Opinion //

Fucked if we do, and fucked if we don’t

Does sex positivity give a free pass to problematic dynamics?

Art by Ranuka Tandan.

 The sex positivity movement has lauded in the feminist movement in a big way, but there are undeniable issues in the belief that all consensual sexual acts are inherently healthy. 

The argument for sex positivity comes down to considering any and every sex act that a woman engages in enthusiastically as inherently empowering, solely because it goes against everything that the patriarchy has taught us to do; and that’s feminist, right? 

But while empowering and encouraging women to be active agents within their own sex lives is something that should be unequivocally supported, there is something sinister in how this movement, marketed towards women as feminist, has become weaponised against them. 

Particularly within the kink and BDSM communities, there is the ingrained belief that since erotic role-playing is a situational suspension of reality, the scenarios played out within it are to be exempt from the same moral criteria we would hold them to in any other situation. Part of the appeal of kink and BDSM is specifically that one is free from the burdens of their life outside it, and are able to play roles that are wildly different. 

However, it is important to acknowledge that enthusiastic consent alone does not make a sex act empowering, nor does it mean it is intrinsically progressive. In particular, sex acts that involve scenarios in which women are degraded and abused are widely free from criticism within the framework of sex-positivity; we would be quick to condemn people who expressed bigoted views, but yet we give bigotry accolades when it is eroticised. 

This is not to critique women who enjoy partaking in said acts, but it is to critique the socialisation of which such inclinations are products; we and our actions don’t exist in a vacuum. There is no denying that one’s personal autonomy plays a large part in their decision-making process, but any and every decision we make is a result of our socialisation. Try as we might to unlearn the oppressive, patriarchal systems of learning in which we have been brought up, it is foolish to think that we could be remove ourselves entirely from them. The same thinking should apply to when our partners want to engage in problematic sex-play – we should be critically analysing where those desires stem from, the same way we would with any other problematic behaviour, regardless of whether we may feel comfortable engaging in them or not. 

Too often it feels as if sex positivity is another manifestation of the patriarchy, repackaged to appear shiny and new and sold to us under the guise of progressiveness. In particular, the currently held framework of the movement has curiously emboldened groups of men (I’m looking at you, straight, cis men) to identify as sex-positive feminists, allowing themselves to be labeled as progressive. They are granted societal permission, and even encouraged, to perform behaviour that would in any other case be seen has fundamentally unhealthy, unsafe or generally misogynistic, under the guise of ‘kinkiness’. All the while, women continue to be subject to the same misogynistic and abusive power dynamics. 

We should not be critical of sex, nor critical of women being empowered to enthusiastically engage in sex and discussions around it. Instead, we need to be critical of the way that this movement is being weaponised against us, to lead us to believe that by engaging in these acts, we are inherently empowering ourselves. We must analyse the politics that lie beneath sexual intentions, the same way we would with any other intentions. 

The sex positivity movement cannot and should not exist without a critical analysis, because sex and sexual acts themselves cannot exist within a vacuum and can never be apolitical. As such, the movement (and any movement which proclaims itself to be feminist) is useless if it doesn’t arm women with the knowledge of the political nature of the behaviour that they are expected to so willingly accept and engage in.