Is Sex Positive Ever Negative?

Lili Bee interviews Dr. Robert Jensen about what’s at stake when talking about our sexual differences.

Recently me and one of my best male friends, Lance, who happens to be gay, were talking about our love lives and then about work, when I detected a shift between us. As I spoke about my work with people who found themselves partnered with sexual compulsives, he grew quiet.

It was hard not to notice that the room seemed suddenly darker, lifeless; the air wasn’t charged any more with the sparkle that Lance always delightfully brings in with him. When I finally asked if he was ok, he replied, “I just hope you’re not going to turn into Anita Bryant on us.”

After getting over the shock of hearing my work with sexual compulsion being conflated with a fundamentalist, conservative, religious, homophobic political leader of yesteryear, I asked why he’d even make such a comment. His response was that Anita Bryant and Co. seemed terrified of their own sexuality and needed to control everyone else’s as a result.

Lance and I always trusted one another with details about our intimate histories. I suspected he trusted me with his sexual details because he could tell from mine that I neither blush easily nor do I condemn others easily. He knew I had a secular education site specializing in often badly-needed resources when there is sexual compulsion/ addiction present and he knew we work with all sexual orientations. Anita Bryant?!

He went on to say,“I’m only talking about how the anti-porn groups always lobby to get politicians into office who are totally right-wing assholes, who hate gays and anyone who doesn’t fit their picture of mainstream, and that’s a no-win situation for us.”

My center doesn’t advocate for legislation against pornography and we certainly don’t shill for any religious groups. I created my business precisely because I could barely find resources that weren’t religiously-based, when I desperately needed help myself years ago and searched everywhere. How ironic Lance might find it, then, that when people call us who require religious reinforcement for their beliefs that what their husband (or wife) is doing is morally wrong, we send them to another site that is overtly religious in their approach.

“Google ‘sex positive’ and read everything you possibly can,” Lance said, “it’ll help offset anything puritanical out there while you’re doing your work on helping people who are freaking about sexual practices they don’t approve of. And remember, Lili, you might be cool, but just be careful because all this anti-sex stuff just ends up damaging people. Those conservative movements would be happy to get gays back into the closet and besides creating otherwise restrictive environments. Everybody’s sex life should be their own business.”

“So…what, Lance, if someone doesn’t want the stigma of being called “anti-sex”, does that mean they have to condone porn use in their relationships, just as one example?”

“I don’t know, but…”, Lance offered, getting more frustrated by the minute, “I moved to New York because I want to live in a sexually free environment. I just feel that sexual conservatism is so, I don’t know….backwards, so puritanical. “

“Ok! But then, who gets to decide what sexual “conservatism” even is? Your ‘sex-positive’ peeps?”

“Yeah! Why not? I’ll take Anthony Weiner over Anita Bryant any day!”

“Do you really think there’s nothing in between?”

But Lance wasn’t interested in any further questions; he was firmly entrenched in a belief system, one I’d like to know more about.

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Why couldn’t we work our way towards anything even resembling a constructive talk? Why was our conversation breaking down reliably into overly-simplistic categories of bad/ good? All the myriad distinctions worth discussing were being lumped into polarized categories: black and white, right and wrong. This was as bad as my childhood religion, and that was not a good thing in any way.

Whenever I tried to zoom out to discuss the big-picture implications of pull-out-all-the-stops, in-your-face, commercialized sexuality that many didn’t want questioned, he’d drop into using personal anecdote to shore up his point of view. I’d no sooner join him there in the personal realm, when he’d swoop back up into the higher strata of how my views would hurt the politics of the country. It seemed to me that trying to collect spilled mercury off the floor with a spoon would be easier than having this conversation.

I laid awake that night and wondered just how many educated, aware people like Lance linked anyone who had an opinion that didn’t conform to the “sex positive” ideology with that person being anti-sex, or sex-negative? What forces were at work, I wondered, that had all but obliterated any nuance, or even interest in all of us having an authentic, expansive, respectful conversation about sex, rather than frequently resorting to vitriolic put-downs of those with differing views?

I decided to include “Sex positive as a term” on my list of topics to bring up with one of my mentors, an educator and activist I most respect for his passionate, unapologetic and committed stance on politics, feminism, racism, patriarchy, classism and the military industrial complex, Dr. Robert Jensen. As Hurricane Irene barreled her way up the eastern seaboard, Dr. Jensen and I Skyped: me hunkered down at my storm-proofed lair in Manhattan, him out in Austin under a clear, blue Texas sky at the beginning of the fall semester where he’s a professor at University of Texas, Austin Journalism School.

We talked about a lot of things besides the sex positive issue. We talked about masculinity, humanism, erotica vs. porn, power dynamics between the genders, and some of the more profound and personal insights into the heart of intimacy I’ve had the privilege of hearing a man share with me. I’ll post those other portions of our talk next week.

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Lili’s talk with Dr. Robert Jensen        Part I 

Lili:  So, Bob, let’s talk about sex. In particular, let’s talk about what I’ll call a movement with a cheery sounding name, the Sex Positive movement.

First, let me just say I find the term challenging. For all it’s implied positivism, there are problems with it, such as who dictates which activities are accepted, or not accepted within that movement’s sanctioned forms of sexual expression? To me, it comes across as a movement that just grants carte blanche to any and all sex acts/ sexual lifestyles and the only real issue seems to be, well, if you have an issue with any of it.

Premised on that, then, if one is ok with many or even most sexual activities, but expresses objections to, let’s say, one activity in particular, there are those within the Sex Positive movement who are very quick to dismiss that person, to call them a conservative, a rabid feminist or a religious fundamentalist.

Can you speak to the term “Sex Positive” because I’m more aware of the divisiveness of the term?

Bob: I think the whole notion of it is absurd. The notion of a “Sex Positive” category or a sex-positive feminism is truly ridiculous since no one I know of in these arenas is sex negative. The only people who might be truly sex-negative are extreme religious fundamentalists who believe that sexual conduct is somehow inherently shameful.

Within feminism I know of nothing that one would call sex-negative; in fact, the term sex negative isn’t a meaningful category, it’s an insult and an attempt to undermine a critique of the underlying power dynamics in sex.

I come out of a tradition called “radical feminism” and anti-porn feminism, feminism that’s critical of the sexual exploitation industries, critical of the oppression inherent in men’s buying and selling women’s bodies. That movement is sometimes called “sex negative” and I’ve never understood what that means. I’ve met literally hundreds of people in that movement and I’ve never met anyone who’s against sex or who thinks sex is a bad thing.

Lili: I live in sexually progressive New York City and everywhere I look, I see so many varied forms of sexuality being openly expressed. I also grant that New York is not an accurate litmus test of how sexual mores are received elsewhere in the country. Let me say that up front.

The people who call themselves “sex positive” seem to be advocating a sexual freedom that’s a response or even a rebellion against any kind of sexual repression. Where do you see us at this point in time with regard to repression?

Bob: Well certainly there are elements of contemporary culture that are repressive sexual arenas, especially conservative, religious trends for instance which have problems with all sorts of sexual expression. To me, the question isn’t about sexual liberation versus sexual freedom, the question is:

How do we construct a healthy sexual culture that understands sex in the context of fostering healthy human relationships?

The so-called sexual liberation of the 1960’s did many positive things: it broke down some of those old, repressive mechanisms. Much of that had to do with feminists critiquing the sexual control, the domination/ subordination dynamic in patriarchy. But that period of time also reinforced patriarchy in certain ways, especially in the way in which the sexual exploitation industries became more normalized and more mainstream. And by sexual exploitation industries I mean prostitution, pornography, stripping—the primary ways in this culture that men buy and sell women’s bodies for the sexual pleasure of men.

So, you have to look at how this played out. Some of it was positive, from my point of view, some of it was extremely negative. Some of it challenged patriarchy: the claim of legitimacy for lesbian and gay people was a challenge to the patriarchy, and it’s constricting gender norms and sexual rules. The assertion that women are fully autonomous sexual beings and not simply objects or vehicles for male pleasure – that challenge to the patriarchy was extremely healthy and positive. But there was also a flip side to it that reinforced some of that patriarchal ideology.

So the question now is: How does one fashion a healthy, sexual culture and the question I use to frame that is to ask: “What is sex for?” Sex has a role in human life. Obviously it has a basic role in procreation but it’s much more than that. The question is, and at any given point in time, sex can mean many different things and what do we want it to mean?

We have to fashion a sexual ethic, and by sexual ethic I don’t mean the assertion of rules that are imposed on people, but a sexual ethic that emerges from honest conversation.

To ask that question is not to impose a single answer, it’s to recognize that not all forms of sex are consistent with healthy, human relationships. The most obvious example is sexual assault- that’s a form of sex but no one would argue it’s consistent with healthy human relationships. And so those are the kinds of things we have to ask.

How do you build a culture in which human beings flourish? is the fundamental question – part of that question has to do with sex: How do you build a culture in which human beings flourish sexually? There’s no one answer to that, but that’s the conversation we have to have.

The sex positive or so-called sexual liberation perspective tends to assume that anything sexual is consistent with human flourishing but I think the evidence is quite clear that that’s not true. So, we have to fashion a sexual ethic, and by sexual ethic I don’t mean the assertion of rules that are imposed on people, but a sexual ethic that emerges from honest conversation. And as you’re pointing out, when especially women in contemporary culture resist the pornographic nature of this culture, by saying, “I don’t want to replicate pornographic sexual scenes in my personal life”, those women are often the targets of insults or pejorative labels like “sex negative” and that’s what we have to overcome.

Lili:  When one looks at the tone of many of the comments following articles about porn use, one can really get a sense of the contention and hostility. So it leaves me wondering: Whom does it really serve to create distinctions like “sex positive”? Why even create the distinction?

Bob: Well, it serves the people who want to undermine critique by labeling any critique as being “sex negative”. That’s the only function it serves as far as I can tell, which is why I don’t use the terms and don’t accept the terms in conversations or debates I might be in.

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Lili: So let’s talk about what I call the language of “shaming.” One of the questions recently posed to the Advice Columnist at GMP centered on a man who felt uncomfortable with the vast amount of attention his new girlfriend attracted by insisting on wearing very little on the beach—“three half-dollar sized pieces of cloth”, was how he put it. He was looking for advice on how he might share his request that she wear even a small bikini, vs. almost nothing.

And one of the female commenters told him, quite aggressively in my opinion, that he should stop “slut shaming” her and basically, to get over it. This kind of exchange appears frequently enough that I wonder if we’re using the “shaming” term as a way to shut people up who have a different view of sexuality than our own. What are your thoughts on this?

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Bob: I think there are two separate questions about shame: one that has to do with men and one that has to do with women. So the question isn’t about shaming or not shaming in the context that you raise, the question is:

What leads people in an oppressed category to behavior that seems to intensify or deepen those oppressive forces?

So let’s say you have a society in which women are routinely treated as objects for male sexual pleasure, that is you have contemporary patriarchy in which women are routinely bought and sold for male sexual pleasure and in which women even outside the sexual exploitation industries are encouraged to present themselves as sexual objects.

The question when a woman engages in self-presentation like that is: “What is the motive force behind that choice of hers? Is she doing it because it’s some expression of her authentic sense of her own body? Is it an authentic style of hers? Or is she simply buying into the cultural pressure to present herself as a sexual object?” Because there are certain kinds of rewards for that.

I don’t know the answer to that in the case of any specific woman. If one is going to engage a specific person in that conversation, one would do it as you would engage people in any kind of difficult conversation: with respect, and with a sense of true openness, wanting to understand. But when you step back from any individual case and you look at the patterns, I don’t think there’s any doubt that women, especially younger women, increasingly engage in that kind of self-presentation routinely. And I don’t think there’s any doubt that one of the serious factors in that is the cultural pressure for women to present themselves that way.  That has nothing to do with shaming, that has to do with inquiry into the nature of the society in which you live and how people shape their own sense of their own bodies, their own desires, and their own value in the world. Ok, well that’s what a decent society would do, to step back and look at those patterns, and ask: “What are the power dynamics in which those patterns are rooted?” and ask again,

“Are they consistent with human flourishing?

There is nothing new about this. Feminists have been critiquing the way women are pressured into self-presentation that objectifies themselves for male viewing—that critique’s been around for a long time, there’s nothing new about it. It’s just that, as you point out, in this particular moment, this fundamental feminist critique has been so marginalized, so beaten back, so buried, that it’s not part of the cultural conversation and that’s unfortunate from my point of view.

