don’t agree with everything it says in there, but I think it gives a decent overall view of some of the various areas of focus.

    Also, if you have any specific questions or subjects you want me to talk about in more detail, please feel free to ask.

  20. This is a rather stupid and straightforward question, but how did you get initiated into sex-positive feminism? I’m sorry if I sound magnificently dumb, I’m just a gawky teenager.

  21. tekanji says:

    Haha, “initiated” sounds like it’s some kind of sex cult. :D

    Seriously, though, I wouldn’t say I ever got initiated, so to speak. When I came across the term and found that in most cases it jived with my morality/ideology on sex/sexuality, I adopted the it for myself.

  22. Andrea says:

    Actually, Andrea, I didn’t treat YOU in any fashion because of anything. I had no idea that you described yourself as ‘sex positive’ when I wrote the post, and it’s irrelevant to me now.
    I described the experience I have had of sex positive feminism so far, I’m sorry if that pisses you off, but I’m not going to lie about what I’ve seen to suit someone else.
    Nor will I back down and change my opinion when I have seen nothing to convince me to change it, however impolite or immature you may find that. And surprisingly enough, my post wasn’t actually about you, and nor was my second comment.

    Far from being someone with an axe to grind, I examined sex positive material and made objective judgements based on what I found. It was certainly not my intention to see so called feminists bitching at each other. I’ve experienced equal hostility from feminists over my post as I usually experience from anti-feminists.

    If it was your intention to enlighten me about my misconceptions, I only wonder that you didn’t send me an email containing the link to your blog post, it would have been helpful.
    Whether you respect me, Andrea, is entirely up to you, I can’t say the more bitchy comments on this post have invoked much respect from me.
    Since you yourself said you wouldn’t ask anyone who feels the way I do to like sex positive feminism, it looks like we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  23. Thomas says:

    Tekanji, this is a thoughtful post and I expect I’ll comment more later as time permits — I agree with a lot of what you say but I’ve sort of soured on the term “sex-positive” because it’s just so divisive.

    One thing I wanted to respond to right away, both because it’s the low-hanging fruit and because it’s symbolic of the misunderstandings that we end up fighting our friends over.

    Andrea said above that she assumes that most women don’t like anal sex, in part, because people like to avoid pain. This assumption that anal sex is necessarily painful for the enveloping partner is common and wrong. I’m both the penetrating and enveloping partner in anal intercourse all the time, and it’s not painful unless that’s the effect my partner and I are specifically trying to achieve. With patience, communication and lots of lube, almost anyone can have non-painful, pleasurable anal stimulation.

    This might seem like a nit, but it’s not. If a feminist assumes that anal sex hurts women and that my partners don’t want it, he or she probably makes some nasty, accusatory assumptions about how I conduct myself with my female sex partners, and then it’s tough to have a civil conversation.

  24. Sam says:

    Outside of porn, the main issues I see dividing the two groups I’ve observed (and there could be more that I’m not aware of) are issues like BDSM, play parties, etc. Where do you fall on those? Sex-pos are in the spectrum that thinks they are overall good (though not above critique), while anti-porn people tend to put them in the overall bad category.

    I suppose you intended that to distance sex positive feminism from its generally understood meaning as pro-porn and pro-prostitution, but it actually reinforces that pro-sex-industry is really what is meant by “sex positive feminism”, not division over issues of sex play done without profit. The last sentence of yours I re-quoted directly contrasts “Sex-pos” against “anti-porn”. Differences in opinion over how pro-woman porn, prostitution, and the rest of the modern sex industry are is really where the main difference lies.

    I’m not cool with the recent revisionism trying desperately to erase this basic, functioning definition of what “sex positive feminism” really means, pro-pornography and pro-sex work. It reminds me of people (you know you’ve met them) who call themselves pro-life but in discussion turn out to agree that women should be able to choose abortion. The term pro-life has an ingrained meaning outside of their personal definition of it, but they call themselves pro-life anyway.

    I’d like to see less of this new concoction that sex positive feminism is really about accepting “play parties” and BDSM and rape fantasies and not so much about supporting, and often calling feminist, the billion-dollar pornography industry while renaming prostitution and sex trafficking as “sex work” and “migration for sex work.” I’m not cool with sex-pos feminists putting their support, use and growing capitalization of pornography and prostitution in the fine print at the bottom of the page. It’s central, and I’m suspicious of attempts to decentralize it, especially when the sex-pos charge is led by those with personal interests in defending pornstitution.

    With all the astute criticism of the unproductive, baiting nature of the phrase “sex positive feminist” that’s really a backhanded slap to feminists as a whole, why the digging-in of heels and unsuccessful attempts at making support of pornography & prostitution a smaller part of what “sex positive” means when abandoning the phrase altogether seems a more broadly beneficial course of action?

  25. tekanji says:

    On the use of “sex-positive feminism”: I decided to put it up here because both Thomas and Sam brought it up and (as much as I love hearing myself talk… er watching myself type) it’s best addressed once.

