What does Sex Positivity and Sex Negativity actually mean? There is a lot of confusion surrounding these terms. People have a tendancy to throw these terms around with little to no explanation which just seems to add to the confusion. On this episode, we attempt to help define these two terms as best as we can while identifying the potential problems with each definition. We also discuss some of the evolution and background and history of Sex Negativity and Sex Positivity in the process.
Multiamory was created by Dedeker Winston, Jase Lindgren, and Emily Matlack.
Our theme music is Forms I Know I Did by Josh and Anand.
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Dedeker Winston: Within this community and within this context where we see all these other shows that handle non-monogamy, at least I personally can feel this sense of a little bit of that compulsory sexuality pressure at work of feeling like, "Oh, if I'm not talking about kink or sex or group sex at the same level of frequency as these other people are, that must mean that I'm inherently sex-negative."
Emily Matlack: Fascinating. If you're happy with the same old ways of dating.
Dedeker: If you enjoy sucking at communication.
Jase Lindgren: And you have no desire to improve your romantic life, then our podcast might not be for you.
Dedeker: But if you want some out of the box ideas to deepen your current relationships.
Emily: Broaden your sexual horizons.
Dedeker: Develop a better understanding of yourself.
Emily: Or learn more about non-monogamy.
Jase: Then you come to the right place. I'm Jase.
Emily: I'm Emily.
Dedeker: I'm Dedeker.
Jase: This is the Multiamory Podcast.
Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory Podcast, we are thinking critically about sex positivity and sex negativity. These two terms get thrown around a lot in discussion not just in recent years but even for a while, but they're ideas that are a lot more nuanced and a lot more complex than I think most people think, I would say especially the people who tend to whip them out in arguments as just sort of like blanket statements. They assume everyone else understands. Usually is because they themselves don't understand quite the level of complexity that goes into this.
Dedeker: Yes. Related to that, this is a huge topic that you've picked out here, Jase. I'm just going to say this is a topic that's very complex. It's very far-reaching. All the different wide varieties and definitions of these two terms are often intertwined, so please bear with us. If in the first five minutes of the episode we give a definition that really gets under your skin, trust me, we will probably go on to explain other definitions or why there's problems with that definition so you don't need to switch us off and throw your podcast machine across the room in a rage.
Dedeker: Unless it's going to bring you some joy today. I guess don't call us up to pay for your cracked screen. Anyway, let's dive in.
Emily: With that, we're going to start with some definitions. Again, as Dedeker said, this is a far-reaching topic. I think when people think of sex positivity or negativity, just a blanket statement, they'll be like, "Oh, okay, well one is automatically bad and one is automatically good," but we're here to kind of debunk that a little bit and go into reasons why there are potential problems with both. First of all, we're going to talk about sex positivity. This is a Carol Queen quote. Do we know who Carol Queen is?
Jase: She's a feminist writer.
Emily: Cool. Well, she has a quote on sex positivity, and here it is. "It is the cultural philosophy that understands sexuality as a potentially positive force in one’s life, and it can, of course, be contrasted with sex-negativity, which sees sex as problematic, disruptive, and dangerous. Sex-positivity allows for and, in fact, celebrates sexual diversity, differing desires and relationships structures, and individual choices based on consent."
Dedeker: I feel like I mean anecdotally I think the sex-positive movement is like-- If you're listening to this podcast you're probably familiar with the sex-positive movement, I would imagine. I think it's something that came onto my radar, what? maybe beginning five, six, seven years ago or so, I think for me personally.
Jase: It's interesting though historically that the sex positivity movement actually goes back to 1920-something.
Emily: That really surprised me. I was like wow because definitely, I mean as I started to become an adult and a young adult that seemed to be the thing that people were really getting into and really talking about, especially when I moved to California. It became much more a thing that people were interested in and kind of wearing as an identity like loud and proud. I am sex positive.
Jase: Yes. It was this thing that was kind of created in the '20s from a scientific point of view of being just sort of observing that sex in itself isn't this inherently shameful or bad or harmful thing and that actually it was more about health benefits of having sex and kind of looking at it more from a scientific medical standpoint. Then it wasn't until the '60s, kind of during the free love movement, that sex positivity actually started getting used and talked about a little bit more mainstream.
Then like Dedeker and Emily were saying, it's kind of more recently I think largely because of poly communities and kink communities and stuff being able to get together more because of the internet that that has then kind of spread even more and become something that maybe more people have access to learning about or at least have heard at some point, have heard someone talk about.
Dedeker: I think that makes sense though as far as the timing of that because in the '20s there was also a big sexual revolution that I think we don't really talk about or even think about as having an impact. I think we're more likely to talk about-
Emily: It's like the flapper era.
Dedeker: Exactly like the whole flapper thing. It was around the time when it's like condoms started becoming widely available for people to use.
Emily: I did not know that.
Dedeker: Yes. Before hormonal birth control was a thing, condoms were relatively revolutionary at that time of being actually accessible. Things definitely, something shook loose a little bit in the '20s and so it does make sense that that would be the first time at least from a scientific perspective someone's going forward talking about these things.
Emily: We're coming up again on the '20s. What's going to happen then? I'm excited. We've got a new revolution.
