Saturday, May 4, 2013

What I Mean When I Say I'm Sex-Positive.

Pride Pterodactyl, by Rowdy's roomie
I'm sex-positive!

And I'm realizing that's a painfully ambiguous term.  I've seen people use it to mean everything from "not viewing sex as inherently evil" to "insisting that everyone should have tons of orgasms and it'll solve all their problems."  You can see how people using the first definition could have some seriously unproductive arguments with people thinking they're using the second. 

About the "orgasms for everyone!" thing.  It's not entirely a strawman.  I once saw a presentation by Annie Sprinkle (who clearly wrote her own Wikipedia page) where she basically argued that we would have world peace and feminist utopia if everyone in all the armies just fucked and had orgasms instead.   It's superficially sweet-sounding--yay, pleasure!--but there's some really obvious problems.  Not everyone can have orgasms, not everyone wants orgasms, and there are lots of people who have fabulous orgasms but they're still assholes.

Sex-positivity has had problems with misconstruing personal choice as sexual repression and sexual exploitation as personal choice, and I don't want to deny that.  ("Sex work is always great because sex is super fun happy time" is every bit as vacuous as "sex work is always terrible because no one could ever possibly choose that.")  I also don't want to deny that I've done it myself at times.  But I do want to move away from it.



So here's my definition/manifesto.  Defifesto.  (I wrote a much shorter version on Tumblr, and I thought it was worth expanding upon.)  When I say that I'm sex-positive, this is what I mean:

•I think freedom of sexuality is something that we all need and very few of us have.
•I think sexual pleasure is a legitimate thing to want and ethically pursue.
My sex-positivity does not exist in opposition to non-sex-positive feminism.  It exists in opposition to fucked-up social sexual norms.  It exists in opposition to the people who attack any sexuality outside strict norms, the people who demand women and girls be sexy but humiliate them for being sexual, the people who treat discussions of sexual safety and consent like obscenity, the society that constructs sexual desire as something dark and dirty and secret and awful.  That is sex-negativity.  That is the real reason sex-positivity matters.

•I reject preconceptions of what kind of sexuality a person "should" have, whether these preconceptions are based on gender, age, race, culture, disability, trans status, survivor status, or basically anything else.
•I do not judge people for the ethical sex that they have or want.
"Ethical" means "not harming others." Ethics doesn't have a damn thing to say about whether your sex should be kinky, heterosexual, fully clothed, anal, unmarried, boring, gay, still going at age 80, in a kiddy pool full of Karo syrup, twice a year, with twelve people, or not exist at all--and therefore, neither do I.

•I will not tolerate hatred of sex workers.
This means from all sides: employers and customers as well as moralists and police.  Sex workers are people; sex work is work.  There's often a shit-ton of misogyny and exploitation in the sex industry, but the "misogyny" and "exploitation" parts are the problem and what we should be working to fight.  Not the "sex" part.

•I believe comprehensive, honest, non-judgmental sex education is necessary for public health and happiness.
•I think understanding of sexual consent—what it is, why it matters—is sorely lacking in society and crucially important.
These two really, really need to go together.  If abstinence-only sex ed is like driver's ed without talking about cars, then sex ed without talking about consent is like driver's ed where they show you the gas and the brake, but assume you'll pick up all the "how to follow traffic laws so you don't kill people" bits on your own.

•I think the diversity and power of human sexuality is goddamn awe-inspiring.
Sex has the potential to bring great joy or great suffering.  Sex-positivity, to me, means celebrating and cultivating the joy.  Not imposing it upon people, not ignoring the suffering.  But believing that sex brings enough good things to enough people's lives that it is worth talking about, worth working on.



On the other hand, when I say I'm sex-positive, here are a few things that I absolutely do not mean:

•Everyone should have sex.
•Everyone should have kinky, non-monogamous, exhibitionistic, orgasmic, pansexual sex.
Some people are asexual. Some people are sexual but not all that into it.  Some people are monogamous, heterosexual, and not into kink.  Some people have physical or psychological issues that interfere with them having sex.  Trying to "free" any of these people from their "repression" is ignorant, presumptuous, and the very opposite of promoting sexual freedom.

•Accepting someone’s way of having sex means you have to participate in it, watch them engage in it, or hear about it in detail.
Yeah.  Ew.  I hate that I even have to say this.  But it comes up.  And ew.

(Caveat: "you don't have to watch it or hear about it" does assume some initiative on your part to avoid things you don't want to see.  If you say "don't tell me about your sex life," when I'm talking to you, I will respect that; if you say "don't tell me about your sex life" in response to writing not directed at you and clearly labeled as sex writing, I will tear my hair out.)

•Nothing related to sex is ever hurtful for anyone.
•Nothing related to sex should be criticized.
"If it's consensual and ethical, it's all okay" is worlds away from "if it's related to sex, it's all okay."  Worlds.

And I do believe things can be unethical even if all the sex involved is consensual.  Cheating is unethical.  Fetishizing people based on racial stereotypes is unethical.  Treating people as sex objects is unethical.  Imposing strict norms of gender expression and sexual behavior on others is unethical even if you come up with some convoluted argument for why it's your sexuality.

Responsible sex-positivity requires a thorough examination of sexual ethics.  It's just that whether something seems "freaky" or hedonistic or something you wouldn't enjoy yourself should play no part in those ethics.

•Feminism should be all about sex.
•Sex fixes everything.

I'm wary of anything that smacks of "making feminism sexy."  Sex-positivity should be a part of feminism because sexuality is important--not because feminism needs spicing up.  I really don't want to imply any "be a feminist ally and you'll get lots of kinky sex" deals here, or any "don't worry, we're not man-haters, we're into stripteases and blowjobs!" cajoling.  The challenge of integrating sex-positivity into feminism is communicating "women's sexual desire matters" without giving any ammunition to "women are for sex."

Plus, there's a lot of worthy feminist goals that just can't be shoehorned into being about sex.  I think promoting women's sexual autonomy and respecting the diversity of female sexuality should be a part of feminism, but I'm under no illusions that this is going to fix hiring discrimination or domestic violence.  There's a lot of unsexy work to be done in feminism, and sex-positivity shouldn't eclipse that.



No, we won't get feminist utopia through sexual freedom, but that's okay, because sexual freedom is an end in itself.  And that's what I mean when I call myself sex-positive.

114 comments:

  1. Bravo! I must admit that I was unsure what Sex positive meant these days. Having survived the opening battles of the Aids War, naturally when I see "sex" and "positive" together, THAT'S what I think of. Have we become so blase about HIV that it is not taken into account? What are Your thoughts on this?

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    1. I'm not sure what you mean about taking HIV into account? I think education about HIV prevention is important, but that "use condoms, don't share needles, understand risk factors and how it can and can't be transmitted" are the important points, and they don't at all conflict with sex-positivity.

      Do you mean why HIV isn't a reason to discourage people from having casual sex? Partly because that inevitably crosses over with stigmatizing people who have "too much" sex and implying HIV is a punishment for those things, and partly because does much less to actually prevent HIV infections than condoms and impartial education do.

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    2. I think this is strictly a terminology thing, in which "HIV-positive" turned into the slang of merely "positive".

      And if that's where your headspace is, the term "sex-positive" then sounds... different.

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    3. Yes, I've had people occasionally be confused if I shorten "sex-positive" to "sex-poz" and think I was making a reference to HIV. I believe it is a generational thing.

