Robert Jensen Doesn’t Understand Sex-Positivity


There’s a new post up on the Good Men Project, Is Sex Positive Ever Negative?, which highlights many of the ways in which sex-positivity is seriously misunderstood. The writer, Lili Bee, starts with an account of a conversation she had with a friend and the roadblock they hit when he suggested that she do some reading on sex-positivity. So she went to her mentor, Robert Jensen, to get his thoughts on the issue. And that’s where things get squirrely.

Bee starts off pointing out that one of the problems with what many people think of as sex-positive communities is that there’s often a reactivity to the overboundedness that has been imposed on sexuality. I agree with her that a lot of people who say they’re sex-positive have judgment towards folks with concerns or squicks about a particular sexual act, which only reinforces and perpetuates the cycle of judgment. But Bee doesn’t get that a big part of the problem is the result of how people “express objections to” a particular sexual act.

There’s an important difference between saying “I don’t enjoy that” or “I don’t understand what draws people to that” and saying “that sexual act is bad/sick/wierd.” When someone expresses an objection to a sexual practice, there’s often a theme of judging the people who do it and of saying that there’s something wrong with them for enjoying it. Even if it’s not intentional, that judgment is still likely to come out. Bee doesn’t seem to understand that while reactivity to that judgment is unfortunate, it’s also understandable given how much shame people have received for their sexual desires.


As I’ve written many times, sex-positivity is the idea that the only relevant measure of a particular sexual act, practice, or desire is how the consent, pleasure, and well-being of the participants are cared for. And the two pillars that reinforce sex-negativity are the Myth of the Normal and the idea that there are ways that anyone’s sexuality should be. The more we can let go of the idea that there is such a thing as “normal” sexuality that people “should” enjoy, the more we can let go of sex-negativity.

It’s not a surprise that a lot of people get confused around this. Even Jensen, who usually has a more nuanced understanding, seems to not get it:

I think the whole notion of it is absurd. The notion of a “Sex Positive” category or a sex-positive feminism is truly ridiculous since no one I know of in these arenas is sex negative. The only people who might be truly sex-negative are extreme religious fundamentalists who believe that sexual conduct is somehow inherently shameful.

First off, there are a lot of people besides extreme fundamentalists who believe that sex is shameful. Like the Catholic Church. Want another example? The all-too-common practice of slut-shaming rests on the idea that women who have sex are dirty and that certainly isn’t limited to “extreme religious fundamentalists.” Or how about the ways in which queers are asked to desexualize themselves in order to gain acceptance? When two men kissing gets a negative reaction in settings where male/female couples can kiss without reprisal, at least part of the cause is likely to be sex-negativity. Given how pervasive these sorts of things are, I think it’s pretty clear that it’s not just “extreme religious fundamentalists” who express sex-negativity.


Further, maybe Jensen would do well to talk with some therapists about how their clients feel about sex. Any therapist worth their fee can tell you that many, many people feel shame for their perfectly benign fantasies and desires, simply because they’ve internalized the belief that anyone who wants to do those things must be sick. Unless he’s going to argue that being a feminist somehow automatically absolves you of that shame, I don’t see how he can reasonably argue that there are no sex-negative feminists.

Even people who have few negative feelings about their own sexualities can still have negative feelings about other people’s sexual desires or practices. It’s easy to say that you think sex is good. It’s a lot harder to honor, value, and celebrate someone’s sexuality when you find it challenging, confusing, or triggering. And speaking from personal experience, I’ve had plenty of feminists (and non-feminists) judge or try to shame me for my sexuality because of their own issues around it to buy what Jensen is selling.

The reason I find this so frustrating is that there are many ways in which he & I are on the same page:

The question now is: How does one fashion a healthy, sexual culture and the question I use to frame that is to ask: “What is sex for?” Sex has a role in human life. Obviously it has a basic role in procreation but it’s much more than that. The question is, and at any given point in time, sex can mean many different things and what do we want it to mean?

To ask that question is not to impose a single answer, it’s to recognize that not all forms of sex are consistent with healthy, human relationships.

Yes, this. I take it a bit further when I suggest that one way to find the answers to the question of “what do we want sex to mean?” is to ask about the consent, pleasure, and well-being of the participants, but we’re pretty much in alignment, I think. But then, they take the conversation here:

Lili: When one looks at the tone of many of the comments following articles about porn use, one can really get a sense of the contention and hostility. So it leaves me wondering: Whom does it really serve to create distinctions like “sex positive”? Why even create the distinction?

Bob: Well, it serves the people who want to undermine critique by labeling any critique as being “sex negative”. That’s the only function it serves as far as I can tell, which is why I don’t use the terms and don’t accept the terms in conversations or debates I might be in.


While that might be one use for the term for some people, it’s not the only one. One of the historical roots of sex-negativity was the idea that sex is inherently sinful or shameful unless it was validated by procreative sex within the bounds of heterosexual, monogamous marriage. While that has changed over the last century or so, what we’ve mostly done is shift the boundaries. For example, when van de Velde published Ideal Marriage in 1926, his suggestion that non-intercourse sexual stimulation was acceptable (provided that it led to intercourse) was groundbreaking. That’s only 85 years ago, which isn’t a long time compared to how long sex-negativity has been around.

Over the last century or so, we’ve seen some pretty significant shifts in terms of what kinds of sex are considered acceptable and which aren’t, but the fact that we’re still discussing things like how many partners someone can have before she’s a slut, or whether it’s possible to respect someone and have casual sex with them, or whether there’s something inherently oppressive about anal sex shows that we’re still stuck on the idea of categorizing sexual acts or desires as good or bad. The very notion that a sex act can be good or bad in and of itself is simply the current iteration of sex-negativity because it locates the value of sex in the activity rather than in the experiences of the individuals who do it.That’s like saying that sandwiches are good or bad without reference to the personal tastes of the people who eat them. It’s much more productive to ask how a given individual feels about what they do and make room for a diversity of responses, instead of judging the acts themselves.

Now, I do think it’s worth asking a question that a lot of feminists bring up: in a world that pressures people to make certain choices around sexual expression, how do we know what our authentic desires are? But at the same time, I find it rather telling that Bee is so honest about her judgment:

When I do raise the question in conversation, it’s not uncommon to get a considerable amount of pushback from women, who’ll say, “No, I do love walking around in a see-through dress with no underwear on in public”, or “I love when I know my man is out enjoying himself at strip clubs” or any of these statements which I have to admit, sound bizarre to me. [italics added]


Right there, where she admits that what turns someone else on sounds bizarre to her: that’s sex-negativity. It’s not the fact that she doesn’t get what makes those things appealing to others. It’s not the fact that she’s not drawn to them. It’s the fact that she says that they’re bizarre that makes it sex-negative. If she had said “…any of these statements which I have to admit, I just don’t understand,” I wouldn’t say that this is an expression of sex-negativity because she’d be owning her confusion instead of labeling other people’s desires. And while she toned it down by saying that they sound bizarre rather than being bizarre, it’s still an expression of judgment instead of taking responsibility for how she feels. It’s ironic that it happens in the same interview in which Jensen claims that sex-negative feminists don’t exist, which I really take to mean that he doesn’t have a really good grasp on what sex-negativity means.

