My last two posts were on sexuality. “Sexuality” is often what people say when they mean sex but they want to sound professional.
I hope those posts were written with a sex-positive feel. That’s also something I tried for in an earlier post on “complementarianism” in the bedroom. Now I want to write about exactly what sex-positivity is and why I think it’s something to keep in mind.
Sex-positivity begins with the presumption that our culture has a negative attitude to sex. That’s a hard presumption to sustain. After all what is our culture? Is there one culture to the world, or Australia or even Bendigo (where I live)? I don’t think there is, so I want to step away from this general statement that our culture has a negative attitude to sex.
Instead I’d rather say that there are negative attitudes to sex amongst my own social networks which are unremarkable. By passing uncommented on they receive a broad tacit approval. I look around and in this regard my social networks seem typical of my local community, my country and what the U.S.A. and U.K. at least look like on T.V. Let me give an example that you also might be familiar with;
When my daughter was just born (literally days old) a member of my extended family said that we would need to get a shotgun to keep the boys away when she was older. What they were trying to say was that she looked beautiful. I find it completely pervy that to do that they had to age a just-born infant until they were of sexual age. Her infant beauty was best expressed to this man in a sexual context. That’s part of the pedophilic and sexist gaze that women have to deal with in our society. Why can’t they just be beautiful babies? But that’s not the objection I want to focus on right now.
I’m asking, in the hypothetical future why am I shotgun blocking my child’s sex-life anyway? It’s true that sex has dangers and that as a parent I will want to protect my child from those dangers when they loom. However sex also has pleasures. As a parent I want my child to enjoy her body and her life including her hypothetical future sex life. When my child’s future sexual attractiveness is contemplated why then are we supposed to go to the dangers of that first in our heads?
By contrast what if my child had have kicked into the air causing everyone to exclaim that they would have a big future in footy. People make those kind of lame predictions around infants. I’m prepared to speculate that per capita more people are injured playing football than are injured having sex. However the first place people would have gone in their minds wouldn’t have been the dangers of footy. Instead people would have imagined the joys of footy. In fact for those for whom footy means a lot they wouldn’t have been thinking about footy so much as just imagining their toe connected perfectly to the ball. Just the word Footy would have triggered a whole swell of positive memories not wariness at all.
Confession time; I’m not a footy fan. Hence it’s not a great metaphor to stick with. I do however love climbing trees. For me just the words “climbing trees” are like a sonic massage of my joy glands in the way that the word footy might be for you. Climbing trees is even more dangerous than footy though. Everyone either breaks something climbing trees or comes awfully close or they just aren’t that into climbing trees. But such danger is not my first thought.
Thinking about the dangers of climbing trees is important. It’s important to the joy of tree climbing even. You won’t after all make it to the top where the best view is, if you fall down halfway. You might have to cease your tree-climbing while a broken arm heals. It’s unlikely but you might die and never climb a tree again. However any thought of danger only makes sense in the context of the joy of tree-climbing. The joy is the point to considering and avoiding the danger.
When our first thought is of the dangers not the joy of tree climbing then the meaning of both joy and danger change. We might as well put fences around climbable trees or chop them all down, or stand between them and our children with a shotgun. Even the joy of tree climbing has become a danger itself as it just tempts us to climb anyway - bad, bad joy.
That thought makes me sad and angry. In fact in response I am playing a movie in my head involving my heroic liberation of trees for the climbing. Fences are torn away. Axes and shotguns are broken over my knee. Children cheer. It is a very kick-ass movie.
Sex-positivity is just applying this kind of attitude (to climbing trees) to sex. Dangers are considered in the context of joys rather than joys treated in the context of danger. Sometimes this is justified as “natural”. I don’t care for “natural” as a justification. It’s a very woolly term which makes no sense if like me you see nature as morally neutral. I don’t think because we can’t breathe water that scuba diving is some sort of perversity of the natural order for example. Likewise I’m not interested in cultivating a “natural” attitude to sex or defending sex-positivity as natural.