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Lili: Yes, and when I do raise the question in conversation, it’s not uncommon to get a considerable amount of pushback from women, who’ll say, “No, I do love walking around in a see-through dress with no underwear on in public”, or “I love when I know my man is out enjoying himself at strip clubs” or any of these statements which I have to admit, sound bizarre to me.

And with the colossal amounts of money being made in what you call the sexual exploitation industries, I can’t help but wonder if as women, we’re being hoodwinked into adopting these stances that prove that we’re cool, we’re the fun girls that are down with whatever, with the unspoken threat being that if we resist or question it, we risk marginalization or worse.

I believe in everyone dressing to please themselves, yes, but I also can’t help think many of us would be much happier if we didn’t feel this tremendous pressure to conform to the cultural standards of beauty which can be pretty fascist and plenty sexist. I really believe we would stop stressing about those extra five or ten pounds we carry around but which render us not “porn-worthy” as one man characterized the cultural ideal in conversation with me.

Bob: Well, that’s right, and body size is another thing—it’s very difficult to have a sensible conversation in this culture because on the one hand, there are cultural pressures on women to be thin, cultural pressures on women to look a certain way, to have a certain body type and those are unhealthy. They lead to eating disorders and all sorts of things.

These are difficult conversations to have in a society that’s essentially gone mad, from my point of view.

It’s also true however, that the celebration of non-traditional body types in a culture that has serious obesity problems and health problems is also difficult. The goal isn’t to impose a single body type on everybody. The goal is to ask, “What kind of nutrition and physical activity is consistent with a long-term healthy body?” It’s pretty clear that starving yourself to be model-thin isn’t consistent with that. It’s pretty clear that eating lots of high-fat, high-calorie, processed foods is inconsistent with that. The question is: “How do we shape lives that are sensible, sane and consistent with both physical, emotional and mental, long-term health?”

These are difficult conversations to have in a society that’s essentially gone mad, from my point of view.

People present themselves to other people in ways that have lots of different objectives, including the desire to be sexually attractive. There’s nothing psychologically pathological about wanting to be sexually attractive. The question is, “How much of our time are we spending on those activities around presentation, and how are those gendered?” “How are the pressures different on women than on men, for instance?”

The other question is, “How much of that comes from authentic desire?” and ‘authenticity’ is a difficult word in this context because all of our desires are in some sense, conditioned by society. I’m not sure anybody has individual, authentic desires. What I come to desire is always going to be, in part, shaped by the society around me. But we have to be able to ask, “How are those social pressures sometimes healthy, or unhealthy? How are they sometimes connected to domination/ subordination dynamics in oppressive systems like patriarchy? That also ties in not just to clothing and weight, but the growing prevalence of cosmetic surgery where people engage not only in dieting and such, to shape their bodies, but literally, to go so far as to mutilate healthy tissue to shape a body into some, what they think is socially desirable form. All of these questions, are, I think, profound indications of how disturbed this culture is.

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Lili: And it’s not just women. I’m hearing more frequently now from men who feel pressured to conform to some often difficult-to attain ideal of male beauty. I’m not really seeing much of that, though, not even an iota of what I see we, as women, put ourselves through. Especially disturbing to me is how young it starts, too….

Bob: Well, there’s two points about the assertion that men are now under the same kind of pressure.

Number one, to some degree it’s true. There are certainly more intense pressures on men to present themselves in ways to be sexually desirable. But, number one, as you’re pointing out, are those equal to the pressures on women, especially girls…and the answer is obviously no.

And the range of presentation that men can engage in and be in the category of attractive is far wider than the range for women. So these aren’t equivalent. But, even if there are more pressures on men to look a certain way, that’s not a sign that we’ve reached equality. It’s just a sign that the culture’s degraded even further.

So then in patriarchy now, even though male dominance is still the defining dynamic, men have internalized some of the insanity themselves. I don’t see that as something to celebrate; it’s just another indication of the corrosive nature of this culture.

Here, we’re not just talking about patriarchy—of course, we’re also talking about capitalism. These are trends fueled not only by the dynamic of male domination / female subordination—they’re also trends fueled by the relentless, pathological quest for profit, especially in late-consumerism capitalism when we’ve been sold virtually everything we can be sold, so the market consistently tries to find new ways to generate profit, no matter how psychologically damaging they are to people. That’s the cosmetic industry, much of the fashion industry, and the non-medically necessary plastic surgery industry. They’re all a sign, from my point of view, of a culture in collapse, a culture in which human flourishing is subordinated to, in this case, the desire for profit.

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Read Part 2 of the interview: Erotica, Patriarchy, and Pornography

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About Robert Jensen, Ph.D

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of “All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice” (Soft Skull Press, 2009); “Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity” (South End Press, 2007); and several other books. Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film “Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing,” which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist.

Jensen can be reached via Email [email protected] and his articles can be found online.

photo: (main) djnavv (inset) toestubber on Flickr 

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About Lili Bee

Lili Bee is the founder of an online Resource Center for Partners of porn/Sex Addicts at PoSARC.com An ordained Interfaith/ Interspiritual Minister, she offers spiritual counseling as well as writing and officiating at weddings and other rites of passages. She is a member of Spiritual Directors International. Contact her via email at [email protected], follow her on Twitter, or visit her blog.

Comments

  1. The Wet One says:

    Lil Bee, you ask:

    “Why couldn’t we work our way towards anything even resembling a constructive talk? Why was our conversation breaking down reliably into overly-simplistic categories of bad/ good? All the myriad distinctions worth discussing were being lumped into polarized categories: black and white, right and wrong.”

    I suspect that it was because your friend is gay. Now, I fully admit that I may be entirely wrong and I fully acknowledge that you know him and I simply don’t. However, I am fairly aware of the polical struggle for gay rights in North America (I’ve been following it with interest for many years) and anything that threatens the advances that have been made are a big threat to gays. Anything that smacks of Anita Bryant as your friend said, in whatever area, if it is a threat to gays political achievements is not to be supported. That probably results in a few unintended casualties (like your discussion with him).

    Anyways, just throwing that out there as a possible answer to your questions.

  2. The Wet One says:

    Just a question, what about male stripping for women, Playgirl and gay porn?

    Also, what about the all sex = rape line of feminism? I seem to recall that statement being taken out of context, but at the same time, some women when considering male enjoyment of sex seem to pretty much agree agree with the sentiment of “all sex = rape.” They take a rather dim view of male sexuality as it presently expressed in the culture. I say this because I know that if I said “as it actually is” there would be all kinds of pushback against the very concept of “male sexuality as it actually is,” even though I’m a guy who has a certain sexuality and it is very much as it actually is and I’ve enjoyed porn, prositutes and the kind of woman I like for most of the last 5 years (porn for a lot longer) after finally throwing off the yoke of what feminists thought I should act like. I must say, it was a damn good time too! Met more women and learned more about people than I ever did before.

    • I think Robert touched on your question actually The Wet One.

      “Bob: Well, there’s two points about the assertion that men are now under the same kind of pressure.

      Number one, to some degree it’s true. There are certainly more intense pressures on men to present themselves in ways to be sexually desirable. But, number one, as you’re pointing out, are those equal to the pressures on women, especially girls…and the answer is obviously no.

      And the range of presentation that men can engage in and be in the category of attractive is far wider than the range for women. So these aren’t equivalent. But, even if there are more pressures on men to look a certain way, that’s not a sign that we’ve reached equality. It’s just a sign that the culture’s degraded even further.”

      I don’t think Robert is advocating that strip clubs for women are any better. However, they are no where near as popular for strip clubs for men. You’ll find 10 more strip clubs for men to every 1 strip club for women. Women are not turned on the same way men are and porn is a further example about how men want women to be turned on just like they are. And some women do fall into that and begin to objectfying themselves and other women under more of the same “sex positive” talk.

  3. The Wet One says:

    Interesting discussion for sure. Should be plenty of head scratchers, outrageous hilarity, inanity and idiocy coming up in the next little while (re: the upcoming posts). I look forward to it with relish!

  4. Really quickly, I have to say that recently, feminists say sex absolutely does not equal rape. Sex is a CONSENSUAL, usually fun, sometimes awkward act that can be done for love, pleasure, to cure boredom, make the most of a relationship, alleviate boredom, make a baby, etc… Rape, on the other hand, is a violent act about power and humiliation. I’ve written it somewhere else, but that’s why soldiers in Bosnia and Libya were ORDERED to rape their enemies, why women in the Middle East are raped so that someone can get back at the victim’s fathers or brothers, why people brag about coercing their victim into sex (date rape) in conversations with friends, and why powerless people like young kids and people in nursing homes get raped…

    Rape is assault. It’s a violent act that sometimes uses the penis as a weapon (not always, as women rape too, and people rape with objects). Sex is a (hopefully!) awesome act, and if the man isn’t supposed to enjoy it, there’s something wrong there… There’s also nothing wrong with enjoying porn and prostitutes, as long as you treat sex workers with respect, avoid places that exploit underage women who have no choice, and don’t let it get in the way of your relationships with your actual partners. I know all of my partners have enjoyed porn. But if, during our relationship, he chose porn over me, took sex lessons from girls who moan because they’re paid to do so, or showed a very disproportionate affection for large, 15 year old black women (something I could never be), I’d be bothered. If I wasn’t getting laid because my partner was spending it all on prostitutes, I might have to look elsewhere since there’s only a limited amount of porn and strip clubs that cater to women’s needs. I guess that wasn’t as quick as I thought it would be…

  5. You’re also right, Wet One, that this should be an interesting discussion. I predict myself getting pissed off a lot and agreeing with radicals occasionally just to get a word of agreement in. The article really did bring to my attention that the sex-positive movement also brings with it the implication that people who don’t completely agree are “negative.” I’m not actually sure how to deal with that yet.

    This quote particularly makes me wonder:
    “And as you’re pointing out, when especially women in contemporary culture resist the pornographic nature of this culture, by saying, “I don’t want to replicate pornographic sexual scenes in my personal life”, those women are often the targets of insults or pejorative labels like “sex negative” and that’s what we have to overcome.”—I always thought that part of sex-positivity was accepting of all sexual preferences. I’m referring not just to orientations, but levels of monogamy, kinks, backgrounds, etc. If you chose to wait until marriage, that’s great (whether it’s religion based or looking at sex as something very personal). If you’re a serial monogamist who has sex on the 5th date, that’s your thing. If you want to have as many partners as possible and party it up, good luck! The whole point is to not let anyone tell you what you should want or not want, as long as you don’t judge others for wanting/not wanting it. Just understand what you want and need, let your partners know at the proper time, and make sure to look into yourself and recognize what you actually want and what society makes you think you want. I don’t think any sex positive person wants every woman to copy Jenna Jameson, but they also don’t want anyone to feel like a bad person for expressing what they want sexually.

  6. Lili – when you believe and say things like the following just below, it makes it very difficult to take you seriously. Your bias is overwhelming. If you truly want to foster open conversation, then I would suggest you tone down the extreme rhetoric.

    “To me, it comes across as a movement that just grants carte blanche to any and all sex acts/ sexual lifestyles and the only real issue seems to be, well, if you have an issue with any of it.”

  7. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    The current media (including porn) treatment of sex is what Marcuse called repressive desublimation. You sell the surface, but repress in essence. Still, I think we’re currently in an intensely sex negative time. I’m reading Sex at Dawn, which says that women’s repression of their natural eroticism is quite understandable due to the non-support and non-safety coming from patriarchy. We’ve 8,000 years of evolved institutions that have developed to do just that. I disagree with radical feminism, however, because the approach to male sexuality is often very sexist.

  8. Hi Elissa- Am I presenting a particular bias? We all are and obviously writers take a position from which they write. Is someone going to take exception with my views? Probably! And that’s ok and the point of opening up a hopefully expansive discussion.

    The whole point of my article was to wonder why we couldn’t have more conversation that’s inclusive of differing sexual views from our own, so perhaps your comment illustrates exactly what I meant. You see me as biased and practicing “extreme rhetoric” and therefore, not someone to be taken seriously. That’s the kind of put-down that I mention in my article that is polarizing all of us since it shuts the door on discussing issues further.