    Sam’s point on the “pro-life” movement is well taken. When you have two seemingly opposed movments where the middle ground overlaps, it can often be harmful to clarity and mutual understanding to stick to one or the other. Honestly, the places I’ve seen people calling themselves “sex-positive” have contained the majority of people being on a similar wavelength with me, and the ones who are “pro-porn no matter what” treated as the fringe element. Is it necessarily the absolute breakdown of the movement? Well, obviously not if so many people have felt the majority of sex-pos feminists they have come across are against criticizing porn-cutlure.

    That being said, I’d like to offer a counter example: that of feminism itself.

    What many feminists think of our movement today is a multi-faceted, many-voiced, diverse set of schools of thought. But that is not always the case. There are still those who believe that it is too focued on the white, middle-class, straight women. Some feminists have chosen to reform from the inside. Others have chosen to leave the movement altogether. That’s why we have other movements, such as humanism and womanism.

    The history of the term feminism is not always a proud one. The current use and abuse of it is not always an accurate one, either. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had people (women, too, not just men) tell me how they don’t want to identify as feminist/pro-feminist because they feel the term itself excludes them. Or that they feel that it advocates female supremacy. Or that it’s only for hairy-legged man-haters. Talking with them, though, they believe in and support the struggle for equality.

    Should we then abandon this term in favour of something more egalitarian like “humanist”? I know I’ve considered it. My mother likes to engage me in discussions about possible name changes, or new organizations, that work without the baggage the word femism carries in the hopes of a “backdoor feminism” approach being more successful.

    And, then, how does sex-pos feminism fit into all of this? Is the visible uncritical acceptance of porn culture the defining feature? Or is it balanced out by the real good the feminist criticism has done in the non-feminist sex-pos circles?

    It’s a complex issue (what isn’t?) that I don’t have any answers to. But, I guess, until such time as I find another word/movement that better describes my position on sex/sexuality, I’ll stick to the middle ground of sex-pos and work on improving it from the inside out.

    Thomas: I’m looking forward to your thoughts on my post. And thank you for sharing your experiences with anal sex. As I have not, personally, experienced it as of yet I didn’t feel confident to address that point. What you’ve said, however, jives with everything I’ve heard/read on the matter.

    If a feminist assumes that anal sex hurts women and that my partners don’t want it, he or she probably makes some nasty, accusatory assumptions about how I conduct myself with my female sex partners, and then it’s tough to have a civil conversation.

    I understand. It is my intent to put out a civil dissenting POV on this issue, but it is very hard for me to separate my negative feelings when I feel it is my very sexuality that is the target of accusatory assumptions. The comments from you and Sam have really done a lot to lift my heart on this matter.

    Sam: You know, it’s so much easier to hold values than it is to explain them. I feel like the more I try to clairfy, the more I put my foot in my mouth. ^^;

    Differences in opinion over how pro-woman porn, prostitution, and the rest of the modern sex industry are is really where the main difference lies.

    I’d say that’s a fair summation. Although I still am not sure how well I’m conveying my idea that part of my sex-pos feminist stance is being pro-porn and pro-sexwork but (and this is a big but) also understanding, and critical, of the misogynistic industry/culture in which they exist. At this stage of the game, I think I’m more pro-idea of those kinds of jobs/materials rather than the current reality of them. Does that make any sense?

    I’m not cool with sex-pos feminists putting their support, use and growing capitalization of pornography and prostitution in the fine print at the bottom of the page. It’s central, and I’m suspicious of attempts to decentralize it, especially when the sex-pos charge is led by those with personal interests in defending pornstitution.

    Can you give me some concrete examples of where you see this in sex-pos feminism? Being able to see some influential sex-pos feminists who look uncritially at the system may help me to understand where some of the friction on the issue comes from.

  26. Thomas says:

    I’m about to violate any unwritten rules this blog may have about comment length.

    The “sex pos” argument is one of the most heated in feminism, and the most likely to cause feminists to fight with each other. That distresses me for a simple reason: I feel that even feminists I really disagree with are more my natural allies than our real enemies on the far right. For reasons I’ll get to, I often feel that certain feminists want to throw me under the bus, and sometimes I react to that with flashes of temper and annoyance. But at the end of the day, if Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell enact their Handmaid’s-Tale-As-Guide theocracy, I’ll be hanged. As an affluent straight white male, I might have a shot at hiding or pretending to repent and join the dark side, and then I’d have to watch while they hanged all my GLBT friends and enslaved all the women I care about, but eventually they’d get me and hang me as a pervert. So, I’m basically with radical feminists, even the ones who don’t like me, and against the forces of evil.

    I said above that I’ve soured on the term “sex positive” because it’s divisive. As this comment thread shows, lots of anti-porn feminists (1) believe that support for the sex industry is the sine qua non of sex-pos; and (2)feel that the term itself caricatures them as prudes. I’m not sure that sex-pos has a lot of use for its proponents anymore, or at least not uses that I support. If one means to say, “I’m pro-porn and sex work,” then it’s much clearer to say it that way. If one means to say, “I’m a feminist who disagrees with many radical feminists, but I’m not really in favor of the porn or sex industries,” then using the term “sex positive” is a good way to be misunderstood. And if one means, “I’m a feminist, but please like me because I’m not like those radical feminists,” then that’s not a message any of us ought to be sending anyway.