      Socialslave's comment about being blase toward HIV is interesting, though. When I lived in DC, which has one of the highest HIV/AID's rates in North America, people were *very* aware of HIV risk, as a matter of course. In the non-urban places I've lived since then, however, it doesn't come up nearly as often. People get HIV tests about as often as they get routine STI tests, but it isn't treated as an omnipresent public health concern in the same way, and the rhetoric is very different.

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    4. The potential for conflict between what some folks believe "sex positive" to mean and the concern about HIV and other STIs may be greater in the gay community. In particular, if you view condoms as a sort of alien intrusion on your true sexuality ("We keep talking about barebacking as if its some kind of psychosis, when really all it is is men behaving naturally," Mark S. King author and blogger at MyFabulousDisease.com said), then you're going to have a lot more sex without condoms. Sex with multiple partners without condoms for anyone will increase the risk of STIs, and if you're doing this within a relatively small population that has unusually high HIV prevalence (e.g. gay black men), it will increase the risk of HIV specifically.
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/27/barebacking-unsafe-gay-sex-rising-_n_2776867.html

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    5. "I think this is strictly a terminology thing, in which 'HIV-positive' turned into the slang of merely 'positive'."

      Reading this kind of blew my mind. I've had arguments with people and never realized this might be the definition they were working from! o.o

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    6. Specificity is a wonderful thing. There are so many other things I could mean by the word "positive" that it wouldn't even occur to me not to add a specifier unless I was already involved in a conversation about a specific type of "positive".

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  2. I consider myself sex-positive, and have always used this very same reasoning for it. I just never used that label anywhere. I also have a problem with a lot of sex-work, but you put it perfectly when you pointed out that it's not the sex itself that is the problem, but the industry. I sometimes doubted if I even can be sex-positive because of my strong feelings towards these issues.

    I can't call myself sex-negative in any definition of the term. I enjoy certain types of (often very problematic) pornography, especially hentai anime. I really am not into the live action stuff, in any form.
    Not to mention despite my asexuality, I really enjoy physical pleasure. And a little bit of pain. And I live with a partner who knows exactly how to push my buttons ;)


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  3. **Standing up to applaud.** Best, most comprehensive explanation of sex positivity on the internet. Or at least as I understand, believe, and practice it myself. I'm grateful for your work in this realm, for your ability to articulate a radical and HEALTHY approach to sexuality. I look around and see a misogynistic, repressive, conflicted sexual culture that is harming girls, boys, men, women, and everyone in between/outside, and know that we can, and need to, do better. As a former (proud!) slut now living a fairly vanilla hetero married existence, I've had a wide range of experiences that have shown me that autonomy, communication, and respect are critical ingredients for the best sex. How I wish it weren't so taboo to actually talk about it openly the way we talk about all sorts of inane shit. For now, I nervously repost links to blogs like yours, knowing that some of my Facebook contacts are likely to make assumptions about *me* (she's obsessed with sex; it's inappropriate for a wife/mom to talk about this; she's just trying to brag- who knows...) instead of digesting the message. But I remind myself that I'm in a much safer position to share ideas like yours, and that change won't come until and unless those of us in the mainstream also start talking about it.

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  4. I remember someone who is usually pretty good about stuff wrote something on their blog advising readers to experience transcendence by going and masturbating. It made me feel like I should write a blog explaining how dysphoria, depression, medication, and general Issues combine to make it very unlikely indeed that I will ever experience transcendence by masturbating. I agree with all the planks in the sex-positive platform, but a lot of the "repression" narratives make me feel very unwelcome on sex-positive blogs (not yours!).

    tl;dr: many thanks from a person for whom sex is Complicated.

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    1. Yeah, I have to admit it took me a while to get past that mindset and be comfortable saying "masturbation is transcendent for me, maybe for you it's not, neither one of us is Objectively Right."

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    2. Here, here! I would get really, really cranky reading some sex-positive literature, because I kept feeling pressured to masturbate when that doesn't work for me. It reminded me of a Christian friend encouraging me to pray because it'd make me feel better and wouldn't hurt anything, and I couldn't seem to communicate her that I didn't WANT to pray. In both cases, I kept feeling that my not wanting wasn't a good enough reason.

      (Of course, it doesn't help that I'm pressured on the one side, and also it's taken as a given that all men masturbate. Left me feeling like some kinda alien.)

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    3. Well said, Nick Kiddle. Transcendence from masturbation? Even if one doesn't have serious issues, there are those of us who really don't care for it; I find it boring. Give me my beloved, or memories of what-we-did-in-Spirit-last-night, anytime.

      Kittehserf

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  5. Hey Cliff, I know we haven't always agreed about words and stuff, but I liked this piece; thanks for writing it. Do you mind if I link to it?

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    1. I think we disagree about a lot more than words, but of course you're free to link to me.

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  6. This is beautiful and I love it. Thank you.

    Cliff, have you ever come across this piece: https://radtransfem.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/the-ethical-prude-imagining-an-authentic-sex-negative-feminism/ ? It's a bit on the hefty academic side but it excited me in many of the same ways that your piece does. I'm appreciative of how she articulates the sex positivity/sex negativity schism that exists both on the feminist side of things and on the patriarchal-misogynist side of things. Basically that part of what complicates things for feminists negotiating sexual issues is that there are really TWO separate anti-feminist schools of thought on sex, and it can be hard to oppose one without inadvertently looking like an ally to the other. You have your moralists, who think any sex outside of the narrowest of heteronormative, patriarchal confines is shameful, corrupting and obscene, and then you have your advocates of compulsory sexuality who impose sexuality and sexual objectification on people coercively. When one does something like critique the porn industry, one risks looking like a friend to the moralists, and when one does something like condemn slut-shaming one might risk looking like a friend to the compulsory sexuality camp. And then we end up fighting with each other instead of the real baddies.

    I don't know that I'm highlighting the argument all that well, but if you have the time to check out the original it is worth a read, and either way, thanks for this beautiful, um, Defifesto of a sexual ethics that respects both sex-positive and sex-negative feminist thought.

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  7. This is pretty much exactly the way I define my own sex-positivity. Excellent job laying it all out clearly! It is useful to have it all laid out when terms are so easily misinterpreted.

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  8. Excellent post, Cliff. As you explain in detail, it really all boils down to respecting people and accepting their choices so long as they are not harming others. This is the case whether it's sex or any other human activity.

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  9. To echo some of the above, thank you so much for the effort and thought that went into the creation of an organized explanation of what sex-positivity means to you. I've struggled with the sex-positivity versus EVERYONE MUST ALL HAVE ALL OF THE SEX thing, trying to articulate exactly why it does NOT mean that. I also appreciate your reference to orgasms; some of the best, most pleasurable sex I've had has not been about my orgasm, If I have one, great. If not, also great. And measuring sex-positivity by orgasmic output is so very narrow. So thank you for your clear words. I'm a big fan.

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    1. You're just trolling us, right?




      ... Right?

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    2. But no self respecting American man would marry a communist! [/satire]

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    3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    4. This was almost funny enough to leave up. Almost.

      For the record, I totally support a boycott of women. People should stop purchasing women at once!

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    5. It's always fun to be accused of simultaneously supporting ideologies that literally cannot coexist.

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    6. It reminded me of a macro I once saw that went "SHUT UP YOU COMMUNIST NAZI JEW, GO BACK TO CANADA". If I knew how to embed images in posts, I would put it up.

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  11. Cliff Pervocracy well said *as I stand to applaud*. I applaud you on your views and having the courage to post it. You are so right, should not be vilified for being different. If we were all the same, I think we would be incredibly boring species. Everyone has a right to be happy and not be judged by people with negativity because they engage in what make them happy.