    Just as I did with Lance, I am partial to asking questions about why/how we arrive at the perspectives we do. So I’ll ask you: Can you give some examples of how you see these issues differently? I am interested.

    • Lili – to have a fruitful conversation I need to understand your base assumptions and beliefs. If you believe that sex positivism is a movement that grants “carte blanche” to “any and all sex acts / sexual lifestyles” – these are your words, no? – then I don’t think you are qualified to be having this conversation – want to be very frank with you. You can certainly hold those beliefs, but I cannot oblige them in a discussion.

      If an analogy helps – I would not have a geology discussion with someone who believed the earth is 2000 years old.

      • Elissa, please explain what sex-positivism to me if not carte blanche approval of any/all sexual acts. Please tell me where the discernment exists both on an individual level and as a culture.

        This is a genuine request so that I can understand.

        Thank you.

        • Maia Pinion says:

          Thank you Terre and Lili! I too would like to know what Elissa means by sex-positive. I think its fascinating that people take a writer’s article so personally when they are clearly not addressing one reader.

          If Elissa had followed any of Lili’s other articles on GMP she’d know that there were quite a few readers/commenters who did have an “everything but the kitchen sink…Wait! Throw the sink in too, what the hey” attitude about sexual conduct and outside of anyone actually admitting pedophilia or bestiality (no bestiality might have been been on the ok list as well for some readers) there were no rules of engagement.

          So, just so you don’t feel like you’re being singled out and for the sake of discussion, open up your commentary by expressing your definition of the term “sex-positive” before you summarily dismiss the writer or this article.

          • I can’t answer for Elissa but I know a lot of women and men in the sex positive community and boundaries and consent and ethics play a HUGE role. At least in the communities I run with. Things like….don’t be drunk and high if you are trying to negotiate a scene, things like if you are poly then everyone meets each other, things like group policing of people who behave in date-rapey ways. I’ve rarely seen a “fuck all the rules” POV, though I have seen a lot of questioning of rules. In the sex pos system you’ll have people with the highest levels of thoughtfulness on a topic “Is BDSM just an excuse to play with oppressive power dynamics and gender roles.” And you’ll also have people who think, “That’s hot.” and there will be no further discussion.

            But you’ll find that in any political system. I don’t see people behaving in a carte blanche manner at the events I’ve gone to. I see a lot of communicating, open-ness, disagreement,establishment of group norms and behaviors and heavy duty negotiating. FWIW, YMMV.

            • Maia Pinion says:

              What is this text speak? FWIW – For What Its Worth, YMMV – what does that stand for “Your Monkey May Vote?”

              All the acronyms aside, that’s great to hear that the various communities you belong to actually adhere to boundaries and are somewhat cerebral about their proclivities.

              As long as no stones are thrown at those who don’t embrace the same style of intimate physical relationships.

              Just as those who consider themselves “sex positive” don’t want to be labeled as freaks, nymphos, sluts, sex addicts, etc., monogamous people who prefer to only have one long-term partner or spouse without the laundry list of third party stimuli whether artificial (porn) or organic (polyamory) don’t want to be called “sex negative.”

            • The Wet One says:

              YMMV means (I think) Your Mileage May Vary. At least that’s what it means in the circles I’ve travelled in.

            • I haven’t called you Sex Negative, Maia. And most of the folks I know who consider themselves Sex Positive have boundaries. It isn’t some kind of thoughtless ravening all day all night orgy ;)

              Do people really think that’s what sex positive communities are like? Got the porn going 24/7 and predating on hot bi babes every chance we get? Cause it isn’t, in my experience. It’s people wanting to design better relationships for themselves, and yes, have more pleasure in general after being brought up in a world that tells them pleasure is suspect.

              Many of my friends are monogamous as well. For what it’s worth :)

              Are there people who don’t know some of the academic levels of detail around oppression and patriarchy that Jensen references (with respect to sex work, stripping, porn)? Sure, of course there are. Hell, I barely know enough to keep up with him and I have a masters and think about this stuff all the time. I work in social justice.

              Are there people who know McDonald’s isn’t a really good healthy place to eat (on physical and moral planes both) but still grab something to go on occasion? Yes.

              I think the issue is less with visual representations of sex (porn) and more the industrial and corporate models within which they are meat-ground out. Just like there isn’t much wrong (to me) with fried chicken, but I’d rather have organic hens and have a good chef prepare it. Bad combo there and I am in no way comparing women to animals ok? I’m comparing corporate industry to artisinal preparation.

              It’s a process, yes? the learning of how many levels of oppression are out there? And I think there should be dialogue and education to clean up some of the misconceptions.

              Wish I could talk more, but I’m on my way to San Fran for a, ha! Sex positive reading event!

            • Maia Pinion says:

              Well I’m relieved to see that there are those in the sex positive community who are mindful and have thought out their decisions. That’s great and really good to know!

              It’s when people are not aware of collateral damage that it becomes an issue to review more closely. As long as there are no hard feelings; that no one gets hurt at the end of the day and everyone who enters into the “arrangement” knows what the score is then there’s little to discuss.

              Again, and if this doesn’t apply to you, you need not feel pressured to respond- there ARE those who feel that if you’re not championing an “anything goes” attitude then you’re “sex negative.” I repeat, if this does not apply to you, you do not need to respond.

              There was one commenter on another article of Lili’s who felt it was totally appropriate to have her young children be exposed to her many and varied partners. She espoused polyamory after her monogamous marriage of many years had failed. Totally fine for her but I must say that I’m not sure how that would affect her young children. She was quite hostile in her comments and dismissed every other person who commented as “sex negative.” There were a few others who felt the same. I’m not saying its any of my business how anybody raises their kids either, I just know that young minds are fertile ground so you need to take great care when choosing which seeds to plant. It’s your responsibility as a parent. End of story.

              As I’d stated in a previous response, there are a lot of people who are taking what they’re reading quite personally. No one is sleeping under your bed (I hope,) no one is spying into your sex life (if they are you have more important issues than reading or writing here) and if people are judging you on an online forum, you don’t know them so why do you even care?

              These forums should be for open, healthy discourse on topics that should inform and educate us all.

              We need to realize that even if we take different stances on issues, we need not resort to name-calling or labeling. It’s simply juvenile and I’m sure that even those without advanced degrees would agree that churlish, childish behavior in adults would be a red flag for any number of emotional challenges that are best handled somewhere else.

            • The Wet One says:

              “As I’d stated in a previous response, there are a lot of people who are taking what they’re reading quite personally. No one is sleeping under your bed (I hope,) no one is spying into your sex life (if they are you have more important issues than reading or writing here) and if people are judging you on an online forum, you don’t know them so why do you even care? ”

              It’s funny that you say that. Are you aware of the many laws against things like homosexuality, oral sex, fornication (sex between unmarried people) and sex toys? Are you aware that they are ACTUALLY ENFORCED?!?!?!?!?!?!!!!

              As ridiculous as that all sounds, such laws exists and are enforced (not on a regular basis, but they are enforced). In a sense, yes, there are people interested in your sex life and its the police. How’s that for sex negative.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fornication

              http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6620768/ns/health-sexual_health/t/legislating-your-sex-life/

              http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071203092407AAzAq2x

              http://articles.cnn.com/2010-01-12/justice/adultery.vote_1_adultery-law-new-hampshire-house-repealing?_s=PM:CRIME

              Crikey, I could go on, but I think you get the point. And yes, people do actually get charged with this nonsense and face real criminal problems because of them notwithstanding the fact that these laws are so, ummmm, what’s the word? Anti sex? Archaic? Victorian? (I don’t know, put in your own terms).

              Beware what you do in your bedrooms in the U.S. You’re probably breaking the law. Especially you sex positive types. Maybe the sex positives ought to get the laws changed (or at least get enough “sex negatives” on board) to moderate some of the retarded horse dung that passes for criminal law in your respective necks of the woods.

  9. Clearly Lili’s friend Lance was afraid that Lili’s stance on porn that agreed with even a tiny fraction of the far right would endanger the few gains that the gay community has garnered. I want to know about that. That matters to me even if I am not engaged with the all-or-nothing platform approach. That fear is clearly fueling the high-octane fury around the issue of sexual mores.

    My fear is that discouraging individuals (especially women) from setting clear sexual boundaries and developing their personal relationship discernment, other women will experience the eighth-ring-of-hell that my own lack of discernment and weak boundaries brought me. I nearly committed suicide from the nightmare. If I could prevent that trauma for even one other soul, my work is all worth it.

    We really are going to have to discuss things that we disagree about. And honestly state where we currently stand. Lili’s observation is that the sex-positive movement is rather rigid in its insistence that all things sexual are to be declared acceptable without discernment on a personal and/or social level is her observation. I honor that stance and certainly take her seriously. As I take her friend Lance seriously. His concerns diserve discussion also.

    The point is: the discussion about sexual mores is about levels of discernment, not a cavalier tossing aside of all discernment. Each voice deserves to be heard and taken seriously.

    • Truly beautifully said Terre…along with Lilii’s comments as well. I see this issue the same exact way you and her both expressed and couldn’t have put it better.

      Especially this: “My fear is that discouraging individuals (especially women) from setting clear sexual boundaries and developing their personal relationship discernment, other women will experience the eighth-ring-of-hell that my own lack of discernment and weak boundaries brought me.”

    • Terre – I think the point you miss is “approval of all CONSENSUAL sexual acts”. That’s a big one, and if you knew the first thing about about sex-positivity, you’d know the concept of consent is pretty damn central. And that non-consensual violations of other’s sexuality is very frowned upon. The flip side is that non-consensual *restrictions* on other people’s sexuality is likewise frowned upon. You might dismiss this as “lack of discernment on a social level”, which to my mind puts you on the same level as conservatives who use the specter of legalized pedophilia as an argument against gay rights. This “surely there must be SOME standards” as an argument against consensual behavior truly is prudery and sexual conservatism in it’s purest form.

      And, BTW, I find your invocation of your own personal problems with sex addiction very telling. You seem to be in that self-righteous phase of recovery where you see anybody who hasn’t chosen your particular brand of straight-and-narrow as being on the road to ruin. Much like the recovering alcoholic who sees every non-teetotaler as as a drunk in the making. I do hope you reach the point in your recovery where you manage to move past this.

      • You misread, iamcuriousblue. I had the misfortune of being involved with a sex addictwho claimed to be a sex-positive . Once it was diagnosed, I was out. Therefore, no recovery needed

        • Pardon my getting that detail wrong. However, I’ve looked at your website (http://www.posarc.com/) and it seems you’re coming from the “codependency” or “partners of” side of the recovery equation. I still see that as part of the recovery movement, with the same problematic pseudoscientific “spiritualist” excess and prohibitionist views. Very much like the hard-line pro-“War on Drugs” politics that too many in the drug recovery movement are prone to.

  10. The only way I can explain my thoughts on the sex positive movement is with an anecdote. I’ll try to keep it as short as possible.

    A while ago, I was living in a different country from my boyfriend for about three months. We were going to be seeing each other for a weekend once a month or so in that time. It was a fairly new relationship (6 months). We both had pretty high sex drives, so we decided to have an open relationship for that time, so we could each get our sexual needs (well, wants) met. And I told my friends about it, so they wouldn’t get freaked out if they saw me hitting on other guys.

    I was astounded – and terrified – by the reaction I got. My friends, men and women in their early twenties who would all have described themselves as feminists, were up in arms. They assumed my boyfriend had somehow forced me into the agreement. They called me a nymphomaniac to my face and a slut behind my back. They suggested that if I couldn’t “go without” for a month at a time, I must be some kind of sex addict.

    They didn’t understand that while I could “go without” for however long, I didn’t see the point in doing it for the sake of a monogamous ideal that neither myself nor my boyfriend subscribed to. And, fundamentally, they didn’t understand that I could desire sex for the sake of sex.

    This is why we need a sex positive movement. Their reaction represents a great example of modern sex negativity. Sure, it’s not an example of massive oppression, but it was pretty hurtful. It represented the belief that women can’t just want to have sex, that there must be something wrong with them (or they must be being manipulated) if they think they do. It’s a horrible, patronising assumption to make, and I would hope that I wouldn’t have to explain all the reasons why it’s wrong and all the negative consequences of it on a website like this one.