    But the problem isn’t with the term, which in may ways is just shorthand for much larger and more intractable disagreements. There’s the porn issue, of course. I respect the anti-porn position; I’m skeptical of the uncritical pro-porn position, and I’m in between. The exegesis on the porn issue can’t be shoehorned into an already bloated comment, but I’m somewhere near Tekanji on this: what people make because it’s their authentic expression and not because they’re making money, and what they make for an audience that they have common ground with and that will understand it as an expression and not merely the (female) body commodified to fill their entitlement cup, is fine by me. In practice, that means I oppose the industry and hope Vivid Video burns to the ground tonight; two lesbians jilling off in front of a crowd of their friends in DUMBO is affirmatively a good thing; and everything else is in between.

    On sex work, I’m a Swedish Model proponent: legalization and decriminalization encourage the trafficking of women; but I prefer that only the johns be subject to punishment.

    If, then, uncritical support for the sex and porn industries is the sine qua non of sex positivism, I’m not sex positive.

    (But I’ve said before that the term’s literal antonym, “sex negative,” does have uses. The really sex-negative folks are Christians who adopt “theology of the body,” that pleasure in and of itself is sinful outside the context of a church-approved relationship.)

    There’s a bundle of issues that arises in this debate other than commodification in the sex and porn industries, though. BDSM is the one that gets my goat. I’m a sadomasochist. I’m a switch, but mostly a bottom, and mostly (these days in practical terms exclusively) to my wife. There are plenty of feminists, including radical feminists, that fundamentally have a problem with BDSM. Some of these folks declare that BDSMers refuse to discuss what we do, or to examine the impact of a patriarchal culture on our practices, or to talk about how playing with power dynamics in scene impacts our lives out-of-scene. I think those assertions are all unfounded and some of the folks, for example, on Alas have had long, very open discussions of those issues.

    Some folks, and some radical feminists, are transphobes. I’m never going to validate that prejudice.

    And some folks make the darnedest assumptions about all kinds of sexual practices — like that anal sex is necessarily miserable for the enveloping partner, though gay men all over the world do it as an act of intimacy and pleasure.

    In find myself reading things by women who seem to talk a lot of sense on rape and on porn and on the trafficking of women — and then they take some gratuitous shot at BDSM or at transgenders, and they lose me.

    So, there’s a bunch of us who are in the broadest sense “sex-positive” because we’re pro- safe, sane, consensual BDSM; pro-some forms of non-commercial porn or erotica; pro-trans. I, for one, can agree with much of what anti-porn feminists say, and I don’t subscribe to the view that anti-porn is in any way anti-sex. But BDSM isn’t just something I do; it’s a core component of my sexuality, and it’s tough to be allies with folks who seem to want to vote me off the island.

  27. Bitch | Lab says:

    Man! The letter-image was hard to read for an old broad such as myself!

    Hi Andrea — great post.

    Obviously, I disagree only in so far as I think it’s important to remember the historical roots of the emergence of “sex positive feminism”. Gayle Rubin’s “Thinking Sex”. There’s an overview here, but the source is always the best.

    There’s also “On Our Backs” which was started by two lesbians who’d been involved with establishing ‘Take Back the Night’ in the US but who were tiring of the focus on pornography as the cause of rape. The title played on the lesbian ‘zine, “Off Our Backs.”

    While there’d been a focus on sexual liberation early on in the second wave, that was subsumed by radical cultural feminist theories regarding rape, violence against women, pornography, etc.

    It wasn’t just women wanting to play to men at the time: it was women wanting to turn on their women partners and themselves. They were often lesbians who were tired of claims made about appropriate lesbian sex. (I have a quote from bell hooks’ _From Margin to Center_ about this issue.)

    I don’t know about anyone else here, but, while I wasn’t cognizant of this stuff going around at the time, I did get a ration of it in the late 80s. Lesbian sex was said to be of a certain variety and no way real lesbian sex involved penetration, dildos, BDSM, power, or anything else. There was shunning of those who did.

    In my own hometown (rural, state college campus) it took the form of campus feminists claiming that to be a feminist you should reject makeup, wear androgynous clothes. When they worked with “townie” lesbians, they were troubled by butch/femme pairing, etc. Somehow, these gender performances were considered ‘wrong’ to the campus-based feminists. (The L word is picking up this theme this season it appears)

    Anyway, sorry about the attack of the 50 line comment, but I think this has to be placed in its historical context to understand what ‘sex positive’ initially meant.

    THere really are people who today, still, claim that some forms of sex aren’t feminist or are somehow aiding and abetting patriarchy: in threads at alas, a blog, I blame the patriarchy, and biting beaver.

    So, to me, the struggle isn’t just about porn, but about what some people are claiming is appropriate sex.

