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A good post on sex positivity

over here:

There are still lots of people who believe that sex needs to be redeemed, that without reproduction or love or marriage, sex is wrong. While I have no problem with them adding the words “for me” to the beginning of their claims (i.e. “For me, sex outside of marriage is…”), many of them seem to want me to have the same beliefs, or at least they want to limit my actions to match their standards.

Of course, the line that marks “acceptable” sexuality has shifted, but we still draw the line in ways that exclude activities that lots of people do without harm to themselves or others. Debates around oral sex, same-sex contact, multiple partners, BDSM, sex toys, erotic media and many other topics have come and gone and it seems like we keep having these conversations, forgetting that they’ve happened before.

....On the other hand, it’s also important to acknowledge that sometimes, people cause harm to themselves or others through sex. Sexual intrusion, unwanted sexual contact and sexual assault are real and sometimes, people who identify as sex-positive seem to forget or ignore that. Sex is also risky- emotional and physical harm can occur, even if nobody intends for it to happen and even if we try our best to minimize the chances.

So while sex-negativity is the idea that sex is intrinsically bad unless something redeems it (like reproduction or love or marriage), I believe that sex-positivity is not the idea that sex is inherently good. I believe that the value of sex depends on the people involved, what they want to get out of it, whether they’re able to achieve that, and whether they are causing harm to themselves or others. That requires the ability to ask challenging questions while setting aside personal judgments.

For me, sex-positivity is all about walking that line. It’s about honoring diversity, recognizing my personal views about what other people do, and asking questions rather than jumping to conclusions. It’s about recognizing that as long as everybody involved or affected is able to give informed consent and does so, I have no right to limit what anyone does. And it’s about celebrating someone else’s joy, even if what brings them pleasure and happiness isn’t something I want to do.
This is why the notion that "sex positivity is a polemic term" is so... odd to me. As long as someone doesn't believe that sex has to occur in certain contexts to be okay, or believe that sex is inherently harmful... that person is not sex negative. Saying "I'm sex positive" says nothing about any individual.

Just like someone making the assertion "there is a patriarchy" is saying nothing about individual men (another common misconception, one every feminist has banged her head against repeatedly.)

"We live in a sex negative culture, and an important part of my feminism is fighting that as it applies to women, who traditionally bear the brunt of it" says zip about any particular person's sexuality (or lack thereof; it's perfectly consistent with sex positivity to support an asexual person's right not to be harassed for not wanting sex, for example.)

Comments

( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
naihoshi
Aug. 26th, 2007 10:16 pm (UTC)
I think the problem is that people [falsely] assume that sex-pos feminism is a direct contradiction to radical feminism. It's not. (See also: assertions that sexpos insinuates that all radfems are prudes, sex-negative, etc.)

Someone remarked that she wasn't "sex critical". Well... yeah, I think most radfems are, in that they critically analyse sex acts. Whether or not I disagree with that is side to the issue; it's a common goal, as far as I can see, to deconstruct how patriarchy is affecting sex.

But is it impossible to believe that, as Charlie said here, sex is dependent on the people involved, WHILE ALSO BEING ABLE TO SAY "...and most people are bringing a lot of cultural baggage to the table, courtesy of a really fucked-up system, so let's discuss why, how, and what to do about it"?

That's what I don't get. Radfems are not inherently not sex-pos. They just don't identify as such.

It's like... hmm... okay. I'm a geek. I'm kinky. I also happen to be female. But if you asked me to describe myself, those first two are what comes to mind, and the third is kind of just there. It's not as central to my self-description as the other two (possibly due to feeling more in-between on the gender side of things, anyway). So just because radfems don't CALL themselves sex-pos doesn't mean they AREN'T, it's just not part of their main identification. Possibly because of the heaps of negative connotations some of them have given it, possibly because they don't get that it's not dichotomous to be a sex-pos radfem.

I figure you know this, but. :)
iamcuriousblue
Aug. 26th, 2007 10:46 pm (UTC)
I'd be one of those people who thinks radical feminism isn't very sex positive. You can say that about radical feminism (as its predominantly understood these days) as an ideology without personalizing it. I don't know if individual radfems have sexual "issues" or not (though a disproportionate number do report themselves as "survivors" of some kind or another, and that's bound to cause issues of some kind).