    • The Wet One says:

      Do certain regular commentators (commenters?) here reflect the same attitudes and reactions of your friends described in your personal annecdote? I certainly seem to sense some sex negativity amongst certain folks on GMP. Just a feelling of course, but the Force is passingly strong with me so…

  11. jfpbookworm says:

    I keep seeing this assertion that sex-positive feminism advocates against the setting of personal boundaries when it comes to sex, and this puzzles me, as everything I’ve encountered suggests the opposite. (The closest thing that comes to mind is Dan Savage’s sketchy “good, giving and game” formulation, but he’s hardly a sex-positive feminist.) Where is this coming from?

    I’m not saying prude-shaming doesn’t exist. We live in a culture that simultaneously slut-shames and prude-shames; one just can’t win. But I just don’t see it being expressed within the framework of sex-positive feminism, and in fact I quite often see the idea that one has the right to set whatever boundaries one wants, no matter whether someone else thinks they’re appropriate/rational/a good idea, expressed as an integral part of sex-positive feminism.

    • The Wet One says:

      Dan Savage may not be a feminist, but he sure as heck is a sex positive gay man! I think he is a feminist though (more so than not, he’s no male chauvanist that’s for sure). How is GGG sketchy? Do tell? That is extremely odd to me…. Should we all try to meet each other halfway or forget having a relationship with that person? Seems totally reasonable to me, or am I on crack and not know it????

      That one is a real headscratcher their friendo. A real headscratcher… Hmmm….

      • The Wet One says:

        Note that’s “there” not “their.” Ei Carumba! That’s a brutal typo!

      • jfpbookworm says:

        Just like there’s a difference between religious/cultural based anti-porn activism and feminist anti-porn activism, I think there’s a difference between a “pro-sex” outlook and sex-positive feminism. Dan Savage is most definitely pro-sex, but has never struck me as all that feminist, and to my knowledge he doesn’t claim to be.

        If I were making the world’s shortest feminism/sexuality quiz, it’d probably have the following categories:

        Mainstream/patriarchy: non-sex-positive (*not* necessarily sex-negative!), non-feminist (also *not* necessarily sexist/misogynist!)
        Anti-porn feminist: non-sex-positive, feminist
        Pro-sex: sex-positive, non-feminist
        Sex-positive feminist: sex-positive, feminist

        (Obviously, this is biased as hell.)

        GGG is sketchy to me because it comes across as saying that one should not stick to one’s boundaries in a relationship, and that not being “game” = not being good.

        • The Wet One says:

          That’s why Savage says you shouldn’t be in a relationship with that person if they don’t suit your needs. He’s pretty big on dumping people who don’t work for you. I think it’s part of his belief in personal agency and personal responsibility. Could be wrong though…

  12. Emma, I’m sorry your friends treated you badly. I think that’s a very good example of people having a culturally determined view of sex and the ethics around that sex that only fit one “right way” to do relationships. In your case, non-monogamy might have helped your relationship flourish and grow (or not) but you felt it was a healthy and positive place for you to be and you came up against a great deal of shaming connected to group norms. “We don’t do this!”

    We come up against this all the time in our society. I recently have been following a case of an an artist who produces and directs sexually based films, works in the industry, and has recently also become a mother and is now also promoting breastfeeding (there is more to the issue but in the interest of the post I’ll be brief). Her work has come under some serious attack, much due to hearsay rather than actual journalism because people find it appalling that she can have two identities (porn/erotica producer and mother/artist) that she wants to blend and integrate. I find that to be a very negative reaction to her. Shaming in the highest degree (you should have seen the tweets!).

    What I found fascinating about the situation was that her art was provoking a response and boy did it get it. People were clutching their GD pearls over the idea she could, in her life, art and activism, blend motherhood and her life as a “brand” in the industry.

    No where in the debate on twitter or blogs were the questions Jensen was raising except in the most moralistic and judgemental ways. “Mothers SHOULDN”T DO THAT!” What if she’s got flourishing amazing relationships? What if she’s intelligent enough to read academic articles and decide these things for herself (she is, and how).

    There is a level of negativity around a lot of things sexual/sensual in this culture. I’m not always sure sex positive as a framework is the answer, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what I personally grew up with.

  13. As I understand it, sex positivism actually is applying to same rules to sexual behavior as exists for non-sexual behavior. Basically, anyone can make a suggestion, but one must have the consent of all parties involved before actually acting. Forcing someone to play scrabble would be immoral and bizarre, thus rape is like that but much much worse. In my experience, and others seem to agree, sex positive discussions spend just as much time emphasizing the importance of consent as they do the importance of sexual freedom and non-repression. Actually a lot of sex positive feminist discussion can get into the same things mentioned in the article. However it’s merely problematic rather than immoral.

    The thing that makes sex positives angry at “sex-negatives” is the perception that these feminists have used a variation of feminist theory to label a narrow set of sexual behaviors as the best kind, the few that are most consistent with human flourishing, and that everything else is in fact not only not as good, but downright EVIILLL!!!!!!!!

    Also non-sex-positive feminists seem to make broad generalizations. Claiming that since most porn is exploitative or misogynistic, that porn is exploitative and misogynistic by definition (Catherine Mackinnon), or worse that because many men are rapists, that essentially all men are. Sex positive feminists assert than feminist porn is possible and encourage it’s creation. It is typically very different from mainstream porn. Also typically they try to help sex workers by making their lives easier rather than ‘rescuing’ them from their profession (unless they really are forced, which again is an issue of consent). Male sexuality is only bad when it ignores consent (which often it does, especially when sex is thought of as an achievement on the part of the man).

    I think sex positive feminists assume that because people are unique, the sexuality that is most consistent with human flourishing really depends on the specific human, and that it is best to rely on each person to figure that out on their own. Sex positives generally trust people to know what kind of sex is healthy for them. Though there is plenty of room to educate them are gender issues and sexuality, which helps them come to the right decision. If do the wrong thing you could say there is a problem for that person and even for society if you explain why, but that’s different from shaming them for their chosen act or calling their act evil (unless it transgresses against consent).

    So yeah as long as it is between consenting adults, it might be problematic but not immoral.

    • The Wet One says:

      Generally a good comment.

      However, I completely disagree for my own part that my sexuality is often about ignoring consent when sex is thought of as an achievement (not even sure what that means in fact, but I loudly disagree all the same). I suggest all the men stand up and call bullshit on that one too, because it sounds like man bashing to me. You seem to suggest that men seeking to acheive orgasm through sex are rapists. Ummm… NO!

      Please clarify or retract that ridiculous idea.

      • There seems to be a way of looking at sex where sex occurs because the guy is (for lack of a better word) awesome. Not because two people wanted to do that thing, but because the guy is awesome and got his just rewards in the form of pussy. Men who are obsessed with ‘getting laid’ seem to see things this way. The woman’s desires and actions are rarely mentioned in such narratives, only the man’s actions. I guess the woman friendly version of this is the Dreamboat who “wins her heart” and “sweeps her off her feet”. Either way the focus is on what the man is doing. He chases her. She can resist or give in to him. Though is he is masculine/awesome enough and makes enough effort, even the world’s most chaste woman can be his!

        i.e. a view of sex that focuses exclusively on what the man does to get the girl, and never what the woman wanted or did seems to invite rape. Of course a view that ignores the woman’s agency like that is by definition sexual objectification too (even if couched in romantic terms).

        • The Wet One says:

          Ummm… What?

          I can’t connect a thing you’ve just said to my criticism above. I’m pretty sure you were trying to respond to me, but I’m honestly not sure. Could you run that by me again, a bit less jargon laden for me. I missed that class at the U, so I’m not following your language too well.

          Sorry to be so dumb, but I want to be sure what I should reply to you before I reply to you lest I err in my comprehension.

          Thanks!

  14. That’s a beautiful comment, Quantuminc.

  15. Susie Bright, Patrick Califia, Carol Queen, Tristan Taormino

    These are some self identified sex positive types. Though I’m sure there are some disagreements within the group, I can assure you that none would support a “carte blanche anything goes” philosophy. A healthy discussion on the politics of sexuality cannot sustain a premise that non-consensual, illegal, unethical activities may be part of the “carte blanche” category. Anal sex is not a gateway entry to cultish divinity sexual sects in Montana. The Bible might be though, but I’m not totally sure about that either…these slippery slope, highly polarized attack argument are akin to religious conservatives’ worry about homosexual teachers trying to convert students to gay.

    So – the list of proponents above both reflects my personal views (not perfectly mind you) as well as being highly representative of the movement. Lili can peruse all their websites and show their support for “anything goes” philosophy. She may find that the BDSM community, for example, is so heavily laden with rules and lines of negotiations that it may be hard to differentiate it from a government organization –

    There should be a ton of nuance within discussions that attempt to knit individual and societal sexual ethics. That it’s so often missing, is so often telling.

  16. this is an important conversation worth thinking about.
    however, i find it painful that some of the most insightful and critical minds on the issue have to ask questions like, “How do we shape lives that are sensible, sane and consistent with both physical, emotional and mental, long-term health? … How do you build a culture in which human beings flourish? is the fundamental question – part of that question has to do with sex: How do you build a culture in which human beings flourish sexually?”
    i know it’s easy to vilify the church, but there is a God who created us, and who has a solution for those questions not just on an individual and arbitrary level, but as part of a structure that is inclusive, fulfilling and healthy for all of humanity.

  17. There’s so much to unpack about this interview and so much that’s problematic about it that I decided it would be better to write a post instead of just a comment. Here’s my take on why Robert Jensen Doesn’t Understand Sex-Positivity.

    While I’m here, I’d also like to offer some thoughts on how sex-positivity can help people learn how to set boundaries and offer some clarity on the topic of sexualization, both of which seem relevant to this discussion.

    • The Wet One says:

      That’s a really good article there Charlie! Gotta give you some props for that. That was a thorough, well thought out reply to the article here.

      I would suggest that the editors link the reply to this article in some fashion, but may cross some line or another….

  18. Hi Julie- Thanks for writing and explaining the inner workings of the poly community. Two things:

    I don’t think the issue being taken is with how those of like mind in those communities play together. If I understand Lili right, the issue is that though those in the sex positive communities want to be respected for their rights to live the way they want, more and more, many in that movement are taking on the characteristics of fundamentalist religions by “shaming” those not into the sexual activities they’re into.

    For ex: porn use. Like Terre wrote, if you’re not into porn, you just need to read comments on these threads to get a big dose of shaming that you’re not sex-positive, that you’re conservative, prude, etc.

    There’s no thoughtful discourse, it’s just “you’re prude” or “you’re conservative”. Oh really? I think the point the writer here was making, is that just like religions do, the sex-positive community seems to have made the rules and is now judging others by them which is the very thing they’re fighting against having others do to them. Ironic, isn’t it?

    Second point: You write about the negotiations inside the communities you hang in:

    “Things like….don’t be drunk and high if you are trying to negotiate a scene, things like if you are poly then everyone meets each other, things like group policing of people who behave in date-rapey ways.”

    In the communities I hang in, behaving in “date-rapey” ways is cause for either getting arrested, the crap beat out of you, and/or any other number of responses to having your NO not being heard. Am i the only one who finds the casual mention of this behavior, as almost an aside, alarming?

  19. Also wanted to add as an aside, that Dr. Jensen aptly said: “…it’s very difficult to have a sensible conversation in this culture….” He’s right, we are so polarized about the issues of sex. There is no grey in our society or culture these days. Right wingers lean all the way to the puritanical and old ways, and the leftists say everything should be allowed. No! I don’t abide by either of these two extremes. Quite frankly, I find them frightening and supremely unhealthy.
    That’s why this article is so great because at least we are having a dialogue. So many men and women define their “hip-ness” with being soooo ultra sex positive ie: Sexy clothing that leaves nothing to the imagination, plastic surgery, cool cars, posting your ass on u-tube, porn, orgies, erotica….u name it. The more sex you have the cooler and more loved you must be! Ugh!
    I’m no prude, nor do I consider myself “Sex Negative”, but I don’t define myself by my “sex” and hate being defined or labelled by others as to where I supposedly fit in on the spectrum of opposites. I’m somewhere in the middle. I think there should be a dignity about sex and one’s sexuality. That’s what I find missing. All the objectification for someone else’s projection, sexual lack or benefit. I define myself by my mind and my loving, respectful relationships with others. That’s the bottom line. Lili’s site at PoSARC was created for those who have partner’s who have become addicted to too much exposure to all of this crap, and as a result, can’t have a healthy, intimate relationship.

