Good afternoon! Scroll to the bottom for a really good link. No time for dilly-dallying up here, too excited about what I wrote. To that we go:
Back in the day (2011ish), I was taught as a young woman on the cusp of adulthood by my parents that sex is something sacred to be shared between two people who have love for one another. From the early-girlboss era feminists I saw online, I was taught that sex is a tool, the full force of which can be harnessed to get what you want.
Neither proved entirely true, at least for me. Because neither accounted for the seismic vibe shift that would occur in the coming decade—the dawn of sex positivity as a lifestyle, a brand, a lexicon.
As I came of age, my straight female peers and I went from “if you want to keep him around, don’t sleep with him until he’s committed” to “it doesn’t matter if you sleep with him on the first date or not, he’s already made his mind up about you so you might as well enjoy the ride.” Both of those approaches fail to capture the complexity of sexuality when it involves another person. But the evolution from the former to the latter came, I believe, as a direct result of this sudden influence to be sexual, whatever that meant.
By my early 20s, we were talking a lot more about sex in more public forums. Meme fodder became less baby-with-a-clenched-fist and more choke-me-daddy. The theme of the last several years: voracious sexual appetite.
In many ways, this shift toward an insatiable hunger in the bedroom harbored a long-overdue destigmatization of sex work, sexuality (especially for women), and the variety of sexual identities. When everyone’s talking about how much they love BDSM, you (the hypothetical you, I make no assumptions about what the literal you is into) can comfortably love BDSM.
But what if you don’t love BDSM?
Thoughts like that were expressed quite eloquently by Michelle Goldberg in her recent New York Times Opinion column titled, “A Manifesto Against Sex Positivity.” In the column, Goldberg reviews the work Rethinking Sex: A Provocation by Washington Post columnist Christine Emba.
The gist is something like this: We (read: me, myself, and I) preach sex positivity. The taboo is a concept of yesteryear. Post your thirst trap. Tell your partner what your fantasies are. Have as much (consensual, safe) sex as you want, “number” be damned.
We (again—me, myself, I) believe in those ideas as happy byproducts of this generation’s feminist ambitions toward more freedom for more people. But simultaneously, I find myself apprehensive of them. To say you enjoy vanilla sex, to say you’re saving yourself for marriage, to say you’re simply not interested in sex…is to welcome judgment. Sex positivity as a movement has carved out space for new ideas of sexual fulfillment, but so too has it erased ideas of sexual fulfillment.
I first came across the column and subsequently Emba’s ideas when friend of the show and Quinn founder Caroline Spiegel shared it to her Instagram story Monday. I came for the column’s title, I stayed for Goldberg’s un-minced words on unorthodox ideas, and I’m writing this today because of the final paragraph Goldberg wrote:
“The problem — and I doubt Emba would disagree with this — is that many women are still embarrassed by their own desires, particularly when they are emotional, rather than physical. She writes that sex positivity “champions the primacy of appetite — our wants are above reproach and worthy of fulfillment, no matter what.” Her book, however, is full of examples of people suppressing their longings. She interviews many women who seem to feel entitled to one-night stands, but not to kindness. What passes for sex positivity is a culture of masochism disguised as hedonism. It’s what you get when you liberate sex without liberating women.”
Liberating sex without liberating women. Liberating sex without liberating women.
This paradigm has, in many ways, forced me to reckon with the feeble nature of the human mind. For all it is capable of manifesting through ingenuity and sheer force of will (bluetooth! the Italian sub! Spotify Discover Weekly!) the human brain can’t quite wrestle with two complicated ideas at once. We can liberate women, or we can become sex positive—but it would seem we can’t do both.
The challenge is and always has been achieving intersectionality. We have to learn how to compute that systemic problems are rarely siloed, but rather wrapped in other systemic problems, a tangled twine. To solve one, you must attempt to solve the other. To stop mass incarceration, we must stop systemic racism. To liberate sex, we must liberate women. Our approach has to be intersectional.
The word intersectional itself likely sets your mind abuzz as it attempts perhaps in vain to compute how we can approach monumental problems (racism, sexism, ableism, really anything daunting) all at once, all the time, everywhere. We’re simpler than we might admit and this is begging for system overload.
At least, that’s what we think when we lack imagination.
When we think beyond ourselves, we can attempt intersectionality in earnest. It’s not about doing everything for everyone everywhere all at once. It’s about allowing those who know better than you to step in where and when you can’t. And that begins with recognizing what you don’t know.
Navigating the last two years, I’ve been astounded by just that…how much I don’t know. My efforts to right wrongs are pure, but they’re also limited by my own experience—white, straight, woman, educated, American.
I will likely never know what it’s like to be a sex worker. I will certainly never know what it’s like to be a person of color. I will never know, at least not fully, what it’s like to be the person sitting next to me in the coffee shop as I type these words.
But I can do my best to empathize and, better yet, to get out of the way when people with different lived experiences and different areas of expertise know how to best solve problems that are interwoven in other problems. I will help as I can—as a feminist, as an ally. But I will recognize that solutions concocted in solitude are rarely complete.
Thank you for reading, everyone!
The really good Link I promised you:
Hahahaha I’m sorry I had to okay this is the really good link: This week on my YouTube, I published the extended cut of a very insightful conversation I had with Brian Morrissey of The Rebooting. We talk about influencer journalists, the concept of truth, our experiences within the shockingly legal systems of early journalism, and much more.
The really good link one more time for good measure: click here and enjoy
Have a great weekend,
What if we all stopped to think a little harder? To have conversations with each other? What might the world look like? I’m Kinsey Grant and together, we’re gonna find out.