I remember the first time I heard the phrase “Sex Positive.” I had to ask what that meant, and when it was explained to me, I am sure that I had a puzzled look on my face. The person who had explained it to me then said, “doesn’t that make sense?” “Of course it does,” I responded, “it’s just so obvious I wonder if it really needs a definition.”
While I like to look at that sweet stage as the naiveté of a soon-to-become Sex Positive activist, I still stand by that. I think that we are, in our natural states, Sex Positive. I think that we learn to be Sex Negative as a social tool to achieve what we think we want – usually membership in a prominent paradigm for one social goal or another.
In the years since that sweet and innocent day, I have found myself in the center of the swiftly swelling seas of Sex Positive politics, academia and thinking. I am thrilled, on a daily basis, to be surrounded by some of the most brilliant and inspiring people I’ve ever known. And that with them – and because of them – I can be a vibrant and fully “turned on” version of myself. This is what I want for everyone. This is what my Sex Positive colleagues and I are creating for everyone.
Well, most of us. Most of the time.
Arguably, the thing I love most about the Sex Positive community that is taking shape is how inclusive and positive it is. And how big. There are so many of us now and we are all different. We are actually starting to represent the diversity of the larger community. And I wonder if that’s not causing problems.
In recent week, I’ve gotten a troubling number of emails from followers asking me to respond to some alarmingly negative writing from prominent sex writers. I have felt uncomfortable doing so, after all, we support each other here. It’s at the very core of what we do.
But when well-respected writers with huge followings suggest that the consensual choice to remove pubic hair infantilizes women and is akin to pedophilia, or says on a radio show that being asexual is a disorder linked to abuse, or refers to people’s sexual habits as “strange,” or suggest sticking a popsicle in a vagina for interesting sex – WE HAVE TO STAND UP AND SAY “NO.” En masse.
This became very clear to me when The Pleasure Coach - whom I admire deeply, support explicitly and think everyone should follow – forwarded an article about Oral Sex that was published by Dan & Jennifer, a Christian couple rewriting the myth of Christian puritanism. I do not like their work in general, I find a lot of it to be patriarchal, sophomoric and outright inaccurate. That said, they do more good than harm, opening otherwise closed minds to sexuality, so even though I don’t like their approach, they fall squarely in my “to each their own” bucket. In this post, however, they actually suggested sticking a popsicle in a woman’s vagina during oral sex. Do I really need to point out the MANY reasons why that’s a bad idea? Yeast infection, UTI, food particles left behind, weird chemicals that are in popsicles? For goodness sake, seriously? It’s a great reminder that the size of your platform does not equal the accuracy of your message.
I don’t know if The Coach read it before forwarding it, but he might not have, because in many ways, that’s what we do: We promote each other. But part of promoting each other is calling each other out when we fuck up. That was a fuck up. I called them out. There was no response. From anyone.
It did make me think back to the last few weeks, however, when there were some pretty major flare-ups on the message boards that are well-hung in the Sex Positive parlors.
A few weeks ago, I was one of many people who just unleashed when Dr. Brian Parker wrote a blog post called The Top 10 Strangest Sexual Fetishes. That did cause a shit storm, and when I called Trina and Brian to task for it, I just got a pert brush-off from her. That said, I know that the dialog on various message boards and social media pages for graduates of the school that Brian attended were on fire. People called for everything from immediate censure from the institute where he got his PhD to his removal from the airwaves to some creative uses of the “fetishes” he wrote about. (Without ever, mind you, making clear the difference between a kink and a fetish.) I, personally, would have been happy to see the post remain, but seriously edited to take out the shamey and sensationalized language. Regardless, there was fury. People were pissed.
That blog is still there. With all the sex-negative language. (Seriously, how hard would it be to just make it positive?)
Why? I would GUESS that it’s there because it drives traffic. He is able to use sex-negative rhetoric to build his brand. People Google “strange sex” and find it. If there’s another reason, let me know, but I can’t think of one.
Likewise, a few weeks ago I was sent dozens of emails and links to a page that a very prominent Sex Therapist posted in which she expressed her belief that when women remove all their pubic hair it not only infantilizes women but tacitly encourages pedophilia. (That post, thankfully, seems to have been removed.) People were insulted and furious, as they should have been. When someone who has done as much important work as her (and there are few people who have, she has earned tremendous respect, deservedly so) makes such statements about the personal choices of consenting adults, it is harmful for countless reasons. If even “SHE” think this is true, then it must be. Again, not just discussing her personal taste – it’s FINE to like pubic hair – but shaming it, and connecting it not only to the subjugation of women but to a dangerous and misunderstood pathology. I was, similarly, forwarded many messages about statements she recently made suggesting that being asexual was a pathology linked to past abuse, rather than a natural spot on the sexuality spectrum. The pain and outrage again swept like wildfire. Why does someone’s sexuality have to be called pathological, regardless of where it lands on the spectrum?