    Finally, the notion that even some of the figures associated with this movement are unconcerned about violence against women and the content of porn and condition of sex workers is nonsense. I recently posted a link to Nina Hartley’s interview in which she says that most porn is anti-woman and anti-human. All you have to do is go ask Susie Bright or Nina Hartley what they think about it. Or Gayle Rubin. Most of these women are still around and there to answer anyone’s questions.

    Nina herself pointed out to Sam that the group of activists in the porn industry, via AIM, raise money each year to help women leave porn.

    I’ll never under the position that it’s not ok to make money. Everything I do to make money reproduces a sexist, racist, class-exploitive system. Everything.

    Arguments about whether or not a position is right or wrong do not hinge on what an interlocutor does in her personal life. To make such claims in order to disparage one side in a debate is engaging in logial fallacy. So claiming that someone like Nina Hartley is only doing something for her own enrichment doesn’t invalidate anything Nina has said, let alone anything a sex positive feminist has said.

    I realize that’s hard to understand, given the way people have taken “the personal is political” to extremes it ws probably never intended to go. Still, I think it’s something we need to disentangle.

  28. Bitch | Lab says:

    Additionally, as to Andrea’s initial complaint, the one to whom this post was written, I think Andrea misinterpreted. Andread wrote:

    Sex positive feminists defend their position by stating sex is only one of their areas of interest, which is what other feminists do day in, day out, and receive no special recognition for. My suggestion is that if you do not wish to be indentified by the characteristic of your ‘position’ on sex, do not choose such a characteristic to define yourselves by.

    She ws probably responding to my post, “Dworkin: Sex Positive Feminist”

    In it, I respond to F-words post which characterizes sex pos feminists as people who wrote:

    “Whenever female libido is discussed, there tend to emerge two opposing camps: those who believe women do not naturally (I’ll get to how troublesome this word is later) like to have a lot of sex, and those who believe that women naturally want to be having sex constantly. I’ll call these parties the prudes and the pro-sex feminists, respectively.”

    I countered with the argument that clearly this wasn’t the case since, to be a sex positive feminist, one doesn’t even have to have sex. Indeed, I said, one could be asexual! I also said that you could have sex 25 times a day and you could still have a negative attitude toward certain kinds of sexuality.

    Andrea chose to interpret me in a way that makes no sense. I wasn’t asking for applause. I was insisting that sex pos feminism has nothing to do with liking sex or having a lot of sex or even talking a lot about it.

  29. Sam says:

    I plan on responding but I’m very busy. I’ll try to find the time tonight.

  30. Bitch | Lab says:

    on anal sex:

    There is some speculation and research claiming that the G spot and the male prostate gland are simply manifestations of the same thing. (as the clitoris and penis are different manifestations, etc.)

    The G spot, as a recent article indicated (I posted about it on my blog), may be the portal to a bundle of nerves that produce pleasure. This probably explains why anal sex is pleasurable for some men and women. With men, anal sex massages their prostate gland. For women like me, it is a way of massaging the g spot — just in a different position than other ways of doing the same.

  31. Laura says:

    Thanks for this post – clear, thoughtful and in sightul.

    I would like to comment in an equally thoughtful way, but my brain is fried.

    The only non fried thing i can think of is to always use silicone based lube for butt sex, as it doesn’t get absorbed by the tissue like water based stuff. Analysis of important stuff is clearly beyong me today!

  32. Thomas says:

    Lube choice for anal penetration is a matter of preference. I prefer KY, which is water-based and viscous, to the thinner silicone lubes I have tried. The conventional wisdom is “lubrication and communication,” but I think this really ought to be supplemented: preparation, patience, lubrication and communication. First, it makes sense to start with a smaller butt plug and leave it in for a while during other sex play in advance of putting something larger in one’s ass. Twenty minutes of making out with a plug in makes a world of difference. Also, there’s no reason for a novice to try to put something penis-sized in his or her anus right away. When I’ve moved up to something bigger than I’ve taken before, I’ve used an inflatable dildo to work my way up; for folks with a bunch of penetration toys already, starting small and working up is a comfortable way to get there. Finally, when putting something penis-sized in an anus, lots and lots of patience is a virtue. When I first put my cock in my wife’s ass, it took six or seven minutes to get the shaft all the way in, and most of that time was letting her sphincter relax around the glans. Relaxing one’s ass while something is going in is a learned skill, and practice makes perfect.

  33. Sam says:

    And, then, how does sex-pos feminism fit into all of this? Is the visible uncritical acceptance of porn culture the defining feature? Or is it balanced out by the real good the feminist criticism has done in the non-feminist sex-pos circles?

    You’d have to define what you mean by “non-feminist sex-pos circles” before I could begin to address this, but I believe sex positive feminism can be both defined by the uncritical acceptance of porn culture and have done some some real good. It’s not black and white, but I feel the reinforced sex object stereotypes perpetuated in it have added to the root of the problem that women are mostly for sex more than it has challenged this mismeasure of women.

    You know, it’s so much easier to hold values than it is to explain them. I feel like the more I try to clarify, the more I put my foot in my mouth.