    • It’s not much of a dialogue, given that both Bee & Jensen share a lot of the same perspectives. Real dialogue emerges when we have room for different points of view.

      • Charlie, Good point and hopefully you can follow this up with expressing your opinion. This is the chance to have and participate in this dialog. My POV is that there should be no fences, no sides, no labels. That everyone has a deep respect for eachother’s humanity through dignity and kindness. I can quickly say that this will never happen in my lifetime.. but if I truly believe and follow my intention then this will be achieved in my lifetime, in my life, and that is where it matters.

  20. I must say it is a struggle to stay in conversation with those who refuse to believe that sex trafficking, sex slavery, porn addiction/compulsivity exist in statistically meaningful numbers. I will because we simply must keep talking until we hear each other.

    I have worked with partners/spouses of sex addicts/NPDs for over four years and the numbers here in Atlanta are NOT small or insignificant. I am also an activist for the abolition of sex slavery and sex/human trafficking. That is happening here also. Sadly, just last week the two causes intersected. One of the sex addicts (whose spouse I have worked with) was arrested at a strip club for attempting to solicit a sex slave for a two-month overseas trip he had planned. Tragic for the spouse and children.

    Actually, I want—with every fiber of my being—those who choose alternative sexual arrangements to be quite frank about their inclinations and associate with each other. I read Charlie’s blog about his take on the sex-positive motions. That was helpful. I want all those whose shame is high enough that they are not up to being truthful to align themselves with like-minded persons and become entirely whatever it is they want to become and/or do.

    Here’s a surprise: I have participated in a pretty wide variety of sex play that involves “consenting adults.” And it was coerced or at best coming from a compromised ability to stand up for myself. I sold out over and over again until I reached a low that I would not wish upon anyone. I cannot help but wonder how much of that same selling out (especially on the part of women) is going on in sex-positive communities.

    Robert Jensen speaks powerfully on the notion of choice in his book “Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity”—in short, that the degree of power one has in a relationship and community determines the that person’s ability to actually make a truly free choice. Women in a patriarchy do NOT have the same choices men do. Especially sexually.

    Making rebellious sexual choices is as enslaving as obeying the rules without questions. Discovering one’s most genuine preferences is a very subtle inward process for women.

    Before I get toasted for being sex-negative, let me re-state that I actually want those who refer to themselves as sex-positives to continue to strive for honesty and introspection and to NOT be shamed for their activities. I also want trauma counseling available for those like me who had weak boundaries. Some of my experiences were deeply traumatizing.

    Conversely, those whose sexuality is being shamed from religious dogmatists deserve trauma therapy also. We are walking a thin line and sniping at each other must eventually become conversation. I remind myself over and over again that this current era of contention is just the part where pent-up frustration and anger is spewed before all sides are spent and we join together to honor all as humans who are exactly where they are right now.

  21. And yes, righteouscordycept, the ‘date-rapey” bit took me back to situations that I was coerced into things that I never. ever wanted to do. Horrifying.

    Are those persons arrested as attempted rapists? That would be the responsible thing to do for the self-referiential sex-positive movement. Are those boundaries in place?

    • I don’t know case by case. Some are, some aren’t, just like in regular life. Many women may not go to the police because (as we know) many women aren’t believed if the date rape occurred in a vanilla setting. There is a lot of “he said/she said, she was dressed too sexy, she drank too much and regrets it” kind of questioning.

      If a person is in a kink setting, in bondage let’s say, and the top does something not negotiated for (and believe me kink and bondage scenes usually require a complex amount of negotiating), what will the police tell the woman accusing this man of raping her? “You did what? You let him tie you up? Oh……yeah “consent” sure sure you were raped.”

      Because many kinksters/swingers feel fearful of professional/personal repercussions, many operate in secrecy more or less. Communities exist but you might never know someone’s real name. Because of fear of shaming and more. So I’d say, sadly, that a lot of groups police their own norms and problems and that is an of itself a symptom of a community that is clouded in secrecy because they are aware they are viewed as “perverts.”

      It’s unfortunate as hell when it happens and yes, should be taken to police stations (rife with misogyny themselves in many cases). But in a way, I don’t blame a woman who’s done things right (gotten a scene set up, asked for references, done all the “safe” things she’s supposed to do) for not going to the police after an incident knowing how absolutely terribly (historically) anyway, they’ll treat her. They won’t see the case as proveable so they’ll likely reject it and judge her lifestyle choices as the cause.

      • Except in Canada recently a man was convicted of raping his partner in a S&M type encounter, so it is possible to be believed and charges to be laid.

  22. A few phrases stood out to me. Two things, out of context, on a very personal level:
    1. I’ve always been in conflict w/ how 12-step programs for sex and love addicts (SLAA, which is nearly identical to AA) always seem to be religiously-based. The whole ‘higher power, as you see them’ bit, is still a recipe for guilt and *shame.* Idolizing or emulating any power outside that which is humanly attainable can and will lead to an inferiority complex, if not worse, a God-complex. Still, some people like to be parented all their lives, even spiritually. Are *morals* and standards alone not enough to be the basis for change in the right direction, whatever that particular *right* may be? And,
    2. Sex-positive only goes too far when your own boundaries are crossed! And yeah, that stings but it sure beats repression of any kind. *Communication* is the answer to all such dilema. Emotions can play a deciding factor in one’s involvement w/ or receptiveness to people of a sex-positive mind and lifestyle. It’s hard to interject when you know someone you love is acting out a need to fill the void or bide time in order to further neglect the reasons behind a *hyper*-sex-positive nature. Compulsion is a case against sex-positive participants who might be doing it wrong. No better than repression if you ask me. But at least expressing one’s needs, even if they are driven and unaware, is a step in figuring it all out. And hey, tip the scales! Let the the other side of the spectrum take over for a while. There’s more than one way to find balance.

  23. Stella Omega says:

    “So…what, Lance, if someone doesn’t want the stigma of being called “anti-sex”, does that mean they have to condone porn use in their relationships, just as one example?”

    Well, It certainly means that they might have to take the time and trouble to understand why their partner uses porn, in the same way that they might have to take the time and trouble to understand why a partner has a deep desire to go golfing on a Sunday. And it’s very possible that they will have to abide with a certain amount of porn enjoyment going on in another room, for the sake of the relationship.

    Their partner also has a responsibility, to moderate their use of the stuff so that it isn’t in the offended party’s face. And, possibly, looking for forms of porn that are less offensive to their partner, because a wider variety is, very slowly, coming available.

    If you’re looking for “something in between Anthony Weiner and Anita Bryant,” you should probably look outside of celebrity pundits, and aim for compromise between the parties within the relationship.

    • Stella Omega, when you wrote, “..they will have to abide with a certain amount of porn enjoyment going on in another room, for the sake of the relationship”, were you suggesting that one would need to betray their own sense of healthy boundary and personal integrity?
      The healing discussion that hopefully happens in these discussions is not met by critiquing those who open the dialog but in expanding and sharing our own views. I would like to know more of what you mean in your comment above, especially in how it pertains to boundaries. It seems to me that any healthy relationship is based on honesty and healthy boundaries.

      • Dr Marzipan Souffle says:

        Addiction is not controlled by “reasonable” , polite conversation. Addiction requires 3rd party cognitive behavior therapy to resolve. The 2nd half of this relationship needs to get help to restore healthy non-addictive boundaries, or it could progress.

    • Hi Stella, If I understand you correctly, you are saying that if I don’t want porn in my relationship, it makes me anti-sex (unless I engage in negotiations about it, etc.)
      Is that right?

      • “Hi Stella, If I understand you correctly, you are saying that if I don’t want porn in my relationship, it makes me anti-sex

        I can’t speak for Stella, but no, that doesn’t make you anti sex. When you cross the line and start telling other people what they can and can’t look at, in their own lives and in their relationships, then there’s a problem.

        “(unless I engage in negotiations about it, etc.)”

        Um, maybe you ought to be engaging in negotiations in a relationship just on general principal. Rather than assuming your sexual norms are righteous and other people’s are perverted. Just sayin’!

        • I have not read anywhere, even between the lines, that anyone is telling anybody else that they are “perverted” or is anyone telling anyone what to do with their sexuality, on either extreme of these issues. These writers are speaking their minds, expressing their educated perspectives and making themselves vulnerable so that there may be a little bit more social awareness, change and harmony in society. What is not happening is enough people sharing of their perspectives on what their expression of healthy sexuality is.

          • That’s a weak argument, Kenny. Terre and Lilly have been clearly defending the antiporn *movement*, and Lilly is doing this in the form of a soft-pitch interview with one of that movement’s leading figures. It is disingenuous in the extreme to ignore that context. Every bit as much as if GMP just happen to publish a series of critiques of the pro-choice movement that just happened to draw on leading pro-lifers without naming them as such.

            And “What is not happening is enough people sharing of their perspectives on what their expression of healthy sexuality is.”? People can “share” their perspectives on “healthy sexuality” all they want. But believe me, I put that in the “Opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one” category. Just because somebody has a deeply-held opinion on what’s “healthy” doesn’t mean I’m in the least bit obliged to share it, nor call them out on it if such opinions are based on wrongful assumptions or are just reactionary. There are plenty of homophobes on the religious right who would make the case that *any* kind of same-sex activity is “unhealthy”. Should I “honor” that? Or am I obliged to honor equally bigoted opinions simply because they dress themselves up as feminism?

            • Iamcuriousblue, what writers like Dr. Jensen, Lili and Terre seem to be saying is not that they are anti-porn, at least in the way that you seem to be reacting to. They seem to be trying to find ways to deepen relationships and to heal the damages caused by addictions to porn and sex from all of the lying, abuse and cheating that often happens in committed relationships from porn and sex addiction. You do not seem to be aware of porn and sex addiction. It is likely much different than what you would consider good, fun sex and all. You’re lucky, I guess, but for the sake of discussion you are not promoting anything to discuss since you’re not on the topic of the writers or providing any philosophical argument.
              Jensen does not say that porn is bad, just that he believes that it shuts down the imagination and hinders deeper connections that sexuality can bring into an intimate relationship. He says that sex is deep communication in a pure sense, and that gives me hope. If people just want arousal and getting off that’s something else, seemingly what many of the commenters are interested in, but I don’t know because people are so reactive. If people simply want active, free-floating sex lives with lots of porn and partners just go have fun with it. Nobody is telling you not to. But if you’ve chosen to have a deeply intimate connection with somebody, like a spouse or committed partner, that is another issue and one that many people here are not understanding, that committed relationships (and those who believed in them) are being destroyed from porn and sex addiction. And that seems to be the perspective of the writers like Lili and Terre, who seem to be coming from the damaged partner angle. You do not seem to have much of a perspective or an angle, only sharp edges.

            • Kenny, it is clear to me now that you quite simply do not know what you’re talking about here or the context of any of this. Do you have any idea of who Robert Jensen is, beyond simply being the person interviewed in this article? He’s one of the leaders in the current “feminist” antiporn movement and a co-founder of Stop Porn Culture. He’s also a close collaborator with Gail Dines. The goals of these people go far beyond merely personal issues of porn addiction or “sexual imagination”, but have specific political goals that ultimately would roll back basic sexual freedoms and free speech rights. Read up on Jensen, Stop Porn Culture, the “War on Illegal Pornography” Coalition, and, basically, educate yourself.

            • You seem anything but curiousblue. You seem to be a frustrated protester but don’t have anything to add, only issues to attack, to dissolve with vitriolic acid. I know exactly who Robert Jensen is, where he comes from along the evolution (and devolution) of our culture and the attitudes he has formulated because of it. He states his educated perspectives clearly and is not forcing them down anyones throat. You are entitled to have your opinion too, and I’d rather read a real opinion than your angry bias and blather. I’ve read quite a bit of Jensen’s work and think that he is very intelligent, clear-minded and has a broad and deep perspective on much more of the long-term effects on society than you seem capable of. I maybe don’t agree with him on certain things but his thoughts stimulate creative perspective and contemplation. I still invite you to attempt to express what it is that YOU believe in, rather than knocking down everything others say.
              In this article, I am commenting on what is said, the messages and opinions that are in the article printed before you, and you seem to be swinging a battle ax towards what? What exactly is it here that you are railing about? You still are not communicating anything worthy of a dialog. You’ve stated that Jensen is running a political, anti-porn agenda? This is one of his suggestions from this article, “we have to fashion a sexual ethic, and by sexual ethic I don’t mean the assertion of rules that are imposed on people, but a sexual ethic that emerges from honest conversation”. So what is so rigid and fuct-up with that? What an evil man… trying to have a conversation about sexuality!
              You are clearly on a pro-porn (or whatever) agenda but you are not saying what any of that is. Again, to be clear, none of the articles that I’ve ever read on GMP or any of the comments, have been aiming to criminalize porn or harness the evil genitalia. So try to stay relative. Better yet, write your own article. Who you perceive as enemies are only people trying to communicate with you. And I’m wearing thin.

