CLPP Reproductive Justice Conference: Sex Positive Feminism

Bonjour!  Live-blogging once again at CLPP’s Reproductive Justice Conference at Hampshire College.  I’m participating in the interactive Sex Positive Feminism 101 workshop organized by staffers from HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive).

We kicked things off by confronting stereotypes.  Audience members held signs with words on it; the rest of the audience shouted out clues and they had to guess what word was written on their sign.

  • Bitch –  lesbian, man-hater, ball-buster – you’re my bitch, you’re a bitch if you don’t want to have sex – judgments based on their actions
  • Prude – uptight, vanilla – someone who doesn’t want to have sex or has “boring” sex (the missionary position); vanilla on the spectrum is what you see portrayed in the media, the BDSM end could encompass chains, whips, etc. – judgments about behavior and choices.
  • Slut – whore, hooker prostitute – if a woman is having lots of sex with one partner it’s okay but not if it’s lots of sex with lots of different people, you’re bad; there’s a fine balance, if a woman doesn’t have enough sex, she’s bad; if she has too much, she’s bad…judgment on behavior
  • Pussy – asshole cunt, dick – they’re loaded with negativity
  • Gay – queer, fag, dyke – used as a sex identity but used as a negative slur too (“that’s so gay, he’s so gay”)

Society views all of these words as sex-negative, imbued with gendered stereotypes.  There’s power in language; our judgments about sex are loaded.

We then brainstormed the harms of sex: STIs, unplanned pregnancy, emotional baggage, pressure, body image, rape, abuse, oppression, regrets, reputation, arrest (in sex work), weapon of war, disorders, commercialization.

Then we listed the benefits of sex: orgasm, connection, love, wanted babies, money, experience, self-discovery, empowerment, satisfaction, stress relief, endorphins, exercise, self-love, energy, relaxation, positive body image, trust, fun, creativity, activism.

Some themes arose; the benefits of sex are self-driven and many of the harms are imposed.  Taking it a step further, it encompasses choice.  Sex is positive when you have a choice.  Through agency and choice, sex can be positive and empowering.

The HIPS staffers discussed Andrea Dworkin and the beginnings of sex-positive feminism.  Dworkin asserted that pornography oppresses women.  Those who are sex positive counter,

“If you tell me that my decisions are oppressed, then you’re not seeing me as a woman with agency…then you’re perpetuating patriarchy.”

We talked about sex positivity and all the words associated: safe sex, healthy attitude, communication, lack of assumptions, pro-active about sex instead of reactive.  Sex is complex; class, race and trans phobia all play a role.  To have true agency of consent, you need to be able to talk about your desire.  Rape and sexual assault are often all that’s talked about on campus when sex is discussed.  If that’s all we’re talking about, we’re not empowering people in a complex way.  What does “yes” look like?

We then broke out into small groups sharing our negative and positive experiences with sex.  One of the topics that arose in my group was assumptions; assumptions of people looking straight and therefore being straight or a trans woman being a lesbian.

As a feminist, I often advocate for reproductive rights and sexual health.  Living amidst a sexist rape culture, society tells us over and over that women shouldn’t enjoy sex or their bodies.  Women straddle the Madonna/whore divide; they must control their behavior.  If they don’t, society punishes them for their deviance.  Yet sexuality (or asexuality) is a crucial component of someone’s identity.  We need to curb our assumptions and support people’s choices.

Read my other posts on CLPP’s 2011 Reproductive Justice Conference.

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