This article is not as cut & dried or condemning as the straight-forward title suggests that it might be and is actually a really good dissection of consent issues within a conflicted movement. Note that it references aspects of the sex-positivity movement that may require some familiarity to fully understand the context of this article.
Of course, I am very sex positive (also kink positive) but I am also anti-rape culture, so I found this instructional in terms of how the two can intersect. I also strive to be positive to asexuality too and feel issues surrounding this identity need to be more broadly understood.
I really recommend this article! I’m pasting the whole article below the link for ease of reading.
[Trigger Warning: Rape, Rape Culture discussed at link]
Or, in which I attempt to alienate all my followers.
Mostly it discusses ways in which rape culture and sex positivity intersect, especially for people who are less sexual then is normative, such as asexual people, gray-asexual people, people with sex related triggers, people with autism who get completely overwhelmed by sex, etc.
“Sex Positive Activists who Promote Rape Culture aren’t TRUE Scotsmen
Something I’ve seen going around for a while is this idea that there is such a thing as “Fake sex positivity” which, well, generally is sex positivity that rather blatantly is rape culture, such as, for example, sex positivity that tells asexual people they’re defective and that people are obligated to give sex to their partners.
This is pretty obviously fucked up, but… it’s not fake. It’s real sex positivity. It logically follows from the idea that sex is a good thing that you’d want to encourage people to have more sex, and from there its only a short hop to telling people they must consent to sex they don’t want.
Most notably, fucked up conceptions of sex and consent are entirely not contradictory to the idea that sex is good, and further, attempting to say, “No, look, you’re doing it wrong, your sex positivity is fake because it’s rape culture” is actually overlooking a very obvious problem. Which is that most of sex positivity is rape culture.
[Insert repeat of the title here]
It’s not to say the idea that people should be allowed to have as much sex as they want or the idea that porn should be easily accessible or the idea that treating sex as shameful is bad are problematic ideas. All of these are good. But none of these explicitly require assuming sex is good. In fact if you start assuming sex is good or that everyone wants access to porn you’ll very quickly run into serious problems.
I’ve encountered, among other things, people constantly assuming sex is good and that having sex is just something you do in healthy relationships. It’s like… this creates a situation where, obviously hating sex is a character flaw born of those terrible sex-negative tropes that society presses on you, and obviously only Bad People don’t consent to sex.
That’s rape culture. This is what environments that assume sex is unambiguously a good thing do. And just saying “Oh okay let’s clarify that it’s consensual sex that’s good” doesn’t actually fix the problem. It just creates a situation where obviously you must be consenting to sex, because if you aren’t you’re not having enough sex and then you’re sex-negative or whatever.
See, it only fixes a problem where you’re like “Well I don’t really want to do this right now”. It does not do anything at all to help people who find sex painful. It does nothing at all to help a person who doesn’t want sex but thinks they do because it’s been so heavily normativized that obviously the just have to have sex, and have to have it in this specific way, so all the “But make sure it’s consensual!” thing does is tells the person “Well maybe if you don’t want sex this time it’s okay, but remember you still must be having it some of the time!”
See, to actually fight rape culture you need to say “Sex is always optional. You are never obligated to have sex.” You must always be concerned with consent, and that means you must accept that the answer may very wellalways be no.
And if someone never wants sex, then to them, sex can’t really be a good thing, because it’s always unwanted.
It’s also worth noting, that while subjectively sex can be good at times, even assuming that sex (or at least, sex that you consent to) is universally good from your perspective can become problematic, because actually it turns out sex isn’t always a single person thing, and if you’re not considering that fact you can quickly end up in a situation where your partners feel pressured to be sexual, or where potential partners feel pressured to be sexual, which can quickly become a problem. Sex is only good if all the parties involved think it’s good. Don’t decide that for people without their consent.
