Sites of Violence: Why Our Notions of “Sex Positive” Feminism Are in Need of an Overhaul – The Feminist Wire

Sites of Violence: Why Our Notions of “Sex Positive” Feminism Are in Need of an Overhaul


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While skimming through news a few weeks ago, I noticed that one of the current hot topics on feminist threads was the Cliteracy project, an installation piece by New York artist Sophia Wallace that focuses on themes of women’s sexual gratification. Like many popular presentations of feminism today, the Cliteracy project seems to propagate the idea that sexual empowerment in the 21st century means that women should enjoy getting off and that men should enjoy getting women off. While society has long been plagued by suppressed knowledge of the female sexual anatomy, a superficial and reductionist critique like Cliteracy results in men being able to think that they are being “good” feminists by mere virtue of enjoying giving oral sex to women. The idea that “good sex” or a “healthy sex life” can be quantified by levels of arousal or frequency of orgasms fails to meet the needs of people who have a complicated relationship with sex because of past trauma, gender dysphoria, or other factors. I have had sexual encounters which, by conventional standards, would be deemed “good sex,” yet still left me feeling violated, afraid, and alone. While my partners may have understood the mechanics of my anatomy, they felt no need to understand my history of trauma and the impact this has had on my emotional and spiritual life.

I didn’t realize that I wasn’t a virgin until the day, after coming home from grade 1, I finally worked up the courage to ask my mother what sex was. I remember experiencing a strange sinking feeling as she calmly described to me some vague approximation of the terrifying ritual which a group of older boys I knew had been forcing me to perform with them for some time now.

One’s pubescent years are often thought of in our culture as a time of sexual discovery, yet all I felt that I had discovered through my first sexual experiences was the grim reality of what it meant to be violently objectified as a female-bodied person in an insidiously patriarchal society.

As I entered high school, I remember watching with growing bitterness as my peers giggled about their own sexual awakenings, blushing as they speculated about the details of something that had never been a mystery to me. While they swooned with their first dizzying tastes of love and lust, I was locked in my room snorting crushed up pills and cutting my arms open with straight razors, fantasizing about peeling my own skin off and immersing myself in acid baths until even my bones disintegrated, dousing myself in gasoline and burning til there was nothing left that could feel.

I felt physical attraction to other girls, and the idea of acknowledging it tortured me and robbed me of sleep. I fell in love at some point with one of my best friends, but when he reciprocated my feelings, I became terrified by the prospect of physical intimacy. Sex, I felt, was not a happy thing, something I could not ever do with a person I loved and respected. I seized up and became cold when he and I touched, yet I had no problem having anonymous sex with older men with whom I felt no connection. I remember laughing about it later, showing him the bruises on my legs, looking at the sadness in his eyes and wishing I could make him understand somehow. The body, which he thought was beautiful and sexy, was nothing but a site of violence to me, an inconvenient lump of flesh and nerves which served no purpose besides being a vehicle for agony and helpless rage.

I grew accustomed to directing my hate and anger towards my own body, starving it, mutilating it, abusing it with drugs. I blamed my body it for its vulnerability, instead of blaming the society which had produced this vulnerability and the individuals who had taken advantage of it. There were times I tried to tell other kids at school about what had happened to me, but their reaction was laughter and ridicule. I was one of the unpopular girls, the ones who walked around in stained hand-me-downs and never got invited to birthday parties. I was already dirty in their eyes; the admission of having been violated was simply proof of it.

When I started to become acquainted in later years with the world of feminist activism, I immediately felt alienated by the ways in which mainstream feminist movements approached things like sexual empowerment and body acceptance. Almost ten years later, the face of popular, “sex-positive” feminism seems to have changed very little. It still seems to be a movement geared towards middle-class, mostly white, liberal, cis-women for whom liberation may indeed be a simple matter of achieving greater sexual satisfactionending the culture of slut-shaming, and re-appropriating femme aesthetics. For people who face more obstacles in the path towards reclaiming and realizing their sexuality, this sort of uncompromisingly positive and monolithic view of sex can come off as anywhere from frivolous to brutally alienating. During the long period of my life in which I felt that I was completely incapable of having any kind of healthy manifestation of a sex life, I often felt wracked by the guilt of not being a “good” feminist.