            • Iamcuriousblue, in my own curiosity, I took a look at your blog which you interestingly link here. My inner psych-professor is intrigued as to why you so radically rage at such officially recognized liberals such as Jensen and Dworkin? And I now seem to understand what you are fighting for.. you seem less of an enigma. Are you disappointed that the good fight of freeing feminism from under the patriarchy didn’t align with your specific cause? And are you feeling vindictive for your lack of validation? Do you want photographers such as Mapplethorpe (or yourself) respected in grade school libraries? Your particular interests seem to be a minority and as such, I understand why you rail against anyone who states anything negative about pornography or who tries to clarify obscenity laws. I may not be interested in your particular likes or dislikes, but (assuming that you are not causing harm or abuse to others of legal age and against their will) that does not mean that I wish to shut your interests down. I am not against what you may consider artistic Peter. Can you to afford others the same courtesy? If someone says that “porn ruined my marriage” would you attack their ignorance of social freedoms? Get real. Get therapy.

            • OK, Kenny, thanks for confirming you really are basically a troll (and a shockingly ignorant one at that), because you’ve made it abundantly clear that time invested in seriously engaging you is time wasted.

              And, uh, yeah, as a matter of fact I very much think Mapplethorpe was an artist deserving of enormous respect. OMFG, my opinions are just so extreme and beyond the pale, I know.

            • Curious. I’ve never been called a troll before, interesting view of the bridge tho. Just to clarify something, when I wrote you above to “Get therapy” it was not meant for any of your art or lifestyle, it’s for your undisciplined, poorly explained and unprocessed rage. So if any of your current layer of fury was a result of my lack of clarity then I do apologize. I do admit to at least partial ignorance, and sincere curiosity (unlike your BS moniker) of alternative lifestyles and gender issues. I am confused as to why some pioneers for feminist liberation and revolution, such as Dworkin and Jensen, receive so much venom from you? Can you explain? I would think that they have enabled the environment for more freedom and acceptance for what appears to be your issues (although you still have not expressed here just what those are) and would therefore be considered historical heroes rather than villains. Which is why I mentioned that your rage may be because their cause was not targeted to your specific area of issue, or challenge. Without their initial efforts I believe our sexual freedoms would be set back to the stone-age.
              You seem compelled to reach out to the world, hence your social media campaign. But then when (an outsider) tries to open up to you to hear your cause you chop them up. This is where therapy would be helpful. I know that I’ve responded poorly to your ass-y language but try to read your words from my perspective. Empathy is better when shared. The secular and clan-like circles you seem to be a part of do not seem to inform or associate with outsiders, then you rage that you’re not acknowledged and respected in the world. So either stand up or sit down but don’t get hissy like 3 year olds. Try to communicate with some reasoning for your perspectives.

            • There is no “curiosity” or “openness” in your game Kenny, that much is clear. You’re a troll, plain and simple. And you will not be fed.

            • Stella Omega says:

              Dworkin no more represents the whole of the feminist movement than Sid Vicious represents the entirety of English music. She was just one woman, with one point of view and one drum to bang.

              It was a drum worth beating on, certainly. But she did not have a congenial sexual relationship, and cannot be considered an expert on congenial sexual relationships. Her view of sexuality was pretty distorted– having a husband that used your head as a softball will skew pretty much everything in a woman’s life. I would really like to see that fact more acknowledged, when people talk about Dworkin. She speaks for some women– not every group of women by any means. Jenkins and others who follow in her footsteps need to be honest about that.

            • Thank you Stella. I was not, or never will suggest, that everything anyone does or says is the most productive or enlightened way to go. People are infallible. Sometimes a riot is needed to get a healing discussion started.
              I was suggesting that, at the time of the early revolution, that certain people had the courage to get out there and fight against a mountain of historical misconception and injustice. And that these pioneers in the Feminist movement should, in my opinion, be honored at least within particular contexts. It appears that what the more popular leaders have to say today are due to today’s issues and it sure seems that there is very much controversy with their message. But without these early pioneers, the current issues may likely not have been able to see the light of day. That’s just my opinion and obviously can not be proven (or dis-proven)
              The important message of all of this is to listen. Without listening to what others say, we can miss the important nuance that helps to develop increasingly heightened perspectives. Some friction is always necessary to generate the impetus to change and grow. But without listening we avoid all input, even that which helps the reasoning to strengthen our own beliefs.

            • I often wonder if sex has to always be a Deep Communication. Can’t it be a shallow communication? Do all meals have to be perfectly nutritionally balanced? What role does human creativity in taking nutrients and creating art from them (Molecular Gastronomy, Slow Food etc). There is no reason to get all fancy with food (or cheap and dirty) if we could just eat bland and basic for nutrients sake.

              What role does human creativity play in the pursuit of pleasure? I’d say it’s very important for us as a culture to be able to see sex as communication sure, which it is, but does it always have to be the holy deep connection? or can it be like every other form of communication out there-sometimes deep and holy, sometimes shallow.

              I don’t have an answer for that, but I’m curious.

        • “Um, maybe you ought to be engaging in negotiations in a relationship just on general principal. Rather than assuming your sexual norms are righteous and other people’s are perverted. Just sayin’!”

          The use of the words “righteous” and “perverted” are yours.
          Never said them, and I don’t think them.
          That was the point of the piece. Non-shaming from/towards all sexual parties would be a goal to strive for.
          Agree?

        • “Um, maybe you ought to be engaging in negotiations in a relationship just on general principal. Rather than assuming your sexual norms are righteous and other people’s are perverted. Just sayin’!”

          The use of the words “righteous” and “perverted” are yours.
          Never said them, and I don’t think them.
          That was the point of the piece. Non-shaming from/towards all sexual parties would be a goal to strive for.
          Agree?

          • Yes, non-shaming of “sexual parties” is worthwhile. However, I think that when somebody like Jensen is pursuing political antiporn goals, that if realized would take away others free expression rights, not to mention Jensen’s regular use of stigmatizing and shaming language (and, yes, I’ve read his book), claims that opponents are “shaming” people like him are disingenuous and passive-aggressive in the extreme.

            • And I think it’s important to say that everyone has an agenda. Everyone. Including yourself. You seem to be advocating for the right to sexual expression and freedom of expression in general.
              Then why not extend that same freedom to others, in this case, someone like Jensen, whom you claim has an agenda, too? Is it because it’s so different from your own that you vilify him? Just as you vilify GMP for subversively sneaking in some writer(s) who turned out to have a pro-life “agenda” that no one but you seemed to know about? Well in this country there is STILL freedom of speech, whether or not you deem the other person’s agenda “dangerous”. Yes, even the pro-lifers get to speak, irritating or even dangerous as that might be for some of us. Slamming the writers (or the magazine) for exercising their “right to expression”, something you hold so dear, is the only thing that’s offensive to me. If you approached GMP with your own ideas for an article, they might be interested. And I would read it and attempt to STRETCH and try on what you’re saying, even if it’s in direct contrast to what I believe. But I would not call you names or say that you’re “peddling shit”, as you leveled at me in another comment. It’s not only against GMP Commenting Policy, it slams a conversation shut instantly. Not the point of having a magazine now, is it?

              The most powerful point I think Jensen made in this entire piece was right at the end, and I fully concur. It’s that if we STOP talking about this whole sexual set of issues, we might as well just throw the divergent issues in a box, wrap a nice big bow around it, and hand it to the religious right. That, to me, is scary.
              So let’s please just cop to the fact that we ALL have our agendas and maybe it’s difficult to the point of near-impossibility for one agenda not to beat up another agenda, but get along we MUST, or risk that the fissures between us get exploited by the religious right while we’re all busy arguing over here. At least I think we can agree that THAT would be an outcome neither of us would choose to see happen.

            • Well, that’s a nice way of claiming to be in some way put upon in this conversation, but I think it’s a serious reversal of what’s actually going on here. It is extremely hard to have an honest conversation when both yourself and Terre have been disingenuous in the extreme. Both in terms of trying to reframe what is essentially a political argument between the sex positive movement and the antipornography movement, as represented by Robert Jensen, as simply a case of the former group being a bunch of heartless neo-puritans (huh?) trying to force others into unwanted sexual openness. Never mind that it has in fact been the antiporn movement that has been extremely aggressive in pursuing its ideological and political goals, and that the sex-positive side has simply been trying to *defend* individual rights in the area of sexuality from the moral panic and political onslaught coming from the other side.

              You continue to act as though it is somehow beyond the pale to bring up Robert Jensen’s antiporn politics, when in fact this is central to his position. I repeat, this is like claiming you want to have a “non-political” critique of the pro-choice movement while featuring an interview with Randall Terry’s objections to the pro-choice movement.

              And there’s the fact you and Terre have been very quick to toss out several harsh, poorly sourced, and inflammatory accusations, namely, that the sex positive movement is the expression of “big money” from shadowy sources and that sexual slavery is the norm for porn performers. If you’re going to drop bombshells like that, Lili, you really should expect an equally strong response, not to mention that you really ought to be prepared to *thoroughly* document such accusations. Instead, you play this disingenuous game that you’re being shamed and that your free speech is under attack. (Because somehow it violates your free speech to be criticized.)

              The way I see it, you’ve brought absolutely nothing new to the conversation around the subject of porn and its place in society. Instead, we get the same kind of groundless accusations and guilt-tripping that the antiporn ‘feminists’ have been throwing around now for over 30 years. Talking points that many of us have heard, understand (even if we don’t agree with), have long since responded to, and are pretty sick of, actually.

              I would suggest, Lili, that if you really want a conversation rather than a shouting match that you and Terre start engaging with a bit more honesty than you’ve been doing so far. If you’re going to engage in a political antiporn critique, do so openly and in the spirit of debate. It is dishonest to toss out such issues and then hide behind a claim that you are in some way being attacked for being sexually modest. (Which, BTW, nobody is doing.) Oh, and if you or Terre are going to start using Shared Hope International and the *American Family Association* as sources, you have absolutely no place to claim your position is being “co-opted” by the Religious Right.

      • Dr Marzipan Souffle says:

        She was referring to sex addiction, pre-occupation w/ online porn, vs. time and energy devoted to healthy relationship w/ partner.

        The detachment to partner, while addict engages in porn,sports,drugs,alcohol,gambling,shopping, or any other distraction, is damaging to all. Relationships end over these issues.

      • Stella Omega says:

        Sorry to answer a question with a question but– when you say “you don’t want porn in your relationship” what does that mean for you, relating solely to your own personal experience?
        What does that mean for your partner?

    • jfpbookworm says:

      Wait, what?

      If someone doesn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who interacts with porn, that’s totally their prerogative. What’s not okay is invoking sexual, cultural or moral norms to sidestep actual negotiation of and communication about the relationship, whether that’s saying “everybody does it so you have to be okay with it” or “that’s perverted and you have to stop.” As long as nobody is acting entitled to a relationship on terms that their partner is unwilling to agree to, then there’s nothing wrong with having dealbreakers. Which isn’t to say compromises can’t be beneficial if everyone’s amenable to them, but they’re certainly not obligatory.

      • Dr Marzipan Souffle says:

        Ignorance of addiction is a problem in society and relationships today. Do people know what excessive is w/ 24/7 services to every household?

        You can die of a broken heart, due to (self) neglect. Health is about balance. Public health education over-due. Balance is not a competition between couples. Win-win.

    • “Well, It certainly means that they might have to take the time and trouble to understand why their partner uses porn, in the same way that they might have to take the time and trouble to understand why a partner has a deep desire to go golfing on a Sunday. And it’s very possible that they will have to abide with a certain amount of porn enjoyment going on in another room, for the sake of the relationship.