I think that’s what I find so frustrating about him. I can add one word to his question about body image to make it a really relevant question about sex-positivity:

How do we shape [sex] lives that are sensible, sane and consistent with both physical, emotional and mental, long-term health?

And again, when he talks about authentic desire, he and I are really in agreement:

The other question is, “How much of that comes from authentic desire?” and ‘authenticity’ is a difficult word in this context because all of our desires are in some sense, conditioned by society. I’m not sure anybody has individual, authentic desires. What I come to desire is always going to be, in part, shaped by the society around me. But we have to be able to ask, “How are those social pressures sometimes healthy, or unhealthy? How are they sometimes connected to domination/ subordination dynamics in oppressive systems like patriarchy?”

So in a lot of ways, I do agree with him that feminism can be very much in alignment with sex-positivity. But where it falls down is when people arrogantly judge others and in the use of shame and disgust to try to sway people, both of which are unfortunately common in discussions with feminists, in my experience. Those are the mechanisms of erotophobia and I believe that’s a big reason why some people equate feminism with sex-negativity. I have difficulty imagining how one can create a truly liberatory set of sexual ethics if you’re using tools that create and reinforce sexual shame.


The difficulty for anyone who wants to ask questions that challenge people’s sexualities is that shame is so pervasive that it’s really easy to accidentally trigger it, causing all sorts of defensive reactions including attacking the questioner. So if you’re going to ask those questions, as many feminists do, it’s a lot more productive to learn about how shame works and then adapt your inquiry to minimize how likely you are to trigger it. (Some good places to start are here, here, and here.) It’s also really useful to learn how to compassionately inquire or set boundaries instead of attacking or blaming someone.

In any case, given that Bee wanted to explore sex-positivity, I think that she would have done better to have found someone who has something to say about it beyond the claim that it doesn’t exist. Since Jensen is one of her mentors, I assume that she already knew what he had to say on the topic and I can’t help but wonder why she asked him for his take on it. So here’s an open invitation to her, or to Jensen, or anyone else. I think that sex-positivity has a lot to offer feminism and I’m always happy to talk about these issues. You can get in touch with me anytime.

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46 Responses so far.

  1. Bill Noble says:

    Superb, Mr Glickman. One of those definitive discussions. Many, many thanks.

  2. Rusty says:

    “sex-positivity is the idea that the only relevant measure of a particular sexual act, practice, or desire is how the consent, pleasure, and well-being of the participants are cared for. ”

    It follows then, and I think you have made clear, that sex-negativity is the critique of a sex act or practice that does not explicitly celebrate or even consider the consent, pleasure, etc. of those who engage in it.  

    By these definitions, someone who argues that the practice of ejaculating onto a woman’s face   is inherently demeaning, regardless of whether or not she enjoys it, would be considered sex-negative. Against sex. 

    So where exactly has Jensen misrepresented sex-positivity then? 

    Because, although I obviously can’t speak for him, it sounds to me like he gets it fine, he just doesn’t believe that sexual practices and behaviors shouldn’t be subject to critical feminist analysis just because some people like them and don’t want to feel bad about it. 

  3. I wish I could be more erudite, but I am left with total agreement. If two or more people engage in a physical activity for the purpose of mutual consensual pleasure, support and affirmation, how can I say it is a negative act, except from my own differing experience. But then, I am not one of the participants, am I?

    Having been part of the BDSM lifestyle for close to two decades, I am continually bothered by the hypocrisy of those around me who express pride in our acceptance of more extreme forms of human sexuality while at the same time shame and judge entire groups who engage in consensual activities with which the observer has difficulty.

    The WORST is the argument, “You may THINK you enjoy it, but if you only understood it better, you would see how it demeans you.”

    The Eroticist

  4. Rusty says:

    I accept your definition of sex-positivity as your definition. I also accept that many feminists indeed do NOT celebrate and encourage the unique desires of the people who engage in acts that they argue are inherently demeaning or harmful to women.

    But that doesn’t mean I agree with your position. What we’re talking about here is one elemental difference between liberal and radical feminism.

    But I’m not going to get into an argument on a sex-pos blog about that. All I wanted to argue was that Jensen is not misrepresenting sex-positivity with his statements.

    His issue with sex-positivity is that it creates a false dichotomy of those for and those against sex, similar to how using “Pro-life” sets up supporters of choice as being against life. It’s simply not true that those who fight against things like pornography and prostitution on feminist grounds are against sex either in practice or theory.

    Jensen says “The only people who might be truly sex-negative are extreme religious fundamentalists who believe that sexual conduct is somehow inherently shameful.” His point there is that the terminology itself is problematic. He is not saying that only extreme religious fundamentalists fail to celebrate sexual diversity, he’s saying that they are the only ones that may TRULY be against sex.

    In other words, the failure to encourage and celebrate individual sexual desires to the satisfaction of sex-positive feminists, is not, in fact, the same as being anti-sex. He’s absolutely right when he says the label allows for those who crtitique certain sexual practices to be easily dismissed and, I would add, silenced.

    Many, many feminists, including myself, do not agree with what you call sex-positivity. That doesn’t mean we don’t understand it.

  5. I want to echo Rusty’s sentiments. You have set up a definition where you cannot critically analyze or EVER criticize a sexual act other than to say, “This is not my cup of tea, but whatever floats your boat!”. That’s not an analytical conversation or a debate. You are the one that is misunderstanding. This is not personal. Feminist objections to x sex act are not personal. For example, I don’t understand the appeal of feet. The idea of getting my feet licked grosses me out, to be honest. Do I think foot fetishes are an indicator of misogyny? No. You know what doesn’t gross me out? Facials. Do I think they’re meant to degrade women? Yes. Why do you think that is?

    P.S. By saying that feminists need to deal with their own “personal issues”, you are shaming them. Is that not obvious?

  6. Glynnis says:

    @Rusty and No Sugarcoating

    I think that sex-positivity neither (1) prevents critical examination of sexual desires nor (2) establishes a dichotomy between being against all sex vs. for all sex. (My apologies for the length – there’s a lot of issues addressed here.)

    For issue (1) I have a couple answers. The first is that the critique of a sex act (after it has been established that it is consensual, mutually pleasurable and preserves the well-being of all participants) as degrading after all of that really gets at the core place where the formation of sexual desire connects with other aspects of emotional and social life. Feminists rightly point out that the sexual imagination is integrated into one’s ostensibly nonsexual philosophies and experiences.

    Continuing with the example of (heterosexual) facials, they are commonly modeled (through porn) as an expression of male dominance over females; at times, even as a way to associate male pleasure with female displeasure (when a model makes a face to show she doesn’t enjoy it, and/or she doesn’t receive her own orgasm, etc). Thus the power dynamics are being fetishized here.

