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.

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

On “Creepy Asexual Guys,” Porn, and Misogyny

Occasionally, people will use search terms to find this blog that pique my curiosity. I had never heard of a gray fetish until today, but apparently someone else has. I also sometimes get search terms including words that I know I’ve said before in the same post, but not together, not as the topic of the post. Today, someone viewed my blog after searching for asexual guys, and I was curious to see what else was out there about asexual guys, so I looked, too.

Of course, there were the usual posts about people seeking to date asexual guys, and those with people wondering whether some male relation of theirs is asexual or gay or just socially awkward, but then there was this strange offering by Rabbi Schmuley Boteach. Confused by the title, “Asexual men and the creeps who live on campus”–since when are asexual men associated or equated with creeps?–I clicked the link. The Rabbi’s main argument seems to be a variant on the idea that rampant sexual debauchery leads men to become desensitized to the point that they are no longer attracted to most normal women, but rather only to a very specific type of woman (presumably strippers and porn stars), and to a very specific type of violently misogynistic situation. I have a few problems with this. Number one is the way he defines asexuality:

The male overexposure to women has even led to the death of the heterosexual man as we know him. If the definition of a heterosexual man is a male who is attracted to women, then most men today are barely heterosexual. Think about it. Nearly all the men I know are only attracted to about one in 10 women, that is, the 10 percent of women they consider “hot.” The other 90 percent leave them cold. Doesn’t that mean that they are 90 percent asexual? And I’m not trying to be funny. If a man is not attracted to a woman, then he is not heterosexual. Period. And if he only attracted to a small fraction of the women he meets, then he is fractionally heterosexual.

Although I can follow his logic, I find that logic flawed on the level that this makes no distinction between a person who is asexual, a person who is just extremely picky, and a person who has a fetish. Now, that word has several different meanings, including two that are non-sexual (an asexual might have “an irrational or abnormal fixation or preoccupation” with something that does not arouse them sexually, for instance). By fetish here, I mean an extreme sexual interest in something to the point that the person cannot get off at all without the presence of that thing. I think what the Rabbi is really meaning to refer to here is the development of such a fetish for the demeaning situations (allegedly, at least–as I have limited experience, I wouldn’t know) shown in porn, and the type of woman who looks like she belongs in one.

The problem is, the way this is worded indicates to me that this has not been thought through and articulated carefully and with a clear understanding of what he is literally saying. He talks of an overexposure to women, for one–how can men be overexposed to a group of people who comprise roughly half of the population? Is he suggesting that we should all be wearing burqas, here? On the contrary, I would infer that he is talking about an overexposure to fantasy women (and any women willing to cater to male fantasy), and an underexposure to real-life women (who are not willing to cater to male fantasy). But this is not made clear in that sentence, so it makes little sense taken on its own.

I think the fallacy with regard to asexuality and heterosexuality is that he is defining them based solely on the percentage of the time that a person is attracted or not attracted, without any regard for the intensity of that attraction when it is experienced, the feelings and attitudes that a person has towards sex, or the fact that these words are labels that refer to the way a person is categorized, rather than indicators of that person’s actual levels of eroticism towards any particular group of people.

For things like this, it usually helps to have a visual model, so let’s use the Storms model. According to this, heterosexuals are people who are high in hetero-eroticism but low in homo-eroticism, homosexuals are people who are high in homo-eroticism but low in hetero-eroticism, bisexuals are high in both, and asexuals are low in both. This seems similar enough to what the Rabbi is saying, but the problem here is in defining what constitutes “high” and what constitutes “low” levels of eroticism.

According to him, if you find 90% of the people around you sexually unattractive, then you are 90% asexual.

However, the people he is talking about devote an extraordinary amount of time thinking and fantasizing about, planning, and engaging in sexual activity. According to him, they have even gone to college expressly for the purpose of indulging in sexual debauchery. You could say that (at least) 90% of their lives are devoted to the pursual of sexual activity. Perhaps they have an extremely narrow idea of what constitutes a sexually attractive woman, and are unable to explore sexuality with the vast majority of the women around them, who do not indulge them in their misogynistic fantasies, but they are still absolutely obsessed with sex. To me, that indicates high levels of eroticism. It’s only a very specific kind of eroticism–as previously stated, a fetish.

So to call them asexual, even while acknowledging that they are “10% sexual,” is highly inaccurate. They would likely not self-identify in that way, and would have very, very little in common with people who do, since usually those people do not miss the sex they are not having, and don’t feel the need to actively pursue sexual activity. Of course, there are people who identify as asexual who might experience sexual attraction a very low percentage of the time, and still consider themselves asexual. I have never heard an estimate of ten percent, and that’s probably quite high, but theoretically, such a person could exist. That’s because these words are labels that are meant to express how people are the vast majority of the time, without getting into very fine details like that one man a lesbian might fall in love with. The Storms model might more accurately look like this (image originally found in this thread)–a blur of different colors with no clear lines in between. There is no simple litmus test that people can take to determine their sexual orientation, and how much a person is attracted to x gender alone is not the only factor that goes into its determination. For those who exist in the borderlands, there may be many more things to take into consideration aside from attraction to people.  There are objectum sexuals, and people who are aroused by certain situations but not by the appearance of other people, to take into consideration as well.

In short, being a sexual person does not mean that you want to bone EVERYONE, or even everyone of a certain gender, and being asexual does not necessarily mean that you NEVER feel sexual attraction. Although the main factor for determining sexual orientation is the level of attraction one feels for other people, and which gender those other people are, it cannot be said that men who are only attracted to women 10% of the time are only 10% heterosexual, because that shows a lack of understanding of how self-identification and use of a label that describes sexual orientation works.

And, just for further clarification, I’ll repeat an example I used a long time ago about the availability of attractive women:  In a country with an extremely skewed gender ratio like China, where there are so many more boys than girls, a heterosexual male might only encounter a small percentage of women he is attracted to on a day-to-day basis, but does that mean he is not heterosexual? Not many people would answer yes to that question, but if you follow the Rabbi’s statement through to its logical conclusion, then he must.

I have many more thoughts about this, but I’ll have to cut it short for now. I may return to this topic in a future post, though.

Edited to add: I’ve made a second post about this: Dismantling Emotional Flatulence.