Inspired by Sunflower's post (::wave::) about sex-positive feminism, and by this thread at Feministe which appears to have turned into a debate between me and Amber Rhea and Renegade Evolution, and somehow keeps getting interpreted as another episode of Kink On Trial:
The problem I have with "sex-positive feminism" is that, a lot of the time, it seems to start with "we find these practices enjoyable" as an axiom, and builds its feminism around that; if sexual practices and feminist principles conflict, the principles lose every time. (Consequently, "sex-pos" can wind up supporting a lot of forms of privilege.) On the other hand, the problem I have with many "radical feminism" approaches to sexuality is that in that conflict, the practices lose every time. (And, conversely to the last parenthetical, "radfem" winds up being a haven for folks who *can* legitimately be described as anti-sex.)
I'm not okay with either of these. I think practice and principle need to be balanced against each other; I call this "feminist-positive sex." The way we get there is by *not* taking desires for granted, but examining them; “this turns me on, and therefore it’s good” gets replaced with “this turns me on, this is why it turns me on, these are elements of it (if any) that I’m less comfortable with, these are why I’m uncomfortable with them, these sources of discomfort I repudiate, these other sources of discomfort I accommodate by choosing practices that reduce or eliminate that discomfort, this is a result that I'm happy with.”
Why do this? Aside from the fact that if one actually believes in one's principles, it's the right thing to do (a sadly discredited argument these days), it helps distinguish "innate" desires from "imposed" desires, and helps make sure that one's really on the same page as one's partner.
And, of course, it helps one feel better about one's self. Though over on the Feministe thread, a commenter pointed out that:
See, I’m not sure about this, because it sounds well good on paper, but this kind of analysis didn’t work for me. It drove me kind of nutty and came close to pathologizing my own sex life. Not only did I end up feeling like crap and feeling guilty about sex for the first time since I actually started having it, I also didn’t come away with any answers.
I'm not sure quite how to respond to that criticism. For one thing, I'm the sort of person who can't *not* analyze things, and who can't silence misgivings, so it was more about what to do with those - try to ignore them and feel vaguely uncomfortable, or follow up on it and try to reconcile that discomfort.
For another, I've seen this form of complaint before - it's a strong part of the "Nice Guy(TM)" paradigm, where the "nice guy" who tries to be respectful of his partner is unable to function and be acknowledged as a sexual being, while the "jerk" who simply doesn't care has no problems. I know this is a slightly different situation, because the analysis is about whether one's self rather than one's partner is being mistreated, but I still think a closer look is a good idea.
One thing that probably needs to be pointed out, given all the miscommunication that seems to occur about it, is that this call for self-examination isn't limited to folks whose desires are generally seen as "deviant" or "problematic." A lot of folks seem willing to interpret this idea not as "we should think about our desires" but "you there, you should think about your desires; mine are just fine." If anything, it's the folks who are closer to societal norms who have the most need to examine their desires, both because it's harder to distinguish "imposed" from "innate" and because many forms of kinky or queer sexualities already endorse a measure of self-reflection.
Similarly, a call for self-examination is just that: a call for examining one's *own* desires. It's not my place to tell someone else they haven't looked hard enough when they conclude they're okay with something, even if I think it's not okay or even that they haven't looked hard enough. Sure, I might ask some leading question, or talk about the public side of things, but to gainsay their reflection process is to deny their own autonomy.
A final observation that was made (and then blown completely out of proportion) in the Feministe thread is that I'm coming from a different perspective than a lot of the other commenters. The social construction of male sexuality is one where a lot of practices and preferences are imposed, whereas for women virtually all practices and preferences are shamed. (Sex class vs. no-sex class again.) In addition, I'm personally easily squicked by shaming, degradation, humiliation, etc. And like I said earlier, I'm prone to hyperanalyze everything. So is this me simply doing what countless other groups have done, and demanding everyone else conform to what works for me? I've tried to avoid that trap, but I'm not sure how successful I have been or will be.
(EDIT: Emphases added because, across the blogosphere, this keeps getting turned into something very, very different.)
2 years ago