    HOWEVER, one can make this observation about facials and realize that this is a social construction of the act which has little to do with the act itself. One element of the sexiness for some people is the “degrading” power symbolism discussed above – but it is just that: symbolism. It is subjective and can be changed at any time. Another subjective interpretation of facials is that of female power: a woman was so powerfully sexy she made her partner orgasm unexpectedly. Or, she demands to revel in his ejaculate, which itself symbolizes both his pleasure and her ability to give pleasure, and therefore her sexual power.

    My second answer to the critique of sex acts that are consensual, mutually pleasurable and preserve the well-being of all is: what a waste of energy! Assuming the previous three conditions are true, the participants are delivering NO harm to anyone – not themselves, not each other, and not any witnesses (well-being of ALL, remember). It may be satisfying to judge people for having the WRONG motivations for pleasure (lazily attributed by some to acts themselves which “inherently” embody these wrong motives), but I’d rather spend my time challenging things we KNOW cause harm, like the cult of ultra-skinniness or whatever. I mean, what good does it do to attack the fantasies of otherwise harmless kinksters? Nothing.

    (2) Your argument that Robert Jensen actually believes the definition of sex-negativity means “against sex itself” is convincing. However, I also think that Charlie is correct when he points out the widespread shame reactions to sex, which Jensen and Bee are in part responsible for perpetuating here, merits the use of the term “sex-negative.” Because at some point, in their reactions to sex they don’t understand, they lose focus upon reducing suffering; instead, their own unexamined feelings of squick and shame create a judgment-laden response which fundamentally reorients the discussion from “let’s make peoples’ lives better” to “YOU are fucked up.” That merits a “sex-negative” label, right?

  7. Glynnis says:

    Also @No Sugarcoating,

    Your P.S. – When Charlie says that people should examine their own issues rather than shaming/judging others (nice of you to leave out that important addendum), he’s telling them to become self-critical and healthy. If his thoughtful post doesn’t convince you that he actually cares about them processing their own shit (as opposed to dismissing their concerns out of hand), then nothing will.

  8. But is it established that every instance of a heterosexual facial is “consensual, mutually pleasurable and preserves the well-being of all participants”? No. Certainly not in pornography, where it was popularized. And certainly not in every relationship, let alone D/s ones.

    Even in these cases, the fact that people find the degradation in facials sexy is the fucked up part. I don’t know what “symbolic” is even supposed to mean in this context, but there is no way to convince me that misogyny isn’t misogyny, just because you’re “pretending”. ‘I like degrading women, but I don’t REALLY like degrading women’ is just not gonna cut it in feminist discourse. I don’t actually care as long as you’re only busting it in a genuinely enthusiastic partner’s face. Mutual desire is a minimum, but that doesn’t remove the context and the reasons for that desire.

    “It is subjective and can be changed at any time.”
    How? You can just turn off centuries of cultural conditioning by saying so? Most guys that like facials aren’t even PRETENDING to do this. You are right about one thing – facials are not inherently degrading. No sex act is inherently degrading. It is the context of our society that makes them degrading.

    “Another subjective interpretation of facials is that of female power: a woman was so powerfully sexy she made her partner orgasm unexpectedly. Or, she demands to revel in his ejaculate, which itself symbolizes both his pleasure and her ability to give pleasure, and therefore her sexual power.”. This just sounds like a bunch of manipulative bullshit some guys feeds his girlfriend to convince her to do facials, to be honest. I’m not falling for it.

    Glynnis, here’s the thing. What makes you think we have shit to process? What makes you think we aren’t self-critical? You are implying that we have sexual hangups and that we are sexually repressed, and that is shaming, plain and simple. If you’re going to silence people in the name of making everyone comfortable, it should be applied to everyone. You even ended your other post with a recommendation that “people should examine their own issues rather than shaming/judging others”. How is that not reinforcing the point that sex-positivity does not allow for critical analysis?

  9. No such thing as an anti-sex feminist? Really? Two words: Sheila Jeffreys. It would require some downright Orwellian doublethink to posit works like “The Spinster and Her Enemies” and “Anticlimax” as anything other than a set of propositions that are every bit as anti-sexual as anything ever coming from the church.

  10. “How is that not reinforcing the point that sex-positivity does not allow for critical analysis?

    You can “critically analyze” until the cows come home. The thing is, nobody is under any obligation to listen to you. Nor to refrain from responding to your “analysis” as they see fit. Or criticize you in turn. That’s the thing that “radical feminists” don’t seem to like so much. It seems the way you want to have things is to set yourselves up as some kind of vanguard and demand that other people “examine” their sexuality until they come into lockstep agreement with your “analysis”. And lets face it, sometimes this “analysis” is little better than gutter level bigotry, eg, the notorious transphobic streak in radical feminism. The fact that trans people should have to erase a core part of their identity because it doesn’t conform to your “analysis” says everything that needs to be said about why so many rightly reject it.

  11. The same could be said for anyone arguing any viewpoint, and what does transphobia have to do with this?? I never said anything about transgendered people here (or even on my blog) so why would you assume I want trans people to “erase a core part of their identity”? You’re pulling words out of thin air and making a fool of yourself.

  12. Actually, the same cannot be said for all viewpoints. More liberal and libertarian views generally do not seek to micromanage other people’s behavior, while more authoritarian/totalitarian ones certainly do.

    I bring up transphobia because the perspective you’re defending here, radical feminism, is notorious for it, and quite often use claims of “analysis” as a cover for what is little better than bigotry. More importantly, transphobia is quite relevant here since it is something that Robert Jensen is very much guilty of:

    http://www.transadvocate.com/the-rabid-transphobic-hate-mongering-of-the-anti-pornography-movement.htm

    I leave it to third parties to determine just who is “making a fool of themselves” in this conversation.

  13. Charlie says:

    @No Sugarcoating

    Let me expand my thoughts about what I mean because I think that it’s entirely possible to discuss a sexual act within the framework that I advocate while also engaging in the kinds of critical analysis you favor.

    I should have said (as I often do) that when I talk about the consent, pleasure, and well-being of the participants, I actually include in that everyone involved in the larger systems in which these acts take place. For example, two people might have fantasies or desires around sexual exhibitionism and want to find ways to do that. If they involve witnesses that are consenting to participate in that, great. If the involve witnesses who don’t, that’s a serious problem, especially if it’s deliberate.

    Similarly, and on a larger scale, I think it’s entirely valid and incredibly useful to look at how patterns of sexual acts that people engage in, both individually and collectively, affect other people’s consent, pleasure, and well-being, as well as how they perceive what options exists, how they’re “supposed” to act, etc. That’s the larger scale that many feminists explore these issues on, and I think it makes a lot of sense. It’s a valuable perspective and I’ve gained a lot from it.

