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Sex positivity is a sham

Sex_positiveThe sex positivity movement perpetuates the lie that beautiful sex equals nude bodies of thin, cis, conventionally attractive, able-bodied, white women in male-gaze-centric pornography. It’s time for some sex inclusivity, writes Meg Freeman.

12 September 2010

I remember my first encounters with the sex positivity/sex positive movement, especially through the internet. I remember loving the basic principle of the thing: “Sex is awesome! No one should be ashamed of their sexuality or wanting sex! Let’s bring it out into the open so we can all enjoy a healthy, happy relationship with sex!”

I can get with that, really.

But there was this lie in the whole thing, and the lie was told by blog after blog, webpage after webpage that talked a great game about how we can be open about sex, but seemed to equate sex with the nude bodies of thin, conventionally attractive, blonde white women in male-gaze centric pornography, as though if I really pushed myself to enjoy such titles as Biker Bitches 5 and clinically lit photo shoots of a woman with her legs in improbably acrobatic positions, I’d be making the world a better place.

Because that’s what the world needed: more people to applaud the open display of sculpted bodies as though somehow, that would liberate my fat, pansexual ass from the confines of sexual oppression.

As though the ways in which society has pushed at me and pushed at me, telling me to keep my fat ass covered and my queer thoughts to myself is the same as what society tells a 5’8, 110 lbs,  straight, white woman with no disabilities.

Because it isn’t.

People have been celebrating the sexualities of attractive white people for centuries. In fact, I’d say if there were ever a time when people’s discomfort towards sex dissipates and they’re willing to accept, tolerate, and engage with sexual content is when it comes in the form of these bodies, these pre-approved forms.

We actually accept a lot of sex in our society. We accept Victoria’s Secret ads and commercials, we don’t mind Calvin Klein giving us artsy black and white shots of picturesque, perfectly chiseled men in their underwear. Hell, we’ll even let those kinds of things get away with some homoerotic subtext.

If two underwear models should be embracing themselves in their latest Victoria’s bra-and-panty set, we’re sort of okay with this. We accept movie after movie that might as well be porn without the money shot because the White Ingenue and White Hero Du Jour are in it.

To pretend that the level or type of repression of sex is the same across the board, or that conventionally attractive, thin, able, cis, straight white people need the same amount of liberation as others is a lie and a slap in the face to those who know differently.

I mean, just look at the shit the Lane Bryant ad got for something that Victoria’s Secret would’ve gotten no comment for. And can you imagine if they’d dared to use a dark-skinned model for that commercial, a fat Black woman or a fat Southeast Asian woman, or a fat transgendered non-white model? They probably wouldn’t have aired it at all.

When’s the last time you saw anyone advertising non-GLBT products with obviously, openly GLBT models and themes? When’s the last time you saw a butch lesbian selling you toothpaste or a trans man hocking insurance or a disabled person shilling laundry detergent?

So when I take these things into account, I think of my experience with going through these “sex positivity” sites.

I looked and looked in those sex positivity blogs and sites, in their pictures and stories and I didn’t find a lot of fat people (male or female), people of color, queer people. I have yet to find a mainstream sex positivity site (yes, this movement has a mainstream) that features trans people in all their beauty.

Forget seeing disabled people displaying their various modes of sexuality. Forget seeing their bodies displayed as revolutionary and world-changing and an example of how sex is really, really awesome.

I learned soon enough that most sex positivity is actually White Straight Thin Able Cisgendered Cissexual Positivity.

And the world is already positive enough on those traits, thank you very much.

I see so many blogs that are about how great sex is, showing sex, getting the great nudes and erotica and porn out there to the masses, showing it openly.

But outside of blogs dedicated specifically to certain subsets of people (for instance, the fabulous fuckyeahblackdykes Tumblr or fuckyeahcurvygirls feed), the mainstream sex blogs are doing what mainstream sex blogs have always done: Teaching us that beautiful sex = white, thin, straight people.

Worse yet, so many queer-oriented blogs are so white, able, and cis that it hurts.

I’m a pansexual/cisgender/cissexual person, and when I see these blogs I see the white, Western version of queerdom splattered across the screen.

Occasionally I’ll see a white person with a partner who is non-white, but it’s rare. The usual ratio seems to be one to every 50 or so posts. Shots and stories and displays of people of color together, with no white persons involved, are limited to specialty feeds.

And I have yet to see these sorts of “Fuckyeah[insert thing]” feeds focusing on disabled, queer people of color. I wouldn’t begin to hope to see disabled, queer PoC held up on the mainstream blogs and sites or even thought of.

Why do I go on about all this? As though those who are aware don’t already know it and those who aren’t aware don’t want to deny it?

Because I’m tired of people defending porn, acting as though somehow I’m a sex negative person and a traitor to sexual liberties if I disdain and actively hate the US porn industry that holds up “feminist” porn, or porn directed by a few women who have been trained in the male gaze as though it will appease me.

As though women haven’t been repeating the sexist, male-centered messages we’re fed all our lives, as though most of these feminist directors aren’t white, able, cisgendered women who come with loads of their own prejudices.