      Their partner also has a responsibility, to moderate their use of the stuff so that it isn’t in the offended party’s face. And, possibly, looking for forms of porn that are less offensive to their partner”

      These sets of conditions you set forth, then, and someone’s willingness to abide by them, is what fireproofs them from being called ‘anti-sex.’ Yes?

      • Stella Omega says:

        Arrgh…. I keep trying to answer this question, and I keep getting stuck on “Fireproofing.” Nothing is that certain, yanno?

        if you want to discuss this in depth with me, I would prefer that we do so by email. There are so many nuances, and blog comment threads are so difficult to navigate!

        • Thank you both (Julie and Stella) for writing and furthering the conversation….

          Why I tried to pin you down to an answer, Stella, is because I believe you were heading in the direction of making my point for me. And that is that shaming is still going on, albeit towards those of us who don’t believe in the majority-rule, which in this case, is “porn is good/healthy in a relationship”.
          The pro-porn voice is certainly the loudest voice out there in our culture today, and if we aren’t all careful to mind our own tendencies to paint others with a darker brush slide into “..and that, therefore is the same as anti-sex”.
          No, no and NO!
          Or to quote Dr. Gail Dines, “If I say I don’t like McDonald’s, why are you accusing me of not liking food?”

          In the best of all possible worlds, there is NO shaming of anyone, under any circumstances. Calling or categorizing someone as anti-sex is a blatantly shaming term.
          And qualifying the anti-sex label, then, with certain guidelines such as the ones you set forth, is still focused on shaming them, or making one person (or group) the authority over how someone else should live, or else suffer the ugly stigmatization of being called “anti-sex”.

          So to me, (and again, THIS was the point of why I wanted to write this to begin with)
          Shaming = shaming= shaming. No matter which camp it comes from.

          One of the best examples of this was in the article yesterday written by Terre Spencer “Sex Positive: The New Puritanism”. A commenter went off on her (shaming) and another commenter’s response to her was this:
          “@Budmin: You said “That can only happen when you’ve unnailed yourself from the cross and used the wood as a bridge to get over your martyrdom complex.”
That sounds like shaming people as religious conservatives to me. You’re kinda proving the point of the article.”

          If you agree with my premise that shaming is happening all over the place and we need to “own” where we’re doing it, however subtly, then let’s discuss nuances of what components comprise healthy sexuality. Does does that sound agreeable? Because I do want to jump back in with some thoughts around that, and you both made great points there. But I would be remiss to let this anti-sex label just slip by.

          And again, thanks for throwing out some good points here.

          • I’m probably not going to speak as eloquently as I’d prefer, but I”ll try. How do we discuss the components of healthy sexuality? I’d love to keep discussing it (how I wish we were all in a room together!). Who defines the “health?” Who polices group behavior (for there always have been police around sexuality from times beginning)? How do we find and use language that can state a preference (I don’t like mcdonalds) that doesn’t shame others? Or is it my job to deal with my own preference (liking mcNuggets fine) and being ok with someone else’s judgment? I’m ok with that so long as the anti Micky D’s person isn’t legislating what I can and can’t eat based on his or her belief in the wrongness of corporately produced fast food.

            Case in Point Prop 8 or DADT. You don’t want a gay marriage? don’t have one and so forth. But what happens is that a norm winds up in place : Anal sex causes disease/Is against the bible or so forth and if there are people in power structures that believe that anal sex is bad, they’ll make it illegal (like the sodomy laws in many states).

            That’s where I see the negative/postiive argument being the most important. Not “Does Terre or Lili or Julie like this or that and is it ok” But how do we judge what we as a large social group decide is good or bad for the individual and who gets to decide that.

            Cause if Lili doesn’t ever want to watch porn, I’m absolutely ok with that. I don’t much like porn myself, mostly because I think the stories are crap, the production levels are terrible and the medium is designed for making money off fast/cheap arousal and not about erotics. I mean, if you are gonna make a sexy film, I want it SEXY (see how there are personal preferences there that can be judgements?) Tony Comstock? now he’s got some fun erotic documentaries, as he calls them. Very very positive.

            Look! I just said I didn’t like porn!!! :) I’m pretty positive about sex though. And if someone reading this does like AVN type porn and I can be assured that the actors had some level of agency and good treatment? I’m perfectly fine with you liking porn. If you like stuff that seems illegal and dodgy, abusive and if you are spending all your paycheck on it? Yeah, I’m probably gonna worry about you.

            That’s the personal.

            I’m gonna fight for the right to express, to marry, to have creative pleasurable sex with multiple people in a consensual setting, to protect individuals (unions, fair pay, child care support, education etc) that work in the sexually oriented industry, even if I don’t like their films I’m not ever gonna mess with your freedom to enjoy things unless there is a very very damn good reason for it

            That’s the political.

            I think they can be in alignment.

            • I’m with you on wishing we were all in a room discussing this! Well…how about we create a summit? Why not?
              You’re hitting on exactly the real reason I write: to foster the kind of dialogue you just furthered, Julie. I want to believe that there’s room at this big table for ALL of us.
              So, that’s about “form”. And when I wrote this piece, I wanted to begin with a personal anecdote and use it to lead into the bigger picture (the political)
              Now, onto “content”:
              I love what you said, that the most important thing is the intersection of where our own personal meets the collective, which is where the laws are made, obviously.

              And that’s why I’m so averse to the shaming language. Whether someone (or a group) throws that ugly mantle onto us, or we carry it within us from childhood or whatever, once we’re trapped in feeling shame around our chosen lifestyles, we’ll get hypersensitive to anyone getting within 20 feet of our protective zone (witness some of the extremely defensive tones on the comment threads that do anything but open up the topic).
              Then the shame occludes everything else we read or listen to, and it drives the car, so to speak.
              If enough of that kind of shame coagulates, we get groups with shame. Group-shame, so to speak. If that group gets big enough and enters the political arena, then we all have to hold onto our hats.

              So yeh, lovely to discuss who does what in bed, what feels good, what doesn’t work and all that, but not before we agree to check our “you’re wrong, I’m right” at the door.

              I’ll write to Stella now, as her comment seems more focused on the personal. Can one do a three-way conversation online? :-)

            • I bet we can. I like three ways ;)

            • I take utmost offense at your objectifying me Julie
              (kidding).
              Love that frisky nature coming out in you :-0

            • That’s how I roll…frisky all the way! Consensually of course.

            • Stella Omega says:

              Can one do a three-way conversation online?

              One can– in a forum, (I can host a forum either private or public) or a chatroom (and again I can host this)

              I suggest a forum, because we could treat so many of the very disparate separate aspects so much more easily… And invite other folks to join in if it looks like it’s really going somewhere.

            • I would totally love that! Thanks for thinking of this idea. Count me in.

          • Stella Omega says:

            I love that argument. “You’re shaming me telling me I use shaming language when I express my judgement on your sexual preferences!”

            What a merry-go-round!

            Here are some very random responses, forgive me for jumping around. It’s Saturday after all *grin*

            making one person (or group) the authority over how someone else should live, or else suffer the ugly stigmatization of being called “anti-sex”.

            Wait a minute– a group that says “live your life and and let others live theirs” is telling other people how to live? What exactly are they telling you to do? Watch porn? No… Not really.

            It reminds me of the “marriage defense” crowd who don’t think gay folk should have equal civil rights but get all hurt and sorrowful when we point out that makes them anti gay in every meaningful way. Like, their reputation for being nice, and tolerant, is so much more important than GLBT lives (and this may be a part of your gay friend’s reaction, BTW, because NOBODY gets shamed for their sexual preferences like gay men do).

            So, are you worried about your work, or about your reputation? You made a pretty flat statement: “I don’t want porn in my relationship.” Which makes me want to ask: “Gee, not even a little bit? How about the newer films that are more erotic and less pornish? If I can’t watch my favorite BDSM films, will you act them out with me instead?”

            or– “Why didn’t you tell me this on our first date?”
            And– “Should I pack my things and go now?”

            Because I can think of several reasons why someone would watch porn, that have to do with respecting one’s partner, and also– with trying to avoid being shamed for their sexual preferences, or desires, or needs.

            They might be bisexual, and in a committed relationship with a member of one sex– but still have sexual desire for the other sex.

            They might desire impact play — giving or recieving– as part of their sexual nature, and not be willing to bring that up with their partner, because talk about shaming!

            They might in fact, desire the emotional side of BDSM, the domination/submission side, and whoo boy, TALK about shaming!

            They might have a much higher sex drive than their partner. Much, much higher. Much much MUCH higher. Much higher than most people would feel was seemly. Talk about shaming!

            Many people, despite your mentor’s asservation, use porn to get what they aren’t getting within a relationship. So if you want your partner to stop using porn you miiight want to offer something else to satisfy whatever need that is.

            And qualifying the anti-sex label, then, with certain guidelines such as the ones you set forth, is still focused on shaming them, or making one person (or group) the authority over how someone else should live, or else suffer the ugly stigmatization of being called “anti-sex”.

            You seem to have missed some very important (IMO) words in my statement; “might” and “for the sake of the relationship.”

            In other words, i wasn’t talking about your reputation, I was talking about the practical effects for a committed couple.

            If the relationship is the most important thing, then there are always compromises. What car we buy, where we live, dietary restrictions or preferences, allergies, sex. And money.

            In my opinion, compromise and negotiation is the price of any relationship. Let’s say you just might end up leaving your partner– because of money, but the dynamics are very very similar. If you can’t accept the compromise you have right now– and possibly, you no longer can– you have to own that, espcially if your partner refuses to. And yeah, you will probably hear some shaming language if you leave– “abandon” — you partner. But– it’s possible that the pain of hearing shaming language will be less than living in economic chaos.

            “then let’s discuss nuances of what components comprise healthy sexuality. ”

            Sounds good to me. I guess the first things to do are to establish the meaning of the words “sexuality” and “healthy” and then– maybe– we can put those two words together.

            • Yes. Exactly that last sentence there. I love this comment.

              Also the shame cycle…reminds me of The Simpsons ;)
              Marge: That video really opened my eyes. I can see that I’m just a
              passive-aggressive co-culprit. By nagging you when you do
              foolish things, I just enable your life script.
              Homer: And that sends me into a shame spiral.
              Marge: Exactly!

              I think sexuality is obviously a highly charged topic and what may be happening is that everyone (and I’m generalizing) feels a little touchy about their own stuff. There are family of origin issues at play, culture of origin issues, not to mention biological drives that are wide and varied and we try to normativeize ourselves into a “healthy” box which changes era to era (Victorian Prince Albert’s and Massaging to Paroxyms anyone?) and then if my normal is different than your normal well it makes you feel weird and you tell me that and then I feel weird and we both feel like someone has to be “right” and so forth and so on.

              And in today’s world sex is not something that we consider something good to leave someone for if we aren’t getting what we want (mismatched sex drives and desires). It’s considered selfish. I’d like to further that discussion too with many of us at the table.

              Also, I’ll add that any action that takes on an OCD level of participation (gambling hoarding sex porn) is not what I”m discussing above. I’m aware those are different issues.

            • Hi Stella- Thanks for clarifying your position. I appreciate it’s Saturday and you took the time to write. I’m not sure we’re on different sides of this. I think we’re more alike than not, but we are bothering to refine the conversation which is always advantageous, I believe.

              You wrote: “ Wait a minute– a group that says “live your life and and let others live theirs” is telling other people how to live? What exactly are they telling you to do? Watch porn? No… Not really.
              It reminds me of the “marriage defense” crowd who don’t think gay folk should have equal civil rights but get all hurt and sorrowful when we point out that makes them anti gay in every meaningful way. Like, their reputation for being nice, and tolerant, is so much more important than GLBT lives (and this may be a part of your gay friend’s reaction, BTW, because NOBODY gets shamed for their sexual preferences like gay men do).”

              I know it can seem like it’s a who-said-shame-first merry-go-round. Yet the point of my Lance anecdote in the article I wrote is that WITHOUT asking me a single question about porn, he jumped right to lumping me in with Anita Bryant. Sad to say, that story is not a one-off. I don’t write about things that happen once, because who would care, really? Everyone has freaky one-off experiences. I write about what I observe operating in the larger sphere and what I hear others go through.

