There is a sign over the porn section of Oh My! Sensuality (my job) that reads,
“We know some of the titles are funny. Please do not yell them out loud.”
This is one of my favorite things in the store, for two reasons:
- It gets really annoying when I hear “Bears in Heat?! HAHAHAHA” for the millionth time.
- It’s a really interesting and fitting metaphor bridge for one of my main criticisms of sex positivity.
People yell the names of the porn for one reason: to show off . No, really. People will come into the store and yell out about the sex that is portrayed in the video to show off how cool and collected they are in the store. (I know, yelling as cool and collected baffles me as well.) The fact that customers yell to seem cool to others is similar to advertising their comfort with what is in the video–sex. This exuberant yelling about “Bears in Heat” is advertising comfort, coolness, and a positive reaction to the content of the video. It is an attempt to be positive about sex. Sex positivity for rude people.
The issue I have, besides the rudeness, is that the kinds of porn that are yelled about portray a specific kind of sex, and are yelled about to mock the sex in the film (“Bears in Heat” is an example of this one because it’s a film about gay men). I’ll bet you know the distinction I’m talking about. I bet you know the kind of sex that is bragged about, and the kinds that are mocked.
The celebrated sex, for the most part, is not queer. It’s not inclusive. It’s pretty rapey, racist, and ableist, and we are currently trying to phase it out and replace it with lots of queer and feminist porn at the store. (That being said, some people really like what is commonly called “bad” porn, and that’s totally okay!)
The thing about sex positivity is that it is a term that implies that politically speaking (both in our bedrooms, relationships, and outside of them) we are positive about sex. We are stoked about sex, we are excited about it, we are writing it on our identities and are striving to be as sexy and positive as we can be. It also creates the idea that if one is not sex-positive, they must be sex-negative, and that can leave out anyone who identifies as asexual. (Really awesome article about it here.)
So who is having the sex we are raising up? What kind of sex? What makes something “sexy” or something “sex?”
I want to take a second to remind you all that sexual assault is not sex. Rape is not sex. Sexual assault is assault. Rape is rape. Violence is violence. Sexual violence, in any form, is not sex, it is violence. “Sex” on this blog will never mean “sexual violence”, and should not be considered an umbrella term for nonconsensual acts of violence.
Back to sex-positivity:
What I am asking here is: what acts, done by whom, are deemed worth our positivity?
Then I ask what sex is, and then I get flustered/confused, and then someone gives a definition, and it doesn’t fit how I fuck.
And then I look to resources to find out how to define “sex” and “sexy,” and all of the things I find represent those who are creating the resources.
White. Upper/middle class. Degree-holding. Mostly male. Heterosexual. Monogamous. Non-kinky or not into BDSM practice. Currently able-bodied. Representing and working within institutions of power that are created by and run by white, upper/middle class, degree-holding, mostly male, etc.
Master’s tools, man.
So all I get to learn about is the sex that people who fit those categories are having. Or I get to learn about what they think about the sex lives that are not theirs, and are therefore not “natural,” and are therefore deviant, and are therefore illegal in some cases.
Your sex is not the same as my sex. What you consider sex I may never do, or may never have heard of. “Sex” implies that there is a specific thing that we are positive about. That thing is so subjective, it is often difficult to figure out how to use “sex-positive” as a political platform.
And when my sex life, my pleasure, my relationships, my body, my identity, and the way I create my family are not represented, I do more than “feel” invisible. I am invisible. And my partners, my family, my friends, all of us are made invisible in some way or another.
A recent article on RH Reality Check (a sexuality news source) gave a really great example of the dangers of leaving out making certain people in the representation of sexuality invisible, in regards to the current field of sexologists and sexuality professionals.
“Have you noted the lack of people of Color in the field? When I’ve brought this to the attention of some of you, your responses have mostly fallen into the category of: ‘the field is what it is. This response is problematic on numerous levels. It ignores and erases the people of Color who were a part of the field, helped create it in the US, those of us here today, and those of us to come. This response does not question the colonial legacies and white supremacy of which the US field was created and remains.” (Bianca I. Laureano, An Open Letter to White People in the Sexology/Sexuality Field)
We need to work to create representative definitions of sex, and acknowledge that even if you and/or I may not belong to a particular misrepresented (or non-represented) group, our liberation is tied up with the liberation of others. (So everyone start organizing, celebrate the sex you are having, and help each other have the sex you want to have).
I understand that some of you who are reading this identify as sex-positive, and have just as complicated and fraught and wild and inclusive a definition of sex as I do, so I am going to offer up an alternative. (Ah, semantics!) *Thanks to my awesome editor Meg for giving me the words for that last bit, you’re awesome!*
Until the understood definition of what sex is/who is having sex is more inclusive, I would like to offer up the term “pro-erotic” as an alternative to sex positivity.
I consider “erotic” to be more of an umbrella term for whatever you find arousing, awesome, and makes your brain/body all electric in the ways that it is able to be. It’s not sex, but it can be sex. It literally can be whatever you want it to be.
(Yeah, I know, Erika Moen nerd alert.)
And everything you want it to be is normal.
Ask yourself that before negotiating/playing/having sex with someone. “If I could fuck any way that I wanted to fuck, how would I fuck?”
And the answer to that question is erotic. It’s being erotic with yourself, with your partners, in your brain, etc.
And think twice before using the term “sex-positive” and reading porn titles out loud.