Why? Why do we let language like this stand? Why do we not stand up en masse and say “NO MORE?” I mean, we are willing to stand up against society at large and demand our freedom of sexual expression without being deemed strange damaged, pathological and unhealthy, why do we accept it from within our own ranks? Are we afraid of….. what?
I suspect, at its simplest level, we begin to use this kind of language to draw attention to ourselves because, indeed, the numbers of Sex Positive “stars” is growing. We have to stand out somehow, and, just like in high school, sometimes the easiest way to do that is to belittle and bully those who come closest to threatening us. People whose approach is the opposite of ours and, if validated, we fear would invalidate us. Or whose trajectory is too close to our own, and therefore need to be knocked off the path.
People who were once big fish in small ponds with devoted followers are now seeing the waters widen and tributaries flow in many directions. I find that thrilling. There is room for all of us. There is even room for us to disagree.
But there is not room for us to call each other strange, damaged, pathological and unhealthy. Especially not to build brand, and plant the seeds of sexual shame in society at large, where it’s already growing out of control.
There are painful levels of irony in my writing this. For a very short while I served on the board of an organization with the mission of trying to help society at large understand not only the vast spectrum of human sexuality, but also that it is a fundamental human right to be safe in our sexuality. My background is in marketing and PR, and I intend to use that background to market the idea of sexual freedom. However, this is still a world that looks at sex with fear and judgment. The more “out there” it seems, the more shut down the world seems to it.
In what will probably live in infamy on that board, we had an emotionally bloody falling out when I suggested that the board needed to focus on true diversity, which meant making sure that there were people on the board – and activities from the board – that reflected mainstream society’s comfort level and sense of themselves sexually. I explained that as much as I hate the word “normal,” to people not in the comfortable bosom of the sex-positive world, we need to be sure that we reflect “normal” alongside “kinky,” (another word that I loathe.) Not to promote one over the other, but to be non-threatening and inclusive. To NOT invalidate any way of being – including “vanilla.” I was called names, my motives were called into question, I was accused of all sorts of things. Including bigotry.
That relationship ended quickly. Which is a shame, because that is the same vitriol that prevents people from other perspectives from coming together, and also divides a community that should be united.
Indeed, when posts like Brian’s and others like it are circulated, I have to think that it is a way to not only divide us, but to keep them in the spotlight in the world at large. Using the same shaming techniques that mainstream – dare I say “normal” – society uses to isolate the Sex Positive from their puritanical parlors.
It’s not okay. It’s not okay for “them” to do it to “us.” It’s even worse for “us” to do it to “us.” We are better than that. Indeed, we have to be better than we even know we are, because what we are trying to do is set a higher standard for how we are treated. And we can only do that by example.
I don’t know what the action items are here. I don’t think we can strip people of their titles (though perhaps the people who made the “doctors” should send them a note saying, “don’t use my name that way!”), or shame them, or even gang up and get mean. But I do think that we need to start self-policing a little. Nicely. Openly. We need to say “yes, but….”
Yes, oral sex is great, get creative, but do not stick popsicles in vaginas. Ever.
Yes, pubic hair is awesome, if you like it. Removing it is awesome, if you don’t like it. Your likes and dislikes are not pathology, they are a right.
You get the idea.
The day is not coming when we run out of bandwidth for people talking about sex – it’s practically all anyone talks about, even when they pretend it’s politics or advertising. There is room for all of us to be stars. Really. People will never get tired of talking about sex, or listening to you talk about sex. I promise. We don’t have to beat each other down, we have to build our movement up.
I remain firm in my belief that people are inherently Sex Positive, they don’t have shame until we tell them to be ashamed. We don’t act cruelly to each other unless we feel threatened. And there are enough people doing that. Let’s not become the thing we are fighting against.
Let’s come together. Positively, and gently nudge the negative messages out.
Hey, that’s our tagline at Not So Secret. “Women Coming Together. ” I am reminded how much I like that. And how devoted Lanae and I are to building a diverse bunch of writers here to cover women’s sexuality from every angle, with no shame. Same thing at Sexxx Talk Radio, no shame, lots of exploration. (Though we do call out the negative there.) We know we aren’t alone.
We need to all do it. We need to ALL COME TOGETHER.