Lately, I have been reading many people’s writings online and I have made some shocking discoveries. I have arrived at a solid conclusion: folks don’t understand what the hell they are talking about, particularly when referring to parties as “sex-positive.”
This is a bit of a diatribe on the many ways in which the layperson (popular culture) skews academic terms, reducing them to some colloquial neo-activist jargon with no understanding of the word, its application, nor its history.
We see “sex-positive parties” being discussed and promoted. These are parties where “sex-positive” means no matter who you are, what gender you are, what sexual orientation you are, everyone is equal, and you can get it on with these people in that space. Why is this flawed? Why should we care?
Here is a small, somewhat rudimentary explanation on what sex-positivity is, and why an event cannot be promoted as “sex-positive,” thus becoming one of the greatest and most egregious hijackings of a term to which I have ever been witness.
“Sex-positive” is not a designation for a type of event. If sex is permitted at an event, please call it SOP (Sex-On-Premises). It even fits better on promotional materials! Sex-Permitted Party is even better. Moreover, an event which encourages sex-positivity does not necessarily have to include sex on premises, says Allena Gabosch, Executive Director of the Center for Sex-Positive Culture located in Seattle, Washington (formerly The Wet Spot). In fact, failing to recognize that very issue is entirely against the ideology of true sex-positivity.
Indeed calling parties sex-positive is literally an impossibility as it is an assumption. Parties cannot be predicted as being sex-positive. They could very well be sex-negative as we have seen lately. How can we possibly know a party is sex-positive unless it has already happened, and we have wound down to think about it, recognize who was there, why they were there, what happened, how attendees felt, and the overall vibe of the event? Perhaps the people there subscribe to sex-positivity as an ideology, or that it encourages sex-positive mindsets, but it is not an event label. PLEASE. In the immortal words of Metric: “Stop! For the love of god!”
Things you can call sex-positive in its correct application:
A zeitgeist, an era, an age, or any form of temporality.
It is an essence.
For those who don’t know enough about sex-positivity, here is a little background:
The dichotomous nature of sex-positivity vs. sex-negativity can be dated back to the 1920s. Wilhelm Reich wanted to combine theories of Freud and Marx in a way Leftists could find acceptable. It essentially hypothesizes that some societies accept sexual expression as valuable, insisting upon it as a prerequisite of mental health, while other groups of people deplore sexuality and try to enact legislation and puritanical or “morality-based” social norms as a means of social control.
What do we mean when we say “sex-positive”? The actual term “sex-positivity” is a feminist term coined in the late 1970s. It is a philosophical social movement that encourages pleasure as opposed to puritanism. We can understand sex-positivity by understanding sex-positive feminism. Widely regarded as one of the founders of the early pro-sex feminist movement, Betty Dodson (one of my personal idols who has inspired me greatly after meeting and speaking with her) generalizes sex-positive feminism very succinctly in this quote:
“For me a sex-positive feminist is a person who supports individual choice for all sex styles and life-styles [not lifestyles]. This would include the variations such as straight, gay, bi, intersex, trans*, and of course selfsexuals and asexuals. Life-styles would include bachelor (male or female) [or any other gender for that matter], married, monogamous, serial monogamy, polygamy and polyamory. And then there are those of us like myself who insist upon doing as many of the above as possible.”
I would also add that gender non-conformity, queer, and cisgender roles also play important parts.
Along with Carlin Ross, Gayle Rubin, Carol Queen, Nina Hartley, and others, the movement advocated the freedom of information about consent, masturbation and self-play, physical and emotional health, risk-awareness, personal responsibility, and other sex-related topics. This fight between the sex-positive and anti-pornography feminists was called the Feminist Sex Wars.
The pro-sex tribe took exception to Catherine McKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, and others’ distorted conceptions that pornography is inherent violence against women. Linda Lovelace hypocritically helped out the anti-pornography advocates, using her notable role in the infamous porn flick Deep Throat as a means to perpetuate the idea that all women are forced into sex work. I have zero respect for Lovelace because of the lies she spewed to the anti-pornography movement, in order to catapult it to a higher level of attention.
In truth, all cultures regulate sexual behaviour one way or another. No human society allows its members, whatever their age, sex, or social status, to interact sexually with one another without restriction. Indeed, there are several cultures in which heterosexual intercourse, even with the full consent of the adult participants, can be punished by ostracism, mutilation, or even death if it involves, for example, a liaison between a male of a lower caste and a female of a higher one. As a perfect example of this, we can look at the honour killing of Jaswinder (Jazzy) Sidhu, a South Asian woman from the Metro Vancouver area who fell in love with and married a lower caste man, a rickshaw driver, in India’s Punjab region and was subsequently murdered there on the orders of her mother and her uncle from here in Canada. Also, the concern with the legitimacy of one’s offspring inevitably causes the sexual freedom of women to be restricted. Fathers ideally tend to seek clear lineage and progeny for the most part.
Another example of regulation on sexuaĺ activities is that of homosexuality and the Church:
“Medieval Christianity professed an ascetic ideal that would forever place homosexual activity outside the scope of morality, since it can never serve the Christian ideal of procreation or generation within lawful marriage, and all other forms of attachment were denied the right of sexual expression…”
Therefore if complete sexual freedom is añ unfounded myth, however appealing it may be to critics of Western sexual mores, then what factor promotes its acceptance?
The answer? Sex-positivity.
The crux of the sex-positive ideology includes the concepts of informed consent, agency, and health within one’s own sexuality. For some, this means having lots of sex, being polyamorous, free love, debauchery, true sexual liberty; as Oscar Wilde calls it: “all Cupids and cornucopias”, and perhaps some wild orgies.
For others it might mean abstaining from sex entirely. Sex-positivity aims to remove stigma and shame from ALL consensual sexual choices.
While language does continue to evolve, it is extremely important that the essence of words remain true, particularly when they have potentially serious consequences to physical, emotional, and mental health. And while I appreciate the evolution of words, I disrespect the misrepresentation of important meanings to suit and fulfill personal agendas. That’s why I don’t watch Fox News!
Indeed, we can expand the term to include more culture, more worldviews, more life-styles, however using it to tell people: “Hey, you can fuck at my event. Come on down!” is just plain wrong.
Yes, perhaps attendees are sex-positive but that does not make an event sex-positive. An event with sex-positive people in attendance still has the potential to be sex-negative and we must always be cognizant of this fact.
With this little rant, I aim to dispense actual, factual information and knowledge on terminology and buzzwords such as this, so we can all learn and thus begin using them correctly, returning power to the words themselves . The popularization of words in the wrong context is in fact beginning to affect Academia and all the work we have collectively put in to create these terms. We are finding that due to some odd phenomenon, many people have clutched on to a false understanding of the words and are, as a result, forced to undo and correct much of the spin placed on “new buzzwords”. Inevitably, we look like assholes when we correct the layperson or try to educate. Nonetheless, I continue to fervently spread the message however and whenever I can. This begs the question: who is doing the actual damage here? Twisting extremely socially important and highly researched words in a reductionist, exclusively self-serving way, in fact helps nobody.
Now that you, dear Reader, have a little more information about sex-positivity, I encourage you too to stand up proudly and correct those who insist on using these terms with impunity, and/or those who simply are too ignorant to know any better.
We will create a truly sex-positive environment once we begin understanding it.