Jase: We need to prohibit something again so we can all--
Emily: Oh, yeah. Sounds good.
Dedeker: Oh, jeez. Don't hold your breath.
Jase: Yes. Oh, boy. Okay. All right. We want to just before we move on to some of the other definitions, what's does this actually look like. People tend to talk about it like Dedeker brought up as being sort of, well, I was going to say a positive thing, sex positivity, that it's kind of a somehow morally superior or that it's better or that it's in contrast to something.
Jase: It's more evolved, yes. That it's in contrast to something-
Emily: [crosstalk] around.
Jase: -that's more limiting or--
Emily: Closed minded.
Jase: Tends to be associated with liberalism. That's not to say that that definition is wrong or like that those connotations are wrong. It's just more nuanced than that. We're just going to say that like a hundred times this episode.
Emily: So you don't throw your podcast machine in the trash.
Jase: What this means is things like doing the work to accept your own sexual identity or your own sexual desires. That because you might want sex or because you might want a certain type of sex doesn't mean that you're bad or that you're wrong, that that's okay. This is definitely related to obviously sexual identity of like, well, it doesn't matter who you're attracted to, that's okay. Or just the fact that you want to have sex at all doesn't mean that you're somehow slutty or less of a person or less valuable. That that's kind of one of those core messages people want to get across with sex positivity.
Dedeker: It may also mean choosing to communicate about sex openly and proactively. Instead of carrying shame and secrecy around the way or avoiding talking about sex, especially talking about sex with the person that you're having sex with, it may be doing the work to let go of some of that shame and some of that negativity so that you can have these very open, proactive, mature conversations around sex in general.
Emily: It can also look like calling for an end to things like slut shaming, even rape culture. It can get very big and intense on that as well. I mean, gosh, I think about how when I was my like second or third partner that I ever had in my life called me promiscuous because at the age of 20, I had already slept with three people. It is that idea of like, "Oh, well, you're promiscuous. You're a slut because of X, Y, and Z thing."
Dedeker: Did he sing that Nelly Furtado song to you?
Emily: Which one?
Dedeker: Promiscuous Girl.
Jase: Promiscuous girl.
Emily: Wait, Nelly Furtado sang that?
Emily: Didn't she also do I'm Like a Bird?
Dedeker: What does that have to do with anything? [laughs]
Emily: I don't know. They just seem like completely different people there, but okay, never mind.
Jase: It was kind of later.
Emily: It was later in her career.
Jase: I mean, slightly later.
Emily: She did the indie shit and then she did the like not-indie shit. I see. Okay. Well, yes. Those things can also be a part of sex positivity.
Jase: I think part of what it's like to go off what you were just saying Emily is that calling someone promiscuous that that's a bad thing. This is something that comes up a lot in like--
Emily: It felt bad.
Jase: Of course. He meant it as a bad thing.
Emily: Yes, dick.
Jase: When you listen to people like Dr. Christopher Ryan talk about sexuality and humans potentially being not monogamous by nature, one of the things that comes up in that research is talking about humans or other animals as being promiscuous as more of just a statement of fact, of like they have sex with multiple people and that it's not just this exclusive pair bonding thing and it's not something that's only done for procreation.
Emily: I see. That word can mean different things, but often when people again, they qualify like promiscuous is, this is not a good thing. This is a bad thing.
Jase: We have that connotation.
Dedeker: Well, I feel like that's been what's driven the movements that we saw a few years ago, reclaiming the word slut for instance, of this is the word that's been used with this very, very negative connotation, but part of the sex positivity. Movement is going to be to reclaim this word and be like, being a slut is okay, having sex with a lot of people is okay or honestly even just having sex with more than one person is okay or just wanting sex at all is okay.
That was what was behind reclaiming the word slut, which understandably people have mixed feelings about. I definitely have mixed feelings about reclamation of certain words, but that's not what this topic is about today.
Emily: Interesting. There are a lot of other ways in which these things for sex positivity can be applied in real life. Definitely, if you want to look up more, if you want to be like, "Am I doing this thing," then you can google that shit for sure.
Jasse: You will find a lot. Something that we did want to acknowledge here before we move on to talking about definitions of sex negativity is we wanted to acknowledge sex moralism.
Emily: I was like, what is that?
Jase: Well, we've talked about it on this show in the past as meaning giving a moral judgment to sex of being bad to differentiate that from some of the sex negativity we're going to talk about later. Actually, in researching this episode, it's really that sex moralism is a whole field of sexual ethics and a whole study of ethics as it relates to human sexuality and sexual behavior.
Sexual moralism isn't exactly the way we've used that term before. It is more this like field of study. There's actually, if you look it up, there are some really interesting, very heady, somewhat dense articles out there on this topic, but that actually are pretty interesting. We did just want to acknowledge that fact that we'd use that term to mean something a little bit different before. It is actually a whole field of ethics and philosophy.
Dedeker: Would you call them sex fix?
Jase: I was going to say I wouldn't, but I actually probably would. Let's be honest.
Emily: Let's be honest
Dedeker: I was going to say I only made that joke because you didn't make that joke first.
Emily: Wow. Thank you, Dedeker. You know him so well.
Dedeker: You were a little slow on the uptake on that one.
Jase: Yes. Sorry. I didn't think of it.