    I think you’re doing fine considering the intimate topic and political minefield we’re treading over. The commonly remarked-on revelation many women say they experience when reading Andrea Dworkin is about, in my opinion, how she manages to make the usually inadequate words of the patriarchy work to express women’s unvocabularized emotions. I remember before I had the words to express the funny feeling I got (and tried to supress) when I first started going to strip clubs, a feeling that said something was amiss in my conscience but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was. Reading radical feminism helped me put words to that funny-tummy feeling and a whole lot more.

    At this stage of the game, I think I’m more pro-idea of those kids of jobs/materials rather than the current reality of them. Does that make any sense?

    Oh yes. I’ve been there about understanding how the idea should work in theory only to fail in practice. Not only did I used to be a pro-sex (industry) feminist, I also used to be pro-death penalty because in theory it seemed fair that if you take a life you should forfeit yours, but I came to learn that poverty isn’t fair, and neither are racists or cops or the crooked criminal justice system so I changed my mind. I wish you the best on your educational journey because I really do know where you’re coming from.

    I’m not cool with sex-pos feminists putting their support, use and growing capitalization of pornography and prostitution in the fine print at the bottom of the page. It’s central, and I’m suspicious of attempts to decentralize it, especially when the sex-pos charge is led by those with personal interests in defending pornstitution.

    Can you give me some concrete examples of where you see this in sex-pos feminism? Being able to see some influential sex-pos feminists who look uncritially at the system may help me to understand where some of the friction on the issue comes from.

    I can’t shake the notion this kind of evidence comes off more as finger-pointing than as helpful facts for clarification. Bitch | Lab’s post “Dworkin: sex positive feminist” is as great an example as the curious title suggests, and Amanda at Pandagon recently strenuously distanced “sex positive” from its definition of support for pornography and prostitution if you need another example.

    Leaving Blogdonia, it might be easier to try and name influential feminists who call themselves “sex positive” who have written substantially critical assessments of pornography and/or prostitution. I can’t think of one offhand, but there are oodles of feminists reading this so maby they could pipe in with an example.

    Thomas said, “The “sex pos” argument is one of the most heated in feminism, and the most likely to cause feminists to fight with each other.“, which strikes me as true but also bizarre because prostitutes/sex workers themselves aren’t nearly as split on the matter of whether prostitution is good for women. The best you’ll usually get the most sex workery of sex workers to admit to is that it’s better for women than their other ‘choices’, and even Scarlot Harlot Carol Leigh admits 95% of her friends want out of prostitution.
    I don’t believe most feminists support pornstitution as good for women, but I think it’s fair to say feminists young and old are at a loss about what to do about this most raped and murdered population of women so legalization comes across if not good than good enough in the face of no other options. That’s why the Swedish model is scaring the shit out of the pornstitution industry right now and they’re circling the wagons to figure out how to deal with it.

    Bitch | Lab:

    While there’d been a focus on sexual liberation early on in the second wave, that was subsumed by radical cultural feminist theories regarding rape, violence against women, pornography, etc.

    Feminists confronting rape, violence against women, and pornography are all about the sexual liberation of women. You talk on about Susie Bright, Nina Hartley and the right to make money from pornstitution as if these things are what women need to develop a liberated sexuality more than they need patriarchy’s boot off their necks and an end to sexism. I do not believe a class by a porn industry promoter teaching women how to make porn helps women’s sexual liberation more than a class teaching women how to organize and take action against the sexism aruond them.

    So, to me, the struggle isn’t just about porn, but about what some people are claiming is appropriate sex.

    To everyone who isn’t you, inlcuding the women who started the pornography magazine On Our Backs and porn queen Nina Hartley and every self-identified sex positive feminist of note I’ve read, it really is mostly about the pornstitution. It doesn’t follow to explain the history of sex positive was Bright deciding to start a pornography magazine and name it On Our Backs as a “fuck you” to the feminist newsjournal off our backs and then say the term sex positive wasn’t created to imply feminists against pornography are sex negative. The history you gave yourself shows that’s really what it was about and most feminists know it too so trying to re-write the conflict as if was really about sex-negative intolerant prude feminists more than sexual capitalism doesn’t work.

    Please stop bringing up Nina Hartley as an example of a feminist and critic of pornography when she’s nothing of the sort. Hartley says a lot of things and most of them aren’t worth the time it takes to read them. It is not socialist to support “right to work” laws, and lobbying for the porn industry “only” one day every year makes her very much a porn industry lobbyist and also something of a dimwit for protesting she’s not a porn apologist and industry spokewoman despite this yearly sojourn in addition to all her other writings and industry promotional appearances. I’ve had exactly one debate with Ms. Hartley and it took place at Stan Goff’s Feral Scholar blog http://stangoff.com/?p=41#comments where I’m a regular and she’s not, so her bullshit pile had gotten way too deep for the boots by now. BTW, that Feral Scholar discussion is long but very thorough if anyone’s interested in a professionally socialist take on pornography.

