Updated: May 22, 2019
By Jay Alba
On Tuesday, we released the first of a three part series, which explores female sexuality in the context of the Sex Positivity movement. We discussed the changing tides towards acceptance of unconventional desires, such as kinks and non-monogamous relationships.
We interviewed three young women with experience working in the sex industry, who could dispel some of the preconceived notions about their professions. And finally, we took a brief look at the #MeToo movement, and how it sparked a nationwide conversation on consent.
For Part 2, we’re going to switch sides. Because no social justice movement is completely without faults. And while the message of Sex Positivity has the best intentions, there are certain oversights that should be addressed in a critical way.
Exclusion within a “welcoming” community
The Suffrage Movement has an unsavory history, particularly in regards to the blatant exclusion of women of color—not the finest hour for our heroes, admittedly. Present-day feminist messaging has evolved to emphasize the inclusion of all marginalized groups, and acknowledge the need for overlap—or intersection—among the various social justice campaigns. Hence the term, intersectional feminism.
In a similar vein, while the Sex Positive movement promotes a message of inclusion, certain groups still feel excluded from the conversation, such as asexuals, trans-women, non-binary individuals, etc. This push for sexual empowerment comes with a connotation that “more sex” equals “better sex.”
There’s a specific type of woman that has the opportunity to thrive in 2018: the “Down for Anything” girl. Ten years ago, or maybe just five years ago, the “Down for Anything” girl was labelled as a “slut,” for being sexually adventurous. In 2018, she’s able to express her sexuality in an unapologetic manner, with less fear of judgement—specifically, from other women.
“In my twenties, I had this idea that my value was connected to my willingness to sexually perform,” says Lux Alptraum, a sex-writer based in New York. “I happen to be a person who genuinely enjoyed sexual exploration. But, I think it was harmful for me to see that as more valuable in a partner. Because it created this idea in my mind that if I wanted to say no, that was a problem.”
Lux has been a sex educator since she was 14, and she’s been writing sex commentary for several years now. She’s well-versed in these discussions, and she’s not afraid to criticize the Sex Positive community, so expect to hear more from her as you read on.
Today’s culture promotes an underlying message that encourages us to be more adventurous. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in some ways, it is unfair. Ironically, this push to be inclusive of all sexual preferences seems to ignore the many valid reasons why someone would prefer to not have sex. They could be asexual. They could be abstaining for religious reasons. They could be survivors of sexual assault. Alternatively, they could be enjoying sexual pleasure, just not in the traditional “hetero-normal” sense.
“It’s great that we’re normalizing the idea of talking about sex, we just have to make sure we’re not reinforcing this limited idea,” Lux says.
I think it’s important to remind people of the true message of the Sex Positive movement: that you as an individual are free to have as much sex as you want—or none at all. You as an individual can express your sexual desires—if you have any—in whatever way you choose to, as long as you do so in a safe, ethical, and consensual manner.
A Critical Response to the Idea of Sex Work as Empowering
In Part 1, I had the opportunity to interview three young women in the sex industry, who could offer a more positive perspective, and address some of the misconceptions surrounding their professions. Their experiences show that it is possible to thrive, emotionally and financially, through a career in the sex industry. I appreciate these perspectives, and I respect the women as individuals, but . . . I’m conflicted.
On one hand, I truly believe that the women who voluntarily enter the sex industry have to be strong, clever, and self-motivated people—the nature of their work demands it. I’ve never understood why we, as a society, look down on them, for providing a service, instead of the men who are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for that service. On the flip-side, I don’t agree with the idea that sex work can be considered empowering.
“Empowering is a really loaded term,” Lux says. “I would argue that to some degree, most jobs are empowering, in the sense that money gives people the power to do things.”
If you remember from Part 1, Toby M and Lotus both referenced their income as a source of empowerment. Their profits from stripping and Sugar-Babying would fund nice vacations or other luxuries that most women in their early twenties couldn’t afford. Obviously, this would feel empowering—there’s nothing wrong with that. However, that’s an interesting point to bring up: is sex work, in itself, empowering? Would these women feel just as empowered in a different, but equally profitable occupation?
Lux goes on to say, “While I respect individuals if this is their experience, I’m a little more leery of the more personal ‘sexual empowerment angle.’ Partly, I think it puts pressure on individual sex workers to embody this ‘happy, feminist, everything’s great’ vision of a sex worker. And that’s not accurate, and it’s not fair.”