I just don't think the rules and restrictions and general "guilty until proven innocent" attitude that radical feminism as an ideology translate into a positive view of sexuality any more than homophobia does. I'm sure its possible for an individual to be homophobic or to have Sheila Jeffreys-like views on sex and still be perfectly happy in one's own sex life. But to actually generalize such rules and force them on other people (and use of heavy shaming and censure in a social group is kind of forcing, I think) would be to foster a huge amount of sexual unhappiness on other people. So in this sense, radical feminist orthodoxy, like homophobia, is "sex-negative".
fierceawakening
Aug. 26th, 2007 10:53 pm (UTC)
I'd be one of those people who thinks radical feminism isn't very sex positive.

I don't think that has to be the case, though. I've known a few radical feminists who were kinky, who weren't interested in judging people for their sexuality, etc. These were people who were doing what the term claims to be -- trying to understand systemic sexism and challenge it in a radical way.

But I do think many, perhaps most, radical feminists slip into an ideology that isn't conducive to the sexual freedom or the sexual health of women. I think that's because radical feminism's backbone thinkers are considered to be Dworkin and Mackinnon, who've pretty much dwarfed anyone else in importance. And their work locates the root of sexist attitudes in a certain kind of sexual norm as perpetuated by porn as a sexual medium.

So most radical feminists are going to be seeing sex as those two did -- shaped and warped and fundamentally poisoned by porn and patriarchy and the desire of the penis-possessing dominators.

Which again is not by itself sex-negative -- it's perfectly possible to believe sexuality in general is deeply culturally affected and yet be very enthusiastic and hopeful about seeking, crafting, and living out a sexuality more fulfilling to women. But they don't often go together -- and given the general message about how deep the poison runs, that isn't surprising.
fierceawakening
Aug. 26th, 2007 10:59 pm (UTC)
But to actually generalize such rules and force them on other people (and use of heavy shaming and censure in a social group is kind of forcing, I think) would be to foster a huge amount of sexual unhappiness on other people.

And yes. But I don't think that's necessary to radical feminism, so much as it's often the conclusion radical feminist theory is taken to.

Which is bad, yes. But it's not by itself "radical feminism."

I think it's also important to remember that "radical feminism" is the foremother of the sorts of feminisms most of us espouse. Radical feminism was the feminism that sought to theorize the systemic problems AS systemic problems. We're all hugely in their debt -- despite the terribly bad conclusions drawn by various radical feminists about porn, butch/femme, BDSM, etc.
iamcuriousblue
Aug. 26th, 2007 11:53 pm (UTC)
Well, I define contemporary "radical feminism" to be the post-1974 wave started by Robin Morgan and Andrea Dworkin. The earlier, more eclectic, radical feminism of the early 1970s is largely dead as a social movement. (I think Kathleen Hanna is about the only notable contemporary feminist I've ever heard of to derive a lot of her ideas from early radical feminism and at the same time be lukewarm about Dworkin, etc.) Much of what was good about early radical feminism actually ended up going into sex-positive feminism (with Ellen Willis being the most notable link between the two) and still lives in the more radical wing of that school.
fierceawakening
Aug. 27th, 2007 01:18 am (UTC)
Careful with that icon. They'll decide you're one of the Legion.

And I'm basing that on some LJ people who were... well, the not-moonbatty feminists. They tended to be very interested in sexism as a systemic problem and in systemic solutions. Some were fans of Dworkin and most were anti-porn. But it was the sort of anti-porn that said "Y'know, I'm really concerned about the message sexist porn sends, and the monetary support it gets" rather than "Don't show up at our conferences" or "Bzz bzz bzz" so I had no issue with their views. Several were online buddies (several still are, though I havent heard "radical feminist" as a term from many lately -- I think many of us just drifted away as blogfeminism got more and more fucking weird.)

I was about to say "disagreement wasn't an issue" but that's not true. There was the usual "don't use those phrases" stuff and "anti-feminists get banned" stuff, neither of which I'm for now. Still: no real black holes of viciousness like Heart or Stormy, other than the couple of horrid people in the last spat who are also on LJ.
iamcuriousblue
Aug. 27th, 2007 01:42 am (UTC)
"Careful with that icon. They'll decide you're one of the Legion."

The image is from ED, but its one of their better efforts – somebody with Onion-style humor, unlike most of ED.

