The Sexist

Why Sex Positivity is Bad for Feminism

The Visions in Feminism conference, an annual feminist symposium held at American University, has chosen its 2009 keynote speaker: Annie Sprinkle (right) a porn-star-cum-academic who claims to be "the first porn star to get a Ph.D." She is also the creator of such titles as "Hardcore from the Heart: The Pleasures, Profits and Politics of Sex in Performance" (book) and "Annie Sprinkle’s Amazing World of Orgasm" (DVD).

The theme of the 2009 VIF conference is “Pushing Boundaries: Queering Feminism & Queer-ying our Communities”; its goal is to "explore ways of queering ourselves and our communities; that is, unfixing definitions of feminism while pushing our boundaries to re-examine our relationships to feminist praxis."

While we're "unfixing definitions of feminism," may I humbly submit that we unfix this "sex-positivity" shit from the entire praxis? Because if I have to endure another essay on the mysteries of the female orgasm in the name of feminism, I may never have an orgasm again.

Let's take a look at the rest of the VIF conference: It includes workshops on the "Asian Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project," "Transsexual Women's Experiences and Queer Feminism," and "Dork as Third Gender." Sounds good to me.

Then, things get sex-positive-y. The conference ends with a workshop (complete with "live demonstration with rope restraints") run by "a sex positive polyamorous pansexual bi-gendered individual who enjoys nothing more than talking about and/or having sex," then Sprinkle's keynote address.

Meh. Yes: Sex is great! Talking about sex is great (except when it's not)! It's no surprise to anyone that tons of people really like having sex, including—ooooh—feminists!

This is the worst part of sex-positivity role in feminism: It pretends to be totally outrageous, but it's actually very, very boring. Take Sprinkle's "Interview with an Anti-Porn Feminist," in which she argues for porn's place in the feminist movement. Sprinkle kicks off the questions by asking her subject, "Don’t you think it’s so totally interesting to see people naked, or to watch them having sex?"

I'm not an anti-porn feminist, and even I have to say—No. Just, no. It's fine, but it's not "totally interesting," and talking about it is even less interesting. Of course, there are a lot of feminist issues involved in the porn industry, sex work, and in human sexuality; I just don't think "sex positivity" is one of them. So you're a feminist, and you like sex—well, that's normal. So do a lot of people, including a lot of non- and anti-feminists. So what does that have to do with feminist identity?

And yet, sex-positivity has wormed its way into the feminist movement. Why? One reason, of course, is that for a long time, women weren't allowed to want or like to have sex. And sure, I've been lucky to grow up in a time and place where I haven't needed a porn star PhD mentor to tell me it's okay to like doin' it.

But there's another reason, too: If people who like sex see sex-positivity as a part of the feminist movement, maybe they'll see feminism as less prude and scary and icky and straight-laced and serious and anti-man. And I think it's condescending to the feminist movement that we have to bring orgasms in to be taken seriously.

  • Lauren

    Problem is, you titled this article, "Why Sex Positivity Is Bad For Feminism," yet you never actually made the case for why sex positivity is bad for feminism. You made a case for sex positivity being...something you're not interested in, personally. So leave it alone, get on with the stuff you think is important, and STFU already.

  • Louche

    So you said Sex Positivity is Bad for Feminism. And then you changed your mind, but didn't explicitly mention that you changed your mind. "Sex-positivity has its contributions to add to feminism..." says Amanda Hess.

    I was probably sex negative up to the point I participated in Sex Positive Week. The first time around I didn't go. I just thought, "Wtf, I don't care about sex." But that's beside the point. I went to an event on disability and sexuality. It was great! So I learned a lot about how disabled people are perceived as asexual, how they might be approached, etc. I guess that was "bad for feminism"? Without sex positivity, it wouldn't have been talked about.

    Sex positivity is totally a breath of fresh air to me compared to the sex negative feminists I started out with. The latter were the ones who I felt like had a clammed up POV that they couldn't look past, anti-transsexual, anti-porn, gotta stop all traditional expressions of sexuality now!

    I still don't really care about sex, or sex toys. But these aren't any feminist's primary concern, and it's not they, but you, who are being condescending if you think it is.