Blogging “Yes” Day 8: Sex Positivity as an Anti-Rape Tool

For the eighth day of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read one of my favorite essays in the book.  It’s called “A Love Letter from an Anti-Rape Activist to Her Feminist Sex-Toy Store” and it’s written by Lee Jacobs Riggs.  The piece is fairly autobiographical, focusing on Riggs’ experiences working both with a rape crisis center and at Early to Bed, a feminist sex shop.  What’s amazing about this piece is how Riggs articulates the importance of giving people the sex-positive language to enthusiastically consent to sex as an alternative to just teaching people about the bad stuff that happens and how to say no.  In this post, I’m just going to highlight some of my favorite parts of the essay.

Riggs writes:

Let’s be clear.  By “rape,” I mean a sexual encounter without consent.  Consent is saying yes.  Yes, YES!  This is the definition, in my experience, employed by today’s rape crisis services.  Their models for prevention education, however, fail to teach young people how to really articulate or receive consent.  They instead focus on how to say and listen to “no.”  “No” is useful, undoubtedly, but it is at best incomplete.  How can we hope to provide the tools for ending rape without simultaneously providing the tools for positive sexuality?

This is one thing I love about online feminism, and about certain organizations I’ve noticed recently that are working with the problem of rape and rape culture.  It should be obvious, but to many of us it’s not, or at least not right away.  The focus on “no” really is an incomplete focus.  We do need to teach young people how to say no, and to focus on the needs of survivors of sexual assault.  We do need specific resources geared towards rape awareness and survivor support.  But we also need to recognize that our sexually repressed culture, where sex is silent and something to hide, fosters rape and other forms of abuse.  We need to come out of the closet about sex, and not only in sanitized ways.

The abstinence-only education camp that holds political and economic power in this country is at the forefront of maintaining a sex-negative culture, but this force is by no means the only place that sex-negativity manifests.  It can be found in nonprofit rape crisis organizations’ one-dimensional or absent analyses of issues such as pornography, the sex trade, and child sexuality.  It is exemplified within some so-called sex-positive queer and “radical” spaces that set up a narrative of orgasm as the ultimate enlightenment and create a hierarchy of sexual practice.

One of the most important parts of sex-positivity, I think, is recognizing how diverse sexualities are, and also recognizing how many things are interconnected.  I remember about five years ago, when I was just starting to realize that my personal relationship philosophy jives well with polyamory, and I had some polyamorous friends who were in a relationship.  One of the two women had a husband and a kid, and the other friend was living with them.  I had a lot of trouble understanding that, because I believed that poly was all well and good but you can’t expose children to that.  I’ve since come to realize that these sex-negative viewpoints are deeply embedded in our culture and often not very logical.  Why shouldn’t we expose kids to sexuality in age-appropriate ways?  And why should we try so hard to hide aspects of our sexuality as adults?  Porn isn’t evil.  Poly isn’t evil.  Kink isn’t evil.  I’m a bit of a hypocrite in this, as I can’t come out as poly or kinky to my family, but it would be nice if one day it were easier to discuss these issues in public.  And speaking of kink:

Kink, as well as the larger values of a sex-positive culture, rejects the models that we’re given for sex that teach us that it’s something based on uncontrollable impulses, something that happens organically in a realm beyond worlds.

Again, we’re back to the silence theme that pervades when talking about mainstream sexuality values.  Great sex requires communication.  Communication can be difficult, embarrassing, upsetting, and make some of us downright ill, but we have to get there somehow if we’re going to fully realize our sexualities and learn how to say “yes” in a complete, effective way.  “[P]lay is how children, as well as adults, learn about themselves and their environments and imagine other realities.”  I think for a lot of us who have trouble with speaking up in bed, the idea of sex as play, as a playground, can be a powerful one.  Play is about fun, as well as about learning.  Sex should be about joy and about laughter, not just about pain and awkwardness.  We may be slow at first.  We may stumble, toddler-like, across the playground, trying new things and feeling uncertain, but eventually I think we all have the capacity for childlike joy in our sexual discoveries.  We just have to figure out where that capacity lives.

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About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on April 13, 2010, in rape, sexuality and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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