    You don’t advance your position when you mention Hartley. What also doesn’t support your case that “sex pos feminism has nothing to do with liking sex or having a lot of sex or even talking a lot about it” is talking exclusively in your posts about the creation of and creators of a pornography magazine, a leading pornography industry lobbyist, the right to make money through the pornography industry, and writing a whole ‘nother post about anal sex. When feminists criticize sex positivism for its narrow focus on these issues and the sidelining of rape, violence against women, pornography and prostitution, this is in part the sort of thing we’re talking about because it appears we can’t talk about the politics of the feminism term “sex positive” without graphic desriptions of anal sex entering the discussion and I didn’t think that’s where this thoughful discussion about feminism wind up.

  34. Sam says:

    Eep, that last sentence has a few small errors I hope you’ll forgive me for. I’m tired and it took more time to write that than I easily have to give right now.

  35. Andrea says:

    Bitch | Lab > An assumption is not a fact. And your assumption that I interpreted the idea that sex positive fems claim to have other areas of interest etc, from your post is incorrect.
    I may have looked at your site, I didn’t regard it as a sex positive bible…

  36. Thomas says:

    Sam, I don’t think that the reason that the sex-pos debate is so thorny is because of a throng of pro-prostitution feminists, though certainly there are some. I oppose prostitution and I support the Swedish model; I even have my doubts about how useful the term “sex-positive” is. I think what I’m saying is that so much of the divisiveness comes because folks in the discussion tend to bundle disparate issues together. For example, when a feminist uses the term “sex-positive,” you assume that she’s pro porn and prostitution; and you think (if I understand you corectly) that it’s a fool’s errand to define “sex positive” away from those issues. The opposition to porn and prostitution is about the commodification of the female body for male consumption; lots of folks agree on that, or disagree only around the margins. However, the debate often pulls in BDSM, other sexual practice issues, and trans issues. That, in my view, is the divisive part. I think anti-porn feminists can win much more support from feminists who define themselves as “sex positive” if they make clear that they are not attacking transgender folks, are not attacking safe, sane, consensual BDSM, and are not telling women what kind of sex to want or have.

  37. tekanji says:

    Okay, people. I don’t want fights breaking out on my blog. So far no one has crossed the line, but I’m starting to feel some escalating hostilities. I think we’ve had a pretty good discussion so far, from both sides, and I’d like to keep that going.

    Thanks,
    Your Errant Blog Host

  38. Sam says:

    Thomas, you’re falling for the historical revisionism I’m calling bullshit on.

    The emergence of what’s called “sex positivism” happened in the 1980’s and it was not about transgender people or BDSM, it was about the porn industry’s call-to-arms at the nerve of a minority community, rape victims and ex-prostitutes seeking legal solutions to the sex industry that victimized them and adversely affected their lives by taking over their unwhite neighborhood with sexually-oriented businesses. Pornographers, pimps and assorted profiteers jumped like a lion on the MacKinnon-Dworkin ordinance and they didn’t do it out of concern for transgendered people or people like you.

    On Our Backs was not formed as a response to feminist Sheila Jeffrey’s writing her doubts about the health of transgendered surgery and sexual bondage, sadism, & dominance, it was about jumping into the immensely profitable pornstitution industry and getting sexy Scoobie snacks from a patriarchy demanding porn, whores, and porn-whores. I’m still drawing a blank on a self-referred pro-sex feminist who has come out against the sex industry in any real way. It’s rare enough for radical feminist books to get published, and rarer still they’re read by anyone not already a radical feminist, but I’m supposed to believe a written passage about transgender and BDSM by Sheila Jeffries has had a bigger role in creating so-called feminist porn mags and the euphemism “sex workers” than the very public law-seeking MacKinnon-Dworkin proposal and the widespread feminist opposition to prostitution by not-sex-positive feminists? No can do.

    “Sex positive feminism” was a reactionary response to the MacKinnon-Dworkin ordinance’s attempt in the mid 80s to allow people hurt by and through pornography to have their rightful day in court to prove they were abused and seek redress for the harm done to them in the name of business. Have you ever heard of feminists trying to have laws passed making transgender surgeries illegal? Has any radical feminist proposed a bill outlawing the private practice of BDSM? If you can’t say that has happened, then the agenda behind the very recent reframing of sex positivism around transgenders and BDSM should raise some major flags.

    Andrea Dworkin is not a sex pos feminist. That’s what made Bitch | Lab’s title a perfect example of just this sort of historical revisionism that disappears feminist criticisms of pornography and prostitution. How many people think of transgendereds when they hear the name Andrea Dworkin versus how many of them think of pornography? Instead of outright calling radicals prudes, Bitch | Lab has discovered calling them prudes in a longer and more civil way can fly the same old insult in under the radar. For example, we’re supposed to be agog that “There really are people who today, still, claim that some forms of sex aren’t feminist as if it were outrageous to suggest not everything sexual is necessarily feminist and only a prudish-like feminist, like say someone at a blog like Biting Beaver’s, would say suggest otherwise. Outrightly calling someone a sex negative prude may be divisive but I’ll take that directness over the mental backflips being done to redefine “sex positive feminism” and the faux-civility of calling me and feminists like me prudes in a way that requires more typing to get around the divisive-wordfilter.