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  12. Nice article. I agree with a lot of it, if not all. My biggest issue is how you don't address the natural by product of sex-I.e. reproduction/offspring. I have no problem with doing what you want with other consenting adults but without one party being sterilized, in a hetero relationship or hetero sex work pregancy will happen. I have yet to see a "sex postive" plan in dealing with this issue other than "abortion on demand". While I don't care when its with consenting adults what you do, I don't think dumping the consequences of your voluntary actions on an innocent life (whether born or unborn) has anything to do with being "sex positive" and has more to do with wanting consequenceless gratification.

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    1. Part of sex-positivity is education, and a big part of sex ed is proper use of birth control. And frankly, if most people are using birth control properly, then pregnancy is almost a non-issue.

      I don't think anyone is saying abortion on demand is the only way to deal with consequences, since we have means to mitigate the consequences with something like greater than 90% effectiveness (without even talking about abortion) if everyone involved knows what they're doing.

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    2. Actually, consequenceless gratification sounds pretty good to me. Sounds like a great goal.

      I don't want to get into a whole abortion debate here, but I will say, I'm glad my existence was something my parents wanted, not a "consequence" they dutifully bore.

      Also, fer chrissakes, don't say "I don't care what consenting adults do" and then talk about all the ways you obviously do care. Come on now.

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    3. "without one party being sterilized, in a hetero relationship or hetero sex work pregancy will happen"

      Dang. I know all forms of birth control have some kind of failure rates, but they're not THAT bad!

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    4. Pregnancy is definitely a possible result of penis-in-vagina sex. It's quite rare if you use birth control, but it's also possible to ethically negotiate how you would be prepared to address this possibility. It's fair warning, I think, to tell potential sexual partners that you would not want an abortion, or you would always want an abortion, or you would expect to give up the child for adoption, or expect to raise the child together, etc.
      If you can't have that conversation before intercourse and you have strong feelings about the issue, you may want to slow down. If you don't agree with each other' strong feelings, I'd suggest this is a basis for incompatibility in your sexual relationship.

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    5. "without one party being sterilized, in a hetero relationship or hetero sex work pregancy will happen." Uh, no, it won't. I highly recommend reading up on current statistics regarding the effectiveness of various birth control methods, because you're wrong. For example, according to one study "In one year, only two of every 100 couples who use condoms consistently and correctly will experience an unintended pregnancy—two pregnancies arising from an estimated 8,300 acts of sexual intercourse, for a 0.02 percent per-condom pregnancy rate."

      The other hint that you're behind the times? Sterilization is not even the most effective form of birth control: implants and IUDs have lower failure rates than vasectomy, and offer roughly the same protection as a tubal ligation. And that's assuming people aren't doubling up on methods (ie pill or IUD plus condom).

      Go back and read Cliff's post again, especially this line:

      "I believe comprehensive, honest, non-judgmental sex education is necessary for public health and happiness."

      Who do you think is more likely to have a frank, thoughtful conversation about birth control with a partner? Sex-positive partners who respect each other and who are comfortable with their bodies? Or partners who have been raised to see sex as a shameful act, loaded with potential for negative consequences? The idea that abortion exists due to a selfish human quest for consequenceless gratification is just laughable.

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    6. Exactly. I've been having lots of PIV for almost twenty years now without getting pregnant, and it's not like I'm some kind of extreme exception.

      Now, I don't think abortion is killing in the morally relevant sense, for the reason that as far as we know, fetuses before roughly week 25 have reflexive reactions to changes in the environment but don't have enough synapses in their brains to actually experience anything. BUT obviously this can be argued back and forth, and if one's both heterosexual and thinks abortion is murder, one could choose either to have PIV anyway (since the risks are so small with proper use of birth control, and one could decide to give the baby up for adoption in the unlikely circumstances that one would get pregnant anyway), or one could choose to have hetero-sex that doesn't involve PIV. That's also possible, you know.

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    7. Er...I've been sexually active for 7 years. With men, not other women. In positions that can cause pregnancy if birth control is not used.

      Number of pregnancies: Zero.

      It's called using a condom every time, plus being on the Pill for unrelated health issues.

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    8. I think Cliff covered this under the "ethical" and "consenting" parts. Ethical meaning you take other's well-being into account and consenting means you also talk about what happens after sex, both would include the possibility of getting pregnant.

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    9. Just a small reminder - not all hetero sexings risk pregnancy, and not all non-hetero sexings avoid pregnancy risk.

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    10. oooh yeah, I've been hetero-sexytimes-active for 26 years with zero pregnancies. (i <3 my IUD, but before that, condoms and diaphragms and sponges also did their jobs!)

      flightless

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    11. How dare you? How DARE you foist upon a child the burden of being an unintended “consequence” of sex? Especially since we know that such children are more likely to be born into to poverty, to be born to immature or drug-addicted mothers, and to experience abuse and neglect. It makes me want to spit nails that the children I meet in the psych ward are portrayed as the “happy ending” by pro-lifers. Have you no pity at all?
      You know who else I get to meet in the hospital? People who are dying of kidney failure. Some of these people are a good match for me. If I gave these people my kidney, they would live. If I don’t, they will die. Strange how pro-lifers regard my uterus as free for the taking by anything that happens to lodge itself there, but my kidneys? No! We must have respect for bodily autonomy when we’re talking about non-uterus organs! Or maybe it’s just that the life of the post-born is less important.
      I’m currently 11 weeks into my first (very much planned and wanted) pregnancy. As every woman does who has a planned and wanted biological child, I am willingly putting my health on the line for this pregnancy. Right now, I’m experiencing what essentially amounts to a 5-week hangover (and not done yet). On bad days, I can’t stand for longer than a minute at a time. I’m extremely fortunate to have an employer who makes accommodations. If I were a waitress, I would have been fired or put on involuntary furlough by now, because I simply could not do the job. I know that I’m putting myself at permanent risk for varicose veins, venous insufficiency (which increases the risk for a host of cardiovascular problems), hemorrhoids, organ prolapse (which may require major abdominal surgery), permanent nerve damage, and auto-immune disorders. There are even rare but real risks like Sheehan’s syndrome (where part of your brain dies) and amniotic embolism (which usually causes sudden death).
      And people like you think that people like me should have to be involuntarily put through these risks because the alternative would be “consequenceless gratification” which would be…bad? Congratulations on seeking to increase the sum of misery in the world. I hope you’re very proud of yourself.

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  13. Thank you so much for this! This is a brilliant "Defifesto" to refer people who are interested and me and/or my sexuality to.

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    1. Big attitude for a little (so-called) man. BTW, you're never going to get laid with that kind of attitude, kiddo. Get back to your cave, little one, the adults are trying to talk here.

      Really hoping Cliff will end up deleting your nauseatingly putrid inaccurate, misogynistic, hypocritical, 1/2 digested (yet somehow almost hilarious) bullshit.

      You're a disgrace to men, and part of why feminism even exists. And, if its existence is something you just can't stand, maybe you should stop giving it a reason to. Know what I mean?

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  15. ^It appears the troll has come back. (Does the troll really think that people here would WANT to read their blog?)

    Otherwise, great post! It adressed many of the concerns I had with sex-positivity. You know, I'm not THAT into sex and I'm perfectly fine not having any for the foreseeable future. So messages like "sex is awesome, everyone should have it" are a bit annoying.