    And at the same time, what I think is often problematic is the tendency for people (feminists and otherwise) to locate the problem in the sex act. Facials are often experienced as degrading because a lot of people see them that way, and it can be really hard to avoid having that affect things even when there are also other motivations. Facials, anal sex, BDSM, open relationships- these are all things that I’ve seen and heard many people, including feminists, say are degrading to women, even though many people, including lots of women, say that they enjoy them and that they don’t feel degraded. Personally, I find it much more useful to ask how someone feels about something and discuss what they can do to help their well-being flourish. I want to make room for both the freedom to engage in those acts and the freedom from having them imposed on anyone. And that’s simply not possible if you locate the problem in the act rather than in the relationship between the act and the person.

    So how do we create an analysis that holds all of these pieces together? How do we remember both the freedom to and the freedom from? How do we look at both the individuals and the systems that influence and shape them? How do we make room for all of the diversity of experience, perception, and response to what we see, do, or witness? And how do we do that without shaming people, especially when we have a trigger or a squick or a feeling of discomfort?

    I believe it’s possible to weave those strands together and that’s what I’m trying to do. I would love to engage with people who look at this through different lenses, including feminism, because I think that’s the best way to do it. And I’m limited in how far that can go, in part because so many people can’t see past the sex act itself.

  14. Charlie says:

    @Rusty

    I agree with you that some people recreate dichotomies when they label others as sex-negative. While sex-positivity as a perspective (or at least, the version of it that I advocate for) does include the goal of letting go of false dichotomies, lots of folks seem to have a strong tendency to fall back into that pattern. I don’t know how much that varies by culture and how much that’s simply something that human beings tend to do, but I do think that US culture reinforces that habit in a lot of ways. And for what it’s worth, I see feminists do that all the time, along with folks with many other perspectives.

    Rather than saying that this is a fault of sex-positive people, or sex-positivity as a perspective, I would suggest that it’s an example of people who identify as sex-positive not living up to the goals of sex-positivity, just as some people who identify as feminists might not always live up to the goals of feminism. In neither case does that negate the values of those lenses, nor does it justify attacking or blaming those lenses.

  15. I think the point that needs to be made is that sex-negativity is something systemic. Sex-positivity should not be taken as a “we’re sex-positive, everybody else is sex-negative” line, but rather a critique of who sex-negativity exists in the larger society and activism against the very real harms caused to individuals by sex-negativity operating through institutions such as law, religion, and political ideology. In terms of debate, the “what you said” versus “what you are” kind of conversation that is the best practice in conversations about racism, sexism, etc most certainly applies to sex-negativity:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0Ti-gkJiXc

    Of course, that said, there are extreme cases where I would point to certain individuals as exemplars of sex negative ideas (eg, Sheila Jeffreys) just as there are some individuals who are overtly strongly racist (eg, David Duke).

  16. Charlie, I think you’re being sincere, which is a hell of a lot more I can say for most of the men commenting on your site. You say you want people to have freedom to and the freedom from. I agree with that statement. Here’s the thing…We can’t actually take away the freedom to a sex act by criticizing it/the reasons men desire it. We do know that women are pressured every day into unwanted sex/rape, however.

    What do you, or any sex-positives do, to fight the increasing sexual expectations placed on women? From what I see, you’re all talk, no walk. When a guy comes to you and asks you for advice on convincing his girlfriend to do anal, do you question whether or not he has “problematic” ideas about women and sexuality? Do you question whether that’s something she really wants to do? Do you question his motivations? Do you care?

    I speak as one of the young women who actually deals with the fall out of men raised on hardcore porn, but there are the millions (of all ages) who are too afraid to speak. At best, sex-positives don’t help us at all. Unfortunately, they quite often enable and justify sexual entitlement in men. What do you do beyond, “Hey, you should totally respect your partner’s boundaries, and consent is super important!” That’s nice lip service, but it’s not making a difference, sorry to say.

  17. Well, you didn’t ask me, but I guess you’ve pretty much outlined a basic divide between “radical feminism” and “sex positivity” here, at least as I see it. It sounds to me like you expect men to pretty much shut down their desires and expectations, because, god forbid, that might somehow “oppress” poor put-upon women.

    Now where I’m coming from, one can desire whatever you want, wherever in your socialization or hard-wiring that comes from, but if you’re going to want to do whatever it is you desire with another person, then you had damn well better make sure the other person is into it, and have enthusiastic consent from the other person. There’s nothing essential about the sexual act when it comes to that, and the same rules apply to anal, BDSM, or a gentle romantic kissing. That’s not “lip service” and I really fail to see what’s so objectionable about the idea.

    I suppose another basic divide is that if a woman or man is unhappy with what they’re getting out of a sexual relationship, they should damn well be free to break things off and look elsewhere. The way I hear a lot of “radical feminists” talk, the very fact of men having such an option constitutes “pressure”.

    Comes down to a basic divide on issues of personal freedom, I guess.

  18. Charlie says:

    @No Sugarcoating

    Speaking only for myself, I do quite a lot to help people balance both the freedom from and the freedom to. As a former rape crisis hotline counselor as as a sex educator, I’ve spoken with people of all genders who have been pressured by partners of all genders to go beyond their comfort zones. I’ve also spoken with plenty of people of all genders who ask “how do I get my partner to…” (It’s not just men pressuring women, even though that’s the most common.) And to answer all of the questions in your second paragraph, my answer is a loud and firm YES. Whether it’s in my workshops, my one-on-one consultation, my writing, or my trainings for sex educators, I always make it clear that consent is more than just a buzzword.

    I offer tools for talking about sex to make it easier to both set and hear boundaries. I tell people that pressuring someone to do anything is not ok. I break down the mechanisms that are used to shame and socialize men into acting the way we often do. In the situation you describe, which I’ve had happen quite a few times, I have different responses. I might ask the person who’s trying to convince a partner how they know what their partner wants. I might ask them how they feel when they get pressured. I might talk about letting go of the performance model of sex (which tends to reinforce a focus on a specific act rather than on building intimacy and connection). I might ask them what messages their actions are giving their partners. Or I might tell them that what they’re doing is hurting their partner and it’s not acceptable. It depends on the situation and my perception of what someone needs to hear. But I don’t ever let it slide. And for that matter, I have the phone number for the rape crisis center memorized so I can give it to anyone who needs support. (FWIW, for many years, I led their trainings on working with male callers, both survivors and significant others.)

    Unlike most people that I see, I’m trying to make room for both sides of this because that’s the only thing that I think will succeed. So as one of the sex educators who deals with the intense shame that people feel for their desires and the fallout of that, what are you doing to make room for that? Because until we can hold onto both pieces, we’re just going to keep arguing about which is more important. IMO, they both need and deserve equal time or we’re not going to get anywhere.

  19. @Charlie

    How do you balance them? Can they be balanced?