Emily: No, I would.
Dedeker: Ethics, in general, is already just such a deep topic. If we go into the nuances of relationship ethics and sexual ethics or sex with multiple people as well, there is definitely a wealth of knowledge. We just wanted to throw a bone here because sometimes sex moralism gets tossed into this debate also as a label, especially labeling someone is being sex moralistic, maybe someone who places a value judgment on whether sex is good or bad, which is a little bit separate from the actual study and analytical discussion of sexual morals.
Emily: Can I ask like when we were researching this, you sent out the article regarding sexual moralism and religion and how do those two go hand in hand? It is just that question of whether or not it is a moral thing to desire sexing to have it outside of a procreative means or opportunity or whatever.
Jase: Well, that's why this is so fascinating, is that that's not the question, that's part of a lot of the questions about it, and this isn't. I wanted to point out that it's not something like sex positivity, is the opposite of sex moralism, which is religious. It's really not that at all. Religion and sex moralism are intertwined, just because like ethics and morality and religion are intertwined with each other and those discussions will often overlap with people who are religious at least.
Even within that world of religious people talking about sexual ethics, there's still a huge variety and levels of subtlety and stuff like this, like this article that you were talking about that we're not going to go into in depth on this episode but was posted on thegospelcoalition.org. It goes into talking about things like the ethics of the importance of content or the ethics of the importance of allowing people to express their own sexuality and gender identity and our responsibility to acknowledge and affirm that identity, which you think on a site called thegospelcoalition.org, you might not expect that view to be the one that's being mentioned here.
This is just one particular article, but that's just an example of what an interesting field it is and how there is a very interesting discussion to be heard there that does tie it into religion.
Emily: Thanks for making that statement because it was interesting to me, but I did want to touch on it briefly. I appreciate you talking about it.
Dedeker: Well, we're going to touch on it some more because this leads us to the next thing, which is talking about sex negativity or at least the common definition of sex negativity. Generally, when people use the term sex negativity or when you read the term sex negativity, usually it refers to a mindset that sex itself is inherently dirty or dangerous or risky or pathological or deviant or just bad in some way, inherently negative. Certain kinds of sex are seen as normal and acceptable such as heterosexual sex, procreative sex, monogamous sex, vanilla sex.
It stands in contrast with other types of sex that are seen as not normal, as deviant as bad like kinky sex or sex outside of a marriage or group sex or sex with multiple people or things like that. That's the general take on sex negativity. I know in my own life where-- The reason why I'm bringing the religion thing up again is because for me it very much overlaps that I was raised in Evangelical Christian household, and so that meant that like Christian "morals" around sex were applied and Christian "morals" around sex tended to be pretty sex-negative, in the sense of, yes, sex is a thing, people do it, it's great, but only if you do it in this particular way, and anyway outside of that is very clearly impure and sinful and wrong and to be avoided at all costs.
Emily: Before getting into the minutia or just nuance of what sex negativity can mean, that is definitely like what I thought of when I thought of a sex-negative person, someone who potentially was uber-religious and very traditional in their values of sex and what it looked like. Besides that, sex negativity can come up in real life in a lot of ways that aren't necessarily like this person is this sex-negative person, but they can definitely do things that are sex negative.
One of those things, for example, is slut-shaming, and again what we just talked about with that guy telling me that I was promiscuous or a slut because I had slept with three people, God forbid.
Jase: Or on the other side of that is carrying around a lot of shame or probably because of that a lot of secrecy about your own sexual desires or about the fact that you've had sex at all, things like that. I know that's something like in my life again. Also being raised religiously, definitely I have struggled with a lot of that for a long time. It's been a long process. It wasn't just a binary like, "Okay, all of a sudden, I stopped thinking those things." It sticks with you like this guilt for having certain desires that seem not normal. Even as your definition of normal changes, there's still like, well, anything not normal is like that's a deviant thing. That's a bad thing. That's something I should be ashamed of.
Emily: In a similar fashion, obviously, shaming others for their sexuality or for being a sexual being, which goes along with slut-shaming just if a woman is promiscuous or if whomever is promiscuous, then automatically that's a bad thing in some people's mind and that they should be ashamed or punished for it.
Dedeker: Something I want to point out, and we will get more into the weeds of this a little bit later as we start to get more into the criticism of all these things, of sex positivity and sex negativity and all these things, but that people who have a lot of sex can still be very sex-negative and people who don't have any sex can still be very positive around sex and sexuality. I just want to put it out there.
Again, we'll start to dive more into that a little bit later. But I mean I definitely learned very early on-- and honestly particularly in like a number of men that I've dated, I've found that like just that. That like even if you have a lot of sex you can still carry a lot of shame around your own sexuality, you can still carry a lot of shame around your own sexual desires, you could still do a lot of shaming of other people's sexual activity, even if you're someone who "embraces having sex a lot."
Jase: Yes, definitely. I also just wanted to point out too that this sort of sex-negativity that we're talking about now, this type of definition, also applies to things like the accusations that-- I feel like we heard a lot more of this talk back in the '90s, but if someone getting HIV or AIDS and being, "Well, they deserved it because they were being immoral, they were being deviant,"or like, "This is God's punishment for promiscuity." Or on the other hand-- well I guess just that. The accusation people even get today if they're polyamorous or non-monogamous, if you ever have a breakup, there is that, "Well, obviously, it's because of this." Obviously, any problem you have is because you're doing this shameful thing that we shouldn't be so willy-nilly with. We shouldn't be so free with this thing.
