Before we get into the murky waters of sex-negativity (a beast which we are told cannot exist, does not exist, or is the domain of spinsters and lesbians, as if spinsters and lesbians don’t like sex by default), we have to first define which sex-positivity we are reacting to.
There are two general kinds of sex-positivity: “being sex-positive,” which is more of a personal attribute than an ideology and designates people who are open about sexuality and who promote the act of sex as being healthy and not a shameful thing, and “sex-positive feminism,” an ideology which is based on the premise that not only is sex not a bad thing as a whole, but should be entirely divorced from ethical or political considerations as long as consent is present:
Communicating consent is complicated, but consent is the only thing that makes sex okay, so we have to make every effort to respect it. All sex is completely fine with me as long as it’s consensual. Seriously, I really don’t care what you do — as long as it’s consensual.
[S]ex-positivity is the belief that sex and sexiness are… okay. It’s the belief that people shouldn’t be judged by the sex they have. It’s the belief that consent matters and social norms do not. It’s the belief that porn and erotica are valid media of expression (not that the current porn industry is hunky-dory, cause it’s not) and that sex work ought to be just work (not that it currently is). It’s the belief that neither “slut” nor “prude” should be an insult. It’s the belief that every sexual and gender identity is valid.
People who have read my entries on consent probably already see where this is going. Sex-pozzies, like capitalists, make consent the only condition for morality. But even more than that, sex-pozzies reduce consent to the mechanical act of saying “yes” or of “enthusiastic consent,” which is merely a term for agreeing by saying “hell yes!” instead of just “yes.” But saying “yes” or even “hell yes!” is a far cry from even rudimentary consent; I’ve already discussed how most of the conditions necessary for consent have nothing to do with the act of saying “yes,” or saying anything at all.
How wrong this ideology can get is demonstrated by the sex-pozzie support of pornography and prostitution. “Consent” in these areas is basically worthless because of the economic inequality and psychological attacks that push women into these “industries.” And yet the simple act of the “yes” (not even a prospective “yes”) is enough for sex-pozzies to approve of women getting exploited, degraded, trafficked, being inflicted diseases, and so on. BDSM is another example of an area where abuse and violence are commonplace, but sex-pozzies defend it because “it’s sex and you can’t criticize sex.” There is no atrocity they won’t rubber-stamp in the name of the sacrosanct “yes.” They are the true yes-men/yes-handmaidens.
“Sex-positive feminism,” as a movement, has as its objective to remove sexuality from the realm of feminist systemic criticism. It is therefore anti-feminist in practice, despite its proponents’ general commitment to feminism. It says that any issue which they deem sexual in nature, be it actual sex, BDSM, pornography or prostitution, must not be analyzed or criticized. Instead, they contend, we should fall back to the “default” position that “consent is the standard of morality.”
Sex-negativity, therefore, means opposition to this stance: that sexuality must be subject to systemic criticism like everything else, and that woman-hating in sexual areas must not be given a free pass. It is nothing more than the consistent application of feminist principles to actual sex, BDSM, consent in sex, pornography and prostitution. It is nothing more than the proposition that sex is affected by patriarchal norms.
There is nothing incredible about this proposition. It should be obvious to all feminists that sex, like all other areas of life, is affected by patriarchal norms. So why do so many so-called feminists reject this proposition?
Patriarchal norms dictate how men and women should have sex, and these norms are reproduced in pornography, which is then reproduced against women in general, against prostitutes, and is used to objectify and degrade women in pornography even more over time. As someone else has once commented, pornography is “a manual for the political subordination of women and mass pre-genocidal women-hating propaganda.” But if you think pornography is hunky-dory and sweep all its verbal and physical abuse under the rug of “well, they said yes, so it’s all good,” then you can’t possibly begin to understand the problem here. If you think patriarchal conditioning is “normal,” then you won’t be able to realize what it is, and you won’t be able to see how sexuality as a whole is affected.