    Thomas, I say you’ve fallen for this agenda-driven revisionism when you suggest feminists against pornstitution should go out of their way to make sex positives happier by agreeing to other, not traditionally sex positive feminist positions tangentially tacked under the umbrella of sex positivism 20 years after the fact. Bright, Hartley, Royalle, Sprinkle, etc. set the pro-sex feminist goalposts at accepting a pro-pornography and pro-prostitution stance 20 years ago and now some are trying move the goalposts.

    What about sex positives making some effort to court the many feminists who don’t consider sex and the right to sexual consumerism the axis on which their feminism revolves? Why not drop the offensive, unproductive term “sex positive” that until about one year ago was readily and widely understod as meaning pro-pornography and pro-prostitution?

    I once met a woman who told me she was a Satanist, so I asked her why she worshipped Satan. She told me she didn’t really worship Satan and that her kind of Satanism was more about indulging heavily in pleasures of the flesh and rejecting organized religion. Pro-choice prolifers I’ll debate with to see if they’ll come over to the pro-choice camp proper, but the Satanist who was really a hedonist and not a Satanist I just walked away from.

  39. Thomas says:

    Sam, I think you’re attributing a position to me that I don’t hold.

    I said above that I think the term “sex positive” is not very useful. I’m not making a claim about how it originated. I’m not advocating for it. I thought I said as much in 26, above. Apparently, I was not as clear as I hoped.

    Sam, you say that redefining “sex-positive” away from porn is useless. As long as lots of women feel that way, then it is useless, and the term ought to be retired. You say we should drop the term, I agree. It’s not useful. Do we agree on that much?

    Now that we’ve moved beyond that “sex positive” means, and since you want to get it out in the open, the point I was trying to make is this: some radical feminists think that BDSM is antithetical to feminism and that transwomen are not women. There are a bunch of folks that disagree with and take offense at these views — not because we’re tools of the porn industry (I said I hope Vivid Video burns to the ground), but because we’re transfolk and BDSMers, or we’re close to or sympathetic to folks that are. When I want to know if anti-porn feminists think BDSM is antithetical to feminism, I’m not asking because I care what Suzie Bright thinks. I’m asking because I’m a sadomasochist, and it’s not my revolution if I can’t dance to it.

  40. Sam says:

    Perhaps I should have said I agree with you on the retiring of the term sex positive, Vivid’s demise, and the Swedish model but I took that as a given and didn’t think it needed restating.

    The point I think you’re missing about why I’ve taken my time to write isn’t that questions about transgenderism and BDSM aren’t important to ask about and investigate, it’s why is talk of these things happening in a discussion about sex positive feminism when they are not what sex positive feminism means and haven’t been what it is about in its 20-year history?

    Now that we’ve moved beyond that “sex positive” means…

    But we haven’t moved past it and we shouldn’t, because that’s the whole point of the discussion. This is a discussion on sex positive feminism and what it means, its history, its common usage, its benefits and drawbacks. If you want to talk about your favorite anal lube, your wife, your sexual practices, your personal umbrage with criticism of sado-masochist sexuality, then you’re not having this discussion on sex positivism in feminism but one of your own desire.

  41. Thomas says:

    Sam, apparently I didn’t make myself very clear in 26, above. What I was trying to say is that, even though we agree that the term “sex-positive” isn’t useful, discussions about it bring up BDSM and transgender issues more often than not. That’s not _only_ because some folks want to redefine “sex positive” to mean pro-BDSM and trans. It’s also because as soon as a feminist says she’s anti-porn, folks like me want to know, “are you the kind of anti-porn feminists I basically agree with across the range of sexuality issues, or are you the kind of anti-porn feminist that thinks I’m a bad feminist?”

    As an aside, I didn’t raise anal sex on this thread. Andrea raised it in the post that this post responded to, and Dark Sidhe raised it on this thread, and then Andrea responded before I joined. When I put my two cents in, Tekanji thanked me, so I don’t think I was derailing the thread. Nor did I bring up the tutorial apropos of nothing. After Tekanji said she hadn’t tried it yet, Laura (presumably reading that as an indication of interest) offered advice. I have no small amount of experience in that area, so I offered mine. If I was derailing the thread, Tekanji surely would have let me know.

    Which brings me back to why I remarked on anal sex, BDSM and trans issues on a thread about sex positivity. While I agree with you that it’s too late to have the term understood now to mean something other than pro-porn, I do not believe that means that discussion that starts about the term shouldn’t broaden to encompass feminist view of sexual practice. I read you as saying that we should agree that “sex positive” as a term has nothing to offer and then stop; I disagree. Since Tekanji’s post wasn’t limited to porn and prostitution, it’s apparent that she doesn’t think that discussion of sexual practice is off-topic either. And it is her thread.