Dedeker: We still get that in all of the discussions around like STI stigma and also in discussing unwanted pregnancies. There's still very much this strong narrative of like, "Well, if you didn't want to catch an STI or if you didn't want to get pregnant, you shouldn't have had sex in the first place and therefore you deserve it."
Emily: A equals b.
Dedeker: I feel like anyone who has even been remotely on the fringes of this kind of world understands these more "textbook definitions of sex positivity and sex-negativity." However, specifically with the term sex-negativity, this is not the only way that this term is used. That brings us to talking about sex-negative feminism.
Now, personally, I think for many years when I just heard about the idea of sex-negative feminism, I really just kind of mentally threw it in the garbage honestly because I was so conditioned. Ill be like, "Oh, sex-negativity, that's bad," so that means whatever version of sex-negative feminism, that's not for me. I'm just going to completely disregard it. I went that way for several years like not even thinking about that, not have been analyzing it, until, honestly like maybe six months to a year ago I read someone's blog post where they kind of laid out very clearly what sex-negative feminism is. For the first time in my life, I was like, "Oh my God, this makes total perfect sense."
I have a quote here from Christine Rivas who says that, "Even sex negative feminists, they tend to use the term as an identifier, rather than as a representation of their values. Rather, sex negative feminists would be more accurately called sex critical feminists." As in this idea that where I think discussions about sex-negative feminism tends to get derailed, is because of the same assumptions that I made. Which is like, oh if you're talking about sex-negativity, you're talking about all these terrible things we just talked about, about being shameful or slut-shaming or being conservative, and therefore, it's not even worthy of discussion.
But in a nutshell, sex-negative feminism or sex critical feminism just criticizes this idea that, if it's sex, it's inherently good, which is sometimes a takeaway that people get from the sex positivity movement. Is this idea of like sex as long as it's consensual and as long as it's healthy, whatever that means, that must mean that it's good. That kind of paints it with this really broad brush and really ignores the context that some sex happens in. As in a context where sometimes it's not that easy to get consent, or where sometimes it's like, there's still like power dynamics involved, or where it's like even though there is consent, it doesn't necessarily mean that the sex is good or is like in a positive uplifting thing. We need to dive into that too, as this idea that like, there is this "sex-negativity" that also refers to being critical of sex from a feminist perspective.
Jase: It's interesting in some of the stuff we are reading for this episode of people mentioning, well, part of the reason for using the term sex-negativity instead of something else, like sex-negative feminism, is because it does get attention. It does get that, "Woa, what are you talking about?"
Emily: What is this? It seems like an oxymoron.
Jase: Yes, but I do think it's interesting though that that quote that Dedeker read there, that it's not meant to be a representation of their values. It's not like I'm judging sex to be negative, it's more just like, "Hey, I'm not so sure about everything that's getting said within sex positivity, let's pump the brakes here and let's look at this a little more critically." I actually do really like sex critical as a better way of describing that maybe.
For example, one thing that is brought up in some of the articles about it, is this idea of compulsory sexuality, the idea that within sex positivity, which grew out of this backlash against being shamed for sex or being told you're not allowed to want it and be a good person, or you're not allowed to have it and be a good person, as a response to that, sex positivity and sex-positive communities can be all the way on the other side. It's like you have to be having sex. The more sex you're having, the more positive value you carry within that community. The more a real sex-positive person you can claim to be if you're having more sex.
Which in itself is really devaluing people who are for example asexual, or maybe just for whatever preference of their own don't want to be having a lot of sex. There can end up on the flip side this thing of actually disenfranchising or hurting or leaving out or even shaming people who don't want to have sex or just don't have a drive for that.
Deeker: Yes, well, if we can get this into a little bit of a meta discussion, I know we've had-- on this show, we don't talk about sex a ton. We do. Of course, we acknowledge it. I think compared to a lot of other podcasts that handle the topic of non monogamy or polyamory, often, they tend to be a lot more kink focused, or their imagery tends to be a lot more kink focused, or they tend to be a lot of shows out there that are just swapping stories of these threesomes or group sex nights that we had, and what was that like. That's never really been our show, and I know privately the three of us have had discussions we are like, "Are we sex-negative? Are we secretly sex-negative or are we like all repressed about our sexuality and that's why we don't talk about it a lot or don't want to share these are sordid tales on the show?"
Upon examining it, I don't think any of us are sex-negative in the way we first described, as in being really repressive and secret and shameful about sex, because its all three of us are having sex and having a good time. Pretty okay with our sexuality is and how those are shaping up. However, I do feel that within this community and within this context where we see all these other shows that handle non monogamy, at least I personally can feel this sense of a little bit of that compulsory sexuality pressure at work, of feeling, "Oh, if I'm not talking about kink or sex or group sex at the same level of frequency as these other people are, that must mean that I'm inherently sex-negative."