The thing is, if the ED folks had responded to Heart and BB with simple mockery (especially if they could have kept the humor on an intelligent level, without the utterly base racism, sexism, etc that ED so often falls into, which reflects an unfortunate mindset among a lot of those people), I'd have no problem with them. I think mockery is a healthy response to people who take themselves way to seriously, especially in response to people who are themselves aggressive in pushing their message.

Its the DoS attacks, threats, and outing I have a big problem with.
fierceawakening
Aug. 27th, 2007 01:45 am (UTC)
The thing is, if the ED folks had responded to Heart and BB with simple mockery (especially if they could have kept the humor on an intelligent level, without the utterly base racism, sexism, etc that ED so often falls into, which reflects an unfortunate mindset among a lot of those people), I'd have no problem with them. I think mockery is a healthy response to people who take themselves way to seriously, especially in response to people who are themselves aggressive in pushing their message.

Its the DoS attacks, threats, and outing I have a big problem with.


I don't disagree. "They'll think you're one of the Legion!" was an attempt at humor.
iamcuriousblue
Aug. 27th, 2007 02:35 am (UTC)
Yeah – now I see that.

In any event, a bunch of them are already convinced of that, even to the point of thinking I'm high up among the legion. (An "ED moderator", as Heart had me pegged at one point.)

And of course, the surest sign that you really are part of a conspiracy is to deny you're part of it. :)
iamcuriousblue
Aug. 26th, 2007 11:07 pm (UTC)
And since I mentioned Sheila Jeffreys, I'll definitely say that I unreservedly call her "sex-negative". In fact, probably the most fantastically sex-negative polemicists alive today, Left, Right, feminist, or traditionalist.

She basically outright condemns every relationship or sexual identity other than near-sexless separatist lesbianism. She also specifically aligns her feminism with "first wave" Victorian anti-vice crusaders and against early "free love" practitioners like Victoria Woodhull.

I think it would be way too generous to say that Jeffreys is "sex positive" and just doesn't identify as such.

And the thing is, Jeffreys isn't just some fringe element; she's very popular among contemporary radfems.
fierceawakening
Aug. 26th, 2007 11:11 pm (UTC)
And since I mentioned Sheila Jeffreys, I'll definitely say that I unreservedly call her "sex-negative". In fact, probably the most fantastically sex-negative polemicists alive today, Left, Right, feminist, or traditionalist.

I agree. And yeah, I know there are some radfems who love her. I've known many who didn't, though.

Anyone who does... well... EURGH
iamcuriousblue
Aug. 26th, 2007 11:34 pm (UTC)
"I agree. And yeah, I know there are some radfems who love her. I've known many who didn't, though."

Its good to hear she isn't universally loved among radfems. She's such a creep.
fierceawakening
Aug. 27th, 2007 12:30 am (UTC)
YES.
fierceawakening
Aug. 26th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC)
Someone remarked that she wasn't "sex critical". Well... yeah, I think most radfems are, in that they critically analyse sex acts. Whether or not I disagree with that is side to the issue; it's a common goal, as far as I can see, to deconstruct how patriarchy is affecting sex.

Yes. But the thing is: sex-positive people may well also be (in fact I'd say most if not all are) sex-critical, if we define it that way.

Though there are some who, like me, are critical of certain ways of "examining" one's desires. I think examining cultural forces and how they affect sexuality is good, for example, but I don't think exhorting individuals to do so is productive.

On a personal level, friend to friend, I might be able to say "Rebecca, it doesn't sound like you've thought about X" if it's clear she's following some destructive pattern because she doesn't know any better. But the presuming that anyone who likes certain things HASN'T examined is just bogus.

Like this idea that people who do BDSM just don't KNOW how patriarchal it is until they swoop in on a white stallion mare and tell us so. Most people who do BDSM question themselves all the time -- it's part of growing up in a world in which you're sexually different!

So just because radfems don't CALL themselves sex-pos doesn't mean they AREN'T, it's just not part of their main identification.

Right. Which makes even more sense when you consider how many of them often claim sex shouldn't be so "important," that the issues of the SparklePonies are derailing, etc.

possibly because they don't get that it's not dichotomous to be a sex-pos radfem.

I used to identify precisely that way, actually. Now I don't. In part because I've no desire to link myself to certain people online who really twist radical feminism and are truly vile to others, and in part because I no longer think "getting to the root" is as important as I once did.