Given the alarming prevalence of rape and sexual violence in our society, perhaps all of us, regardless of gender, should begin with the assumption that all female-bodied partners we have (and, realistically, quite a few of our male-bodied partners as well) are survivors. In a world so rife with inequality and violence, it is not enough for us to think that being an adequate lover means knowing how to make our partners come. Our understanding of human sexuality and eroticism must expand in ways which are not limited to the physical intricacies of genital sex. “The clitoris is not a button it is an iceberg” proclaims one of the slogans which compose the Cliteracy project–a phrase that seems to imply the clit is not in fact as small and external as it appears, because it is attached to a much larger internal structure. Yes, the external clitoris is attached to a large internal apparatus of muscles and nerve endings–it is also attached to an entire human being, a being who, since birth, has been categorized as socially inferior based upon their anatomy and more than likely has a complicated relationship with their body and their sexuality because of it.

Today, I feel like the sex I choose to have in my life has to include more than just physical factors. It’s not enough to be having an orgasm (or two, or three) every time. It’s not enough to feel like I have the space to talk about and ask for the things that turn me on. I have to feel like my partners and I have opened the space to be radically honest about the ways we have been damaged, the space to start healing each other’s wounds and healing our own in the process. This is something that can happen in a long term relationship, a one night stand, a sexual encounter between friends or casual lovers. It can range anywhere from the most vanilla of vanilla to the most extreme of BDSM scenes, and everything in between. It can be through types of erotic intimacy that don’t involve physical touch. It can happen in any of the myriad circumstances in which we seek out closeness with each other, so long as everyone involved acknowledges that sex is not always just an act of doing–sometimes, it must also be one of undoing.

It’s one thing for a lover to accept my body, to find beauty in its curves, its cellulite, its asymmetries and uniqueness–but if they can’t look at my scars and acknowledge that these, too, are part of the package, then the rest is meaningless to me. We are taught through the ethos of mainstream feminism to love and accept our bodies regardless of whether they fit conventional standards of beauty or sexiness, to know what gives us pleasure, and to feel no shame in asking for it. These things may be incredibly beneficial for some people, but we also must acknowledge that each body comes with baggage–and if this baggage prevents us for the time being from fully loving and accepting ourselves, from pleasuring ourselves, or from giving and accepting pleasure from others, this does not mean that we are wrong or bad or broken. We are simply doing what we have to in order to survive in a world where the odds are stacked against us, regardless of whether our ways of coping look “healthy” to others, regardless of whether we are called bad feminists or bad women because of them. A woman who was assigned male at birth will likely have a different relationship with her body than a woman who has gone through her life with cis-gendered privilege, just like a woman who is subject to types of sexism that are intertwined with racism and colonialism will likely have a different relationship with her body than a woman who lives sheltered by white privilege. As surely as there are no right or wrong bodies, there are no right or wrong ways of relating to our bodies.

If we wish to construct a feminism that is truly “sex positive,” it must address the myriad forms of oppression that violate women’s lives and bodies on a global scale. “Freedom in society can be measured by distribution of orgasms,” reads another slogan of Wallace’s Cliteracy project–a statement that seems almost painfully ludicrous when we consider the millions of women worldwide whose freedoms, sexual and otherwise, are devastated on a daily basis by state violence, environmental degradation, poverty, racism, and the wide variety of other hardships women must tackle in the contemporary world, in addition to a lack of sexual gratification. Women’s sexual empowerment is not an issue which can be separated from broader struggles for gender justice, and in order to support its realization, we must fight collectively for serious social and political change with the same passion and uncompromising desire we bring to our bedrooms.


sex positive feminismKelly Rose Pflug-Back’s poetry, fiction, and articles have appeared before in places like This Magazine, Canada Woman Studies, The Dominion, Counterpunch, Pambazuka News, and many others. Her first book of poetry, These Burning Streets, was published in 2012 with Combustion Books. She is also a contributing editor with Fifth Estate magazine, America’s longest-running journal of anti-authoritarian ideas. When she isn’t grappling with writing deadlines, she works with women prisoners through the Prisoner AIDS Support Action Network and continues to slog through the final years of her undergraduate degree.