Jase: If there is a negative value judgment that goes with that, which is exactly what we're talking about. Where it's flipped all the way back around. Where now like if you're not doing those things, there is this negative like value judgment on you as a person, you're not-- I don’t know what [crosstalk]
Dedeker: I've also come up against-- even just in my personal life-- sometimes I come up against this idea that if you don't want to dive into sharing like all the juicy details of your last hookup, if you don't get joy from those conversations, is that it must be because you're repressed in some way.
Jase: That's interesting. I hadn't thought about it that way specifically.
Dedeker: Which sometimes-- I mean, of course, it creates a mind trip for me because sometimes I am like, "Am I repressed? Is this all my sex-negative Christian upbringing that is causing this?" But then sometimes I'm like, "No, I don't think so." I just like to be private and I also don’t have that exciting of stories at the end of the day.
Emily: It's like, nobody will care. It's pretty normal. I mean obviously like vanilla doesn't necessarily mean- or more vanilla or whatever doesn't necessarily mean that one is sex-negative. In moving along and looking at these critical things about the sex positivity movement, which I think is something the sex-negative feminism does. It's looking at patriarchy and how patriarchy still shows up in the bedroom in a lot of ways, even if it is consensual sex and also that patriarchy can show up even in non-heterosexual relationships.
People often will ask, and I know in my youth I have done this, and even if it's just like being cheeky or whatever and being cute but ask my friends who are homosexual, say like, "Well, who is the man and who is the woman in the relationship?" I know this automatically is an assumption of one person having the upper hand and someone having the power in the relationship and the other person not having that, which obviously perpetuates this idea of I think toxic patriarchy in a lot of ways.
That is something to address and look at for sure within the question of the sex-positive movement like something just to be aware of at the very least that this is something that people will automatically maybe assume or ask that question or think about or not even realize obviously patriarchy is coming up still in consensual relationships.
Dedeker: I want to talk briefly about what that can look like because I feel like this is something that hasn't even really come onto my radar until last couple of years or so that I started thinking about my own sex life in this way of realizing like, "Hey, there is still this backdrop of patriarchy and other hierarchies going on even when I'm having 100% consensual sex."
It can be things that seem relatively harmless but are still patriarchy at play. I think, for instance, you can still be having consensual, very pleasurable sex, but still operating under this assumption that sex is always done when the man is done. That's something that you can just fall into or I know from myself, things that I internalized about the ways I had to look or the ways my body had to move to ensure that sex is pleasurable for the guy. Even if the sex is pleasurable for me, even if it was consensual, but it's like still feeling this pressure of like, "I need to perform in certain ways or else my value as a partner is going to go down the toilet or whatever."
Emily: Even just the idea that your value is placed upon whether or not your partner wants to have sex with you because I definitely get in moments of being like, "My partner doesn't seem interested in sex or they haven't been interested in sex for a week or a number of weeks." That automatically means that my value as a partner must have gone down just simply because they're not showing the kind of interest in me as a sexual creature, that I feel that they must need in order to see me as a valuable partner.
Dedeker: Yes. Just to hop on that. That's so interesting because it's like you could look at that and be like, "Emily is so sex-positive that sex itself is this positive thing." Therefore, when there's an absence of sex, then there's a problem. That feels like that can be a weird kind of
Emily: It's far more nuanced than that. It's like, "Why does my worth have to be whether or not I am desired as a sexual creature?" Like that ultimately, my desire or my worth as a human is so much more than that.
Dedeker: Right. Yes. I think this also ropes in ideas around consent because again consent in itself, also this huge topic that now has become so prolific and they're so many people talking about it and it's great, but it also is intertwined with sex positivity and sex negativity in a way that, again, and I'm sorry to keep using this word that is nuanced and complex and isn't just this black and white thing.
There's this idea that consent itself, we've seen asking for consent sexy or asking for consent is this really sexy thing that maybe it shouldn't necessarily be deemed as a sexy thing, maybe your partner asking for consent shouldn't be something that's super exciting to you, rather it should just automatically be part of the conversation, like it's not this inherently good or bad thing. I know I've experienced this. I've talked to some Patreon on a Patreon group about this phenomenon, but I want to say, over a year ago, the last time I was in a situation where I was facing the possibility of having sex with someone new and the fact this person did not at all pressure me for sex before I was ready, it's wasn't even put on the table, I didn't even have to say no or anything, at that time, I was so bowled over. I was like, "Wow, this is so amazing."
Then also next time this person was really good at asking for consent and being really on top of it and really being very aware, and I was just again so bowled over like, "Oh my God, this is so amazing, and this is so wonderful. It's so great." It took me a few months to realize like, "Okay, that was great, but it shouldn't be like this person wins 5,000 points because they asked for consent." I shouldn't be wanting to sing this person's praises because they didn't pressure me for sex. This should be a freaking normal thing. It shouldn't be just something that gets this value judgment attached to it of like, "If you ask for consent, that's just so much sexier and you're such a better person." It's just like, "No, this is just the base level." You know what I mean?
Dedeker: I think also things start to get a little bit complex because the fact that sometimes people are in a situation where they're not able to have the consent conversation, either someone who doesn't even have the language for it or there's no inroads in the relationship, like if you've been in a monogamous relationship or a married relationship where it's like the consent conversation was never even broached in the first place, it was just this context of you're married or you're monogamous so you kind of own each other sexually.