"The root" and the necessity of "getting to it" often, it seems, mires some people in the mud, making them look toward a feminist utopia rather than work to heal the world they're in. And that's not something I want to do any more.
iamcuriousblue
Aug. 26th, 2007 11:33 pm (UTC)
"Though there are some who, like me, are critical of certain ways of "examining" one's desires. I think examining cultural forces and how they affect sexuality is good, for example, but I don't think exhorting individuals to do so is productive.

On a personal level, friend to friend, I might be able to say "Rebecca, it doesn't sound like you've thought about X" if it's clear she's following some destructive pattern because she doesn't know any better. But the presuming that anyone who likes certain things HASN'T examined is just bogus."


It comes down to what kind of "interventions" or "questioning" is appropriate. Say you knew someone who makes themselves up to be "conventionally attractive" (and all that implies), and is on the thin side, but to the best of your knowledge, doesn't have an eating disorder.

Even if in your analysis, you might think some of the things she's conforming to are unhealthy or stereotypical, remarks like, "it would be good for you to gain a few pounds", or "have you ever though about whether you really need to shave your legs/wear makeup/etc" are more than a little presumptuous. And yet it comes across to me that according to many radical feminists, its perfectly OK to badger people on an individual level like this. Or at least, hit people with the "well, its OK if you do this, but realize if you do X, its anti-feminist".

Its this personalizing of feminist polemics that I think is problematic.
fierceawakening
Aug. 27th, 2007 12:29 am (UTC)
It comes down to what kind of "interventions" or "questioning" is appropriate. Say you knew someone who makes themselves up to be "conventionally attractive" (and all that implies), and is on the thin side, but to the best of your knowledge, doesn't have an eating disorder.

Even if in your analysis, you might think some of the things she's conforming to are unhealthy or stereotypical, remarks like, "it would be good for you to gain a few pounds", or "have you ever though about whether you really need to shave your legs/wear makeup/etc" are more than a little presumptuous.


Yeah. If I ever considered it appropriate to say anything personal to my friend about what she does as an individual, I would consider it so because I saw these practices having a deleterious effect on her specifically. And I'd mention that and why it mattered.

If I didn't see anything specific to her going on there's no reason for me to make comments like "you should know that if you do X you're feeding into Y." I can make blanket statements about Y and why Y isn't good without telling anyone what to do.
iamcuriousblue
Aug. 27th, 2007 12:46 am (UTC)
"I can make blanket statements about Y and why Y isn't good without telling anyone what to do."

Right, and I think that's a really important difference.
fierceawakening
Aug. 27th, 2007 01:07 am (UTC)
Yeah. And Y is a facet of the culture, not an act.

"Blow job" is not a critiquable thing. "Being tied up" is not a critiquable thing. "Cunnilingus" is not a critiquable thing. "Rough sex" is not a critiquable thing. "Long tender arousing cuddling" is not.

A society in which pressuring women into blow jobs is common, or in which curious teens give blow jobs but never get cunnilingus... THOSE are critiquable things. As is a society in which long tender arousing cuddling is compulsory, though I don't think there are many actual people who are for this. (Jeffries? She's so moonbatty I can't tell.)
naihoshi
Aug. 27th, 2007 04:53 am (UTC)
Yes. But the thing is: sex-positive people may well also be (in fact I'd say most if not all are) sex-critical, if we define it that way.

Though there are some who, like me, are critical of certain ways of "examining" one's desires. I think examining cultural forces and how they affect sexuality is good, for example, but I don't think exhorting individuals to do so is productive.


This is fair... I'm not sure what I'd replace it with, though. I'm pretty much in the same boat as Belle, that the exhortation to "examine" even beyond where a person states they've REACHED their "root cause" and are STILL okay with the act... well, that takes a certain amount of ignoring boundaries, and is not cool.

Like this idea that people who do BDSM just don't KNOW how patriarchal it is until they swoop in on a white stallion mare and tell us so. Most people who do BDSM question themselves all the time -- it's part of growing up in a world in which you're sexually different!

And because many of us are taught to constantly be evaluating how okay we are, because if we reach a threshold, we need to say 'stop'. It'd be scary not to know why you were doing it, I think, and not in ANY sort of good way. And someone demanding that you EXPLAIN YOUR TERRIBLE BAD BEHAVIOR!!! is not going to help. (Can you imagine that? The idea of doing that to someone who's already scared is just... mmfph.)

