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sex-positive feminism: a movement in need of a revolution

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Image: Guy Moll via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

I identify as a sex-neutral feminist. This doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on sex. In fact, it very much means the opposite.

My first run in with feminism was a fairly negative one, I do admit, and has actually greatly helped me in becoming the feminist I am today.

Coming from a fairly conservative family and background, sex was something rarely mentioned or talked about – most of the time, I felt too embarrassed to even think about it. Even throughout my years in high school, I was not taught much about safe sex, consent, and building up a positive and healthy relationship with sex. I still remember the anxiety and confusion of being bombarded with so many different rules and guidelines to follow as a 15 year old girl. If you don’t, you’re a prude, if you do, you’re a slut.

That was only the beginning.

My first exposure to explicit, in your face feminism was in the form of sex positivity. It was in the form of sex toy talk, topless women, clitoral stimulation and sticky sweet everything. It was red lipstick, high heels, big hips and overflowing breasts. It was ‘have all the sex you can!’ and it was ‘stop giving in to sexual oppression!’ and it was ‘be a sexually open woman!’. Though there is no doubt some of the talk within sex-positive feminism is important and informative – educating people on contraception, consent and cumming – I felt a sense of indefinite unease every time it was brought up. I still experienced the same sexual oppression, only it was now clouded with feminist lingo and constant positivity of all things to do with sex. This in turn contributed to a very unhealthy relationship between me and sex, and made me feel like a “bad feminist” for not being so open, accepting and comfortable with my sexuality.

The truth is, sex-positive feminism is thoroughly problematic.

As a feminist, dealing with sex must predominantly focus on critical analysis of the patriarchal oppression, repression and general discourse surrounding sex. Within sex-positive feminism, any decision made in relation to sex is viewed as one big empowering ‘yes!’, and there is no critique of intention and internalised misogyny that may be involved. As feminists we must constantly ask ourselves ‘what is my intention, why am I doing this, and who am I doing this for?’

Sex is heavily political, and every decision we make to do with sex is steeped with cultural and social pressures, and personal empowerment and liberation is not the prerogative when compared to what is good for womankind in the general global perspective. Whilst engaging in various sexual acts such as role playing, fetishism and BDSM may be personally empowering for you, you must also be heavily concerned with how this affects other women and their experiences with sex. Whilst you may enjoy being bound and gagged and view your sexual expression as liberating, you must also be heavily critical of where this enjoyment stems from, and why.

Sexual liberation within the sex-positive feminist discourse has turned into the most successful way to appeal and please men, and only amounts to putting further pressure on women to sexually perform in ways they may be uncomfortable with and not ready for.

Furthermore, discussions and topics within sex-positive circles are, more often than not, heavily hetero-normative and trans-exclusionary, focused on penis-in-vagina sex and equating females to vaginas and males to penises. Put simply, if your feminism does not address and cater to all sexualities and genders as well as draw attention to the fact that genitals are not equated to gender, it is not feminism. It is yet another form of misogyny disguising itself under feminist vernacular and faux-acceptance.

Another major issue to note about sex-positive feminism is its lack of regard for victims of abuse, sexual assault and rape. Not everyone will have a positive relationship with sex because not everyone has had positive experiences with it. On average, approximately 35% of women worldwide have experienced sexual violence perpetrated by both partners and non-partners, though only a small number of women report acts of sexual violence, making this a severe under-estimate.  This number is much higher amongst certain marginalised groups, and some National Violence studies have recorded up to more than 50% of women – including Hispanic, Native American, African American, Asian and mixed-race women – experiencing sexual abuse/assault.

Even within these minority groups, rates of sexual abuse, rape and assault are higher than others. Rates of sexual violence are even greater within transgender communities, with almost 64% of transgender people having experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, and only 1 in 5 ever reporting it in fear of further stigmatisation and assault. This number is again higher for various transgender racial minorities, with most sexual violence occurrences directed at trans women of colour. There is almost an infinite number of statistics I could go on to tell you about, from sexual violence towards children to sexual assault experienced by people with disabilities, but the crux of the matter is that sex within the current patriarchal hegemony is doing more harm than good, and to assume sex is a liberating and positive act for all is to disregard the millions of women worldwide who experience sexual violence, abuse and rape on a daily basis.

So, where to from here?

At the risk of sounding overly clichéd, looking back on my journey as a feminist, I realise how far I have truly come. I have learnt about intersectionality, have educated myself on systematic and institutionalised racism, and have done much research on both personal and global issues that people all over the world are faced with on a day to day basis, due to the rampant and explicit misogyny rife in our everyday experiences. Mostly, I have experienced misogyny, sexism, racism and abuse first-hand.

I believe feminism is an ever-changing, fluid movement that is predominantly concerned with educating and inducing change to turn the world into a safe space for those who have been oppressed and marginalised for so long. Feminism involves constant critique, constant looking into one’s self, and constant flexibility and transformation. It is not a static black-and-white movement, and it heavily involves issues to do with privilege and perspective, as well as the internalisation of sexism, racism and patriarchal ideals.

I believe sex positivity is in need of a desperate revolution. Sex positivity needs to not only merely cater to all genders, sexualities and minority groups, but it needs to regard them with the utmost importance and contribute to creating a safe space. Sex positivity needs to remain critical of its prerogative and what it labels as liberation, and understand that not all women are cis, straight, white and able-bodied. It needs to tell the world that it is okay to say no, it is okay to take however long to recover from sexual trauma and abuse, and it is okay to wait until you are personally ready. It needs to educate people on emotionally and physically healthy sex practices and provide the resources that enable people to build a healthy relationship with themselves, their bodies and their sexuality.

I identify as a sex-neutral feminist. This doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on sex. In fact, it very much means the opposite.

2 thoughts on “sex-positive feminism: a movement in need of a revolution

  1. thank you for vocalising this position. sex as a form of subjective agency is such a difficult area to navigate , but one loved within our commodity culture
    hopefully this dialogue will expand – I’m interested to hear where your ideas go to from here .

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