Emily: Sex happens.
Dedeker: Yes, and sex just happens. And can we then look at that sex and be like, "That sex is inherently bad because you have a navigated consent because of the context that you're in or does that mean that sex can never be pleasurable."
Jase: I thought this was one of most interesting things when we were researching this episode compared to when we've had conversations about this on the show in the past was this one, was pointing out that if sex positivity is saying that sex is a good thing as long as it's X, Y, and Z, as long as it's consensual between adults' free-will, whatever. It's like "If it's those things, then it's good," carries with it this meaning that, "If it's not those things, then it's bad."
While I think we would all agree that everyone should be able to have consent and taking that away from anyone or not giving that to someone is a bad thing, but if you're just going to say blanket any sex that's not that is a bad or less valuable thing." Say you take the example of someone who has been-- She was married for 20 years in a monogamous relationship where sex was the expectation. She didn't really have the chance to consent to that, but she enjoyed it some of the time, maybe a lot of the time. Maybe she enjoyed it, but it wasn't consensual that within the world of sex positivity and the way people talk about sex, that person could end up feeling like, "Okay, all of that pleasure that I had is not valid. It's somehow less valuable because I didn't consent to it."
Again, it's like not trying to paint with this big broad brush, not making this so clear-cut black and white, like if it follows these rules, it's therefore good, and if it doesn't, it's bad or it's less valuable. It's acknowledging the fact that there's a lot more dynamics at play here, like all the stuff that both of you have brought up here. There's a lot more subtlety involved and you can't just go, "Here's the rules, and as long as you follow those, everything is great. If you don't do any of these, then it's inherently bad."
Emily: We've talked about this a little bit before, but I do think that there is automatic assumption that liberal-minded people out there, progressive people, are just automatically sex-positive and then again on the flip side, sex-negative people are going to be those who are maybe more conservative, more close-minded, but again, as we've been saying this entire time, it really does go a little bit more nuance than that a little bit, more intricate into what actually these things mean because one doesn't necessarily equal the other by any means.
Dedeker: Yes, I know it just-- To be totally honest, over the course of the last few years, on my Twitter bio, I have put hashtag sex-positive and then removed hashtag sex positive three times, at least three times. I have gone back and forth [laughs]. I think because of these conversations and because this is something that I think about a lot and it moves through me a lot for some reason and because again I think basically there's not a hashtag short enough to fit into my Twitter bio-
Dedeker: -that would actually explain how I feel. I think that's hard.
Emily: ...sexual positive maybe feminist thing.
Dedeker: That's why it's so frustrating, is because-- [crosstalk] sex positive except I don't think that all sex is all totally good. Sometimes I like to be critical of sex as well because feminism and I want to examine the patriarchy. Sometimes I feel sex-negative and I'm still kind of divorcing that out of my system and I don't even know what my sexuality is.
Dedeker: By the time I've done that, there's no more characters left in my bio, so I can't.
Jase: [chuckles] Your whole bio is just one really long hashtag.
Emily: People try to decipher what it says. I love it.
Dedeker: Exactly. We've talked a lot about being sex critical, and I do want to spend a little bit more time talking about-- I'll just at least open up about talking about, for me the thing that always motivates me to take sex positive off of my bio during the times that I do. It is that like, I think as we've said, painting things with a broad brush and just being really totalitarian with sex positivity really doesn't serve everyone, it really doesn't allow for the full picture and the full spectrum of the conversation, I feel. Those are the things that I'm feeling during the times that I take that off my bio and I'm like, "Fuck this."
Emily: Yes, I completely agree. In a lot of times, I think a lot of people look at sex positivity and they think of it as like, "Well, this is a broad spectrum. Everyone should be this," but they're not taking into account those who are not necessarily privileged in certain ways. I know that one of the articles that we read brought up those who were born maybe without a clitoris for example or for those who, again like Jase said, who are asexual, who choose not to be sexual. It can be alienating to them just this idea of sex positivity again, that if you're not this, then you're a bad person or you're not progressive in some way.
Dedeker: Yes, that's also wrapped up in this narrative of sex positivity automatically equaling empowerment. Usually, it's packaged as empowerment for women. Again, how is that measured? Some people measure it in the sense of it's the number of orgasms you're able to get from your partner or give to yourself, and if you don't orgasm in this particular way, then it's hard to measure by that particular metric. Or the fact that, historically as we've seen, people that aren't necessarily cisgender or white tend to receive much heavier punishment and backlash for being openly sexual or they're more likely to have their sexual expression linked to their sexual identity or gender identity or racial identity more so than a white person might have.
Emily: Yes, that goes along with the privilege question.
Dedeker: Yes, just kind of wholeheartedly saying sex positivity is just something that everyone needs to ascribe to doesn't really actually take into account the wide variety of experience coming into this.
Jase: It's kind of a similar discussion to talking about being out, either about being gay or pansexual or something, or being polyamorous. It's one thing to just go, I did it and everyone should do it because then the world's a better place and not take into account that not everyone has the same amount of safety or security that you do, the consequences aren't even for everybody. I think that the sex positivity community can kind of fall into this where it's like "Whatever," like "who cares what people think. We're just going to reclaim this aspect of our lives."