Right. Which makes even more sense when you consider how many of them often claim sex shouldn't be so "important," that the issues of the SparklePonies are derailing, etc.

Yep. Which, well: don't pay attention to them, then. Work at your rape crisis centres, work on military sexism, work on dismantling our counteracting the patriarchy in whatever way you feel works best; we'll be over here, helping in our own way.

I mean, even if one thinks it's 'less important' work... if every woman has to make concessions to the patriarchy, why can't helping women accept their sexuality be one? (Not that I view it as such, but as a suggestion for how they could, if they wanted.) Not every woman can be on the front lines; if saying, "hey, have you ever thought about X? Y? Z?" opens up another woman to thinking about herself as a person with her own desires, needs, and wants, and that she CAN fulfill them... how is that BAD?
iamcuriousblue
Aug. 27th, 2007 02:48 am (UTC)
I think its helpful to go back to the original sources when you're talking about sex-positivity (or "pro-sex" as it was earlier called). Pretty much the first source to ever mention it, at least in a feminist context, was the 1981 essay by Ellen Willis "Lust Horizons: Is the Woman's Movement Pro-Sex?" (reprinted in her book No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays).

In that essay, Willis was clearly saying that there was a current in feminism that was clearly puritanical and, if not "anti-sex", then at least pretty damn negative.

Here's some highlights of the essay:

These apparently opposed perspectives meet on the common ground of sexual conservatism. The monogamists uphold the traditional wife's "official" values: emotional commitment is inseparable from a legal/moral obligation to permanence and fidelity; men are always trying to escape these duties; it's in our interest to make them shape up. The separatists tap into the underside of traditional femininity – the bitter, self-righteous fury that propels the indictment of men as lustful beasts ravaging their chaste victims. These are the two faces of feminine ideology in a patriarchal culture: they induce women to accept a spurious moral superiority as a substitute for sexual pleasure, and curbs on men's sexual freedom as a substitute for real power.


It has been years since feminist sexual conservatism (a contradiction in terms, really) has had to face any sustained or organized opposition, but that is beginning to change. Both of these collections – particularly Heresies – reflect the early, tentative stirrings of a revived feminist debate on sexuality, which is in turn a response to the right-wing backlash. The right does have a coherent perspective on sex, one that unites a repressive sexual morality with the subordination of women. Since feminists are at best ambivalent about sexual freedom, they have not been able to make an effective counterattack. Indeed, the movement's attacks on sexual exploitation and violence, male irresponsibility, pornography, and so on, have often reinforced right-wing propaganda by giving the impression that feminists consider the loosening of controls over sexual behavior a worse threat to women than repression. While liberals appeared to be safely in power, feminists could perhaps afford the luxury of defining Larry Flynt or Roman Polanski as Enemy Number One. Now that we have to cope with Jerry Falwell and Jesse Helms, a rethinking of priorities seems in order.


Last year NOW, on the advice of its lesbian caucus, passed a resolution specifically excluding from its definition of lesbian rights certain forms of sexual expres-sion that had been "mistakenly correlated with Lesbian/Gay rights by some gay organizations and by opponents of Lesbian/Gay rights seeking to confuse the issue": pederasty, pornography, sadomasochism (all of which were alleged to be issues of violence or exploitation, not of sexual preference), and public sex ("an issue of violation of the privacy rights of nonparticipants"). While the impetus for the resolution seems to have been opposition to the "boy love" movement, its effect is to endorse the moralistic rhetoric and the conventionally feminine sexual politics of the anti porn campaign; it also has disturbing overtones of a homophobic and/or self-hating insistence that "lesbians are respectable too."



iamcuriousblue
Aug. 27th, 2007 02:51 am (UTC)
In the same essay, Willis also has an interesting take on BDSM. I don't know if you'd agree with it, but its interesting:

Does the need to act out fantasies of debasing oneself or someone else really require no further explanation? Does it have nothing to do with buried emotions of rage or self-hatred? Nothing to do with living in a hierarchical society where one is "superior" to some people and "inferior" to others, where men rule and women serve? Can the need to connect sexual pleasure with pain and humiliation be unrelated to the fact that our sexual organs and their function are still widely regarded as bad, contemptible, and embarrassing, a reproach to our higher spiritual natures? Is it irrelevant that our first erotic objects were our all-powerful parents, who too often hurt and humiliated us by condemning our childish sexuality?