    I think understanding of sexual consent—what it is, why it matters—is sorely lacking in society and crucially important.
    These two really, really need to go together. If abstinence-only sex ed is like driver's ed without talking about cars, then sex ed without talking about consent is like driver's ed where they show you the gas and the brake, but assume you'll pick up all the "how to follow traffic laws so you don't kill people" bits on your own.

    And this is REALLY important. One of the reasons I'm squeamish having sex is because the cultural narratives are so fucked up and mainstream talking about consent is non-existent. In the movies, the two lead actors just know that they want each other, even on their first time. No need to talk about it, not at all.

    It takes time to unpack all this shit, and I'm thankful sex-positivity is doing well that job.

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    1. Oops, the middle part from "I think understanding" to "bits on your own" was meant as a quote. Don't know what happened.

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  16. I love this description of sex positivity. I've had to stop ready sex positive blogs, because I have problems with sex related to anxiety, and I can't seem to figure out how to orgasm, so reading about how important orgasms or masturbating is is difficult for me to read. It baffles me that these people don't seem to recognize that sex can be difficult or unwanted for some people for reasons other than repression.

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    1. To the anonymous above (3:12), I totally agree! I can have orgasms on my own but have never had an orgasm with another person (after 12+ partners). Reasons why include anxiety and frankly, not having had up until now the kinds of partners who were focused on my pleasure. I identify as sex-positive, believe in *individual* sexual pleasure as something which *can* be a great force, and am now exploring kink as a great way to enjoy pleasure without it all being about The Big Orgasm TM. I think that any kind of unqualified blanket statement about gender roles or sexuality is going to ignore or marginalise some people or their experiences, and in a world that is already so fucked-up when it comes to cultural conversations around sex, Cliff's stance on sex positivity is a breath of fresh air (as well as fucking being common sense).

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  17. This piece of writing arrived at a time where I am in the process of seriously reconsidering my own beliefs about sex. I've always been in the "sex should only happen between people who love each other" group, but as I age, and as I am no longer in a relationship with a significant other, I'm trying to figure out how my recent one-nighters, and any sex I have from now on, fits into a new definition of ethical sexuality. I don't know if sex is just about physical satisfaction, whether it's about building relationships, or what, but I am learning that wanting sex and fulfilling one's sexual desires does not make me a bad person. Thank you for thought-provoking material.

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  18. Thanks for this. As a 25-year-old virgin who considers herself sex-positive, I get frustrated with the thinking that EVERYONE MUST HAVE SEX TO BE HAPPY. Since I just haven't found myself in a situation with a person I feel comfortable getting naked with, I tend to take offense when "sex-positive" is used to mean that everyone who doesn't have sex is somehow repressed or damaged.

    So, thanks.

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    1. So agree! I'm fifty and by earthly standards a virgin - NO sexual activity with another person ever, and not interested in masturbation, either - but anyone who suggests I'm repressed or unhappy or damaged is talking out of their arse. My situation is slightly different in that my beloved is in Spirit and we have a very satisfactory sex life that way - you could say the mind rather than the earthly body, if you like - but the MUST HAVE ORGAZZZZZMSSS crew would probably not get that, either.

      Kittehserf

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    2. Dude, so much this! I really needed to read this - I'm mid-twenties, and reeeeaaally sick of telling people that being a feminist, a sex-positive feminist, and an independent woman are NOT reliant on whether or not I've had sex. Fuck, if I decide to wait until marriage, or have sex this weekend, or put an indefinite "until I'm comfortable with it" term, or decide I'm just creeped out by the whole idea and I don't want sex EVER - that's MY FLIPPING CHOICE. Just like everyone else has their choice!

      Thank you so much for this post, Cliff!

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  19. So help me here.

    I don't really understand. You say that treating people as mere sex objects is unethical. Let's assume I agreed.

    But then simultaneously you say you support people's right to be in the sex industry. Suppose I downloaded some porn and masturbated to it. Isn't this the ultimate extent of treating a person as a sex object - because the actors in the porn literally - it's their entire job - are donig it so I would masturbate to them doing it, nobody cares about the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of the porn star, do they?

    (The same logic extends to prostitutes, of course).

    (While we are on prostitutes - is there somewhere an accepted code of politeness for people who visit prostitutes?)

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    1. theLaplaceDemonMay 6, 2013 at 8:19 AM

      I can't speak for Cliff, but I would say that you absolutely can have sex with a sex worker while treating them like a human being, not a "mere sex object". You can still understand that they have dreams and aspirations even while paying them for a service.

      I mean, when I go out to eat, I try to treat my server like a person who's job it is to take my order and bring me food, not a Food-Dispensing Robot With No Dreams and Aspirations (a lot of people *do* treat servers this way, and it's really shitty).

      As for porn, I don't think it's so bad if you're objectifying the video of the person, but it *is* a big problem if you objectify them when you run into them at the grocery store (or hell, if you meet them on set).

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    2. Being sexually stimulated by someone doesn't mean you're treating them as a sex object, not necessarily. If you watch porn and think "these are actors doing their job, and darn, they're good at it," that's not objectifying. It's only objectifying if you see porn actors as less than people for what they do.

      As for sex workers, there's probably details I don't know personally, but the same politeness you treat any other personal service worker, like a massage therapist or a medical worker, would be a good start. Treat them like a person not a Sex Robot, don't go outside the bounds of the agreed service without asking, don't try to pry into their personal life, tip nicely.

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    3. Well I've been reading some sex worker blogs recently, and a common theme I see is people being annoyed by clients pretending that it's a non-commercial sex-act (i.e. attempting to (incompetently) try and get the prostitute off, things like that).

      So let us suppose I attend such a service in the future. Is the right thing to just undress, shower, and do the act, shall we say, selfishly and be done in 15 minutes? ...this is a bit unrelated to the original thread.

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    4. ^ Maybe try asking the individual what she, in particular, would like?

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    5. theLaplaceDemonMay 6, 2013 at 7:18 PM

      I'm not sure that your only two options are "objectify the sex worker" and "pretend it's a non-commercial sex-act". I know I'm beating a dead horse with this analogy, but I do think there are parallels to be made with food service:

      - Just because my server is polite and chatty doesn't mean that we're friends. We have a commercial relationship, where I am paying them to do a service for me.
      - Just because the sex worker you've hired is acting like they are really enjoying your company and the sex doesn't mean you're lovers. You have a commercial relationship, where you are paying them to do a service.

      It's not a choice between "don't objectify them" vs. "be an asshole." You can be polite, respectful, and careful not to overstep the bounds of your negotiated agreement.


      But really, if you actually find yourself in this situation, what perversecowgirl said.

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    6. Anonymous TrollMay 6, 2013 at 8:55 PM

      You can watch a non-porn movie or get your car fixed without treating the actors/mechanics as objects (i.e. non-people), right? I don't see why it should be any different when sex is involved.

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    7. theLaplaceDemonMay 6, 2013 at 9:09 PM

      "It's not a choice between "don't objectify them" vs. "be an asshole."

      I think what I actually meant here was: "'It's not a choice between "don't treat it like a commercial relationship' vs 'be an asshole'"

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    8. Greta Christina's Paying For It is an etiquette guide for clients of sex workers, based on her conversations with actual sex workers. It sounds like something you might be interested in.

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  20. One thing which relates to this post, and which I sort of tried to get at (although possibly failing) in the Sex At Dawn discussion:

    1. There's no universal obligation to be mono.
    2. There's no universal obligation to be poly.
    3. There's no conditional obligation which goes like this: If you're a non-jealous kind of person who gets sexually/romantically attracted to lots of different people you ought to be poly, and if you're a jealous kind of person who only gets sexually/romantically attracted to one person at a time you ought to be mono.