Dedeker: Right, they're like, "Do you, just do you."
Jase: That's not as realistic an option or a safe an option for everyone.
Emily: Yes, it can be more intersectional as well. People have to take into account. We're going to throw that word out there again, but the nuance of it all, that someone, a trans-woman of color might not feel comfortable in certain arenas as a white woman would. Saying I don't know if I want sex in X, Y or Z way, I may not feel comfortable in X, Y and Z way because someone who has a certain amount of privilege that I don't have would automatically just super comfortable in ways that I don't.
Dedeker: I think it's especially like if you have any kind of identity that already tends to be hypersexualized by other people, and it can be anything. It can be women of color, it can be people who are trans, it can be people who are gay. We've seen a history of anything that's even remotely been considered to be sexually deviant, often gets hypersexualized either in a fetishistic or in a very negative way. I've definitely seen in my own life because of being in non-monogamous relationships and polyamorous relationships for a long time, I think it's the way that I tend to feel personally, it's like people are already assuming I'm some sort of weird hypersexual nymphomaniac.
That means I don't feel comfortable sharing, just so casually talking about the hookup I had last weekend or the group sex event I went to because I'm like, "Now, I'm playing into everyone's stereotypes and they're just like even more afraid of me than they were before." That's also my experience as being a relatively privileged person that even just that little slur makes it uncomfortable for me to talk about that and to be what a lot of people consider to be demonstrably sex positive I suppose.
Jase: Yes. Another criticism that comes up about sex positivity or I guess maybe not even a criticism but something worth discussing is, how are men involved? This comes up in a number of ways. One is that a lot of times within sex positivity, it can be talked about as if men aren't even part of this conversation because they're all sort of sex-positive by nature because men are more sexual than women.
Emily: That's a big overarching statement.
Jase: Right, and one that's scientifically been shown not to be true, but that is this cultural belief that we're taught. There is sometimes a criticism of the way that sex positivity is talked about, is kind of ignoring a huge part of the conversation. It's kind of buying into this idea that sex is a gendered thing and it can tend to sort of reinforce a gender binary even. I guess there's multiple directions I could go from here, one of them is what you were talking about before that, sort of treating women like a sexual object and that that's where their value comes from. If your partner doesn't want to have sex with you, you're somehow less valuable or something's wrong with you.
Then on the other side of that, there's this other thing where like, "We're not even going to talk about men because we all know that they want to have sex all the time."
Emily: Which is also feeding that idea that people's worth is how much they want to have sex or if you're a guy, I don't know, that like if you're having a bunch of sex then all of a sudden you are more worthy or you are better.
Jase: It's very much tied in to your own self-worth about how much sex you're having or at least we're told that. Then also, if you don't want to be having sex as much, if you either have a lower sex drive or are more demisexual or asexual or perhaps have had some trauma in your past or something that make you not want to just get as much sex as possible, there's also kind of this devaluing that can go along with that. There's I guess pressure to be more normal, which I actually think can lead to a lot of bad behaviors.
It actually contributes to this culture that doesn't value consent as much because we're sort of operating on these assumptions about people. Where again, we're painting with these broad brushes, we're not realizing that there is a lot of nuance here to each individual's experience. That's also a criticism that gets brought up a lot of just like the way sex positivity can be talked about sometimes isn't involving the whole conversation.
Dedeker: I was just going to say, I think we're allowed to use the word nuance one more time in this episode.
Emily: Only one.
Dedeker: That's it, that's it. I won't even take it, I'll let it just float around for either the two of you to take it. Here's a question that I think needs to come up, is it possible to have an idea or carry this idea of sex neutrality? Is that a definition that needs to be written? Is it even a thing that could possibly exist?
Emily: Yes, and I expected there to be some sort of research or something done on this but--
Jase: It doesn't exist.
Jase: I tried, there's nothing.
Emily: I didn't seem to find any. I don't know, I think I like the definition of being sex critical; critical of sex, critical of the way that sex is presented to our culture, especially the American culture, the one that I think is puritanical in many ways and obviously highly patriarchal in many ways still in just looking at everything critically, with a critical eye.
Dedeker: Well, see so that's the thing, that I did think maybe I put hashtag sex critical, in all my bios.
Emily: Do it.
Dedeker: At first I was like, "Well I don't know how I feel about that." I get this image of me in the bedroom with my partner, with a clipboard and giving just a lot of criticism which doesn't sound very sexy.
Jase: Now I see.
Dedeker: But then sometimes I'm like, but to be fair, those are the thoughts that go through my head sometimes, is wanting to step back, and take a look at what's going on here sexually, and how do I feel about it, and what are the good parts and the bad parts, I don't know.
Emily: Well, you touching a critical eye to most things I think is probably good, not that I want to say that anything is necessarily good or bad, but I appreciate the thought.
Jase: I was into the clipboard idea until it started being about criticism.
Dedeker: Critical doesn't necessarily mean criticism.
Jase: Yes. Well, then she said criticism, specifically. Yes.
Emily: The masters of sex.
Jase: Yes. I guess yes.
Dedeker: If you want me to bring a clipboard into the bedroom, Jase, I won't kinkshame you. I would be sex-negative in that way.