Puritanism is not the only obstacle to a feminist understanding of sex. If self-proclaimed arbiters of feminist morals stifle honest discussion with their dogmatic, guilt-mongering judgments, sexual libertarians often evade honest discussion by refusing to make judgments at all. I think that to read women out of the movement because of their sexual habits is outrageous, and that to label any woman's behavior as "male" is a sexist absurdity. I also think it's dangerous to assume that certain kinds of behavior will disappear "after the revolution" (as dangerous as assuming that "the revolution" is a discrete event, which will someday be over once and for all). But I don't believe our sexual desires are ever just arbitrary tastes. Rather, I see sadomasochism as one way of coping with this culture's sexual double binds, which make it painfully difficult for people to reconcile their sexual needs with dignity and equality. To be sure, the same can be said of many more conventional sexual practices: what, after all, is the ritual of male pursuit and female ambivalence (or, increasingly these days, the opposite) but a disguised and therefore respectable form of sadomasochistic theater? Probably none of us is free of sadomasochistic feelings; no doubt the hostility sadomasochists inspire is in large part horror at being directly confronted with fantasies most of us choose to repress, or to express only indirectly. The issue is whether such fantasies, expressed or denied, are themselves the product of thwarted desire. The very idea that "the forbidden" offers special pleasures suggests that the answer is yes.
fierceawakening
Aug. 27th, 2007 03:10 am (UTC)
no doubt the hostility sadomasochists inspire is in large part horror at being directly confronted with fantasies most of us choose to repress, or to express only indirectly. The issue is whether such fantasies, expressed or denied, are themselves the product of thwarted desire. The very idea that "the forbidden" offers special pleasures suggests that the answer is yes.

HEAD. DESK. X47.

GYAAAAAAAAAH.

*sigh*

I hate that shit. Yeah, I'm this way because the culture is repressive.

I appreciate that just about as much as "you're like that because you were abused."

Isn't our side the side that isn't supposed to do that?

*gnashing of teeth*
iamcuriousblue
Aug. 27th, 2007 05:56 pm (UTC)
To be fair to Willis, I think she's saying everyone is "that way" because of their enculturation and that that BDSMers are just more overt about it.

As for her insistence on the role of parents frustrating children's drives, the role or repression, etc, Willis is a self-described Freudian.
fierceawakening
Aug. 27th, 2007 05:58 pm (UTC)
To be fair to Willis, I think she's saying everyone is "that way" because of their enculturation and that that BDSMers are just more overt about it.

Yeah, which some of the other side says too. I don't have much use for it from anybody.
amberlr
Aug. 30th, 2007 06:11 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I have no use for it either, and frankly it makes smoke start to come out of my ears. Oh, and I think at a certain point the question of "why" becomes irrelevant.
ruth_lawrence
Aug. 27th, 2007 01:34 pm (UTC)
I wholly agree, and don't quite understand why reasonably sensible people don't grok this.

she-who was curlygrrrl
(Deleted comment)
anthonyjk_6319
Aug. 28th, 2007 01:13 am (UTC)
Re: Sex Positivity
As someone who uses both terms "sex radical" and "sex positive" interchangeably without any assumed conflict between the two terms, I can feel exactly what whitewillows is saying...and I'm pretty much a practicing vanilla het male (albeit a working-class Black male at that).

I can also see how a lot of what has been called "sex positivity" can be construed by those who don't have the resources or the time to engage in their particular sexual tastes and practices as essentially fiddling and diddling while Rome proverbially burns; I mean, it still costs money to join a sex club or buy your props for a BDSM or kink or videocam scene; and it's kinda hard to think about how you many times you are going to come when your next paycheck might be your last.

But, that's all the more reason why I insist on incorporating the basic philosophy of sex positivity and sex radicalism into a complete and amalgamated political agenda of radical social change that touches on the basic oppressions of race, class, and power. It makes no sense to talk about freedom of consent and rights and responsibilities without fundamentally addressing the basic power structures that control how such vectors as race and class and institutional power determines how much power you actually have for sexual self-determination.

