Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Battle of La Rochelle

This is going to be an open post if someone wants to discuss the porn issue brought up here:


This isn't going to modded much so please keep that in mind.


  1. Hi Kristen. My issue isn't with porn exactly- I just saw yet another post about "sex-positivity" and tried to explain what is wrong with that term. It doesn't seem like anyone there wants to talk about it though. If the term "sex-positive" is a movement against the 70s/80s anti-porn movement, that is definitely an implication that the anti-porn movement is anti-sex. It's ridiculous to think that women pointing out how damaging porn is are thought of as "anti-sex".


  2. Bushfire,

    I didn’t want to engage on the issue in the other thread because I do think it would have been derailing, but since Kristen has kindly provided the space to talk about it here (thank you for that Kristen.) I’m happy to engage the issue.

    As I understand your position: you are objecting to the term “sex-positive” to describe a particular sub-group of feminists, because it implies that the group they arose in opposition to (who you label “anti-porn”) is anti-sex.

    As a minor point I would argue that the implication of the descriptor, “sex-positive”, is that the group they oppose is “sex-negative” not “anti-sex”. While you claim that the former can be simplified to the latter (in the original thread), I don’t see any justification for that “simplification”. I would argue that the phrase “sex-negative” suggests a negative view of sex in general while being open to the possibility that it is acceptable in some circumstances, while “anti-sex” suggests the view that sex is never acceptable. I don’t know if that, admittedly, minor difference makes an difference in how you understand the terms in question, but it might and so it seemed worth addressing.

    But the bigger problem I have with your argument is that you seem to lump all pornography together (and I think this is a problem with most anti-pornography analysis) and to suggest that some forms of consensual sexual expression are morally impermissible. You say that it is “extremely fucked up” to say that “pornography is not inherently degrading” and equate it to “being used as a sex object without being respected as a person”. And you seem to say that pornography is inherently violent (“even ‘mild’ pornography is somewhat violent” and “but not depictions of violence against women defined as ‘free speech’”).

  3. During the second wave of feminism there were a lot of feminist who decried:
    - any sex with a man
    - penetrative sex between women
    - oral sex
    - anal sex
    - aggressive sex
    - BDSM

    That is anti-sex or sex-negative. As for porn, as others have pointed out, it is not all the same, made the same, made by or for the same people, and is not all degrading to women. And there does seem to be a lot of overlap, especially in the 70s and 80s vetween gorups who were anti-all porn and those who decried certain sex acts as anti-feminist.

  4. [pt. 2 of 2, split for length]

    First, I think it is false to say that pornography is inherently degrading or to say that it requires that women (or even more broadly some people – since not all pornography involves women at all) be treated as a sex object without being respected as a person. No doubt, some porn does this, but it is not necessary that it do so. Some porn that appears to do this may be made with the clear and express consent of the women (people) apparently being degraded – and I see nothing wrong with consensual sexual degradation. Furthermore, some porn clearly evidences a concern for and interest in the women (people) involved (both as human beings and as sexual agents) and their sexual pleasure. (I can point you to examples of this if you would like, but I am assuming you’d rather I not do so given your sated position on pornography).

    Second, some sex acts look violent from the outside and are still morally ok. Any sex act I (genuinely) consent to is morally ok (so long as all the other people involved also consent to it, of course). It may look violent, it may even be violent, but that doesn’t make it wrong or bad or in some way morally impermissible. How does the act of recording those sex acts and distributing those recordings to others interested in seeing them, make any difference as to the morality of the act? I argue that it doesn’t and that brings me to my third point.

    Some people who describe(d) themselves as “anti-porn” are(were), in fact, anti- some types of sex. It is indisputable that many anti-porn activists are (were) also opposed to BDSM. Some oppose(d) more common sex acts (like fellatio) as inherently immoral and/or degrading. So, my third objection is to the description of the anti-pornography movement as being only opposed to pornography. The movement was and is also opposed to some forms of consensual sexual activities (on a variety of grounds) that were not recorded and sold. (As an aside, I think that pornography is – or can be – a type of consensual sexual expression, so I’m not sure I buy a distinction between porn and sexual expression, but for the sake of this argument I’m willing to accept that there is some difference).