For me the only argument for sex-positivity is well… positive sex. Just like with footy or climbing trees I’m not really thinking about sex here. I’m just imagining my toe connecting perfectly with the ball metaphorically – if you know what I mean. If for you sex has been a negative experience then I would respect your emphasis on its dangers. That makes sense. But my experience of sex has sometimes been even better than climbing trees. It makes sense that I recall its joys for their own sake.
To do that however puts me at odds with those cultural elements which are sex-negative. The more those elements are around me the more my sex-positivity is a reactionary stance. I have to become a sex-rebel. That creates a problem.
Reactionary stances have a lot of energy behind them. They’re angry and frustrated. That makes them especially attractive to hijackers who want to use that energy. All positions can be hijacked. Look at the way the desire to feel successful is hijacked by marketers of luxury goods or how greed is hijacked by political parties to get re-elected. Reactionary positions can be co-opted in the same way but are often even more useful to their hijackers because they are regularly being ignited by what they react against. Lots of enthusiastic energy keeps being generated.
Reactionary movements also can lack self-confidence and the language to express themselves. Sex-positivity is a prime example. If you grew up like me then you are grew up surrounded by almost entirely cautionary messages about sex. You and I were also not given the language to say why this is wrong. This is a hijackers perfect opportunity. They can provide the language that puts them at the centre of any solution to the problem of sex-negativity.
One great hijacker of sex-positivity is the sex-industry. This broad grouping of businesses making toys and porn, selling sexual services or running workshops on sexual activities are not in my mind evil. Some of them are trading what they believe are quality products and services. Some are definitely not though. Some are the worlds worst employers as well. However good or bad they are businesses. They are almost entirely motivated by profit. To the extent that they are telling you that your liberation from sex-negativity requires you feeding that profit warning bells ought to go off. They are co-opting sex-positivity for their own ends.
Let’s be really clear. There is absolutely no need to watch DVDs, read magazines, learn jargon, buy expensive gear, attend conferences and trade fairs, or join on-line forums in order to embrace the joy of tree-climbing. These commercial activities are not climbing trees. Nor are such things necessary to be sex-positive. To labor the point they are not sex. You can even dislike all those things and be hugely sex-positive. Porn merchants will try and tell you otherwise but they are trying to sell you porn.
Some other hijackers of sex-positivity are actually some spiritual and religious movements. I have encountered people who argue that their faith adherants are the only true sex-positives and that if sex-positivity is my goal then I should follow their teachings about sex, buy their books, attend their workshops, buy more books and so on. There seems to be almost as much money changing hands here as in the sex-industry. Once again though, these are not all evil people. In fact they are not even all motivated by profit but sometimes genuinely by concern.
However there is no need to understand a theology of tree-climbing. You do not have to have a metaphysical opinion on the tree before you ascend one for the love of it. Tree climbing has its own joys accessible on their own. Anyone who steps between the tree and you and claims their complicated mumbo-jumbo must be grasped for tree climbing-positivity’s sake is co-opting that stance for their own movements goals. Anyone who steps between sex and you and claims their religion must first be grasped for sex-positivity’s sake is doing the same.
On that last point please put everything I have to say about sex in the same category. It is not necessary to read my blog to explore a positive sex life. As I’ve gotten older I’ve grown resistant to attempts to hijack my sex-positivity. However there is also a “natural” tendency to become a hijacker ourselves as we get older. There is such powerful energy behind sex-positivity. It is tempting to harness this energy to other causes -in my case, feminism. I’ve seen it harnessed to promote veganism for goodness sake. Maybe feminists and vegans do have better sex. However sex has its own joys – all on its own. You don’t really need to position yourself in a grand theory of gender or give up meat in order to find those joys.
I actually think that the pursuit of the joys of sex will lead us to make healthier decisions in the rest of our lives. However I wouldn’t want to make a religion out of it either. If we go down that route we re-open the door to all the hijackers to complicate matters again. Perhaps the other part of sex-positivity is this; It’s not a way to be cooler than everyone else, its not the salvation of our souls, it’s certainly not the answer to everything. Its just sex. And that’s good enough.