    Like, ten-fifteen years ago I think it was pretty common for people to get 1 but fail to get 2. Nowadays, it seems like pretty much everyone who considers themselves sex-positive understands 2 as well, but lots of people still don't seem to get 3. But people can choose their style of relationship for a variety of different reasons, and they're perfectly allowed to do that.

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    1. So much this. I'm poly-capable, meaning I can be happy in a polyamorous relationship and don't get jealous. But I've been happy in monogamous relationships too, so I don't NEED to have lots of partners over the same span of time.

      Being able to be happy in a poly relationship doesn't obligate you to always be in a poly relationship, any more than being able to enjoy monogamy obligates you to always have a significant other, with no spaces of singleness in between.

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  21. Cliff,
    one of your points is:
    •I reject preconceptions of what kind of sexuality a person "should" have, whether these preconceptions are based on gender, age, race, culture, disability, trans status, survivor status, or basically anything else.
    What about the following situation: Person A refuses sexual activity X with person B. Which reactions by person B would be compatible/incompatible with being sex-positive (in your view)
    1.Calling A a motherfucker or a jerk (or any other invective)
    2.Dumping person A as an intimate partner (I think that dumping is a very specific form of breaking up with)
    3.Saying person A didn't respect person B's boundaries by refusing the sex act.
    4.Calling person A entitled for refusing said sex act.
    5.Saying that refusing sex act X is a sign of some moral failure by person A.

    I have seen all those behaviour above being defended as appropriate by people who call themselves sex positive, but as I don't know those people personally, I don't want to talk about them, but about the meaning of the term "sex-positive"

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    1. I think all of those reactions are wrong, so, of course I'd say they aren't sex-positive. I think respecting consent is pretty fundamental to sex-positivity.

      The only one I'm iffy on is #2. I think it is justified to leave someone who isn't sexually compatible with you, as long as you don't try to use it as leverage to try to get them to do the sex act anyway. And as long as you're not, like, a total jerk about it, which is what I think you mean by "dumping" as opposed to "breaking up with."

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    2. I also don't think that these reactions have anything to do with being sex-positive. That is, even people I would *not* define as sex-positive can behave in such ways. I'm thinking specifically of guys who have really negative attitudes towards women who enjoy sex, talk degradingly about women who have multiple partners, talk about sex or certain sex acts as though they are 'winning' and their female partner is 'losing'...and then still expect oral/anal (for example) from their girlfriends.

      Like Cliff said, it's not unreasonable to break up with someone over lack of sexual compatibility. I think that sex positivity actually helps here, because the common attitude of 'man wants sex; woman only does it from obligation' can keep people from figuring out who they are sexually compatible with.

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  22. I can't believe there's someone who wrote this and who isn't me. I co-sign to every single word. I wish we were in the same country, so I could have coffee with you.

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    1. I've been wanting to have crazy conversations over coffee with Cliff for ages now. :) Cliff, would you like to have an imaginary coffee conversation with me and Anonymous, since we don't all live near each other? I'll supply the make-believe espresso.

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    2. We could all make ourselves pots of coffee and Skype!

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  23. I'm so glad another sex-pozzie is side-eyeing Annie Sprinkle!!

    ""Ethical" means "not harming others." Ethics doesn't have a damn thing to say about whether your sex should be kinky, heterosexual, fully clothed, anal, unmarried, boring, gay, still going at age 80, in a kiddy pool full of Karo syrup, twice a year, with twelve people, or not exist at all--and therefore, neither do I."

    Ok, well, first, ethics has a huge amount to say about sex, including on your blog when you talk about the ethics of various sex. But I think this is the issue, and where we get the various sides: People aren't against poly, gay sex, bdsm, etc for shits and giggles. They're against it because they think it hurts people. They think it hurts them in this life, they think it hurts them in the next life, they think that if it doesn't hurt the specific people having sex it still hurts their immediate friends and family and/or larger society. And we all have lines about where exactly sex has crossed into non-consensual and unethical. Arguments against sex work say no one can consent to that, and/or that sex work harms all women. Anti-gay arguments see homosexual sex as harming larger society, and frequently the individual's spiritual salvation. Most people have some kind of line regarding mental illness, where they see it as impairing someone's ability to consent. BDSM clearly harms people in certain ways, and the argument for BDSM is "but that physical harm helps me psychologically" or "but that temporary psychological harm overall betters my mental state."
    The whole argument over "safe, sane, and consensual" vs "risk-aware consensual kink" is about what exactly is "real harm" vs "harm that is ok, because people know what they're getting into." Religious arguments about not having sex outside marriage normally come from the framework that pre-marital sex harms women and makes them less valuable, and they want women to be as valuable as possible.

    I think, ultimately, most sex-pozzies, radical feminists, and religious activists actually have very much in common: they want sex to be healthy and ethical, for everyone. The difference is what each group believes constitutes "sex that is healthy, ethical, consensual, and not harmful" and what they believe constitutes "sex that is unhealthy, unethical, non-consensual, and/or harmful."

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    1. Really good point Anonymous. It's important to recognize how much you USUALLY have in common with people with whom you, on the FACE of it, have very little in common. Most people put some kind of value in happiness and respect for others, but have very different ideas on how you express and promote these values.

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    2. I have once in a while heard sex-negative people argue based on perceived ethical issues, but much more often their arguments are based on "morality", which is to say an arbitrarily definition of certain things as "right" or "wrong", irrespective of actual consequences. So basically shits and giggles. They may sometimes try to support their position by pointing out real life benefits or harm that correlate to their definition of right and wrong, but seemingly only as an afterthought.

      A quick google-powered test:
      "homosexuality is immoral" - 487000 hits.
      "homosexuality is unethical" - 9600 hits.

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    3. Have you ever talked to those people who are sexist, racist, homophobes etc? Yes, some of them do think exactly as you described - but not most. Most of them never really think at all about the situation, because they are RIGHT. They aren't thinking about the other person at all, they believe in their own religious, moral, ethical or whatever superiority.

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    4. Actually, the argument I hear most often against gay sex is either "it doesn't make babies" or "it's gross".

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  24. Uh, 'morality' and 'ethics' are the same thing (even if conservatives may be generally more fond of the word 'morality' and social justice people more fond of the word 'ethics'). 'Ethics' is the greek version and 'morality' the latin version of the same word. In 'moral philosophy' we study 'normative-ethical' and 'meta-ethical' theories and so on.

    Most people don't really think through their moral/ethical standpoints, but if you do the Google again and skim through various websites that actually try to argue that homosexuality is wrong, they usually start with "because God says so" and then move on to compare homosexuality to various harmful addictions and/or mental illnesses, that may be hard to fight, but we still have an obligation to do so. I'm obviously not saying these are good arguments (I'm bisexual myself btw), but it does seem to me as if most people who hold on to some conservative ethics does not consider themselves to follow a list of completely arbitrary rules that God just pulled out of his arse, but that God forbid things that are in some way physically or psychologically unhealthy or otherwise bad in some explicable way.

    William of Ockham argued that God did just make up a list of rules, and he could have made different rules if he had felt like it (Ockham chose as an example that if God had had commanded people to have sex outside of marriage, then sex outside of marriage would have been morally right; but as it happened, God commanded people NOT to do this, so we ought not to.). However, that view doesn't seem particularly popular nowadays.