That isn't to say that there is no value in queer theory and academic studies of oppression, or that the basic goals of sex-positivity and sex radicalism aren't worthy of their own merits. But, it is vitally important for political radicals who want to integrate sex positivity and sex radicalism into the broader progressive agenda not to gloss over the impact of all the other vectors of oppression and inequality. Otherwise, you end up with the usual right-wing libertarian ("Do whatever you want as long as it feels good to you, and damn the consequenses") vs. cultural Puritanical "populist Left" (Sexual pleasure is nothing more than a tool of the patriarchy/capitalist/White man used to divide and conquer") duopoly that has confounded both sex radicals and the Left in general.

Regarding Ellen Willis: I'd think of her as more of a liberal than a libertarian sexually; she certainly does have her strong sex-positive moments, but she sometimes does tend to be a bit judgmental and in denial of some of the more esoteric sexual practices (as in her statement that BDSM'ers are basically victims of bad upbringings or abuse who would, were it not for that, be more conventional with their sexuality. In my view, it may be a fruitful etiological exercise to discover what makes someone tilt towards a sexual kink or a particular "lifestyle", but to privilege that as a "cause" for their kink when it poses no harm to any other person is, for me, a degree of seperation from flat out prejudice. In my view, judgment and criticism should be reserved for those who do actual harm to themselves and/or violate the rights of others, as well as for the systems and institutions of power that force them into these decisions.

But then, that's only me, a socialist/sex radical/sex-pozzie.....YMMV, as it will.


Anthony
fierceawakening
Aug. 28th, 2007 02:54 am (UTC)
Re: Sex Positivity
I lost a long response to this so I'll just say:

I don't like "radical" any more at all. Because "radical" tells me what's wanted and what's needed but it doesn't tell me, really, how to make change HERE.

With "sex radical" it could just mean willingness to court approbation socially for the sake of sexual freedom for oneself and others, so that I get. But even in that case, comparing myself to the early sex radicals I don't think I'm putting much on the line. Yeah, there's a lot of misunderstandings of BDSM and yeah it does get people in trouble and yeah if you run afoul of the wrong people (think Spanner) MAYBE that will happen to you

but it's not an open act of rebellion for me to be who I am in the way it was for the Samois women and others in 1979. So it seems dishonest. Am I carrying their torch? Sure. Am I in the same situation? Very much no.

And "radical" in the sense of the social order just confuses me. Yeah, I think a society with more socialized aspects would be good (health care anyone?) but I am in no way sure what a particularly "radical" means of actually bringing this about would be.

Which is why I don't see myself as radical. Because I want actual social change. And I'm not going to do the pie in the sky thing any more, dreaming of the Kingdom to come, when there are people with no health insurance HERE. NOW. and I want them to be able to stay healthy/stay alive.

Not that radicals don't want that but I see very little I can grasp and hold with the practical part of my mind for how radicals make that happen in the new order (which hasn't even come about, either.)

so am I left wing? sure. radical? ehhhhhhhhhhh I dunno. depends what it MEANS. and I can't puzzle that out other than to go into the cliques of whatevers, more hardcore than thou feminists or more left than thou left wingers... which are more like high school than like "this gets M his pills" or "this gets Z her restraining order against her abusive exhusband and makes it MEAN something" y'know?
amberlr
Aug. 30th, 2007 06:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Sex Positivity
The problem I have with "Sex Positive" is it, pardon the term but "whitewashes," everything, taking the issues of class, race, ability as well as orientation, gender, etc. out of the equation, and treats sex as if it's an act that isn't about Power or connected to various Power Dynamics in the real world, outside the domains of theory, where us real folks live, who get pulled out of our cars and have the shit beaten out of us for being gay for example, or who get kicked out of our jobs because we're a male wearing a dress, or are shunned because we like to get our asses whipped on a Saturday night.


I don't think it does that at all, and people understanding it that way seems to me to be a big misunderstanding, and proof that we need to explain our position a whole lot better. For starters, I would suggest to EVERYONE, Bitch|Lab/Queer Dewd's excellent piece, Shame Affirmative Redux.
fierceawakening
Aug. 30th, 2007 07:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Sex Positivity
Thank you, Amber. I was trying to think of how best to say that myself.
libbydabomb
Aug. 28th, 2007 12:20 am (UTC)
you've written this very well. I love your posts. Ppl often forget that sex positivity is a case-by-case basis...
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )

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