Image by Bridgette Magyap
Every movement eventually splits into factions of people who all believe the same thing but have very different methods of achieving and/or understanding the overarching goal. Feminism has many branches: Mainstream Feminism (which a lot of feminists are beginning to reject as they become more knowledgeable about feminism), Intersectional Feminism, Radical Feminism, Ecofeminism, Global Feminism, Feminism that focuses on various marginalized groups, etc. And then there’s sex positive feminism. If you’ve read this then you know how I feel about it. To summarize, sex positive feminism is at its best when it’s functioning as the sex education a lot of us never got or when it’s simply encouraging women to have healthier ideas about the nature of sex and of their bodies. Unfortunately, it’s taken a bit of a nasty turn.
Sex positivity has gone from education and destigmatization to promotion. I know this is true because there are feminists who argue that feminists who are anti-porn are promoting patriarchal standards by throwing a blanket over female sexuality. Now, I think porn as an idea isn’t that ridiculous. People like sex so it makes sense that people are titillated. It even makes sense that people would want to make their own videos with a partner. I’m not saying to go out and do that; I’m just saying I get it. The problem is not the idea. The problem is that people mess everything up. Since the film Deep Throat hit theaters in the ‘70s the porn industry has been making bank off the literal sexual abuse of women. Linda Boreman (Linda Lovelace), the star of the film that set the porn industry as we know it in motion, married Chuck Traynor in 1971. Chuck Traynor publically acted as her manager but behind closed doors he was essentially her pimp. Traynor frequently used force and even held Boreman at gunpoint to get her to perform sexually for money. Boreman’s first film was Dogarama, which was a bestiality film, and then came Deep Throat.
What’s disturbing about this film is that Gerard Damiano, the director, argues here that Deep Throat was, “The first time that anyone ever treated sex openly, honestly, humorously, as if we were doing nothing that you had to be ashamed about. It shows that if you’re gay it’s ok to be gay. If you’re heterosexual it’s ok to be heterosexual (which. . . who even was arguing that in the first place? Was there a heterosexual controversy I missed?). . . If you want to spend your life hating men. That’s ok too. Deep Throat did that.” What? He then went on to say that women who think porn encourages men to be violent against women are saying that with no actual basis. Sleazy right? It’s especially sleazy when you consider the fact that Linda Boreman herself said, “Virtually every time someone watches that movie, they’re watching me being raped.”
This is the film considered the beginning of the modern porn industry. At the time Damiano may not have felt there was sufficient evidence to back up the claims of feminists but, since Boreman’s own words were apparently not enough at that time, we are far enough removed from porn’s infancy to see its effects. Tumblr user luaren put together a comprehensive and disturbing list of just what those effects are. Please be warned before clicking it that the information is incredibly disturbing. Lauren includes some testimonies of women who worked in the industry including Boreman [TW: rape, abuse, violence]:
- Linda Boreman (Lovelace): ”My initiation into prostitution was a gang rape by five men, arranged by Mr. Traynor. It was the turning point in my life. He threatened to shoot me with the pistol if I didn’t go through with it. I had never experienced anal sex before and it ripped me apart. They treated me like an inflatable plastic doll, picking me up and moving me here and there. They spread my legs this way and that, shoving their things at me and into me, they were playing musical chairs with parts of my body. I have never been so frightened and disgraced and humiliated in my life. I felt like garbage. I engaged in sex acts for pornography against my will to avoid being killed. The lives of my family were threatened.”
- Alexa James: “The first shoot I did was with a man who was probably 40 and he was as thick as a soda can. He held me down and shoved it in me with no lube tearing my vagina. When I started to tear up and cry he flipped me over and continued from behind be so they wouldn’t get me crying on film. He pulled my hair and choked me over and over again even when I told him it hurt and I could barely breathe.”
- Roxy: ”After only 30 movies I caught two sexually transmitted diseases. Herpes, a non-curable disease and HPV, which led to cervical cancer where I had to have half of my cervix removed. Porn destroyed my life.”
- Youth who look at violent x-rated material are six times more likely to report forcing someone to do something sexual online or in-person versus youth not exposed to x-rated material. 
- American children begin consuming hardcore pronography at an average age of 11.
