Sex-Positive Feminism vs. Sex-Negative Feminism

When I posted the reason why I identify as sex positive despite seeing sex as neutral, I specifically did not mention sex-negative feminism because I felt that it was a much more complicated issue that deserves its own post. It’s one that I think it would require a lot of effort and reading on my part to try to understand where sex-negative feminists are coming from (which frankly, I’ve never fully been able to do). I don’t have the time to write a deeply informed and detailed post about it, so this is not that. However, there are a lot of other writers who have written about it, so here is a link spam post, with some thinking out loud. I have an epically long, super important post full of practical advice for how to ethically have sex with an asexual person scheduled for later this week, but I figured I might as well pass these on in the meantime.

Lisa from Radical Trans Feminist: The Ethical Prude: Imagining an Authentic Sex-Negative Feminism. (If you have trouble reading because of the text colors at the link, like I do, Lisa was also kind enough to provide a link where you can easily change the text to a readable view. I had never heard of this website before, so this is a great find for me! Thanks, Lisa!) This is a really great article that shows how there isn’t actually a huge difference between sex-positive and sex-negative feminists. It’s more a matter of what kinds of things you emphasize than anything else. It’s long, but well worth a read if you have the time. I’ve been prude-shamed quite a bit myself, and if I were more on the repulsed end of the spectrum, I might consider trying to reclaim the label Prude for myself, too.

Framboise just posted about sex positivity and anti-asexual views within it. Quote:

“The other most prominent argument tends to dance with the No true Scotsmen fallacy. Simply, many argue that when asexuals experience various forms of oppression from sex positive feminists (including concern-trolling about how to “fix” their sexuality, accusations of being judgmental, or erasure) they are encountering people who are doing sex positivity wrong.  However, these experiences are common.  Far more common than asexuals receiving any sort of affirmation in sex positive spaces.  If the majority of people claiming sex positivism are doing it wrong what does that mean? Whose responsibility is it to fix?”

This is definitely a huge problem, and I think there are a lot of sex positive people out there who really aren’t doing enough to make sex-positive spaces safe for asexuals and people with low interest in sex. It’s perfectly understandable why asexual people would feel alienated from an environment where it’s generally assumed that people want sex. But I also think it’s important to point out that the majority of people, sex positive or not, are not sufficiently educated about asexuality to respond to it appropriately. There are some sex positive people who DO reach out to asexuals and truly try to embrace sexual diversity in all its forms, but they’re in the minority because people who accept asexuality are in the minority. It’s easy for someone who is uninformed to think that asexuality is somehow related to shame about sex, because they’ve probably never had that assumption challenged. Those people who do accept asexuality and consider themselves allies need to bring the issue up, and educate others about it.

I don’t think the No True Scotsman fallacy is applicable in this case, because we’re dealing with ideals and not facts like where someone was born. It would be applicable, if someone was arguing that because sex positive people value consent and sexual diversity, they never push sex or sexiness onto people who don’t want it. That’s a factual contradiction. But that’s not the argument. The argument is simply that they aren’t living up to their own ideals.

Here’s an analogy: the United States of America was formed with the idea of liberty and equality, but still allowed slavery and didn’t give women the right to vote. We still have problems with racism and sexism, even today. Despite the founders’ commitment to the ideals of liberty and equality, mainstream views at the time limited their egalitarianism to such an extent that what they enacted wasn’t true egalitarianism. I think we’re seeing a similar effect here: the mainstream view that asexuality is pathological is limiting even people who believe in the importance of embracing sexual diversity and the value of consent.

Does that mean that these people don’t genuinely see consent and diversity as ideals, and therefore aren’t allowed to call themselves sex positive? No. Does that mean that these sex positive people who don’t accept asexuality as legitimate aren’t truly, fully living up to their own ideals? Yes. They’re not taking the values of consent and diversity to their logical conclusion. Whose responsibility is it to fix that? It’s everyone’s. Even if you’ve talked about it before, if you haven’t talked about how sexual diversity includes people who don’t want to have sex at all lately? Do it again. Any time you mention sexual diversity, try to make it clear that it’s okay to not want sex, too. You may feel like that should go without saying, but it really doesn’t, and not mentioning it contributes to asexual erasure.

Emily Nagoski posted about anti-sex-positive feminism 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 Glickman:

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.

This is why I think that it’s a misunderstanding to think that sex positivity is about saying that sex itself is good. It’s more that sex, in general, has the potential to be good. IF it’s done in a consensual way, but more than that, a way which values the satisfaction and emotional well-being of all participants. Consent is just the bare minimum requirement, but we need to aim higher than that.

One other thing I want to point out: I keep seeing sex-negative/anti-sex-positive feminists claim that sex positive people can’t handle critiques of sexism in porn and other mainstream parts of culture that enforce sexism. That’s not true. Yes, a lot of us will have defensive reactions to critiques of porn. However, the problem is not critiquing sexism in porn, but that the way in which the critique is framed either generalizes that all porn is bad, or that the sex acts themselves are bad, without recognizing that it’s possible to do those things in an ethical, consensual way that values the satisfaction and emotional well-being of all participants.