    I absolutely think the sexual oppression of women is more important. Unwanted sex is a hell of a lot worse than not getting sex you want, for one thing. Rape and shame over your sexual desires are not equivalent, not even close. So no, I don’t think they deserve equal time. I do care about it, but things are getting worse for women every day. If we have to prioritize, which I think we do, it’s obvious which comes first. You may disagree, but I am tired of waiting for things to get better, and I don’t believe “sex-positivity” will help speed things along. The fact that guys like iamcuriousblue are down with it is enough proof of who this movement is really going to benefit.

  20. Well, hey, I guess you’re on to me. Because surely telling women that they have the right to say “no” to anything (just as much as they have a right to say “yes”) and have that “no” absolutely respected is just a ploy be evil men like me to trick poor brainwashed women into doing our nefarious bidding.

    You know, NS, your words bring me back to an earlier time in my political education, well before I was thinking much about feminism. But certainly anarchism and Marxism were very much in the air. And I used to often encounter the evangelical sectarian types, like the Maoists of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who were always looking for converts of the impressionable young punks of the time. I was told that if I wanted liberation of “the people” or “the working class”, I had to absolutely support a regime in which the Party put the capitalists’ backs against the wall. No halfway measures would do, and if I really supported “the workers”, I would be down with their program.

    Needless to say, I wasn’t down with their program, and the authoritarianism of their it left me with the distinct impression that it was less about liberating the working class and more about somebody’s frustrated power fantasies. And, naturally, it has left me with a distinct lack of sympathy with the feminist equivalent. Especially since I’m the one who gets his back against the wall in their scenario.

  21. Charlie says:

    @NS
    You’re creating a false dichotomy. I’m not talking about men having the freedom to and women having the freedom from, even though that’s how a lot of people look at it. I’m talking about everyone having the freedom to explore their authentic sexual desires and the freedom from coercion. Of course, that plays out differently for people of different genders and orientations, but it’s not the either/or you describe. And I’m not talking about balancing them because that implies a zero-sum situation in which one gains only when the other loses. I find that more often than most people realize, there are ways to make room for both of them simultaneously, although not within the models of gender, masculinity, and femininity that are most common in this culture. That’s why I put so much energy into creating and supporting different views of what gender and sexuality can be.

    Having said that, I also know that when it comes to healing sexual wounding, freedom from needs to come first. Believe me- I have way too much experience with the ways in which sexual wounding plays out to support the idea that all we need is sexual freedom. And part of what I do is raise awareness of that within sex-positive circles because I think that a lot of people are clueless about that. For that matter, that’s also why I usually phrase it as “freedom from & freedom to.” The “from” needs to come first in order for the “to” to be genuine and authentic. After all, you can only say yes to something to the degree that you have the room to say no.

    @IACB
    I think you’re also creating a false dichotomy and frankly, I don’t care for your use of sarcasm. It shuts down dialogue, increases defensiveness, and doesn’t help.

    I think that the questions that feminism and radical feminism raise about men’s desires and expectations are really valuable. A lot of men I work with base their sexualities on the performance of masculinity rather than on pleasure or intimacy or building a relationship. Feminism has been a really valuable tool for exploring that and in my experience, much of the defensiveness that many men feel around that has more to do with their not wanting to admit the ways in which it hits the target.

    Further, many women experience intense sexual wounding and intrusion every single day of their lives. (While that does certainly happen to men, both from men and women, that’s not the dynamic I’m addressing in this moment.) If men want to help improve things, then we need to work as allies to help change that and to support women as they move through whatever they need to in order to heal from that. Part of that is realizing that women being suspicious of men’s motivations and intentions is entirely reasonable, given the risks and consequences. It’s unfortunate that men who aren’t trying to take advantage of or hurt women need to prove that. It’s unfortunate that men aren’t seen as innocent of ill intentions until proven guilty. At the same time, it’s entirely reasonable and understandable that that’s how it works, and the impact of that on men (as hard as it can be) is so much less than the impact of sexual intrusion on women that I really have very little bandwidth for men who complain about it. If men want to live in a world in which we are not treated as suspect, then we need to work as allies to create that world.

    In the meantime, we also need to demonstrate our intentions through our actions instead of expecting that they’ll be assumed. I feel a lot of anger around the fact that I’m in the position of cleaning up the messes that other men have created. But if I’m not willing to do that, I make myself complicit in the systems that created those messes and I refuse to do that. What about you?

  22. I don’t agree with you on how best to approach these problems, but you do sound like you actually care, which is more than I can say for any sex-positive I’ve spoken to, and that unfortunately includes women. I appreciate that you took the time to write me thoughtful responses.

  23. As much as I often enjoy a Doug Piranha level of sarcasm, the last part of my response was entirely serious. I know better than to trust authoritarians of various stripes trying to ride in on claims of championing social justice.

    Furthermore, you’re attempts to tie in support for women with being an “ally” to a political movement, particularly one as fucked up as radical feminism, is wrong-headed in the extreme and is exactly the kind of crap I was fed back in the day for being insufficiently pro-Marxist. It was bullshit then, and the current “pro-feminist” version is every bit as much bullshit now. And furthermore, I don’t “owe” anybody “being an ally”, least of all the “No Sugarcoatings” of the world, and I find it quite distasteful that you’d demand that of me or anybody else for that matter.

    This actually confirms a lot of my misgivings about “sex-positivity” in its current form, though 180 degrees from NS objections. That is, I found the writing and political battles of that movement during the 80s very inspirational. But the current neutered politically correct version? Weak sauce indeed, sadly. I hold to the label grudgingly, for lack of a better one.

    And with that, good day to you sir.

  24. Charlie says:

    @NS- personally, I find that the sex-positive folks I know (and btw, I prefer it as an adjective than a noun, at least when you’re talking about me) care quite a lot. And I also find it much easier to see that in person than over the internet, but then, that’s my experience in general, especially when it comes to sexuality.

  25. Stella Omega says:

    No sugarcoating,you said: I absolutely think the sexual oppression of women is more important. Unwanted sex is a hell of a lot worse than not getting sex you want, for one thing. Rape and shame over your sexual desires are not equivalent, not even close.

    I would say this means you are not a woman who has experienced being shamed for your sexual desires. Because that happens to women.

    The pain isn’t immediate and violent, no. It’s subtle and lives within you day in and day out from the time you realise what your desires are, to the day you finally free yourself of the shame. It can interfere with one’s self esteem, productivity, joy in life, and enrich the pharmeceutical companies what with the need for anti depressants…

  26. I’m sorry that you have been shamed. Your assumption about me is wrong. Whether it’s boys calling me a whore at 12 years old for not wearing a bra or wishing some of my fantasies were a little more egalitarian or being called a prude for not being “up for anything”, I’ve been there. I don’t think any woman gets through life without being shamed for her sexuality.

    You don’t have to be raped to know of the soul-crushing effect it has, but I would say that from what you write, you have never been raped. And that happens to women. It lives within you day in and day out, and it never dies. It also interferes with one’s self esteem, productivity, joy in life, and enriches the pharmeceutical companies what with the need for anti-depressants. Let’s not forget the likelihood of PTSD, which can make any human interaction, let alone sexual, very difficult. Rape isn’t just an ouchie, although it usually involves excruciating pain, sometimes internal injuries, and sometimes even death. The worst part of rape (for most women) is not physical, and it is not subtle. Abuse really isn’t equivalent to internal shame or even external shaming.

