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Against the Neoliberal (Homo)normativity of Sex Positivity Discourse

explaining my objection to sex positive movement

The following exchange took place in Portland Feminist Meetup group on facebook. The group is considered public, but since it is invisible to anyone not using facebook, I have removed the name of the person I was responding to (but if the parties wish their names to be published, please let me know!).

Forum: Pacific Northwest/Western USA Radical Sex-Positive Feminists (facebook group)
Date: 03/01/2012

[Participant A (name withheld) shared:

This article is really long and theory-heavy, but I also found it very thought-provoking. There are parts of it I don't entirely understand. I want to get other people's (specifically in this case, y'all's) thoughts on it. At the moment, I don't have anything in particular to say about it except that the author's arguments seem well reasoned and she's Making Me Think. Also, I realize that posting an article called "Against Sex Positivity" to an explicitly sex-positive group risks starting a flamewar, but let's try not to have one?
March 1 at 5:11pm

Against Sex Positivity

I like the article, but then it's a known fact that I am critical of much of the sex positivity discourse--and much of any positive discourses for that matter ;-)
March 2 at 3:19am

[Participant B] wrote:

Emi, I am interested in what you have to say in criticism of sex positivity. I have no clue what your critiques are, and I value your thoughts and theories.
March 2 at 6:02am

[Participant B] - I feel that much of sex positive discourse is (homo)normative: sexual desire is natural, essential, and universal. [Participant C] said that her vision of sex positivity is inclusive of "prudishness" and asexuality, and I agree that there are strains of sex positivity that do not automatically consider someone to be "repressed" or "sex negative" for not being into sex, but even that formulation of sex positivity tend to treat one's sexual desires (or lack thereof) as natural and essential. I find that perspective limiting.

Further, the discourse of individuality, choice, and consent that often underlie the sex positive politic is aligned with the neoliberal capitalist worldview. [Participant C] is careful to defend "individual choice" on a practical ground, which I totally agree with, but in popular discourse it is quickly translated into "any sex that is consensual is good and out of bounds for criticism (i.e. any criticism is considered "sex negative" and bad)." More on that on my blog -- it should be much more readable than that article :-)

As for negativity: Jack Halberstam observes at least two strands of negativity in queer theory. One, exemplified by Leo Bersani and other (mostly white male) theorists is what I associate with the word "nihilism": it is the individualistic glorification of decay and (self-)destruction. The negativity many queer women and trans people write tend to be different: it is often much more political, more about rejection of and refusal to participate in discourses and institutions that are oppressive than destruction for the sake of destruction. I embrace this type of negativity as does Halberstam.

March 2 at 10:05am