Fellow FTB blogger Great American Satan wrote a post called Sex Positivity: Still Necessary, which defends sex-positivity against asexual discourse. This is a response from an asexual perspective.
First, some general comments:
- I consider myself sex-positive. However, because I participate in the ace community, non-sex-positive, or sex-negative views are within my Overton window. I will offer some defenses of these views, but I ultimately agree with the thesis that sex positivity is still necessary.
- If you read the comments on GAS’s post, there are a few from Elizabeth Leuw. I will say basically the same things she does, but with fewer links. This does not necessarily reflect a consensus view, it’s just that Elizabeth and I are on similar wavelengths. She is one of my cobloggers on The Asexual Agenda.
Sex positivity in principle and practice
The central problem with sex-positivity is its supporters. If you meet several sex-positive people, and all of them advocate for harmful messages (e.g. everyone should enjoy sex; no one should ever be grossed out by sex; more sexual content in the public sphere is necessarily better in the long run), you might reasonably disidentify with sex-positivity. You might like sex-positivity in principle, but dislike in practice, and what it is in practice is important. Or perhaps you think that the roots of its problems lie within its principles.
I will point out that this is not so different from the way many FTB readers disidentify with the skeptical or atheist movements. You could decide that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and DJ Grothe are so bad that you want no part. Or you could decide that you want to stay involved.
It’s a personal decision, and it depends a lot on the kinds of contexts you encounter. For instance, the ace Tumblr community is pretty young (median age ~20), and not necessarily involved in wider political contexts. Instead they seem to spend a lot of time arguing with asexual exclusionary radical feminists. They’re not really seeing the best of the sex-positive movement there. I tend to interact more with SJ-oriented atheist spaces, and of course I think y’all are the greatest. For me, sex-positivity is associated with abortion rights, sex worker rights, queer rights, anti-slut-shaming, and opposing conservative religious agendas, and I’m down with that.
It doesn’t help that sex-positivity has no clear definition, in ace spaces especially. Historically, the meaning of “sex-positive” has been greatly diluted in the ace sphere, often used to mean “I’m fine with other people having sex”. This turns it into a meaningless expression of respectability politics to reassure allos that our tiny little minority isn’t out to get them. Disidentification with “sex-positive” typically constitutes a rejection of respectability politics, rather than a statement that people should stop having sex. It’s a statement that we’re not going to hide or censor ourselves in order to be more palatable to the general public.
Even sex-positive allos seem to have different ideas about what sex-positivity means. For instance, GAS offered the following:
Sex is natural and normal for people to engage in. They should not be shamed or abused for being sexual, within the bounds of consenting acts between adults.
I agree with these principles in their literal sense, but they have problems. People tend to assume that therefore it is unnatural and abnormal to not engage in sex. Obviously aces have a problem with this, a HUGE problem. If they don’t interact extensively with sex-positive activism, they might even see it as the most salient characteristic about sex-positivity. And if someone told me that the roots of the problem lay within the principles of sex-positivity, yeah, I could see that.
Shame vs aversion
GAS offered the following reasons why shaming sexual activity is bad:
One, sexual disgust is the basis of most homophobic oppression. Look at the propaganda used by US Xtian fucklords to promote ant-LGBT violence and state persecution in Uganda, Russia, Jamaica, etc. It is ENTIRELY based on presenting sex acts as disgusting. To see sex as positive in its various forms is a way of fighting against that.
And two, shaming people for the amount of and types of sex they have is the basis of much misogynist oppression, especially in the domain of women’s health and reproductive rights. Sex positivity and fighting against slut shaming directly fight back against those who would use promiscuity as an excuse to brutalize and oppress others. It’s so important, I’d go so far as to say it’s essential.
Lots of aces are what we call “repulsed” or “averse” to sex, meaning that they don’t like hearing about it or seeing it. In some cases, this goes beyond mere discomfort, and in some cases can even be triggering (it can be triggering for plenty of allos too!).
This is not the same as shaming people for their sexual practices. Shaming is a public action, a way to express or construct cultural norms. Aversion is a personal disposition. Unfortunately it’s all too easy to draw a connection between the two. I’m not accusing GAS of drawing any connection, but rather saying this is a thing that sex-positive activists do sometimes. Often the connection is mediated by “disgust” which may either refer to public shaming or to personal disposition.
And for what it’s worth, I think that shaming and aversion can feed into each other. When conservative Christians express disgust with LGBT people, I believe their disgust is sincere. And at the same time, that sincere disgust is culturally influenced. Nobody gets a free pass just because their actions arise from sincere personal dispositions.
Where do we draw the line between shaming and aversion? I think this is a nuanced issue that unfortunately doesn’t get much nuanced attention. Ace activists tend to see only one side, and sex-positive activists see only the other.
Without saying anything too substantive, I will simply say that some disgust has got to be acceptable. I don’t interact much with kinky discourse, but there are some obvious parallels to draw. There are so many kinks that even kinky people will be turned off by some of them. Is it wrong for them to be disgusted? Is it wrong for them to publicly express their dislike? Obviously not, although if the kink they dislike is widely marginalized they might try to be careful about it. Sexually averse aces are in a similar position, although the things they’re averse to are usually more mainstream.
Bad asexual advocacy
GAS says the following:
Many asexual advocates are also SWERFs, or Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists. Their views line up perfectly with those of right wing religious opposition to pornography and sex work on pretty much every level. Given that keeping sex work illegal or on the margins of law prevents meaningful regulation that can save lives, given that it’s part of the reason prostitution is the single most dangerous profession in the USA, you’re going to need a mountain of evidence to convince me this is a reasonable position. And even then, I’ll take the word of sex workers over people who are admittedly “sex repulsed,” when it comes to matters of major impact on their lives and livelihoods.
I wouldn’t say that “many” asexual advocates are SWERFs, but I don’t wish to diminish the critique by saying #notallasexuals. I can certainly recall a few specific examples of what GAS is talking about. Asexual activists have much credibility in criticizing sex work, so I don’t know why they even bother (says the concern troll).
I don’t have much to say about this except that I agree. Sometimes aces have substantive disagreement with even “good” sex-positive activism. It is fair to criticize them on this.