  1. Sarah Brammer-Shlay

    October 1, 2013 at 12:58 am

    Thank you for writing this article. I agree that sex positivity is more complicated than simply saying sex is great and feels good. Thanks for your bravery writing this.

  2. Drew

    October 1, 2013 at 2:11 am

    Try being a young boy who was raped by men, and the impact this has on someone. It’s not a male v’s female issue.

    To categorise it as a feminist issue that only affects women adds further to the shameful inward hurt.

    • Jess

      October 1, 2013 at 6:57 am

      “Feminism ain’t about women
      No, that’s not who it is for
      It’s about a shifting consciousness
      That’ll bring an end to war”
      – Ani Difranco

      Feminism is not just for women. It’s for everyone. And definitely seeks to end violence like both you and the author experienced.

      There are many ways people understand feminism but this is the only way that makes sense to me. You are right that if feminism only sought to protect women and girls it would leave a huge amount of people out and just continue to perpetuate violence.

    • Lia

      October 1, 2013 at 7:44 pm

      Such a selfish response to this woman’s words about how and why sex positive feminism let her down.

      Drew, if sex positive feminism let you down you should write about it. If sex positive feminism didn’t let you down, don’t hijack the comment section of this woman’s article to obnoxiously make the untrue claim that the author at any point said, “Rape only affects women.” She didn’t say that, and for you to cast shame upon her for something she didn’t say or suggest is abhorrent.

      • Shar

        October 1, 2013 at 10:06 pm

        Wow, Lia. Can you imagine if a girl posted that she was raped at a young age and felt the issue was not getting the attention it deserved, and was consequently told that her comment was selfish? Clearly Drew has experienced something similar to the author from a male perspective, but feels that the array of female-centric literature on the topic leaves male sexual trauma marginalized – which is often true.

        I do feel that the anger towards the author is misplaced, as you do, since she is speaking of a specific feminist movement and makes this very clear – however, there are ways of disagreeing which do not involve belittling a person’s past sexual trauma. That only perpetuates the kinds of attitudes that the author herself is condemning.

        • Lia

          October 2, 2013 at 5:17 pm

          The post wasn’t about rape, it was abut the sex positive feminist movement. It’s in the title.

          Drew hasn’t shared anything that can be likened to what the author experienced regarding a complicated history with SEX POSITIVE FEMINISM.

          Why would “female-centric” literature deal with men’s trauma when by definition it does not? Men have written a great deal about male-male rape, it’s not like male victims are forced to use feminist books or nothing at all.

          • ben

            October 2, 2013 at 6:15 pm

            way to miss the point with that third paragraph.

            comments comment on the content of the article. sexual violence was a large subject of the article, so i think a comment relating to sexual violence is very relevant, especially given the other perspective of a male being raped. the comment may have been bitter in tone, but in my opinion it adds more to the debate then it distracts from.

            “She who fights with monsters should look to it that she herself does not become a monster” to slightly adapt the nietzche quote

            the problem with female-centric literature, especially in feminism, is that its exclusive. this would not be a problem if there were equal ammounts of writers writing about both mens and womens issues in regards to feminism (a distinction i think should not exist, but thats for another post), but its not, i know of very little male centric feminist literature and even less that is without a light step and apologetic tone to be sure to not rouse those women who are dangerously close to being the ‘straw-feminists’ so often used by the patriarchy to discredit the movement.

            as a male who has also been a victim of sexual violence i can say that any literature out there to help male victims is hard to find, not very good, and the majority of literature is exclusive to females. not only that but the social stigma patriarchy perpetuates mean that its ridiculously under-reported. i am nowhere in the statistics for male victims of sexual violence, and this is a direct result of social pressure.

            feminism is an issue for all, but i still see so many vocal women and so few men. shouldnt we be inviting more men to the table so we can stand for gender equality as one? and not look at every male as a suspicious tool of the patriarchy?

        • S

          October 18, 2013 at 9:15 pm

          Thanks, Shar. I thought your comment was a balanced and thoughtful perspective.