Labeling sex work as “empowering” forces these women into an equally limiting archetype, one that promotes a falsely positive message instead of a negative one. Additionally, I don’t think our society has reached the point where we can change the narrative surrounding this industry. We can’t ignore the depressing reality that sex-trafficking is an international, multi-billion dollar business, one that targets women and young girls specifically. So, while there are women who enter sex work voluntarily, and personally find enjoyment from it, we can’t simply accept this as the main narrative for everyone else.
Sex Positivity and Consent: Ignoring the Hard Questions
In Part 1, we touched on how the #MeToo movement sparked a nationwide discussion on how to correct certain practices that perpetuate rape culture. This new philosophy emphasizes the importance of verbal, enthusiastic consent, stressing that, in any sexual encounter, there should be no doubts in communication.
The benefits of this philosophy are obvious: it places control in the woman’s hands, and dictates that consent can be freely given or taken away at any time. It also encourages people to be a lot more mindful of how their partner feels, and what they want, so that everyone involved has a positive experience. In theory, there shouldn’t be any issues. Which is why I’m a bit hesitant to continue.
This conversation is about to get a little dicey.
Yes, I absolutely support this push for “verbal, enthusiastic consent,” but the messaging is too simplistic. It’s too “black and white,” and it ignores many questions that don’t have easy answers. Particularly, when alcohol is involved.
In 2016, Lux published a piece titled, What does consent look like when you’re wasted?, which is one of the rare articles I’ve found that addresses this “gray area” of consent. The piece itself is quite brave, to be honest, because it describes Lux’s personal experience.
“The year I turned 23,” she writes, “a boy I’d long had a crush on came to my birthday party. I was pretty sure he wasn’t into me, and felt somewhat surprised when, later in the evening, he asked if he could kiss me, asked if he could sleep in my bed with me, asked if he could take my clothes off, asked if he could take off his own. So much of the evening happened at his direction, with what appeared to be enthusiastic, explicit consent. A few days later, he told me over email that he’d been blackout drunk the whole time and felt that I’d taken advantage of his inebriated state.”
Many of the publicized narratives regarding sexual misconduct involve men as the offending parties. In my experience, at the very least, it’s rare to find stories like this, where the genders are reversed. It’s also rare, I think, to find stories about individuals who truly did not intend to cause harm.
From Lux’s perspective, she had good reason to believe that she was receiving clear, verbal consent. After all, she describes several instances where her partner took on an active role: asking if he could kiss her, asking if he could sleep with her. In the moment, there were no visible signs to indicate that he was too drunk to consent.
Someone who is stumbling down hallways, slurring their words, and barely in control of their body, can not give informed consent. Someone who is unconscious absolutely can not give informed consent. Those are easy answers.
However, we have to acknowledge that these gray areas do exist—and people make mistakes. We need to discuss how someone should approach these types of situations.
Reflecting on this experience, Lux writes, “If we do find ourselves in a situation where our partner feels sexually violated, rather than getting hung up on what our actions say about us, we need to start focusing on how our actions have harmed someone else—and what we can do to remedy and relieve that hurt.”
To offer an answer to this difficult question, the most important thing, is to be able to empathize. Regardless of intent, if you have caused someone else pain, then the appropriate response is to sincerely apologize, and make amends. This applies to all contexts, sexual or otherwise.
In regards to this discussion on consent, the hard “black and white” philosophy was an effective first step. I think there were a lot of beliefs we had to change, in order to dismantle existing ideas that perpetuate rape culture, and a history of dismissing survivors of sexual assault. But now, I think it’s time to enter step 2, to build upon what we’ve already established, and try to revise the message to accommodate gray areas. Not just the black and the white.
Special thanks to Lux for participating in our piece. Her book, Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex—And The Truths They Reveal , was released this Tuesday, November 6th, and is available for purchase on Amazon. Faking It is an incredibly honest, thoughtful commentary that tackles the question, “What lies do women tell during sex—and why do they tell them?”
Lead Writer, Hezalia
Based in Los Angeles, California, Jay Alba, has a passion for storytelling in all its forms: everything from books to TV shows to even podcasts. She hopes to one day write stories like the ones that inspired her to pursue writing in the first place.
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