  42. tekanji says:

    I don’t have time to get into a real discussion right now (personal stuff going on), but just a note about the on-topic-ness of the anal sex stuff. Because the subject was part of the very original debate that I commented on, and was brought up here in an on-topic way by DS, I felt the personal experience of Thomas was a useful contribution to the discussion. If it had kept going, I would have been like, “Okay, let’s not turn this into a thread on anal sex,” but it didn’t and so I didn’t feel the need to comment.

  43. Burrow says:

    Thomas-I would be one of those so-called prudes (gee I just delight in that term. It generally elicits laughter from all who know me.) As one of these radical feminists who hates the term sex-positive and agrees with sam’s arguements and definitions of the term, I must tell you that I definitely agree with you (and don’t know radical feminists who don’t) on the point of trans people. I will not participate in anything that is not open to and accepting of trans and intersex people. That said, I am anti-BDSM. But, as sam was saying, that’s not the “new” definition that I’ve been hearing. And point me in the direction of “radical” feminists who are not supportive of trans people, because then in my eyes, they’re not radical.

  44. Bitch | Lab says:

    Hi Andrea,

    You’d written:

    “Sex positive feminists defend their position by stating sex is only one of their areas of interest, which is what other feminists do day in, day out, and receive no special recognition for. My suggestion is that if you do not wish to be indentified by the characteristic of your ‘position’ on sex, do not choose such a characteristic to define yourselves by.”

    You’ve made a claim about sex positive feminists defending a position, so it only takes a simple citation if it’s a book or article not on the Web. I’m exceedingly curious who this might be.

  45. Bitch | Lab says:

    “Which brings me back to why I remarked on anal sex, BDSM and trans issues on a thread about sex positivity. While I agree with you that it’s too late to have the term understood now to mean something other than pro-porn, I do not believe that means that discussion that starts about the term shouldn’t broaden to encompass feminist view of sexual practice. I read you as saying that we should agree that “sex positive” as a term has nothing to offer and then stop; I disagree. Since Tekanji’s post wasn’t limited to porn and prostitution, it’s apparent that she doesn’t think that discussion of sexual practice is off-topic either. And it is her thread.” (Thomas)

    Thanks for that Thomas.

    I don’t think the way to create a vocal and visible sex positive feminism is to argue with people who will never change their minds.

    However, I do think that the more sensible folks on each side of the debate ought to get together and create a way to actually have a productive discussion about its history — where there are standards of evidence and argument — and respectfulness.

    I don’t think that calling people “bad feminists” (and I’m not sure if anyone did) is a good idea, in other words. There are positions with which I don’t agree, but “bad”? How could I possibly make that claim?

    Finally, in many ways, “slut feminism” and so many other derogatory phrases to describe what’s going on in popular culture is very much a creation of the media. I’m sure in a couple of years, someone will finally uncover this insidious piece of ideological framing, the way Faludi exposed the myth that women had a greater chance of being the target of a terrorist attack than she had of getting married past the age of, what was it?, 40?

  46. A friend and colleague just tossed this to me. Beautifully done!

    While, obviously, there’s no one opinion on theis, and a million points of variation, and I’m not in agreement with EVERYTHING you said, this was wonderfully expressed and so nice to see.

    And for the record, there are plenty of us out there who are not 100% anti-porn, who work in sexuality, and so forth able to have productive, fantastic discussion with other feminists who are more solidly against all porn, all sex work, etc. Takes some doing and usually a lot of patience and communication on both ‘sides” over time, but if it’s any consolation, that’s not a pipe dream. It happens, and sometimes, it’s really awesome. Seems to me you’ve made a great step in that direction here.

    - HC

  47. belledame222 says:

    Can’t argue with anything there.

    Another problem I have with POV’s like the one quoted in the original post here, which almost seems too obvious to mention: that somehow, in the zeal to castigate all porn-lovers, what comes out of their mouths (and keyboards) often sounds to me far dirtier than any of the original material. I mean, you can just as easily turn it around: if you’re so disgusted by all this, why keep bringing it up? And in a number of cases, not so much the above-quoted, but in the course of at least one flamewar I’ve been in recently: hello, imagery. What rape fantasies? Whose rape fantasies? *What on earth are you talking about?*

    “But doc, you’re the one showing me all the dirty pictures!”

  48. Pingback: ascendingnode » Blog Archive » Rape Fantasy?

  49. Epistaxis says:

    The fact is the laissez-faire capitalism embraced by pornography’s consumers, or advocates of consumers, far more closely resembles the right then any radical’s fight to elimate pornography and prostitution.

  50. Pingback: gendergeek.org » The Eighth Carnival of Feminists

  51. Pingback: ascendingnode » Rape Fantasy

  52. Myca says:

    Tekanji, I cannot possibly begin to thank you enough for writing this. This is the most clearly written explaination of what I mean when I say ‘sex-positive’ I’ve ever seen.

    Every single time I see someone write “Pshaw! Sex positive just means ‘pro-porn’,” I’ll direct them here.

    With your permission, of course.

  53. Pingback: Feminist In-Fighting « One Woman Army

  54. Katie says:

    So many Andreas in this post! :-D

Comments are closed.