    • kf

      October 1, 2013 at 11:16 pm

      Lia, I think your post was very rude.
      Though I understand your point that she should not be “shamed”, I do not think that was the point Drew was trying to make and your comment (and may I say you felt very strongly about it, I mean that was meant to be a shutdown) completely obscures a very important point that he was making. That yes though the author never says “rape only happens to women”, she definitely shows it through a female lenses, such as when she is saying how many women have complicated issues with their bodies. I do not think Drew meant to bash the author, but rather bring light to the discussions that are still not taking place out in the open, which is sexual violence towards boys and men and I think it is also necessary to understand that it is not always men committing the violence and that sometimes it is not even violence at all, but that anybody can be coerced in some form or fashion to have unwanted sexual experiences that can leave anyone feeling ashamed and confused. And honestly, I think a crucial factor in propelling feminist goals Is to incorporate the men, and incorporate studies of masculinity because right now, it’s not okay for men to complain about how masculinity mores structure their lives, because that would undermine their masculinity and apparently, in – at least US culture – masculinity seems to be the #1 thing. And if we can change masculinity, we will make both men and women happier. Many men feel confined by constructs of masculinity, and we see how women and gays are sometimes used and objectified to maintain this image of masculinity. because men are taught to be emotionless and tough and the dominant one to women and taught they have to have a lot of sex with a lot of different women to be a macho man and how male-male relations and male bonding sometimes have a weird homoerotic undertone to them and what is that about. Men are taught to show their aggression sexually and do sex aggressively. Femiinism is not just about women, but you can see why the title is misleading. It needs to be an entire gender/sexuality movement, an entire social movement, that removes violence and coercion from sex and places emphasis not on gender and sexual constructs but just on people being damn happy and respecting each others’ bodies and who they think are beautiful and their right to their own bodies…

      • Lia

        October 2, 2013 at 5:23 pm

        Women talking about women’s experiences isn’t excluding men, it’s just women talking about their experiences. If you feel slighted when a woman is speaking about her experiences it is because you have a twisted sense of entitlement to her time and energy. The author owes Drew nothing, and he’s acting like she does.

        She is speaking her experiences with SEX POSITIVE FEMINISM, a phrase you managed not to mention once.

        • hc

          October 6, 2013 at 1:23 pm

          “Men talking about men’s experiences isn’t excluding women, it’s just men talking about their experiences.” Think of ridiculous this sounds when men give this excuse for male-dominated media in areas like sports and technology. Drew was expressing his frustration at not being able to find a suitable outlet for his past traumas in pretty much the only place that it’s really talked about. The sexual abuse survivor network is overwhelmingly female-dominated. Yes there are male resources, but they are few and far between. You are being too harsh and judgmental about Drew’s complaint.

          • hlb

            October 10, 2013 at 1:08 am

            Simply swapping gender roles in a conversation fails to account for the systems of oppression and under-representation that are systemic in our society. It’s false equivalency because we do not live a society where all genders are equal.

            Lia actually does have a good point. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a thread about feminism that hasn’t been hijacked by a man claiming that, by discussing an issue that predominantly effects women from a female perspective, men’s experience is somehow being ignored. On the contrary, the author acknowledges that many men, though not nearly as many as women, have faced sexual violence. Sexual violence is still overwhelmingly an issue that affects women. This statement specifically does not exclude sexual violence against men.

            For a man then to claim that feminism is damaging because it does not make male experience the focus IS an expression of entitlement. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been harmed, or that men don’t deserve better examples of sex-positivity and better resources for coping with the aftermath of sexual violence. In fact, if men in general did have better examples of sex-positivity, it would help reduce the occurrence of sexual violence. But that isn’t what this article is about, and it’s not the place for that discussion.

            Drew simply doesn’t seem to understand that feminism is not concerned with cis-women alone; one cannot grapple with issues affecting women without considering the whole of how gender, race, and class are constructed – and how positions of privilege and oppression intersect within these constructions.

    • James

      October 2, 2013 at 11:39 am

      Other people have said this too, but let me add to the chorus. Feminism can be a path towards understanding, speaking up about, and addressing the trauma that anyone feels in their life (men included).

      The example you gave is an important one. I think a feminist of any kind (whatever gender or sexuality) would see trauma inflicted on the powerless by the powerful in your example, and speak up about it. Feminism doesn’t have to be a way of opposing women’s issues against men’s issues, or a method to dismiss issues like the one you raise. In fact, thinking about women’s and men’s issues as separate things (and even about women and men as immutable categories) is in many ways what feminism is trying to escape.