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    1. Word origins aside, I respectfully disagree that morality and ethics are interchange terms. An excellent example I heard (which probably not so coincidentally relates to sex) is that some people would say masturbation is immoral, but almost no one would say it's unethical. Whereas both are frequently said of prostitution. So ethics relates specifically to interactions with other people (and animals, if you're PETA), while morality is a broader term for anything considered right or wrong for any reason.

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    2. I'm not gonna go into an argument. Maybe my linguistic intuitions are skewed because I work as a moral philosopher, and although a few philosophers make stipulative definitions of "ethics" and "morality" that are a bit different, most people in my line of work use them pretty interchangebly, so my spontaneous reaction to your post was "that's the same thing!". But chances are you're more in touch with how normal people express themselves than I am. :-)

      Anyway, I think most people think of themselves as not clinging to completely arbitrary rules, but to rules that are SOMEHOW connected to respect for people, respect for yourself, mental or physical health, a harmonious society, or in general values that most people recognize, even if they wildly disagree with the more specific conclusions.

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    3. I grew up in a conservative and God-fearing religion, and what you say is true. Believers in these things believe that God's rules are not arbitrary but are put there for our protection. When following them failed to protect me, and breaking them did not harm me (or anyone else), I lost the ability to believe in the religion and its deity also.

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  25. I reread the Tumblr post that sparked this, and ... a lot of it is stuff that I believe, as a sex-positive person, and have found other sex-positive people often also believe (and most of the empirical items that are about sex-positive feminism rather than about sex are, in my experience, factually wrong).

    I like the "anti-anti-" construction, and accordingly, people who are not anti-sex or anti-kink and who for whatever reason don't call themselves "sex-positive" are, to me, anti-anti-sex. "Sex-negative" is anti-sex; it's right there in the name.

    When someone says they are sex-positive who then demonstrates fucked-up beliefs about sex workers or aces (or ace sex workers), the problem isn't typically with sex-positivity as a stance.

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  26. "I believe comprehensive, honest, non-judgmental sex education is necessary for public health and happiness."

    Abso-freaking-lutely. I think kids (and certainly teenagers!) have the right to be taught about sex beyond just pregnancy, STDs and the mechanics of PIV.

    Our sexual life, whatever form that might take (including not having one), is usually a pretty significant section of our life. And it's presumed that we'll just pick things up here and there from the media/our peers, and that's somehow enough.

    As someone who grew up without a TV, who never read Cosmo or similar magazines (you might argue that was a plus, but it would have been better than nothing), and whose friends never really talked about sex, I always saw sex as something that was PIV and started when A Man showed up.

    Finally when A Man did, luckily he was wonderful and encouraged me to masturbate and find out what turned me on, at which point I made the long overdue discovery that your sexual life entirely stems from YOU, not anyone else. We still live in a society that's obsessed with the notion of men being actively sexual, and women being passively sexual. Men have Dark Desires and Sexual Urges, and women should Just Say No to these up until they want to get something themselves in return (e.g. children, commitment, curtain shopping, love). Even sources that encourage women to explore the sexual realm often do so with a hefty side serving of "Do this for your man, he'll love it and you can get more things! (children, commitment, curtain shopping, love)"

    More women should be encouraged to have sex purely because they want to have sex. More women should be encouraged to have the type of sex that they want just because they want it. And more women should be encouraged to discover what types of sex they want to have in the first place.

    And I think masturbation in particular is something that can help many women to discover that. Not all, obviously, but many. I think it's fair to say that in general (for various social and physical reasons) boys are more likely to discover masturbation earlier than girls - meaning that boys often have years of exploring their sexual responses and desires before they have sexual contact with another person, whereas girls/women will often learn their sexual responses and desires THROUGH sexual contact with another person.

    For that reason (and all the ways in which that negatively impacts both women and men), I think encouraging girls to explore their bodies and - if it feels right - masturbate, is a pretty vital part of sex education that currently seems to be missing from even the most liberal and sane curriculum. Sex education at my school left me feeling like I was sitting on a messy, dangerous, complicated time bomb that I had to protect from heat-seeking penises at all costs. Like I was the bearer of the One Ring, or something.

    What I really, really wish someone had said was: "Hey! Did you know you own the most awesome thing? It's (probably) capable of making you feel the most intense pleasure you can imagine, it's entirely free, it's on your person at all times, and it's all yours to do whatever you want with! You can get some other people in on the act at some point, that can be cool, but it's not actually necessary."

    It makes me sad that girls aren't being told this. Anyone know of any schemes or groups advocating for this kind of thing?

    (Caveat: I don't mean to suggest that orgasms are the answer to everything, or that all women can or should have orgasms, or that men can't have similar sexual issues. Any way you do or don't choose to have sex is fine - within certain bounds of ethics and consent - I just think that people should get to MAKE that choice, and women are less likely to be free to.)

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    1. I dunno. Maybe it was just me, but I learnt the whole "my crotch does nice things" thing pretty young - it was hard not to notice that washing it felt nice and that sitting in certain ways felt nice. I never really understood how other people with vaginas didn't notice this! On the other hand, I do hear a lot more stories from people with vaginas who didn't discover masturbation for ages, so I guess it is probably a thing?

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    2. For me, pressure on my clitoris felt about as satisfying as scratching my ear - i.e. a bit, but not so much you'd go out of your way to explore more. I had to buy a vibrator before I could have an orgasm the first time.

      I don't know if it's just because of physical differences and nerve endings or what have you, but it seems pretty hit and miss whether girls discover masturbation. In my case it relied upon my first boyfriend being awesome, which is worryingly arbitrary.

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    3. Great post. Yes, if I hadn't been brought up with the idea that sex a) only happens With A Man, and b) will bring you Bad Things, I might have felt less guilty and less like a failure when I did start masturbating. Also, girls might be less likely to be driven towards some of the Bad Things that can result from sex with a man if they were encouraged to be happy having sex with themselves, and encouraged to expect pleasure from sex.

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    4. Emily, are you me? Because, yeah, that's exactly how I work. No coincidental movements or contact was ever stimulating enough for me to wonder "Oh wow, what is that? And can I make it better?" I never would have discovered/invented masturbation as a kid/teen from something as mundane as washing or sitting a certain way, because those things simply didn't feel noticeably nice. It felt like washing. Or sitting. My first orgasm had to come from a bullet vibrator so powerful it pained and numbed my hand to touch it. But I live in time and place where such things are easy to find out about and easy to get. I can imagine that there have been many millions of not-particularly-sensitive girls and women throughout time and geography who NEVER became aware that masturbation was a thing they might want to do.

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    5. I know! It makes me so sad. I just don't understand why there doesn't seem to be a group advocating for this.

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    6. The Unitarian curriculum Our Whole Lives (OWL) covers masturbation (see http://firstparish.info/index.php/education/children-s-programs/our-whole-lives-owl), as does Heather Corinna's book S.E.X. I should think pretty much any progressive sex ed would at least say it was perfectly all right. But then I grew up in the 1970s when it seemed as though every time I turned around it seemed as though someone was telling me not to worry about it, masturbation was perfectly normal. (Judy Blume, Norma Klein, etc.)

      In my case, I read about the mechanics of sex, wondered hm, what would that feel like, and started shoving fingers in and out. I think I was nine or ten.

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    7. Thanks for this! I...actually WAS in OWL when I was about 13-14, but I guess a lot of it didn't really stick. I know we did talk about it, but I don't think that I was personally ready for it at that point. I had a pretty weird relationship with sex, but I was able to push it away for quite a few years, but then I had to revisit it when I got my boyfriend, who taught me a lot of things that I wasn't really ready for until then. So, yes, I first masturbated at the age of 18. Always made me feel weird because there are a lot of people criticizing Fifty Shades because she hadn't done anything sexual...at age 22, but it's nice to see that I'm not alone.

