Why I’m not a Sex Positive Feminist

Why I’m not a Sex Positive Feminist

I have a confession to make, dear readers: I’m a sex critical feminist. I don’t espouse sex positive mantras day in and day out; and I don’t think sex is the most liberating thing in a woman’s life.

Before you all burn me at the stake for being the world’s worst feminist, hear me out.

I don’t hate sex. I think sex can be great. I think for some people, it can be liberating. And I definitely don’t think women (or anyone of any gender) should be shamed for having sex. But I am sex critical, and I do not believe in sex positivity.

Or at least, I don’t believe in it in practice. In theory? Fantastic! It fights back against decades of female sexual expression. It promotes proper sex education; it encourages women to explore their sexualities in a way many never have; it breaks taboos and promotes open, healthy discussion.

All of those things are great, and I’ve seen many sex positive feminists doing these wonderful things, encouraging women to talk about their experiences with sex and their body openly and without shame.

And that’s great – if only more sex positive feminists were like that. Unfortunately, they’re not.

Time and time again I’ve seen people ignore the fact that, for some people, sex is awful. They seem to think that sex positivity means thinking all sex is good sex, and everyone should be having it.

They forget that some people don’t experience sexual attraction at all. They forget that for some people, sex is deeply entangled with trauma and abuse. They forget that for some people, sex just isn’t that wonderful.

Sure, sex can be liberating, and a large amount of feminism is centered around sex, sexuality, and reproductive rights. But there’s also a huge amount of work done in the name of feminism that has nothing to do with sex, and it’s foolish to pretend that being sexually ‘liberated’ will magically fix problems like rape, the pay gap, and violence against trans women and women of colour.

Of course, I’m not saying that sex positive feminists are bad feminists, or that solely focussing on sex makes you a terrible person. It doesn’t, obviously. If you like sex and like talking about it then great, you do that. I’m all for instilling confidence in women and encouraging them to own their bodies. But when we start pretending that sexual liberation is the answer to all the world’s issues, then we have a problem.

What’s more, many sex positive feminists seem unable to critique sex in anyway. They think that just because a woman is doing something, it’s fine and liberating and oh so feminist. They think freedom of choice is the ultimate goal of feminism, forgetting that every choice is automatically informed by the misogynistic and patriarchal world that we live in. A choice is not feminist just because a woman made it; and sex is not inherently good just because a woman is having it.

So whilst I applaud many sex positive feminists, remember that positivity doesn’t, and shouldn’t mean being uncritical. Until more sex positive feminists realise this, and until more sex positive feminists start questioning their belief in the inherent ‘goodness’ of sex, I’m gonna carry on labeling myself sex critical.

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2 Comments

  1. February 6, 2017 / 16:11

    I’m a little bit confused by some of your points… could you provide some examples?

    E.g. who’s saying that sexual liberation will solve everything?

    To me, sex positivity is the idea that as long as it’s consensual, sex is a good thing. Is it the principal of that that you don’t agree with, do you have a different idea of what it is, or is it the way that it’s being put into practice that you don’t agree with?

    What does being sex critical mean in a practical sense?

    What kind of sex choice do you feel should be critiqued?

    • Liv Woodward
      February 18, 2017 / 13:43

      I think it’s important to note that this post is very much coming from my personal experience with sex positive feminism. So when I say people believe that sexual liberation will solve everything, I’m referring to the fact that the vast majority of sex positive feminists I’ve encountered both in real life and online seem to ignore other feminist issues in favour of promoting sexual liberation; as well as the fact that many people believe (again, people i’ve encountered IRL and online) that once women can freely sleep with as many people as they like, feminism will have done its job.

      I definitely agree with sex positivity in that I believe sex should not be taboo and women and NB should be free to explore their sexuality without fear or judgement. But I think sex isn’t an inherently good thing. For many people, even consensual sex brings back harmful memories of trauma. Some people don’t want to have sex at all (asexual people, for instance) – but will consent to it because society (and sex positive feminism) stresses time and time again the importance of sex in relationships. I think many sex positive feminists (again, in my own personal experience!) forget this, or actively try and shout over people who don’t enjoy sex or speak about it with valid criticism.

      To be, being sex critical means recognising that sex is not good for everyone; acknowledging that sex can be consensual but still damaging for people; and acknowledging that the pressure to view sex as a good thing can lead many asexual, trauma survivors, and others to feel negatively about themselves because of the way they feel about sex.

      I feel like sex choices such as rape fetishes and fetishes for grown women in school-girl/child-like costumes should be critiqued. That doesn’t mean I think people with those fetishes should be shamed, or that they are always bad, just that we need to look at where they come from. Kinks and fetishes don’t exist in a vacuum – they are influenced strongly by the society we live in, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that. Too often, valid criticisms from rape victims about consensual rape fetishes (for example) are shut down too quickly because ‘omg you can’t kind shame’, however I think it’s important to listen to these criticisms, and try to understand where certain fetishes come from.

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