  27. Charlie says:

    @Stella and @NS- This is why I don’t think they’re comparable. Yes, rape is incredibly traumatic and it has effects that shape and influence survivors, often for life. And there’s a growing body of evidence that the smaller, everyday wounds, while not individually traumatic, add up to have a lasting impact beyond what most people have realized. In some ways, the latter can be harder to heal from because no single event seems all that big.

    Abuse is not equivalent to a daily series of small injuries. And that doesn’t mean that one is inherently worse than the other. They’re both painful and they both injure the hearts, minds, and bodies of the people who experience them. That’s why I strive to hold onto both elements without putting them in conflict with each other and without creating a zero-sum game of them. Even if it isn’t explicitly part of something I say or write, it’s running in the background and informing what I do.

    So please, let’s not get caught up in arguing which one is worse. They’re both appalling and they people deserve the space and support to heal from them both. I’d much rather talk about ways we can do that than debate which group needs it more.

    Lastly, NS- I’d be happy to suggest some reading on the effects of long-term shame. You might be surprised to discover how much of an effect it has.

  28. Thurman Hart says:

    I would like to add this to the conversation, in the hopes of providing a clarifying framework.

    Sex-positive takes its title from the idea that sex is (or should be) a positive act of intimacy (this is my view of it, anyway).

    Sex-negative is labeled (against its will) because it looks at SOME sex acts as being inherently negative.

    Anti-sex is the view that ALL sex acts are inherently negative in some way (i.e., sinful, shameful, etc.).

    Looking at this, ALL anti-sex stuff is sex-negative, but not all sex-negative stuff is anti-sex. Unfortunately, there is a LOT of bleed-over in some of the language and attitudes. And both are finding fault with sex-positive stuff because it tramples their ideology, which finds fault with both of them because they trample our ideology (including myself in the sex-positive area).

    Since facials are the example of the day, let’s stay with that. Anti-sex says, “It’s sex. It’s bad. Period.” Sex-negative says, “It is bad because it reinforces the concept of ownership of women and that degrading women (and making them perform against their will) is sexy.” Sex-positive says, “It isn’t possible for us to tell if it is good or bad, because we haven’t enough information. Let’s find out what it is like for the people involved. Does it build a feeling of intimacy or does it destroy intimacy?”

    I would guess that upwards of 99% of men wanting to give facials are not using it as a way to build intimacy. This does not mean, however, that one percent is NOT using it to build intimacy. In fact, some of that 1% may find it The Most Satisfying Way to Build Intimacy EVER!!!!! For that couple, denying them freedom to engage in facials is de facto repression. And we don’t get a less repressive society by repressing others.

    So I agree that the victimization of women has to end. But how many innocent people are we willing to hurt to get that goal? It’s an issue I have with the death penalty – how many innocents are you willing to kill off just to get a few of the guilty people? Obviously, a facial is a long way from death, but the objection stands. How many innocents are you willing to shame just to get a few of the guilty ones?

    I have to say this, as well. I don’t know how facials could build intimacy. I don’t understand why some people enjoy that particular act. But I’m willing to listen to them try to explain it and convince me. It doesn’t mean I can’t be critical of what they tell me. It just means I’m willing to let them speak before I critically analyze their words and explore the meaning of them. And, in the end, if what they enjoy about it is destructive to anyone involved, I’m willing to say so.

  29. “For that couple, denying them freedom to engage in facials is de facto repression. And we don’t get a less repressive society by repressing others.”

    We can’t deny them freedom to engage in facials though. It doesn’t matter what we say or how harsh our critiques are, we cannot actually stop anyone from doing anything. Taking someone’s freedom to is very difficult, and is not something anyone short of legislators can achieve. (Honestly, not even legislation can actually stop anyone from getting it on however they like in private.)

    “So I agree that the victimization of women has to end. But how many innocent people are we willing to hurt to get that goal? It’s an issue I have with the death penalty – how many innocents are you willing to kill off just to get a few of the guilty people? Obviously, a facial is a long way from death, but the objection stands. How many innocents are you willing to shame just to get a few of the guilty ones?”

    Well, from what you were saying, it would be 1% of innocents and 99% guilty. I’m not willing to hurt anyone, but I’m not convinced that feminist critique qualifies.

    “It just means I’m willing to let them speak before I critically analyze their words and explore the meaning of them. And, in the end, if what they enjoy about it is destructive to anyone involved, I’m willing to say so.”

    That’s the problem for me personally. It wasn’t feminists that convinced me that porn degraded women, it was hearing men speak for themselves as opposed to sex advice columnists sugarcoating reality.

  30. Charlie says:

    @ NS: Which men were you listening to? Have you read, for example, Watching Sex: How Men Really Respond to Pornography?

    @Thurman: I’ve spoken with people who enjoy receiving facials simply because they enjoy the sensation of it (and without feelings of degradation as part of it).

  31. Really, Charlie? Are you kidding? I’m supposed to believe that a PRO-PORN book written by a man didn’t filter out the parts of these men’s interviews that might not make porn look so good? A book with a chapter entitled: What Did Everyone Get Wrong About Pornography? — objectification, subordination, degradation, and hatred of women.

    “In this ‘politically correct’ age when Orwell’s repressive Anti-Sex League has materialized insidiously on the left and the right, it’s heartening to read an honest, intelligent appraisal of the mercurial virtues of smut.”

    “Providing a window on the true nature of men’s sexuality, this provocative counter-polemic to anti-pornography theory explores pornography through the eyes of men who use it.”

    I’m not talking about books or interviews. I meant men speaking for themselves when I said it. Just average men talking about women, sex, porn, without having to sugarcoat their words because women might be listening. I’m sick of having pro-porn advocates filter men’s bile, so it doesn’t sound so horrifying. I’ve had years of it. Enough. I’ve heard every excuse, and every manipulation, and I already learned my lesson. I can’t believe you chose this book. You’ve lost me.

  32. Charlie says:

    Whether I’ve lost you or not is up to you. But can you point out any book on the topic that isn’t biased? Can you show me a single instance in which someone is actually showing the range of experiences that people have about porn? And do you genuinely think that people who have positive things to say about porn are likely to share them with you, when your own biases are so clear? For that matter, how do you set aside your selection bias and your confirmation bias when you engage in these talks with men? You make your own biases quite clear, so what do you do to try to get a picture of how men experience porn that isn’t shaped by them?

    The point I was making isn’t that that book offers an accurate view of porn, by any means. However, unless you’re going to suggest that the author made everything up, anything you say about his biases can be applied to the anti-porn side as well. Do you really think that Gail Dines doesn’t slant her questions, cherry pick which responses to highlight, or filter what people say in order to make it sound more horrifying?