      Personally, as a straight white male, I have inflicted a kind of trauma on myself sexually by participating in a sexually power imbalanced world (I am not comparing that trauma to anyone else’s, I am just saying that it exists). Instead of feeling only shame about this, a feminist perspective has allowed me to see this trauma more clearly, experience compassion for myself, and understand that by advocating for change from a feminist perspective, I can do my (small) part to ameliorate or prevent that kind of trauma happening to others. It is an empowering, liberating thing for me, and I hope you will be able to see that feminism could help you too.

      • hc

        October 6, 2013 at 1:24 pm

        Amen to that, James.

      • Xiao Mao

        October 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm

        “As a man”… and so begins yet another long-winded mansplaination, and women are expected to drop everything and listen intently to what we already know to be true about males and male entitlement, delusions, and violence against women.

        • Lucy

          October 19, 2013 at 1:58 am

          Except James specifically addressed his comment to Drew.

    • Grant Neufeld

      October 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm

      As a male survivor of sexual violence myself, I fully embrace feminism because it fully embraces making this a better world – and that includes for men, too. Acknowledging that sexual violence in our society is highly gendered does not diminish or take away from my experience. It is a fact that people who do not have male privilege face higher rates of sexual violence, and that men are far, far, more often the perpetrators.

      Stating those facts doesn’t erase my experience as a male survivor. It’s just acknowledging reality.

      Feminists seek to end sexual violence. More people without male privilege are subjected to such violence, so that is where more effort goes. The thing is, whether the focus is on women or any other social classification, work to reduce (and ultimately, hopefully, eradicate) sexual violence benefits us all – including men like me.

    • Xiao Mao

      October 13, 2013 at 5:00 pm

      Ah yes… it’s ALWAYS WORSE WHEN IT HAPPENS TO MEN. Thanks for proving, yet again, that males are selfish Narcissists and it ALWAYS HAS TO BE ABOUT THEM. NAMETHEPROBLEM. com

      • S

        October 18, 2013 at 9:14 pm

        So not getting it. Please get a better understanding of what feminism is about before attacking more people in this conversation.

      • me

        October 25, 2013 at 7:02 am

        IMO… Actually, I have wondered if it didn’t happen to men, whether we women would still end up as victims. Im fact I’ve often wished there was more help for men and forums for them to address the sexual abuse they have suffered. I know the 20 year long impacts sexual abuse had on me and the stages I went through, from victim to perpetrator and I consider myself lucky to have started healing from 14!). What of MEN who DON’T get the chance to deal with the problem at all? What goes on with them? Do they become the worst kinds of perpetrators? Is this where our societies pedophiles are made? Regardless of whatever the author intended, in my view, its great when men stand and express their experience with this issue because it allows other men (and women) the opportunity to consider doing the same. And that to me is healthy.

  3. vk

    October 1, 2013 at 2:16 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you.

  4. D

    October 1, 2013 at 7:58 am

    I do agree that sex positivity needs to go deeper than simply “Sex feels good, enjoy it”, but you are speaking about it from its existence within the “middle-class, mostly white, liberal, cis-women” community and ignore what is taking place with sex positive movements in communities of color. A lot of our dialogue already works to address the exact problems that are mentioned in this article.

    Maybe mainstream white feminists could take a page (with proper credit for once) from the books of sex-positive women of color.

    • kim_e

      October 11, 2013 at 2:18 pm


      I know you are in no way obligated to point me in the right direction, or to assist in my education at all. But if you have the time and inclination, I’d love to hear your thoughts on some of the books/pages/etc you mentioned from sex-positive women of color. Even if you don’t, thanks for your comment – google and I now have a date with evernote later this evening.


  5. sarzen

    October 1, 2013 at 10:01 am

    At most the author doesn’t understands sex positivity. At the least she is not representing it fairly. Most decent accounts of sex positivity base their approach on acknowledging the dangerous aspects of sexuality and using a positive approach to sexuality as a way to overcome the structural roots of gender based violence. Also respecting and being sensitive to a partners mental and physical needs, especially in the case of a partner who has experienced sexual trauma, is a main tenant of a sex positive approach.