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  27. Thank you so much for this! I have worked in the sex industry and I'm always afraid to tell people, unless I can trust them, simply because some people have been horrified by it. I always get invasive questions about my past thanks to it, and while I had my reasons, I do not feel dirty or badly about what I did. It was no more unpleasant than any other job I've had (and far far far from the worst!)

    I agree that there is a lot of issue with the 'sex positivity' term, because I've been made to feel close minded when I'm anything but, simply because I don't agree with my friends' 'unethical' sexual practices and therefor they believe that I'm 'sex-negative' (also because I'm currently celibate). I don't care what consenting adults do if they are not hurting anyone. It's when the cheating and lying start to come in that I get upset.

    Again, thank you!

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  28. Thank you so much for this!!!! My partner is on the asexual spectrum and is only comfortable with our married, emotionally intimate, extremely private sex, and she had only rarely had sex when we got together (though we tend to get kinky when we do have that). She doesn't like it as often as many other people, she doesn't want to hear about it from others, and even sexual innuendo in public makes her uncomfortable. Some of this is because of extreme sexual trauma and some of it is just because part of her sexuality is that it's very private, very understated, and restricted to one person. She's actually been attacked by people for being "repressed" because she doesn't talk about other femmes (she's a butch) being sexy and is uncomfortable with nudity, and because she will bow out of conversations if they get too overtly sexual (which they tend to get in queer circles). But she's not being judgmental...she's creating a safe space for herself, and too often that's not respected now.

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  29. Excellent post.

    If my add my 2 cents to the how to define "sex-positive" question, I've started use the term sexual pluralist in place of/along side the term sex positive (and sexually dogmatic in place of/along side sex-negative)as I feel it encapsulate many of the issues better then the term "positive".

    Secondly, a question if I may. "Fetishizing people based on racial stereotypes is unethical.". I agree, however where the issue becomes complicated is when we take fantasy into account. Peoples fantasies (and the porn and other erotic material) that reflects them often have elements which are at a minimum politically incorrect. How to critique the fetishizing of race and many other smiler things with out entering the territory of shaming people for their fantasies, is something both necessary and possible, but yet something I've haven't figured out 100% to my satisfaction yet, I always feel I'm missing something or veering too far to one side. (Although, being critical and only being 90% satisfied with my own critiques is far better then not critically thinking at all) So I'm curious what other people thoughts on this are.

    Lastly, I love that "Pride Pterodactyl" drawing.

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    1. I think part of it is education; if you understand why [X-1] portrayal is racist then [X-2] portrayal comes across as similarly racist, and therefore not as conducive of sexytimes.

      I've found many things sexy in the past that I'd now look at and cringe and/or get angry at. This might not work for everyone though?

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  30. Question: what about victims of sex and abuse? This subject of pro-sex choice discussion can be trauma to a large group of victims of sexual encounters. I understand what is written but the approach needs to be put to content for people who are in a disagreement.

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    1. I don't understand your question?

      I think that shoving sex discussions and "REDISCOVER SEX IT WILL MAKE YOU SO HAPPY" in survivors' faces is a very terrible thing to do, if that's the question, but it certainly shouldn't preclude sex discussions from happening in spaces that are clearly marked and not captive-audience.

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  31. It's so nice to be able to read something on sex-positivity that I agree with all the way through!

    Especially the part where you say that "[if] abstinence-only sex ed is like driver's ed without talking about cars, then sex ed without talking about consent is like driver's ed where they show you the gas and the brake, but assume you'll pick up all the "how to follow traffic laws so you don't kill people" bits on your own." Because yes! This is such a good analogy!

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  32. Ugh, Annie Sprinkle. I once went to one of her "Orgasm Workshops" that featured this unforgettable analysis of orgasms: "How else will you know you had a good time?"

    *headdesk*

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  33. Interesting article, even though I'm not sure that I am a feminist, there is much to agree with. Here are some unsolicited opinions.... Some things I don't understand, you neglected to include people who buy sex in your guide, was this deliberate. I only say this because I just read Jill Filipvic's 'feminist utopia' article.

    Also the last paragraph about sexual ethics, I think that apart from some basic common sense things, the realm of sexual ethics outside of bondage etc/polyamory seems massively overelaborate and counterproductive, endlessly hammering on to people about consent has real effects http://ozyfrantz.com/2013/04/27/on-consent-paranoia/ that shouldn't be ignored in your debate.
    The thought that it would lead to any meaningful change in the world is similar imho to trying to change society by buying organic food or something. It is nice that people like to do this and I hope it works out, but I think you overstate the case for it's world changing abilities.

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    1. I fail to understand the comparison between not raping people and buying organic food.

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    2. Well telling people who don't rape people anyway, don't rape people! again and again and again does have some negative consequences, I think that you have to acknowledge that.
      Do you think that the promotion of feminist sexual ethics has ever changed the mind of any rapist (who iirc are people who by and large know what they're doing). What I see is people who aren't going to do that anyway, getting more and more concerned that they might do something wrong. I think that is relevant when you are doing BDSM stuff which is technically illegal, but with most 'vanilla' sex, people who care about other people, can communicate and have some basic common sense knowledge, seem to get right almost all the time.

      Apologies for my poor analogy, but buying organic food is something people do for their own benefit, but also to think that they will change farming, when in actual fact the prevailing social and economic winds seem to be changing organic food; individual ethical actions seem not to have all that much power to change the world imho.

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    3. I actually agree that a lot of rapists know what they're doing. However, I think a lot of them don't know that what they're doing isn't the only/best/most gender-affirming/inevitable-accident/etc. way to have sex. You're right in saying "don't rape people" isn't a very useful message; we have to go way beyond that! We have to address issues like the pressure on men to prove their masculinity via aggression, the romanticization of "the chase," the sexualization of unwitting or unwilling women, oh man we've got a lot to do. "Don't rape people," alone, isn't nearly enough.

      "with most 'vanilla' sex, people who care about other people, can communicate and have some basic common sense knowledge, seem to get right almost all the time."
      Yes, but wouldn't it be cool if there were more people who cared about each other, could communicate, and had basic common sense knowledge? I mean, these aren't things you're born with.

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    4. Okay yeah no, as the author of that post, consent paranoia is not a sign that we should stop "endlessly hammering on people about consent." I am totally and 100% fine with endlessly hammering on people about consent. Consent is REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT.

      In fact, my consent paranoia is the result of me not fully internalizing that my partner has bodily autonomy, and thus gets to say "yes" as well as "no."

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    5. It's not just a question of "rape" versus "not-rape." It's whether you have an environment where it's okay to ask for what you want and work through your insecurities. It makes me slightly ill to think I wasted so much damn time not knowing how to do that. Frankly, I'm pretty fortunate that my sex life didn't end up a whole lot crappier than it is (and that I didn't hurt more people along the way).