The sad thing is, those are not even the worst facts. And with the start that it had with Deep Throat is it any wonder that the porn industry has become what it’s become? I think because we want to believe that since we are feminists we claim the right to do whatever we want as feminist. Unfortunately, that leads to the cosigning of some pretty harmful stuff. I’m not telling you to give up porn. It’s not my job to tell you what to do. I’m saying that cosigning it in the way that it functions right now isn’t right. Not every decision we make is feminist and doesn’t need to be spun as such. I can wear red lipstick till I’m blue in the face but that doesn’t make it feminist. Sometimes the things you do are the things you do and there’s no need to make it a part of your agenda because you end up hurting more than you’re helping. When we view porn and flagrant displays of sexuality as liberating and “feminist” we end up contributing to patriarchy more than we critique it.
Image by elliecraze
For instance, in high school, I was playing spin the bottle with some friends. I went to spin and it landed on a female friend. I didn’t want to kiss her especially since our male friends seemed very eager for us to do it. She kept making a big show of proving that she was game for it and that it wasn’t a big deal. When I stood my ground I was made to feel that I wasn’t “liberated” and that I needed to loosen up. And it happens all the time, when you’re in high school, when you’re college, you will see this pressure for young women to prove that they are “free” by using their bodies to entertain the men around them. You’ll find girls having sex, not because they want to, but because it’s expected that young women shouldn’t care so much about it anymore. You’ll find girls anxious to prove that they can have sex “like boys.” But even more disturbingly you will find young men using the language of women’s empowerment to persuade young women to do things they don’t want to do.
And this is all without getting into the fact that not only does sex positivity promote the porn industry (which makes money off the real and imagined sexual assaults of women and children) because choices, not only is it influencing a generation of young women who are going along to get along, it creates an atmosphere that excludes asexuals. Not everyone is even interested in sex and because we live in a world in which sex is everywhere and made to seem like a teenage/young adult rite of passage they feel that something is wrong with them. It should be sex positivity’s job to help those people understand that they are not alone and not broken. Not having sex and not being interested in putting your sexuality on display is perfectly fine and I fear that in our quest to destigmatize sex we’ve gone in the other direction.
Another issue is that because sex positivity, without ever intending to, bears such a close resemblance to patriarchy it’s one of the most accessible forms of feminism. A lot of feminists use it to soften the blow when they reveal to men that they are feminists. Even I used to do it. It makes sense. You want for feminism to not be a scary word for people and you want people to know that it can be fun. And it is. We have comic books, etsy shops, books, pretty great music, wonderful magazines, and a great sense of humor- but instead of focusing on that we go for what sells-sex. This is why Sex & the City, a show I love even though it’s more and more problematic the more I learn about feminism, was hailed as feminist tv when it came out.
Of course, a lot of feminists shot it down but it’s still sort of associated with the movement much to the chagrin of many feminists. I’m a fan of the show but once I started watching again after learned a lot about the movement. . . I was appalled. Charlotte says something sexist just about every time she opens her mouth. And Samantha who was heralded as the show’s most exciting feminist character is simply a woman who has a nice job and enjoys sex. That’s it and that’s the problem. What we’ve accidently created is a subculture of young women who think that sex positivity is the be all end all of feminism. They can tell you about sexual double standards but they can’t tell you about rape culture. I know because I was one of those feminists when I first started getting into it. And let me tell you. That is disturbing.
I’m not advocating for the erasure of sex positivity but I am advocating an overhaul. It’s time for us to start being more mindful about the things we call feminist and the things we advocate for in the name of feminism. It’s time we started remembering that just because something makes you, personally, feel liberated doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t drowning. I think it’s starting to get a little better as I’ve been noticing more and more critiques on sex positivity on my tumblr dashboard but we have a long way to go before we reach a sex positivity middleground. A place that doesn’t condemn sex and sexuality but isn’t promoting action without thought. We all like problematic things. We are all interested in things we shouldn’t be interested in. The key is not to justify them but to admit to yourself that you’re absorbing something harmful and to come up with/advocate ways to make it less harmful. Don’t bend things to make them fit into your praxis but acknowledge, speak out, and adjust.