    Unlike both Loftus and Dines, I talk with people about sex and porn in order to help them discover what will work best for them and their partners. And I can tell you that the things people share with me when they feel safe enough to be honest are very different from what you’ll read in any of the books.

  33. Books by academics aren’t the only sources of information on porn. Sure, they can be helpful, but I’ve still never read a feminist analysis that was as damning as actually *watching* porn, seeing the comments, etc. http://elkballet.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/porn-users-explain-why-porn-is-healthy-part-1/ These are not Gail Dines’ words. They’re just everyday guys talking about porn. No filter.

    People who have positive things to say about porn are not any less likely to share them with me than those who have negative things to say, because I am completely in the closet about my anti-porn/prostitution feminist views. Hell, they probably think I love porn.

    You think I actually go up to men and say, “Hey, what do you think about porn?” No, I do not. First of all, what’s to stop them from lying? I can’t get an accurate picture by speaking to them face to face, especially as a woman. Most people only find enough comfort to be honest when they’re anonymous. Second of all, that can put me in a dangerous situation. I’m an 18 year old girl. Being alone with a guy is risky enough.

  34. Charlie says:

    Fair enough. Given your outspoken views online, I’ll admit that I assumed that you were just as outspoken in person. Since you aren’t, I withdraw that statement.

    Look- I think that the porn industry as it currently exists is incredibly problematic. It creates unrealistic expectations, especially when we have so few images of what healthy sexual relationships can look like. It rarely shows the fun and connection that sex can bring. A lot of people get chewed up by the industry because it treats them them as disposable commodities. And it’s terrible sex education.

    At the same time, romantic comedies also offer up unrealistic models of what relationships can be, but I don’t hear nearly as many people getting upset about it. I see a lot of misrepresentations of the actual science about porn and its effects. (FTR, that’s not limited to the anti-porn folks at all, in my experience.) And I see anti-porn folks trying to shame people into changing, which never works.

    A lot of the problems with porn come from the fact that it’s pretty much unregulated, other than the 18+ requirements. Part of what I’ve been advocating is critiquing the practices of the industry because it’s part of making it change. So is supporting the people who are building alternative models of creating sexually explicit movies, and helping get the word out about organizations that have media literacy resources specific to porn. For that matter, most of porn’s offering the same images of what sex can be is, in my opinion, incredibly sex-negative because there’s so much to it than that. That’s why I support the folks who are creating porn that challenges that.

    What I’d really like to see is for some of the anti-porn folks to distinguish between the industry as it has evolved and sexually explicit media. We can challenge the industry without forgetting that other possibilities exist. At least, I can.

  35. Thurman Hart says:

    @No Sugarcoating: We can’t deny them freedom to engage in facials though. It doesn’t matter what we say or how harsh our critiques are, we cannot actually stop anyone from doing anything. Taking someone’s freedom to is very difficult, and is not something anyone short of legislators can achieve.
    Not even legislation can stop consensual sexual activity in private – the Supreme Court has ruled on that. But if you believe that freedom can’t be limited through non-violent means…then what is it that you are trying to do, exactly? In a free society, we each have the power to influence one another. Whether we use it in a positive manner – by allowing people to feel good about things that harm no one – or in a negative manner – by shaming people for doing things that harm no one – is a personal choice. It took me years to shake off the social conditioning of my early years.

    So we can’t pass a law that says, “No facials!” But let’s not pretend on the one hand that we can’t shame men for their sexuality when we use the other hand to explain how women are slut shamed for their sexuality.

    @No Sugarcoating: Well, from what you were saying, it would be 1% of innocents and 99% guilty. I’m not willing to hurt anyone, but I’m not convinced that feminist critique qualifies.
    I’m just wondering where these statistics came from…even so, the critique DOES stand – how many innocent people are you willing to hurt? And let’s not pretend like shaming people doesn’t hurt them.

    @No Sugarcoating: It wasn’t feminists that convinced me that porn degraded women, it was hearing men speak for themselves as opposed to sex advice columnists sugarcoating reality.
    Well, I’m not a sex advice columnist, just a guy in his 40s who has struggled with a lot of issues in his time. One of the FIRST things anyone has to learn when they start studying humanity is that one person’s experience does not generally extrapolate to the entire population.

    Once we get past that, we could possibly talk about how porn also degrades the men involved, both the actors and the viewers, and how it negatively impacts their sexuality and ability to achieve true intimacy.

    @No Sugarcoating: Sure, they can be helpful, but I’ve still never read a feminist analysis that was as damning as actually *watching* porn, seeing the comments, etc. http://elkballet.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/porn-users-explain-why-porn-is-healthy-part-1/ These are not Gail Dines’ words. They’re just everyday guys talking about porn. No filter.
    Um – there IS a filter. The post is written to specifically highlight men’s negative statements about porn. That doesn’t change the fact that they are hideous things to think and say about other human beings, but it a sample of such remarks.

    @No Sugarcoating: People who have positive things to say about porn are not any less likely to share them with me than those who have negative things to say, because I am completely in the closet about my anti-porn/prostitution feminist views.
    You are neglecting the fact that our overall society has a distinct anti-sex bias, and that it impacts discussions about porn. Anti-porn is the default position for a very large segment of our society. It isn’t necessarily because of YOU, but pro-porn arguments are simply less likely to be brought out in general.

    @No Sugarcoating: You think I actually go up to men and say, “Hey, what do you think about porn?” No, I do not. First of all, what’s to stop them from lying? I can’t get an accurate picture by speaking to them face to face, especially as a woman. Most people only find enough comfort to be honest when they’re anonymous. Second of all, that can put me in a dangerous situation. I’m an 18 year old girl. Being alone with a guy is risky enough.

    There is some greater degree of honesty found in anonymity. But I do think face-to-face discussions are still a good thing. If facilitated properly; they can provide a point to begin understanding each other better. It’s about feeling safe, not anonymous. And I know for a fact that women can do this just as well as men. I defer to your risk assessment, since I know nothing of your life whatsoever.

    Having said all of this, I’ll have to add that I think the specter of porn in this discussion is a red herring. At least, I was not talking about watching porn, I was talking about real people giving and receiving facials. As with everything, the experience itself is very different from what porn shows it to be. Is it possible that two people who love each other can give/receive a facial and still see each other as human beings who are lovable and precious and wonderful? I think it is. Again, it isn’t for me, but I’m not willing to take that away – or to shame someone in an attempt to take that away – because it isn’t my thing.

  36. We both know porn doesn’t have nearly the impact on culture that romantic comedies do. What unrealistic expectations are romantic comedies putting on men? How is being expected to be “nice” equivalent to being expected to submit to sex that is painful and/or degrading? And let’s not forget that men do not hold the subordinate status in society. Media that negatively impacts women is naturally going to be a greater concern, especially to feminists. Frankly, I’m offended by this comparison.