    In short I think the anti-porn position (at least as you articulate it, and I think you articulate it in a fairly main-stream way) tends to over generalize what porn is to justify advocacy of censorship of all porn (and thus is fairly characterized as sex-negative). I also think the anti-porn position does not limit itself to pornography and labels some consensual sex acts as immoral (and thus is fairly characterized as sex-negative).

  5. Sorry guys! Shit has been going into my spam filter for some reason. I'm temporarily turning it off in case you guys want to continue this conversation.

  6. Okay, apparently I can't turn off the spam filter. But I PROMISE to pay more attention.

  7. Kristen,

    Sorry for clogging your spam filter. I think it just didn’t like me trying to make two posts in a row. Lesson learned: try to be less verbose (and if I fail at that, put the note that I split my post in part one, not part 2, so if it is hanging alone it makes sense).

    Again, thanks for making the space available, and taking time to facilitate the conversation.

    -Aaron W.

  8. I already commented over at feministe but am interested in elaborating over here. I am also thinking it is bizarre that seemingly we cannot disucss this over there... why? because we are critical? if you are trying to write a sex positive 101, then you are talking about what is sex positivism. I think its perfectly legit to debate this, in which case.

    But yeah, bushfire I totally share your distaste for this term. The argument isn't, and never has been, about sex positivity or sex negativity. This is a misconception. It is an argument about what constitutes oppression and how our individual desires and behaviours are affected by being shaped by an unequal, and capitalist, world.

    Aaron W - nothing you have said negates this very fundamental principle. Everything you have talked about, is not about being for or anti sex, or sex positive or sex negative - its about what is degrading and oppressive in the context in which we live. I think you are fundamentally misunderstanding the arguments if you think this is 'sex-negative'. Fact is, everything we say or do or think, ever, is influenced by our social structures. IMHO, it is more honest to look at consensual degradation in the context of this, than it is just to pretend that its all fine and lets not think about please because its just too complicated. Because autonomy is, complicated. But that's not a reason not to talk about it, and its not a reason to label anyone sex negative for talking about it. I think your focus on 'morally wrong' is incorrect; its about what is degrading and oppressive or not. Not some arbitrary puritanism.

    All of us, do things which support our own oppression and we cannot separate ourselves from this. Why is it wrong to wonder where the desire for violence, commodification or humiliation comes from? Why is it sex negative to suggest that these things might well be related to patriarchy, even if the link is not simply or direct?

    Though at least Aaron W you are actually standing up and saying, yes, I think some people are sex negative, unlike that ludicrous and confused post at feminism 101.

  9. Rididill,

    Just saw your post now—came back here since the issue came up in a different thread to see if Bushfire had ever responded here. So I’m sorry I didn’t respond sooner.

    I think that I should probably clarify something first, when I talk about morality (whether or not something is morally wrong or ok or whatever) I am not talking about “arbitrary Puritanism”. I think that there are moral facts about the world, which are discoverable (and many of which are known) and non-arbitrary. As a general principle, I believe that it is immoral to violate the bodily autonomy of another and I believe that it is morally permissible to do anything I want with my own body so long as doing so does not violate the bodily autonomy of another. Those two principles form the total of my sexual ethics.

    As to your points, I largely agree with you. Yes, most things we do, say, and think are influenced by our social structures (I wouldn’t say everything, since some behaviors are clearly and demonstrably innate). Yes, there is nothing wrong with asking where specific desires come from. And I agree that it is not sex negative to wonder if some of those desires are influenced by the fact that we live under a patriarchy. But, none of that means that those desires are not real.

    If I want to engage in BDSM activates I want to do so whether or not those desires stem from a system of oppression or something else entirely. My desires are real no mater the source, and the fact that they may (and I think the anti-porn movement goes wrong when it asserts that it has definitively identified the source of a desire) stem from a system of oppression. Nor does the fact that a desire stems from oppression (assuming it does) mean that acting on it reinforces oppression.

    This is where the movement becomes sex-negative, it says some forms of sex inherently are oppressive because the desires stem from oppression (never mind the lived experiences of people who engage in those acts) and those sex acts are immoral/must not be engaged in. When the anti-porn movement says that I may not act on a sexual desire with a consenting partner or partners it is sex-negative.

    tl;dr version: It’s not sex negative to ask questions about the origins of our desires, but it is often sex negative to assume you know those origins for everyone while ignoring the lived experience of some of the people who have those desires and it is always sex negative to say some sexual desires are impermissible to act on with consenting partners.