I think this is also reflected in how sex-pozzies treat the issue of women performing their gender by wearing high heels, shaving their legs, wearing makeup, and so on. Sex-pozzies have to trivialize the subject and turn everyone who doesn’t do the same as being obsessed or “slut-shaming”:
A lot of criticism of sex-positive feminism is really criticism of sexy women. It’s hard to find a piece that isn’t dripping with disgusted descriptions of women who wear high heels and shave their legs and then they giggle and they act all flirty and give blowjobs, oh my God. And it’s hard for me to see the difference between this and plain old slut-shaming. It always seems undercut with the implication that sexy women aren’t just unfeminist, they’re icky.
This is absolute bullshit because I’ve never read any sex-negative entry that was about women who wear high heels being disgusting, and the author sure couldn’t give any examples or even quotes, because there aren’t any. Frankly, I think this is just plain prejudice against radfem: because radfem womyn are called ugly and mean, they must be ugly and mean, and therefore must be jealous of the beeeautiful sex-pozzies, right? Right?
But my main point in using this quote was to point out the maneuver of trying to shut down criticism of gender performance by making this criticism seem emotional and back-stabbing, two traits stereotypically applied to women. The implicit conclusion is that only emotional wrecks dare to criticize gender performance, because it’s just “normal” and that’s all there is to it.
We also see it in the new phenomenon of “slutwalking.” “Slut” is a term used by men (and handmaidens) to associate certain non-conforming traits to high libido, and then circularly to associate high libido with non-conformity (because she is or does X which is non-conforming, she must have sex with a lot of men, therefore she does not conform to the standards of sexual purity that we impose on women). “Slutwalking” is trying to normalize this conformist labeling process by severing the connection between high libido and non-conformity, which is silly because that connection is part and parcel of gender roles and is not something that can be changed on an individual basis.
This goes to the core of the difference between sex-pozzies and their opponents, who acknowledge that the issues that concern sex-pozzies, including BDSM, prostitution, pornography, and sex in general, can be generally reduced to the domination of women by men:
[T]he way you fuck is not “private,” apolitical, or outside the realm of critique. Sex does not happen in a vacuum immune to outside structural influences; in fact, it can (and does) replicate inescapable systems of power and dominance. Being sex-negative means acknowledging that sex, and kink, have nothing intrinsically “good” or “positive” about them (in direct contrast to sex-positive feminists, many of whom argue that sex is an inherent good and that less charitable opinions toward sex are the result of a poisonous, prudish society).
This is not to say that sex-negativity means stating that all sex is bad. While it is true that some expressions of sex are unhealthy and ethically wrong, others are not. Always most potent in the sex-pozzies’ arsenal of lies is the constantly repeated Big Lie that “radfems think all sex is bad.” Despite the constant repetition of the lie, no quote from any radfem book or blog has ever be given for this claim (at least, to my knowledge) because no such quote exists.
What the sex-negative do believe is that, as Jillian Horowitz states in the quote above, sexual acts are not immune from “structural influences.” This means that all sexual acts can be criticized, but it does not mean that all sex is bad. All movies can be criticized, but this does not mean that all movies are bad, either. It’s abhorrent that our views on sex are so aberrated that we’ve at the point where acknowledging that sex acts are not magically good and are a valid subject of criticism is considered “negative,” and that this view must absolutely be equated with a wholesale rejection of sex.
“Sex-positive feminism” is a movement which, in actuality, mostly benefits white privileged men and women. The extremism of the sex-pozzies’ belief in sex entails the marginalization of individuals who do not like sex, such as asexuals, people with low or non-existent libidos, rape survivors, child abuse survivors, and victims of the systems of exploitation that the sex-pozzies support:
[Sex-pozzies] don’t care about rape victims, prostituted women, porn actresses, homosexual people, women who like sex but not phallocentric sex, or actual feminists.
I don’t think that most of them don’t care per se, but that they are blind to the massive exploitation of women that they are supporting: they are not able to recognize it as exploitation any more than capitalists are able to recognize work contracts as exploitation. Privilege is transparent: you can only see it if you are told exactly where to look and actually make the effort. Most people don’t because they see no need in making the effort to look for something they don’t experience.
