Sex-positive feminism is the dominating branch of feminism today, particularly among the younger generation. I haven’t met any college-aged feminists who don’t consider themselves sex-positive. In the media, however, a few young feminists have spoken out against sex-positivity, causing me to look at the movement more critically.
Sex-positive feminism, which came to prominence in the 1980’s largely as a response to anti-pornography feminism, embraces all forms of sexuality. Sex-positive feminists believe that sexual freedom is necessary for women’s freedom, and they do not think that any form of sex between consenting adults should be limited in any way.
For centuries, women have been sexually oppressed by societal ideas, as well as by the government itself. Women are told that their virginity is sacred and that they are worthless if they do not protect it. Women who seek out sex or have “too much” sex are labeled as “sluts” and “whores”. The Republican Party has been fighting to ban birth control and abortions, and they have been successful in limiting the public’s access to them. Such laws target poorer women who cannot afford birth control or do not have the means to travel to the ever-decreasing number of abortion clinics. All of these are ways of ensuring that women have to “pay the consequences” of having sex.
Even certain branches of feminism seem to find problems with female sexuality. A woman dressing or acting a certain way to express her sexuality can be seen as simply accepting her oppression. Some feminists see women who dress or act certain ways as allowing themselves to be objectified.
In all of these cases, people are attempting to control the sexuality of others. And sex-positive feminists are saying screw that. They are saying that the only person who should have power over a woman’s sexual decisions is the woman herself. They are saying that women should not be judged based on how they embrace sex and sexuality.
In one anti-sex-positivity article, “Why ‘Sex-Positive’ Feminism is Negative For Me” , author Kelly Rose Pflug-Back claims that sex-positive feminists don’t take into account the people who can’t enjoy sex. She says that sex-positivity “seems to be a movement geared towards middle-class, mostly white, liberal, cis-women for whom liberation may indeed be a simple matter of achieving greater sexual satisfaction, ending the culture of slut-shaming, and re-appropriating femme aesthetics…During the long period of my life in which I felt that I was completely incapable of having any kind of healthy manifestation of a sex life, I often felt wracked by the guilt of not being a ‘good feminist.’”
This article forced me think about sex-positivity more critically than I had been. None of the sex-positive feminists I know seem to believe that embracing sexuality is a requirement for being a feminist, or that sexual gratification is the only important aspect of feminism. But is this what some sex-positive feminists think? Is this the message that sex-positivity as a whole sends?
If mainstream feminism places so much importance on sex, what does this say to those who either don’t desire or can’t have sex?
There are people, as the article mentioned, who are unable to enjoy sex due to past sexual trauma. There are people who simply aren’t interested in sex or don’t find sex pleasurable. There are people who are asexual or minimally sexual. People who are asexual, which means they don’t feel (or rarely feel) sexual attraction (and it has nothing to do with their interest in romantic relationships) make up approximately 1% of the population.
Consciously or not, the sex-positivity movement often excludes these people. In encouraging every woman to embrace her sexuality, the sex-positive movement can be seen as trying to push their ideas of sexuality on others. Much like the groups that shame or discourage female sexuality, the sex-positive movement still largely categorizes and defines people based on sex, as well as contributes to women feeling judged for how they view sex.
Sexuality is just one part of human existence. It is an activity that humans are capable of, and the decisions one makes regarding when, how, or if they want to partake in sexual activity should not be what makes them a better or worse person, nor a better or worse feminist. Sex does not define any individual. There are other ways for people to feel liberated, and there are other important aspects of feminism.
I consider myself a sex-positive feminist, but I also believe some changes to the movement are necessary. I think that we need to work to be more inclusive. We need to make sure we aren’t almost exclusively run by and catered towards white, middle-class cis women. The importance of embracing sexuality should be about having the option to do so, not about every individual needing to do so. We need to be sure that in spreading our ideas, we are not inadvertently excluding and judging those who view sex differently than we do.
Sex positivity shouldn’t be about requiring everyone to view sex positively or about everyone needing to positively embrace their sexuality. Rather, it should be about everyone feeling positive about their own decisions regarding sex and being able to positively accept the various choices others make. A woman who doesn’t desire sex isn’t any better or worse than one who does. A woman who wants to abstain from sex until marriage isn’t any better or worse than a woman who finds different sexual partners every night. A woman who is part of the BDSM community isn’t any better or worse than one who isn’t. None of these women’s sexual decisions make them any less capable of being “good” feminists. What matters is that these women don’t judge others or pressure them to change. Sex-positive feminism should be an inclusive community that works to create a society where all genders, races, and classes are equally capable of discovering and acting on whatever they find liberating (sex-related or not) without being unfairly limited, controlled, or judged by anyone. Not by the government and not by fellow feminists.
Sarah Cummings is sophomore creative writing major from New York. She has an obsession with all things cats, an addiction to her Netflix account, a love for Disney Channel Original Movies, and a bad habit of thinking up stories much more often than she writes them down. You can find sarah on Facebook.
Image: Huffington Post