Sex+Positivity: A New Version of Sex Policing?

As a young woman, I’m constantly bombarded with messages that sex is hot, that sex is empowering, and that I should reappropriate and reclaim the word s-l-u-t. While the definitions surrounding Sex+positivity are nebulous, the condensed missions are the destigmatization of shame culture and the use of sex as a site of sexual liberation−-a literal and metaphorical “fucking of the patriarchy.” While well-intended, this framework doesn’t consider how ascribing conditions of what constitutes sex as “positive empowered good” inherently reinforces the policing of sexual activity.

If I’m not having sex in a specific way − or if I’m not having sex at all − the implications of sex+positivity suggest that I am complicit with patriarchal norms, a product of the suppressive, Protestant and conservative ideals of sex. Effectively, sex+positivity does not give space for people who have no desire to or choose not to have sex to claim their own agency.

The implicit binary of sex+positivity feminism and sexnegativity feminism is also bristling. Through my criticism of sex+positivity, I do not mean to advocate for restrictive and conservative notions of sex. Rather, I am advocating for a personal definition of what sex is, and what sex can be. Sex can be a site of pleasure, yes, but it can also be a site of power, oppression and trauma. Prescribing sex as positive and innately good, ignores the ways in which sex can be and is experienced. Limiting sex to a few adjectives − good, empowering, orgasmic, pleasurable − collapses the complexity of sex.

I also understand sex+positivity to be filtered through commercialism. Sex+positivity situates sex, or more particularly ‘good sex’, at the crux of it’s anti-patriarchal mission, selling sex as a mechanism of fighting oppression. In an analogous way to how consent is framed as sexy (for a great critique of this, see here), the movement of sex+positivity is provocatively sexy. This prompts the question, why do movements trying to dismantle the patriarchy have to be commercialized as sexy and not as human rights?

Finally, sex+positivity caters to privileged identities. Defining sex as a site of liberation to fuck the patriarchy intrinsically situates sex+positivity within a sphere of heterosexism. The language of fucking the patriarchy casts patriarchy as an undefined, masculine character. Moreover, the word fuck is gendered in a heterosexist and cissexist way, historically contextualized as people assigned male at birth (with penises) and fucking people assigned female at birth (with vaginas). By placing these identities next to one another, I do not mean to equate them nor imply they are substitutes, but gesture towards the way people have been gendered by medical professionals based on the appearance of their anatomy and their subsequent socialization. Though I understand the language of “fucking the patriarchy” to be an attempt to reclaim gendered words, I also believe this phrase may be so entrenched in structures of heterosexism, that, in its reappropriation, structures of heterosexism are reinforced. Ultimately, sex+positivity allows for the policing of marginalized sexualities, further subjecting women to oppressive stereotypes.

By Anonymous Contributor

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