I dug up an old article by Greta Christina on this distinction, and how critiques of sexism in porn often miss it and end up engaging in kink-shaming. While we’re talking about her, I’ll also link another piece she wrote about sex work. She’s written many more excellent articles on sex positivity, and they’re all worth reading, but I’m not going to dig up every single one of them to link here.

I think ultimately, the main difference I’m seeing between sex-positive feminists and sex-negative feminists still comes down to how they feel about porn and sex work. The sex-negative folk seem to think that porn and sex work are both inherently abusive, while the sex-positive people (myself included) think that, even though there IS a lot of abuse in sex work and the porn industry, and we acknowledge it, we also think there’s a way to combat it without banning porn or sex work. I think prostitution should be legalized and regulated, for example, rather than criminalized and driven underground, where abuse can be much more easily perpetuated.

If I’m wrong about the way that sex-negative feminists view porn and sex work, though, feel free to correct me. A lot of the posts I read from sex-negative feminists only tangentially mentioned porn and sex work without making their views about it explicit, so I’m still thinking of the ones who did mention it that I read so long ago that I now can’t even remember where I read them anymore.

Identity Maintenance

Time passes me by lately like water does a fish—I am always in it, it is always flowing around me, but each moment is just something I live in without really thinking about it. I pay attention only to the strong currents and my eventual destination, letting the usual ebb and tide just make its lazy circles about the unconscious.

Of course, I’m still able to focus on time and its various aspects, bring it out of the background and into the forefront as I am doing now. But that kind of focus might as well be a flash of lighting. For the most part, it passes, and I make neither an effort to live in the moment nor hold fast to hope or memory. Things happen, mostly boring and not worth reporting—or so it was for a while. Unfortunately, no news does not necessarily mean good news, even though I am significantly less likely to update without the motivation of conflict. This past summer, I’ve been beset by a number of injuries and illnesses, including a brief visit to the hospital (which fortunately turned out to mean nothing except that I should take better care not to exhaust myself). Those injuries and illnesses have continued since I started school, which means that I have missed a lot of class and my ability to keep up with assignments has suffered. My relationship with my partner suffered a lot as well—partially, indeed, as a result of my being sick so often—and now we have broken up, albeit somewhat tentatively and while keeping the possibility in mind that we may be able to resolve our differences and work back up to a romantic relationship.

With all this going on, I hadn’t really been thinking about asexuality.  Over the summer, there were still plenty of moments, from time to time, when I would see my girlfriend looking at porn and, upon hearing my comments, she would groan at me and says, “You’re so asexual.” But for the most part, it went unnoticed, and barely mattered.

I have been trying to decide what is different about the part that sex played in our relationship as compared to the part that it plays in a pairing of two sexuals, but I can’t come up with much. It’s not as if it isn’t generally enjoyable, and I can’t say that it isn’t intimate. There were periods when we go without for quite a while before either one of us would crease her brow and say, “Hm. When was the last time, anyway?” That is probably the most obvious sign of my asexuality combined with her relative lack of sexual attraction to me. The thing is, our relationship actually did seem to suffer more during the dry spells than when we were doing it relatively frequently, despite my conviction that sex should not be a necessary part of a relationship.

Continue reading

Dismantling Emotional Flatulence

A few days ago, I posted about Rabbi Schmuley Boteach’s bad definition of asexuality. Now, I want to address the main point of his article.

As Ily has observed, his argument makes no sense. It is inarticulate and illogical, and there are so many gaps where he has jumped from one assumption to the other that the article is quite difficult to follow without making great leaps of inferences.

Essentially, this is an emotional argument, and it must be dealt with as such. There is a sort of reasoning to it, but it’s not the same kind of reasoning as an argument based on logic. The Rabbi looks around him and sees that a good chunk of the population does not share his values, and so he fears that society is gradually becoming more and more immoral. This rant of his (for really, that’s what it is) is just the expression of that fear. It doesn’t amount to anything else, because he has not taken the trouble to check his facts; the entire rant is based solely on his own perceptions of the world around him.

Emotional arguments are very tricky, because unlike simple misinformation, they arise from some sort of emotional need, and serve as a defense mechanism which, when taken away, would leave a person vulnerable.  Franklin from Xero Mag wrote an essay which does a great job of explaining this. I don’t usually like to challenge emotional beliefs, because it tends to lead to a great amount of hostility, and it rarely accomplishes anything, since the person whose beliefs are being challenged will tend to just sit there and vehemently deny everything that I am saying. If a person is very invested in their emotional belief, it is extremely rare that anyone will be able to get through to them. This is why arguments between atheists and Christians (for example) are almost always futile. The only thing that they can usually accomplish is to change the opinion of someone who is sitting on, or very close to, the fence.

Still, I think it’s important to talk about stuff like this. There are a lot of people out there who might start to become aware of the emotional undercurrents in their own heads which are undermining their statements. I think it’s important for people to challenge their own emotional beliefs, and not let their emotional landscapes twist facts way out of proportion. This kind of thinking affects everyone, including the asexual community. Specifically, I see certain similarities between the Rabbi’s beliefs and their rationale, and those held by some asexuals. Continue reading