    I think most anti-porn feminists do distinguish between “porn” and sexually explicit media. However, what are you referring to when you say sexually explicit media? Literature? Statues of naked people?

  37. Thurman, with my generation, pro-porn is the default standpoint. I’m in the closet for a reason. What kind of anti-porn messages do teenagers get? Religious-based abstinence advocates? No one takes those people seriously. They grew up on hardcore porn. Women will be eviscerated for daring to challenge men’s entitlement to porn. Slut-shaming is not the only problem women face in regards to having their sexuality policed.

    And no, I still don’t think that “shaming” (what constitutes shaming?) someone for wanting to degrade women counts as hurting them. I spent most of my life worrying about making men comfortable. I’m done.

  38. Thurman Hart says:

    @No Sugarcoating: Thurman, with my generation, pro-porn is the default standpoint. I teach at a community college and talk to my students a lot about sexuality and gender roles. So…I probably have a better grip on “your generation’s” views than you think I do. Not a perfect understanding, of course, but I’m not in the dark, either. I’ve also lived in ten different states, so I’ve seen a lot of different subcultures in practice. If you think “no one” listens to the abstinence right-wing nutjobs; then you have had a very sheltered life.

    Slut-shaming is not the only problem women face in regards to having their sexuality policed.
    I don’t think I said it was. I gave that as an example, and in a specific context. That context was – you can’t claim women get shamed for their sexuality and pretend men don’t. It’s wrong and it’s harmful and it’s hurtful and it has to stop – for both men and women.

    And no, I still don’t think that “shaming” (what constitutes shaming?) someone for wanting to degrade women counts as hurting them.
    For a third time, I am talking about shaming people who are NOT degrading another person (male or female). I’ve said, consistently, “How many people are you willing to shame for engaging in a behavior that they both find fulfilling and uplifting and loving?”

    Your answer, apparently, is that you don’t care how many get hurt. I’d have more respect for you if you’d say that openly rather than continuing to try to slip away from the question being asked.

    I spent most of my life worrying about making men comfortable. I’m done.
    Fine. What about the women? And without being sarcastic or accusatory, but simply asking what I think is an important question: What about anyone who doesn’t fit into your view of what is “good?” How sure can you be that your ability to determine what is good from what is not good is the same yardstick that should be applied to all people? To quote Shakespeare: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

  39. Swanhilde says:

    I’m late for the party here, but I wanted to say that I enjoyed reading this thread. IACB was rude and shallow but everyone else gave pretty thoughtful responses. NS, you’re only 18? Good for you! I assumed you were about my age (late 20s) and in grad school. Anyway, keep reading books–no matter what they are. Thanks all!

  40. Rick Umbaugh says:

    This is a very interesting discussion, thanks for starting it Charlie.

    Back when the sexual revolution was just getting started a little known organization, The Eulinspeigal Society (which I probably misspelled) published a creed (www.tes.org/creed) wherein they promised to work for the right of everyone to define him or herself sexually. I think that the definition of sex positive is that one adheres to this creed (in spirit if not in fact). The only caveat to this is that one has to adhere to the idea of consent. As long as both or more partners are into what is going to happen and have consented, then the stage is pretty much infinite. Safety concerns are also important, but we aren’t discussing that.

    This also plays on the advances that Feminism has made. From what I see there are three waves of feminism. The first wave is the sufferists. The second wave is the group of feminists who arose out of the New Left in the 60s and 70s. These women had to fight for a cultural view of women and found themselves, because it was cultural phenomenon, fighting not just men, but women who thought that the model of the early 60s was just fine with them. (Gayle Rubin has written rather cogently about this over the years.) This caused the 2nd wave feminists to feel that they had the right to define what women should be, just like men in the early 60s defined what women should be and used 50s conservatism to enforce it.

    As feminism gained acceptance, the daughters of these 2nd wave feminists began to wonder why their “mothers” tried to enforce their view of what being a woman was on them. I remember a conversation I had with a woman on line who only wanted to be a science teacher, not a scientist. Her feminist peers were bugging her to go on with her education, but she just wanted to go teach. Some of these disputes were over BDSM. Again, Gayle Rubin in her essay “Think Sex” talks about the great battles over BDSM and Porn were fought in the 1980s.

    The third wave feminists now fight to preserve a woman’s right to choose her sexual identity, be it 50s housewife, Domme, Gorean Slave or whatever. Most of the women in Porn think of themselves as feminists and much of the porn industry, which has always paid its actresses better than its actors, much like the modeling business. There are now women producers and directors in porn. Indeed, what I know of the porn business it that while it is very much the same as the mainstream industry, both in its good characteristics and its bad characteristics, it is more female friendly than the mainstream industry. I was in the main stream entertainment business for 35 year or so and it is very paternalistic. But the second wave feminists cling to thier ideas. I just had an argument over sex positivity with one of my sisters as she sees sexuality as exploitive of women whether they enjoy the sex or not.
    These are the kinds of issues that, as we discover the meaning of sexual liberty, we are going to have to go after. MY impulse is to go for as much freedom, both from and to, as possible, and within that statement lies the idea of consent. Frankly, while it too Reid Mialko to articulate it, the idea of negotiating a sex scene is part of the turn on for me.

    Rick Umbaugh
    qui bene amat bene castigat

  41. anonymous coward says:

    Someone above said: “It’s simply not true that those who fight against things like pornography and prostitution on feminist grounds are against sex either in practice or theory.”

    Absolutely. I have grave reservations about mainstream pornography and about many aspects of prostitution and as a result I get tossed on the sex-negative heap, merely for having critiques — of any kind of sexuality! I’ve really gotten to the point where I dislike the sex-positive and sex-negative as a false dichotomy. I kind of prefer sexual freedom but in any case, it’s difficult to make any kind of critical statements in certain circles without immediately being labelled sex-negative and thrown in with the likes of, oh I don’t know, Maggie Gallagher or someone equally batshit crazy.

    More to the point, any critique that involves any hint of the notion that the kyriarchy has ever used sexual roles as a means of reinforcing gender inequality?

    KAAA-FWOOOOOOOOMPH!

  42. Hyperreal2 says:

    Fantastic discussion.  As a 66-year old, I was dismayed at the growing repression after the 70s.  I don’t love porn, but have used it to start the engine.  It gets sexuality fairly wrong most of the time, even when it doesn’t seem to degrade.  I have issues with Jensen- a bit too close to Dworkin and McKinnon for my taste, although I like things he’s written in pieces. 

  43. [...] even points out that we keep saying they don’t get it, and then she says: [Charlie] Glickman argues that ‘sex-positivity’ is “the idea that the only relevant measure of a particular sexual act, [...]

  44. [...] in response to this post by Meghan Murphy, which in turn quotes this post by Holly Pervocracy, and this post by Charlie Glickman. All of those posts are well worth reading. In particular, I want to quote [...]

  45. Terry says:

    Sorry, to say. I believe that YOU are the one who doesnt understand sex positivity. You are brainwashed! So sad…

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