When we look at the issues, sex-pozzies actually don’t appear very different from funfems. Funfems consider the exploitation of their own bodies to be “empowering,” including pornography, prostitution and BDSM. Funfems, like sex-pozzies, consider consent to be the alpha and the omega of morality. The main difference is that sex-positivism is more theoretical in nature and funfem is more frivolous in nature.
“Sex-positive feminism” was itself a reaction to the anti-pornography movement spearheaded by people like Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon (who are now demonized for it). Fundamentally it is defined by its defense of pornography, and therefore by its defense of the exploitation and objectification of women, which is why it is an anti-feminist movement.
The arguments of sex-pozzies regarding pornography are very similar to those used by “individualist feminist” Wendy McElroy: we think women who use pornography or who work in pornography are “damaged,” the reduction of consent to a “yes” act, falsely representing the “anti” side as an alliance between radical feminists (anti-women-haters) and Christian fundamentalists (women-haters).
Why are these “feminist” positions, “funfeminism,” “sex-positive feminism” and “individualistic feminism,” so similar? They’re all about me, me, me, and ignore the systemic objectification and exploitation of women. I have written many times about how evaluating actions in a vacuum must necessarily lead to support for the status quo (see for example). I will not repeat myself here, but merely point out that this the root error of all these “feminist” ideologies, which “analyze” sexual acts as if they existed in a vacuum devoid of patriarchal incentives or financial incentives. This is fantasy land.
I already discussed the vital role of pornography in reproducing patriarchal norms. On the sex-pozzie side, I also quoted Pervocracy saying that “It’s the belief that porn and erotica are valid media of expression (not that the current porn industry is hunky-dory, cause it’s not) and that sex work ought to be just work (not that it currently is).” But this implies that there can be such a thing as “valid pornography” and “sex work.” These premises are self-contradictory: pornography is the commodification of the objectification of women, and prostitution is organized rape at best; commodifying the objectification of women cannot be “valid” and the rape of women cannot be “work.”
What about the wonderfully bizarre concept of “feminist porn”: who has ever seen such a unicorn? Where is this noble unicorn hiding in the lush, vibrant forest of pornography? Will someone one day find the magical .mpg file that contains it and share it with the world? Or are we merely to stick with the reasoned conclusion that belief in such a thing is an absolute steaming pile of shit?
Pornography is not about sex, anyhow, it’s about men dominating women. As I’ve said before, arguing that anyone who’s against pornography is anti-sex is as obtuse as stating that anyone who’s against McDonalds is anti-food. McDonalds food is mass-produced, artificial, loveless food, and pornography at its best is mass-produced, artificial, loveless sex.
Some complain that the term “sex-negative” is not good publicity and that we should be using the term “sex-critical.” The trouble is, good publicity for who? Men? Sex-positive women? Why should feminists appeal to either of these groups? The label should be descriptive, and “sex-negative” is descriptive as an opposition to “sex-positive.”
I also want to mention that I am also necessarily a sex-negative person by virtue of being an antinatalist: all antinatalists by definition believe that sex for procreation is wrong, therefore they cannot accept [procreative] sex uncritically either. It is impossible to be an antinatalist and sex-positive; this is not a statement of bigotry or partisanship but a simple logical deduction.
I give the summation and final word to Meghan Murphy:
Glickman argues that ‘sex-positivity’ is “the idea that the only relevant measure of a particular sexual act, practice, or desire is how the consent, pleasure, and well-being of the participants are cared for.” And, yeah, I think we ‘get’ that. And we don’t agree. At all. We think it is much more complicated then individuals simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (though of course consent is a key part of sex, assuming that our intent is not to rape). Where the ‘sex-positivity’ defenders seem to get off track is in this ‘judgement’ discourse. In the obsessive need to make all representations and manifestations of sex and ‘sexiness’ about individuals, the point that feminists are making is completely missed. That is that this isn’t all about individuals and that your sexuality has been influenced by a myriad of factors, all which have been shaped by patriarchy.
And there you go.