    • JGB

      October 2, 2013 at 10:56 pm

      sarzen – what you’re describing is how I was first introduced to sex positivity. Acceptance of boundaries and inclusivity were all part of it. But I also know that somewhere along the way, it’s been watered down, as the author points out in so many words, to individual satisfaction and outward affectations (burlesque, the mainstreaming of porn, etc.) This leaves a whole lot about human sexuality and sexual energy unexamined. This author may have brought up some hard truths, but they are things that need to be examined to bring sex positivity in the interest of eradicating violence back to the forefront.

      • sarzen

        October 3, 2013 at 12:19 pm

        JGB – totally agree! I just don’t think the cliteracy project is the best (or most effective) example of sex positivity being “watered down”. I agree its kitchsy and a bit silly but it is an art project that has received moderate attention. There are way bigger fish when it comes to representations of sexuality that marginalize and cause harm. The cliteracy project is definitely not a good example of why sex positivism needs a so-called “overhaul”.

        • JGB

          October 3, 2013 at 7:20 pm

          I’ll admit that I’m not that familiar with the Cliteracy Project outside of a few pastes I’ve seen around our neighborhood, which is why I gave other examples. I can look into it more, but I can’t really say I agree or disagree with the author’s opinion of that particular art piece.

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  7. Lo

    October 1, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Thank you so much for this. It was so moving, and brought me to tears, in a good way. I have a very similar story, and my story has influenced my feminism in a similar way. Sex positivity seems to attract white, middle-class, liberal (and dare I say gullible) feminists more and more, and I find it more damaging to the movement than anything else in its reductionist and categorical assumptions. We need to re-define and broaden the borders. Thank you for putting this out there.

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    • cs

      October 2, 2013 at 11:22 am

      Thank and bless you. I never went through the extreme abuse you describe, but I was called ugly 50 times a day forever. Then I developed very large breasts so men wanted to fuck me, not because they liked me or even found me attractive but simply so they could tell their friends about it. I was sexually assaulted by a doctor during an exam and told it was my fault because I was too large breasted. I am now supposed to be ashamed of the fact that I don’t “love my body” and am not proud of it. I am not asexual but I don’t like being handled, in fact I hate it. Sex is great for others but I just don’t want it. And I don’t like being made to feel guilty about that.

  9. alyssa

    October 2, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    wow. this piece was written with so much effin realness. i’ve been sharing ideas about trauma and sexual violence and what it means to feel those familiar yet horrid feelings, years later, in another situation.
    i’m really looking forward to sharing this piece as a way of opening up and deepening that conversation.
    thank you so much for writing this.

  10. ben

    October 2, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    i see alot of articles about someone who believes in one kind of feminism over another, who then proceeds to discredit the other form with a ‘i dont fit the mold, so it wont work’ attitude. But it has become increasingly apparent to me that just as there are different men and women who come in different sizes and colors, with different things in their heads and their harts, there is no one way to embrace feminism.

    sex positivism works………..for some…it may not work for you and thats ok…correct me if im wrong here but the tone of this article seems to belittle sex positivism because it dosent work in the authors specific case. just as there are, by your own words, ‘the myriad forms of oppression that violate women’s lives and bodies on a global scale’ there are also a myriad of different ways that the oppression is dealt with, and rejected, by feminists. i know many women who feel uncomfortable talking about sexual subject matter because of social conditioning who may benefit from sex positivism, however the issue of sexual violence is a whole lot different and requires a more tender look, as you have described beautifully.

    sex is fun, and men and women should not be afraid to say it. but no-one is saying you have to have sex, or feel bad for not wanting it, or even for wanting more then the norm. At least anyone who IS saying that ‘you must be open to sex or your not a feminist’ is a total douchebag and does not deserve a voice. freedom for all must be the most prized tenant

    • Xiao Mao

      October 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm



  11. kaa

    October 3, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Id like to redirect you to cliff’s piece about hens idea of sex-positivity which is my idea as well.

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  18. Hannah

    October 12, 2013 at 9:09 am

    This article blew me away. More from this author please!!! Well-written and eye opening.

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  22. Sam

    October 14, 2013 at 4:12 am

    A very interesting, fascinating article and perspective. It’s difficult to read that such terrible things happened to the writer and admittedly, it’s hard for me to relate given I’ve had positive sexual experiences. I will be sharing this with my friends that I know have suffered through similar experiences.