Emily: Yes, this is what's going to happen now. We're never going to hear about it because we don't talk about sex on this show, but yes.
Dedeker: If there's some steamy clipboard stories that come out as the result of this episode-
Emily: You right, that's a bonus episode waiting to happen.
Dedeker: -I guess I'll share. Maybe a little part will be some bonus content.
Emily: Yes, there you go.
Jase: That's interesting. I'm thinking about this idea of sex neutrality or sex critical. It's interesting, I guess what it's bringing me back to is I guess what I think is important to take away from this episode, and something that was interesting in reading some of these people's stories, particularly people who identify as sex-negative feminists, talked about how passionate the hatred and vitriol toward them from sex-positive people is.
Emily: Yes, that's fucked up.
Jase: Is sometimes at least. I think that's the key here to take away. Is it's not a question of like, "Well, what's better? Is it sex positivity or sex negativity? Who's right?" That's the whole point. Is that when you look at people in their writings about it, you'll get people who talk about sex positivity in a way that very much acknowledges the concerns of sex-negative feminists, and you'll have people talking about sex negativity in a way that would sound very sex-positive to most people if it didn't have that sex-negative label attached to it. It's more just a way of bringing attention to the fact that like, "Hey, this isn't so easy." This isn't something that we can just be like, "Well, society's rules are wrong, so here's the new rules, and as long as you follow these, everything's fine, and everything that doesn't is bad." That it's bringing attention to that, and be like, "No, there's more conversation to be had here."
Dedeker: I do appreciate that it doesn't mean, at least for me, I feel my personal takeaway is that it doesn't mean throwing away the concept of sex positivity and just being like, "Well, that's bad now." I think as a culture, and for people individually as well, it is really important to at least have that concept exist, because I think for a lot of people, even just the concept of sex positivity as we know it is still new to some people, and even coming across that concept is going to be really illuminating and possibly life-changing. I know it certainly was for me, and it's like these things build upon each other, and it's not quite so easy to just take one thing and throw the baby out with the bathwater as it were.
Emily: Speaking of babies, I will say not necessarily that any of us are going to have any, but in looking to the future, again, this critical eye of what sex positivity, sex-negative feminism, and all of these things look like, I think it's important to continue bringing that to the masses, those ideas to the next generation of people that are going to be being brought up by those who are our age for example, and something to think about when talking to them about sex in general, and maybe changing the narrative of what our culture, what the three of us really grew up with, which I think still was very much along the lines.
Even me, even someone who was not raised at all religious, but I still think that I was raised with this idea that like, "Well, really only have sex with someone that you're really in love with, or really only have sex with someone--" If you're ready for it, if you can handle it, I don't know, and don't talk about it, don't masturbate. Don't think about it too much, all of those things. I think that that narrative from the beginning can be changed and be thought of in a much more productive manner.
Dedeker: Yes. I think ultimately what we would want to impart to the people listening is that as much as human beings love definitions and labels, and very clear black and white things, there doesn't exist a single definition or label or rule or formula that's going to make it okay to not think critically about things or to not examine things or to not analyze things. I think that's what we've learned here, is that's why it's important to know that when you say sex positive or sex negative, it doesn't mean just these two black and white things. It doesn't mean just this one good thing in this one bad thing. It's a lot more expansive, and that's okay. That's actually a good thing. It's actually good to have something that's expansive, and that does make you think about things, and weigh up pros and cons and think about different situations even though maybe it feels like it's harder because we can't just put a label on something very easy and then be done, but yes, it is actually a good thing to have these things that generate more debate, discussion, and thinking critically about things.
Emily: Hashtag nuance.
Jase: That was the last time.
Dedeker: Thank you.
Emily: Even before you wrote it, I was going to say it. To thank you for being on the same page as me. You said that you were allowed to put one more in there and then Dedeker herself crusted out.
Jase: I crusted out to say that for the scenario.
Dedeker: Maybe that's what I put in my Twitter bios #NuanceSex.
Emily: Oh, I like that.
Dedeker: Sex nuance.
Jase: Sex nuance.
Emily: What? You're going to create a movement, Dedeker?
Dedeker: No, I really don't want to be responsible for a movement.
Emily: The Sex nuance movement? Okay, well, but let's take her home. Shall we?
Jase: We would love to hear from you. We want to know, was this the first time you'd heard this other definition of sex negativity? Is that something you've heard of before? Is it something you identify with? What about sex positivity? What's your relationship been with that? Of course, if you are a theologian or a philosopher who writes about sex moralism, I would love to talk to you more about that because I find it super fascinating. The best place that you can share your thoughts with other listeners is on this episode's discussion thread in our private Facebook group or our discord chat.
You can get access to these groups and join our exclusive community by going to patreon.com/multiamory. In addition, you can share with us publicly. Join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, leave us a voicemail at 678 M-U-L-T-I-0-5 or you can leave us a voice message on Facebook. Multi Emory is created and produced by Dedeker Winston, Emily Matlack, and me Jase Lindgren. Our episodes are edited by Mauricio Boveneda. Our social media wizard is Wil McMillan. Our theme song is, Forms I Know I Did by Josh and Anand from the Fractal Cave EP. The full transcript is available on this episode's page on multiamory.com.