Showing People Porn Without Their Consent is Sexual Harassment
Frequently also people doing sex positive activism will do a very bad job checking for consent. See, creating blogs of porn is completely okay, but what people will then start doing is things like… posting porn on a blog that is usually not porn, or mixing porn in with material that is not porn, and on the most dramatic example of this I’ve seen, the person posted a large amount of porn–which did trigger me, as porn often does–and then posted shaming posts that implied only narrow minded people would unfollow them for it.
This person posted triggering material and then attacked their followers for taking the actions that would be necessary to keep themselves safe. And trust me, porn is not uncommon as a trigger. Nor is porn necessarily something everyone wants to see all the time. And when you post sexual material without an adequate way to opt out, you are forcing a person into sexual situations without their consent. And people are not okay with porn for reasons other then sex-negativity. I’m not okay with porn because there’s a high chance of it either triggering my gender dysphoria, which is painful as fuck, or my OCD texture phobias, which, again, is extremely painful. (And while I’m not generally triggered by it, because of the nature of BDSM, that is especially frequently triggery to people. And yep, I’ve seen sex-positive blogs that regularly include kink without any sort of warning.)
And when you mix porn in with a regular blog, you’re saying “Well reading anything I write requires you also being okay with porn”, or “No asexual people or people who’re otherwise triggered by porn allowed here.” And that’s really fucking gross and exclusionary.
The same also applies with graphic discussions of sex, but I’ve found people are a bit better about that, and a giant wall of text takes a lot more effort to process, and so is easier to avoid, then pictures of people having sex.
Enthusiastic Consent means Asexual People Can’t Consent
And a further popular trope relating to sex that is actually rape-culture in disguise, is the idea that enthusiasm is the benchmark for okay consent. For one, it doesn’t actually do anything to deter coercion; it just means if a rapist wants to pressure someone into consenting, they’ll additionally insist that the person is more enthusiastic. It’s not like enthusiasm can’t be faked pretty easily.
But more notably, it ties into this whole thing about sexual normativity and the idea that sex is unambiguously good. See, for many people sex is notunambiguously good. Especially if a person has a history of sex related triggers, or an extensive amount of internalizing sex-negative values, or is neurodivergent and tends to be overwhelmed by anything sexual. And see, requiring that consent be enthusiastic is saying “You need to ignore everything negative about your possible experiences with sex in order for your consent to be valid.”
It’s saying “You must suppress all your negative emotions. If you show them or act on them you can’t have sex. Even if you really really want it.” And yes, I frequently have been in a situation where I wanted sex, but because of my self-awareness I was quite clear that there was a lot of potential for shit to go wrong, and so I wasn’t particularly enthusiasticabout it.
And ignoring all these possible negative outcomes? That’s just a way to ensure that you’ll step into a space you’re uncomfortable with and suppress all your negative emotions because obviously you can’t show and of your anxiety because if you did then your consent wouldn’t count and obviously you want your sexual autonomy respected… but then you’ve gone too far and you’re still suppressing all your negative emotions even though you’re having a panic attack.
Well We Already Knew None of You Gave a Fuck About People With Phobias
And understand how internalized sex negativity is different from sex negativity. The latter is saying “People shouldn’t have sex because it’s dirty, etc”, the former is having heard that a hundred times, and possibly at some point believed it, and so now you can’t help but feel gross and unclean every time you orgasm because you have that association so heavily beaten into your head. That? Doesn’t oppress people beyond the person who’s done the internalization, and failing to make this distinction is just further marginalizing and hurting a person who’s already been on the bad end of mistreatment by society. Of course, the fact that there are sex-positive activists who’ve decided to use “erotophobia”, which is, you know, a clinical phobia, for sex negativity tells you about how much sex-positive activists care about such people on average.
Reconceptualize your sexuality activism to be about promoting self-determination. Your goal is not to stop the shame around sex at any cost, your goal is to ensure that the people who don’t have shame, or want to reduce their shame, can get rid of it and have access to resources. Don’t hurt people who don’t want sex in the process. Because if you do, you’re creating a society where raping people who aren’t normatively sexual is sometimes okay. And that’s not cool.”