  23. Laura

    October 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Beyond your very difficult and painful experiences, and responses to them, what I read in the article above (I think) was that sex, sexuality, sexual violence, etc. are only elements of the whole of feminism: that feminism encompasses the whole of a society that features women in their selves and their bodies, and that a woman is a whole being — a full participant in society; she is not simply her individual body parts, or her emotional or mental self, or her body as a whole, or her feelings about sex or another person, or men, etc. She is a full participant in the society and the culture. Men are also full participants in the same way. And each of us experiences things in life that cause us — individually — to respond to particular words or actions in ways that may not be understood by those we encounter, in a sexual way or in any other way. And although the other person may not understand why we say or do what we say or do, they still owe us the respect to honor and accept who we are at that moment, and not try to shame us into changing our behaviors or attitudes, or ridicule us or the group we identify with, or attempt to manipulate, coerce, or force us into any action or thought that we have not chosen freely for ourselves. I applaud your courage to face this down. The popularity of the idea of equating sexual freedom with feminism, I find disturbing, and a distorted path that leads us back to an unenlightened and undifferentiated place where stereotypes and assumptions ruled the day, instead of the place we have (almost) arrived — a place where each of us is safe to be who we see ourselves to be, without threat of coercion, shaming, manipulation, or violence from others who wish to make us conform to their wishes and control.

  24. Kittenhasawhip

    October 14, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    I’m a gray-a person, so I really relate to this perspective, although it’s a bit different for me. “Sex-positivity”‘s very premises are incredibly..well, contrary to my experiences. And when I talk about my experiences (lacking sexual attraction, having sex as a chore) the people I speak with usually accuse me of not “doing it right,” of being somehow repressed, of just not finding what “turns me on.” As if every single person in the world must be gratified sexually, must want sexual gratification from a partner, must have some unique turn on to be “normal” or “feminist.” Talk about erasure!

    And when I do meet sexual people who accept my identity as a gray-a, they only accept it in a tokenistic way. The scope of their acceptance goes something like “yeah, it’s okay to not feel sexual attraction…lets talk more about our fetishes!” There isn’t really a space given to people who want to explore the problems, and joys, of life without sexual attraction. Sex-positivity, in that respect, hardly encompasses my identity as a gray-a person who occasionally has sex with a sexual partner.

    Additionally, the sex-positive circles I’ve been around are not willing to question their sexualities. Oddly enough, sex-positive people I know talk a lot about the basics of sex, sex-safety, and the wide array of sex fetishes, but rarely talk about *why* they might have a preference for certain sexual practices. Again, I think this stems from an underlying premise found in a lot of sex-positive thought: sexuality is a given, is natural, and thus could not possibly be influenced by outside things. And even if such influences exist, we don’t dare to bring them up for fear of finding that these things are less than “positive.” That’s just my impression.

  25. Caroline

    October 24, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    I am amazed at the arrogance and hatefulness of Lia’s slapdown to Drew.
    The article was about how sex-positive attitudes, expressed as a liberation, are problematic to female rape victims. Drew essentially drew attention to the fact that it can also apply to male rape victims. It wasn’t clear to me whether he was talking about female sex-positivity as a feminist act having the equivalent effect on male rape victims, or whether it was more male sex positivity as a parallel, but either way, it was absolutely a relevant point.

    I think there were some good insights in the original article, but Lia’s hateful rape-victim-shaming has just brought up a whole lot of stuff which totally wiped that from my mind.

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  27. Elizabeth

    October 29, 2013 at 1:37 am

    This was really thoughtful. At first I was a tiny bit skeptical because I do like “sex positive” feminism and some of the cliteracy project, and I do think that female sexual satisfaction is important. But the article did not denounce any of those things, but rather contextualized them within other, greater needs and goals. And showed how privilege of various kinds could shape how we choose which of these goals is made public. Also it was very brave of the author to share her personal experience. Very good work!

  28. Adrian

    October 30, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I don’t think it’s such a great idea to critique the movement of the Cliteracy Project, as it can be harmful. The ideas of survivor centric sex and anatomical education can be very useful, especially to survivors. This viewpoint of mine was guided by but I really believe it to be true.