              Therefore, I really appreciate your asking questions about porn usage and not jumping to conclusions about why I do or don’t use it. That’s really the courtesy many of us would like from the “sex-positives” of the world and don’t get.
              And I think you may be right, Stella, it may be because the gay community may be so used to society not being open to them that they can sometimes cross over into perpetuating that same kind of defensiveness onto others. Passing the baton, in a sense. So where does that stop?

              Well, I’m not convinced this has to be a circular set of “arguments” at all. I think that as long as we keep asking open questions of one another, we are all heading in the right direction.

              As Dr. Jensen pointed out, “So, we have to fashion a sexual ethic, and by sexual ethic I don’t mean the assertion of rules that are imposed on people, but a sexual ethic that emerges from honest conversation. And as you’re pointing out, when especially women in contemporary culture resist the pornographic nature of this culture, by saying, “I don’t want to replicate pornographic sexual scenes in my personal life”, those women are often the targets of insults or pejorative labels like “sex negative” and that’s what we have to overcome.”

              Yes. Just as the “marriage defense” crowd would do well to be open to gays having equal rights that they enjoy, too. I’m in total agreement. So I believe we all SHOULD keep communicating here!

              I wasn’t, by the way, asking what anyone thought about my own personal lifestyle vis a vis porn use. It’s for the sake of ease of pronouns, that I sometimes switch to the “I” instead of “they”. Sorry if that wasn’t made more clear.

              “So if you want your partner to stop using porn you might want to offer something else to satisfy whatever need that is.” – This and the other questions, while great ones, are not relevant to me personally since my partner does not use porn, which is by their own choice. But I think they may be very instructive questions for other readers, so I’m glad you posted them.

              The main thing for me, relationship-wise, is aligning with those who share similar-enough value systems. So far, there’s been no issues with that. It’s about honesty and I think that’s what you were advocating too: honesty and openness with what works for each of us.

              And I wholeheartedly agree with you about compromise being at the heart of healthy relationships. I’ve been married twice and I know this to be true, whether about money, sex or any of the other “big” topics.

              Does that make sense?

            • Stella Omega says:

              What you’ve said sounds pretty much like what i would do, by choice– what I do now, certainly, after a half-century of trial and error!

              But you are still dodging my question which is very very pertinent to my assesment of whether or not I think you’re ‘sex-negative” ;)

              if YOU say “I don’t want porn in my relationship” what does that mean? What does that mean to your partner?

              If I, myself, said “I don’t want porn in my relationship” that would mean– to ME– that I, personally, would not watch it, and would not want my partner to insist on sharing it with me. Actually, I would have to say; “I don’t want porn in my face,” without saying anything at all about the relationship. (and in fact, I can say that I don’t want certain types of porn in my face at all, although there are some few producers that make porn that is very sexy to me and I welcome it).

              Someone who says they don’t want porn “in their relationship” makes me worry that they believe they have the right to demand that their partner give up all porn for their sake.
              Which is a big old can of large, wriggling, dirty worms and doesn;t bode well for anyone involved.

            • Stella- you wrote: “Someone who says they don’t want porn “in their relationship” makes me worry that they believe they have the right to demand that their partner give up all porn for their sake.
              Which is a big old can of large, wriggling, dirty worms and doesn;t bode well for anyone involved.”

              Someone not wanting porn in their relationship would have to state that unequivocally right from the beginning. In fact, when I offer pre-marital counseling for couples who want me to officiate their wedding, I ask for real clarity on this between the two parties, because “fidelity” is a word that means different things to different people now that we live in the digital age. So there’s no foregone conclusions anyone should assume about the other, before committing to each other, I really ask them to think about this because before I marry them, we WILL talk it through and have agreement on both sides.

              Once the relationship is started, if there is dishonesty about porn use, that’s a whole other can of worms. But to stick to the question, I would agree that this needs to be discussed beforehand and then adhered to. If either partner later feels the need/desire to change the terms they’ve negotiated, then that partner needs to be honest about disclosing it, and be prepared, also, that it might not go exactly as they’d planned. That’s an unknown variable. But what I DO know is that dishonesty adds great damage and tends to dissolve any remaining intimacy after the fact.

            • Stella Omega says:

              I can agree wholeheartedly with everything you’ve said here. So I guess we need to talk about how you present your project to other people– so that you can be free of the sex negative assumption.

              Our world, sadly, lives on soundbites these days, and it’s both a total pain in the butt and a useful thing to remember. If we can create a few soundbite-types of statements for you, that offer your listener a sense of plausibility so that they will continue listening– that might be a great tool for your communications with newcomers and outsiders.

            • “Yet the point of my Lance anecdote in the article I wrote is that WITHOUT asking me a single question about porn, he jumped right to lumping me in with Anita Bryant.”

              Um, here’s where you went wrong WITH THIS ENTIRE ARTICLE. Bringing in top anti-porn activist Robert Jensen as your star witness. It’s the equivalent of saying, “No, I’m nothing like Anita Bryant, and here’s my friend Jerry Falwell to explain why you’re wrong.”

              (And, BTW, spare me the arguments that “Dr. Jensen” is in some way not the same caliber of moralist just because he happens to identify as a far-left feminist.)

      • Yeah, I’m stuck on fireproofing too. I suppose I don’t see much wrong in negotiating with your partner what sexual acts you have in common and like, have sort of common and could care less about (but don’t hate) and then things you each like that the other doesn’t.

        While sex and food are not entirely comparable, it’s like….I hate blue cheese. My husband loves it. He’s more than welcome to enjoy it all on his own. I’ll even cook things with it, though I won’t really partake. He likes movies a lot more than I do, so I watch a lot of movies that don’t move me like they do him. (they take up several hours of my time and I could be doing something else, but I don’t mind). I do theater. He doesn’t. So forth and so on.

        I don’t see why sex HAS to be different. It is different currently, but I don’t know if it has to be.

        If my husband likes to look at porn occasionally or if I do, I don’t see how that damages our relationship**. If, for example he INSISTED I eat blue cheese and watch ALL THE movies and was an ass about it, it would damage our relationship much more than him occasionally watching porn.

        I think anything that is insisted upon and is used in a manipulative way (food or clothing choices, or sex acts) and isn’t consensual is not healthy for a relationship. I think anything obsessed upon (leaving the partner high and dry-constant golfing, tinkering in the shed, texting other people, gambling, drinking etc) is not healthy for a relationship.

        If I hate watching porn, even the idea that he is watching it, then I’d go so far as to say that perhaps our sexualities are not in alignment at all and it would be better for both of us to find other partners. Just like if he really needed a movie watching person in his life, or if he was vegan and I was a meat eater, or so forth. Sometimes sex is a core incompatability. But we as a culture seem to think it shouldn’t be. That one partner should just totally shut down what turns them on because the relationship needs it.**

        So I don’t think anyone should have to do exactly what their partner tells them to, or should tolerate behaviors that really hurt them. If you don’t like meat and your partner is asking you to eat it or teasing you about it or being a jerk…well? Maybe that’s not a good relationship on a number of levels. Same with sexuality I think. Sex should bring you both a lot of mutual pleasure and bonding. And also? You still get your OWN solo sex life without another person. Maybe that includes things your partner doesn’t like. And I think that should have something positive to it, personally.

        **Note, I realize I am not touching the consent issues and issues of agency with porn performers in this example. I’m only talking about the aspects of GGGdom.

        **and I’m not talking about addiction or compulsion here, I mean…why should I have to live a life with out say kissing or spanking or some particular act just because this partner really doesn’t like it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to find a partner who likes what I like? And let my first partner find his or her match? Why is sex considered that unimportant?

        • One last thing….

          I think that sex is considered (generally) in a dichotomous way in our culture. It is the the thing we all seem to want, dress for, exercise for etc (and perhaps layers into that whole women give sex for relationships and men give relationships for sex economic model I find so terribly distasteful), but then it’s the first thing we say is unimportant if the relationship is suffering.

          Like if a woman or man left their partner because their sex life had died. Let’s say everything else was pretty stable (bills, kindness etc), but one partner refused to have sex anymore. The partner leaving is often called selfish, a jerk, sex obsessed. I’ve seen this in action. “How could he leave her over sex! Men!” or “She’s so selfish to give up a good man just to get laid.”

          That? Is sex negative. It’s being negative about someone’s sexual desires and needs. If sex is vital to you, and it disappears? The relationship will suffer. Just like if there is plenty of sex, but no discussions or bill paying (which no one would blame the person leaving the relationship for if that were the reason), the relationship will suffer.

          Our culture says sex is soooooo important to get to have to keep. And then says, “there’s more to a marriage than “just” sex.” Which is it? We have a culture that says, “Young women! Be sexyhot and available!” and a culture that says, “Moms, sorry you aren’t supposed to be sexyhot anymore, it’s bad for the kids.” Which is it?

          It’s that split that is sex negative and I can’t cite it or prove it but by damn I’d say if this is the water we are swimming in? One that gives us so many mixed messages about the value of pleasure, of the role women and men are supposed to play or not depending on their marital or parental status? One that tells us that its noble to live a sexless life in a “good” relationship,
          then we are all affected by sex negativity in ways we can’t imagine.

          • Stella Omega says:

            Julie, I am incomplete agreement with both of these posts.

          • Julie, I really want to thank you for your clarity and open expressiveness. I fully agree with you, 100%, about having rights and resources for healthy play and interests. I want to support a society that maintains a healthy expression of life, sex, love and adventure without religious dogma, etc. I also vote for equality and respectful expression of perspectives. Respect and love seem to be qualities that return to you the more you give them away.
            Where I believe there is confusion in these sexuality-related comment threads is when people get entangled in their own perspectives and are unable to hear any others without perceiving them as a personal attack. I’ve read many attacks from those that think they’re sex or porn-positive but fail to explain what that even means! You have explained yourself and I find that I agree with you. I don’t like the terms positive and negative, this makes them divisive. So much of the arguing seems to come from these terms and their misunderstanding, which is also what Dr. Jensen said in this interview.
            Where I wish to make a point, and where I believe there is a lot of damage to heal in our society, is when people’s personal boundaries are violated. This happens brutally in many cases, such as kidnapping, rape, slavery, etc. This is awful and I doubt anyone is going on about that.
            There are other issues of violated boundaries among many of us in committed relationships, when one partner gets deeply into porn, etc and the other partner doesn’t know about it by way of honest, open discussion. So there is lying and deceit which hurts the partner, sometimes very badly and destroys people’s lives and hearts.
            What I read Dr. Jensen saying about porn is not that it shouldn’t, or doesn’t work for arousal, it does. He states that it works too well! And that porn can take the place of others in the relationship. If porn is watched in order to generate arousal, then it is virtually creating a 3rd party in our sex lives. And this 3rd party often begins getting more and more attention, because it is very arousing, so much that it begins nudging the flesh and bone partner out of way of the screen…sometimes completely!
            If this is not a factor, like if someone is not in a committed relationship, then there is no harm done, no lying and deceit. End of issue! There should not be any fervor over that, yet that is what I, and seemingly others, have been trying to say about this topic.
            I’m trying to support healthy, honest intimacy, which I feel is the only thing that will save the humans in the big picture. Otherwise it seems that we are becoming more solitary, as a species. Biologically, humans have survived for millions of years in small bands (families) and do not do well on their own. I am not religious whatsoever or choose any moral high ground. I just want people to have and nurture healthy intimacy.

  24. I will stay out of the mainstream discussion and simply remark that this makes me look at where I am with my own sexual behavior and how I look at others. I wasn’t even aware of the “Sex positive” movement..thanks for enlightening me on what’s happening.
    I will say this; ANY of my behavior that feels out of balance with me, Is out of balance. If I’m in denial of my own feelings, then I’m probably even Further out of balance…food for thought.
    Keep writing! Keep questioning!
    KT

  25. This is a awesome blogpost. I truly respect this.. Thanks SO much!!

  26. I was following along with this and agreeing with the points about not having to like _all_ sex and relationship practices… until we got to the part where Robert Jenson claims that he doesn’t know any anti-sex, sex-shaming feminists. I know lots who *aren’t*, but there’s a lovely post by Charlie Glickman today pointing to exactly that behavior by Gail Dines.

    http://www.charlieglickman.com/2010/09/if-gail-dines-would-stop-shaming-people-maybe-folks-would-listen/

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