Women can oppress other women. And indeed, much of misogyny and rape culture in the US is transmitted from woman to woman, from mother to daughter, friend to friend, sister to sister.

So don’t tell me that because the person behind the camera has a vagina and IDs as female that I should be impressed by a product that looks and feels exactly like what men put out.

Because, honestly, it’s like telling me I should feel liberated as a pansexual woman because so many men enjoy seeing two women kiss each other for their pleasure and “lesbian” (ie - female-on-female for male pleasure) porn is popular .

No, thanks. That’s not liberation, that’s control by other means.

I’m tired of the lies.

If you’re sex positive and you’re not making an active effort to include and celebrate all kinds of sexuality from all kinds of people? You’re a fucking liar. There it is. You’re a liar.

Because sex positivity and body positivity and anti-racism and fat acceptance and the disability movement and queer positivity and womanism are part of the same thing.

Same with any movement. Fat acceptance? If you’re only showing fat white people or fat able people or fat straight people, then you’re not fat accepting, you’re just white supremacy enforcing and trying to bring chubby people under that umbrella of dominance.

I’m tired of the people who put up some Tumblr blogs and showcase the same old, same old and act like they’re part of a revolution. They’re not. They’re part of making sure that lots of other people know exactly whose sex is celebrated and whose isn’t.

So I say FUCK sex positivity. I want sex inclusivity.

Meg Freeman is a pansexual woman living in Queens, New York City, a Southern girl originally from Tennessee. She works as a researcher for a travel information company and whenever she can, she writes whatever she can. She blogs at Madame Thursday where this article first appeared.




-1 #7 Lisa from Chicago 2010-09-27 09:58
Like many of the other commenters, I don't think you should blame a movement (which is striving to be radically inclusive- I'm actually shocked that this hasn't been your experience in NY) for some mainstream bloggers either don't fully understand or are trying to co-opt sex positivity.
0 #6 redred 2010-09-22 03:29
in the scene where i live so much of it is community led and word of mouth. It's not blogged. It's not filmed. It's not for broad viewing and it's not for profit.

One of the most fantastic sex positive queer/perverted scenes i saw recently was a show at HardOn in London - now there's a club where you see one of everything (including all shades of the gender spectrum). A guy who's a frequent punter is a double amputee and a rubberist. He's a wheelchair user and has bespoke rubber outfits which accentuate his upper body strength and fetishise his amputations (well, they do to me!). He fucked a guy with his thigh stump. It was bloody fantastic.
0 #5 Phoebe 2010-09-14 09:44
My fat trans pansexual genderqueer tuppence:

I think there's some complexity here that might be being missed.

- There's a lot of stuff that happens to be personally liberating for sexually repressed people who otherwise carry plenty of privilege. Discovering sex positivity and combining that with a priviileged "universal" voice status as an average conventionally- attractive white middle class able person means that their voices dominate, like they do in so many other spaces (look at pre-sexpositive feminism for instance!)

- There's a great degree to which singularly-repr essed people seem to (in general) suddenly discover and throw off shackles and believe that their discovery and backlash against oppressive indoctrination is somehow profound and special (which would be why pole-dancing and then burlesque were prescribed as sudden miracle cures for repression as if sexual repression weren't a complex thing that reaches over all sorts of other issues and isn't going to be dealt with by a few middle class healthy white women feeling sexy for half an hour in a night class) whilst a lot of multiply oppressed people seem to be more aware that oppression in general is an enormous thing to be taking on.

- Conventional "male gaze" porn is sexy to a lot of the people who are promoting it, including the supposedly "deluded" or "controlled" women who get off on it. I don't think this is a bad thing. Everyone's got what turns them on and the real problem in my eyes is that respectability is only ever offered to what's conventional. Plastic stereotype porn is great for those who love it (when produced ethically and sometimes it is), but it'd be nice if as a movement we could build some broad solidarity from the mainstream to the minority, without ending up with a patronise-the-m inority-porn-pe ople thing hopefully.

Hopefully will come back to this, not enough time now.
0 #4 selacious crumb 2010-09-14 05:19
my comment was a tad long so i turned in into a blog post
0 #3 del lagrace volcano 2010-09-14 00:21
So much I would like to say to this article but rushing out to create a nascent human! My work isn't what
you would call mainstream but my latest book, FEMMES OF POWER:EXPLODING QUEER FEMININITIES
is a response to the tendency to only feature 'skinny white chicks', even w/in queer cultural production. Will have a closer
read asap and respond more fully!
0 #2 E 2010-09-13 13:03
Oh, man. YES YES YES. I follow a bunch of tumblrs for porn and although some of them have the occasional nonwhite/somewh at-heavy subject in the photos, the vast vast majority are white and thin. It depresses me. One of the gay ones I follow for the sexy dudes I may actually stop following because the photos are all starting to look the same. White, lean, muscled guys are hot, but even the tastiest mashed potatoes get boring when that's all you ever eat.
0 #1 me 2010-09-13 08:56
Erm, have you seen sites like tube8 and tnaflix that feature all kinds of videos? They seem quite inclusive to me.

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