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    6. Cliff Pervocracy
      I agree with all of your examples about cultural stuff, my issue is with the way sexual ethics is framed in terms of rape, consent and moral obligations rather than getting people to care about trust and being attentive to their partners; how to learn what you like, express your desires and have the most fun etc. Obviously knowledge of consent is needed but I think that it can is sometimes be overelaborated. Framing bad sex as morally reprehensible does have negative consequences in some cases; one of these is most people (especially men) will just ignore you. I’m not sure that sexual ethics, in lots of the ways that it’s currently framed, is the best way to achieve more people who know their desires and can communicate. They seem to have it better in Europe where kids often learn from a younger age about sex, that their body isn't dirty and the importance of caring and trust etc, this is often loose etiquette and common sense rather than a suite of rules and obligations.
      “I think a lot of them don't know that what they're doing isn't the only/best/most gender-affirming/inevitable-accident/etc. way to have sex.” I’m doubtful that whatever you do rapists will listen. I'm not a super expert but they seem from what I've read to be people who are lacking in empathy, who don't care about other people and just want what they want. Maybe your way will result in creating less people like this though, I hope that you are right.

      ozymandias
      Apologies for misrepresenting you. One of my friends went through a mandatory sexual ethics course at his college a while ago and got really into it, the effect on him was superficially pretty similar to your post. The rules of acting as if your touch or whatever, is not wanted, until it's super clear that it is and a few other things. It made him treat women like they were made of crystal or something. Ironically it looks like this led to more bad sex and disgruntlement for him and his partners than before. What I meant to say was that the rules in that pdf (and in the way they’re phrased in it) aren't necessarily the way to sexual utopia for a lot of people and they can even have negative effects. Are you fine with hammering on about consent even when the only people who listen already respect it.

      Irene.
      I agree with what you say, I've had a lot of awful sex as well and wish that there was more of an environment that you describe. My issue (apart from the above) is that I don't think that it should be more of a moral obligation for one partner than the other to make the other have a good time. In most of the sexual ethics stuff I’ve seen, there is a moral onus on the ‘initiator’ to facilitate a positive interaction. I'm doubtful this achieves better results than just getting people to learn about sex and be more assertive etc.

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    7. I don't think that it should be more of a moral obligation for one partner than the other to make the other have a good time.

      Good thing I didn't say that, then. My point is that consent (shared consent -- not just one person saying "yes" to the other) is a much deeper concept than it first appears, and a greater mindfulness of it is beneficial all the way around.

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    8. @Anonymous

      The thing about emphasizing consent...

      I am also not an expert on this, but if I understand correctly (and I don't have the citations on hand, I can look for them if you want) rapists mostly fall into two groups: Repeat offenders who know damn well what they are doing and assault MANY people throughout their lives, and one-time offenders who are usually young and receptive to rehabilitation.

      I think that emphasizing consent helps deal with both groups. For the latter group, that's obvious - if you're receptive to rehabilitation, you're probably a good candidate for prevention too.

      For the former group, it's an indirect effect. No, they won't listen when you tell them yesmeansyes/nomeansno. But you can create a culture where violations of consent - both overtly sexual and not - are considered *big red flags* and socially unacceptable behavior, you've made it a lot harder for those rapists to operate. If their friends and family members aren't willing to hide behind "but he's such a good guy!" and "well, she DID let him get to third base..." the social consequences of being a rapist become much higher than they are now.

      Also, quite frankly...while the situation Ozy describes is certainly real for many people, I think it's also a totally normal reaction to freak out a little if you've been having sex for some time but haven't given much of a thought to good consent before. It's normal to be a little paranoid while you reset your consent-barometer. All but one of the people I have slept with has had a slightly off consent-barometer, and mine took some fining tuning too. It is important to separate the anxiety that comes from "I haven't seriously thought about this before, and I need to start seriously thinking about it NOW" from Ozy's consent paranoia that comes from second-guessing zir partner's stated desires.

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    9. Irine
      I should've said "In my limited experience this is what sexual ethics seems to involve some of the time." I realise you didn't say that, apologies :(

      theLapdanceDeamon
      That was really interesting and persuasive, thanks :D. I'm super way less of an expert than you, I think that there is a lot of stuff that healthy sexual values and gender theory don't touch involved in that kind of crime; but I admit that I don't really know a lot and think that you are probably right.

      I was just trying to say that sometimes these things can have not only positive consequences and that the framing and using of tactics to scare people into getting into it can be counterproductive to the promotion of healthy sexual attitudes, and that is often not included in the debate. Somebody just randomly linked to this on reddit and I thought that this was left out of the OP, I just thought I'd chime in. It was nice talking with all of you and I like your website.

      Delete
  34. Yes, fuck yes!!!

    -Fishgoat

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  35. Is it wrong to be attracted to my aunt? I think she feels the same way i do?

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  36. I agree with everything you have here but still feel alienated from sex-positivity for all its value and neccesity. BLog post here. http://darklordcal.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/my-disillusionment-with-sex-positivity/

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  37. He's the motherfuckin' pride-o-dactyl...

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  38. Hi! here's a sex positive definition that we've been working on (and with the help of teams of dedicated webelves) have installed at Sex-Positive.com

    “sex positivity is an approach to human sexuality regarding individual choices of consensual sexual expression which over time cultivate health and happiness as fundamentally good”

    We don't have working comments yet... but soon!! and we would love responses from any folks who feel they have something to say, whether thats a specific critique of the statements structure or a more poetic input informing of its feel, we're down to listen. (just a few more days till site design beta2 w/comments, so yeah :)

    aloha,
    max

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  39. I just found your blog today, thank you so much for writing this! This is exactly how I feel about sex related issues, and I'll probably end up linking back here if I ever need to explain to others c:

    I will be reading more from you for sure!

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  40. got to this via feministwire article on sex-positivity, love it, linking, quoting, thank you, deadline! xxxooo

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  41. "Some people have physical or psychological issues that interfere with them having sex. Trying to "free" any of these people from their "repression" is ignorant, presumptuous, and the very opposite of promoting sexual freedom."
    Hmm, I think this is highly problematic. People internalize all kinds of harmful things - reinforcing complacency is the same as being enabler - which is a bad thing. Trying to help people overcome these things is good, trying to promote a culture that says people loose out for being attached to these fears IS being sex-positive. It is, essentially, how we moved from a puritan, christian, oppressive society and had a sexual revolution - which is cultural phenomenon, that requires breaking out of the shell individually and in society.

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  42. I just rediscovered this blog because of your ongoing and very entertaining Fifty Shades of Grey review, and I found this old post and want to comment.

    I really like what you said here about what you DO NOT mean by being sex-positive:

    •Accepting someone’s way of having sex means you have to participate in it, watch them engage in it, or hear about it in detail.

    This really hits home for me these days. A side-effect of all the media constantly sending the message that heterosexual women turn bisexual, or gay, at the drop of a hat, causes heterosexual women such as me to be accused of being closed-minded, repressed, homophobic, etc. for NOT wanting to participate in sexual activity with other women. I'm none of those things. I'm heterosexual. And my sexual orientation is just as genetic and unchangeable as that same media constantly reminds us it is for homosexuals.

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  43. I just discovered this blog and this is the first article I've read. I'm going to link it on my facebook; I seriously approve of it that much. My blog is dealing with Japanese issues and still trying to name things like "gender binary" and "transgender" in Japanese, we're not even here yet. But I've always been leery of the term sex-positive for both reasons above-the positive/HIV association (which is a very DIFFERENT conversation, but like you said, if kids got REAL sex-ed...) and the whole shaming asexuals side. I'm gay and ploy, I have bi and mono, bi-poly, hetero-mono, gay-mono, etc., friends of many different colours, gender identities and countries/ethnicities and I've always gone for an all-inclusive approach. Growing up part-white in Koube and part-Asian in Florida, you see why. Hence, I've been wary of the term, just like I once was of "feminism" because of TERFs. But if this can be called sex-positivity, then I'm definitely sex-positive, because I completely agree. If they visit this page again, I also loved what goth-is-not-emo, Craig Ross and Juniper had to say.

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