All posts edited by Madeline Ricchiuto.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Do We Need Sex Negative Feminism?

Beyoncé 'coming out' as feminist
In todays celebrity-driven culture, feminism is becoming more mainstream now that icons like Beyonce, Tina Fey, Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen DeGeneres, and Ke$ha are 'coming out' as feminists. At the very least, it seems that feminist principles are being passed on to the younger generations.

There's a growing conversation about sexuality, particularly women's sexuality and its place in our culture today. Many of these conversations focus on looking at things in a positive light so that campaigns for body positivity and sex-positive conversations are now rather abundant- especially those campaigns and conversations that come with backing from celebrities.

A new idea -to me at least - in feminism that has gotten more attention is the sex-negativity movement. This is an ideology which focuses on the shortcomings of sex-positivity, particularly in relation to victims of sexual violence, kink, porn, and the sex work industry. While apparently not a new idea, it is new for sex-negativity to get as much attention as it is now. For a quick run down on the general position of sex-negative feminists you can read here and I will try to explain and critically assess as much as I can.

Women come from many different backgrounds
Sex-negativists base their ideas on the belief that people all come from very different backgrounds of sexual experiences and understandings of sexuality. For example, they recognize that people can come from a background of being hyper sexualized (like POC) or from a background of violence. From here the theory claims that these backgrounds, and others, are not addressed by the sex-positive movement because it is one that is only geared towards white, middle-class, women. Sex-positivism is seen as an ideology which not only promotes, but necessitates sex as validation of your personhood.

In this respect, sex-negativity seems founded on false ideas. It is true that everyone comes from very different backgrounds; indeed, there are many women who are rape survivors, many who have been hyper-sexualized, and women who have never had any inherent inclination towards sex. However, this does not seem to be in conflict with the premise of sex-positivity: that sexual freedom is a good thing.

The premise at the heart of sex-positivity is that sex is not an inherently bad act within itself and that the ability to choose how and when you are sexually active/viewed/treated is ultimately determined and consented to by you. What sex-positivity suggests is that when you have not consented to the sexual act or objectification then it becomes a bad act. This goes for everyone from any background meaning that if their consent (regardless of what that entails for each individual) is given the sexual conduct is still a neutral, or may be positive experience at that point.

Some sex-negative feminists may recognize this and make the argument that this does not address their positions. They might claim that because consent is such a complex factor (eg. there is the question of whether the drastic difference in power between men and women mitigates the point of consent) that as a central factor it is not sufficient. Further arguments might include the idea that even consensual sex is not necessarily 'good'.

Consent is not always as simple as saying 'yes'
It is true that consent is a very complex idea and that is usually only dealt with in a cursory way. It can be questioned whether or not anybody- particularly minorities- are actually capable of really consenting. However, this argument doesn't question the idea of consent, but the actuality of its possibility. Although there are clearly recognizable issues with agency, I- and I am not alone in my opinion- am of the belief that, although there is an imbalance of power, this does not take away all or enough of the agency of adult women to decide when to have or not have sex. Many women would, I believe, be insulted by this attack on their own autonomy.

If we were to accept the above argument, it ultimately lead us to question whether sex is ever ok, seemingly forcing us to believe that nobody should have sex because we can never know whether or not a person is ever consenting (at least not in today's society). This likens to the ultra conservative ideologies within our current political systems. I know many sex-negativists try to argue against this conclusion, but it would seem that if there is no consent or that consent is not a valid requirement for sex then I see no way to avoid this conclusion.

The other argument is that consent is not enough to make sex 'good' and that sex-negativists are merely being more critical of sexuality than sex-positivists. I can accept the premise that merely consenting does not automatically make sex a positive experience. After all, it is possible that certain kinds of sex may in fact be harmful both towards people and society. This has not been shown to be true yet by any data and this is not irreconcilable with sex positivism. Many sex-positive feminists also take this line of thought and question how many acts (BDSM, rape-simulation, child simulation, etc.) affect people as individuals and society as a whole. So for sex-negativists to make this the foundation of their ideology seems wholly baseless.

Sex is not inherently good, nor is it inherently bad. Sex is complicated and different for everybody and should be treated as such. Nobody should be forced into sex that they are not comfortable with. If you have certain needs that must be met for you to feel comfortable or willing to have sex, or if you don't want to have sex at all, that is your prerogative and that is great and no sex positivist would have anything against it. For the sex-negativists who claim that the sex-positive movement promotes a view of sexuality as compulsory, or unrelentingly positive have misunderstood the point of the movement. They have founded their 'opposing' ideology on one that is either seemingly untrue, or that is actually in alignment with the sex-positive movement.

For a more in-depth look at sex-negativity you can read about it from a self proclaimed sex-negativist here.
More on my feminist perspective here, here, here, and here.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Feminists identifying as sex-positive became involved in the debate, not in opposition to other feminists, but in direct response to what they saw as patriarchal control of sexuality.