Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Swimming Against a Tidal Wave

Every once in a while I hear a criticism of sex-positive blogs (like this one) -- that they present a rosy view of sexuality, and never deal with the negative sides of sex like rape, like rape, sexually transmitted disease, human trafficking, etc. I think about this a lot, because it certainly isn't responsible to act like sex is fun and amazing for everyone, everywhere, always. There's a dark side to this subject. You can't deny it.

Now, I've always been able to duck these criticisms because I don't feel like I'm required to present a balanced view of my subject. I don't claim to be a "sex-pert," a sex educator, or an authority of any kind on the subject. I'm just an enthusiast. I like to explore the subject of sexuality -- and when something makes me geek out (and isn't too private to share with strangers on the Internet) I write about it. This blog isn't meant to be a definitive work on the subject. I'm just an enthusiast.

But when sex-positive people are criticized for not dealing with the dark side of sex, it really rubs me the wrong way. I got thinking about it again recently after the cast of the Sex Is Fun podcast had difficulty expressing why they shied away from darker topics, and I think I finally figued out why this criticism bothers me so much. People are quick to criticize a sex-positive blogger, podcaster or expert for not giving equal time to darker topics, but nobody expects equal time for sex-positive topics from sex-negative experts.

Sex is presented a number of ways in our culture. It's presented as fantasy by TV, movies, advertisements, fashion models, and porn. It's presented as sin by religion. It's presented as disease by doctors, STI awareness campaigns, and abstinence educators. It's presented as politics by women's rights activists, fundamentalists and marriage equality crusaders. It's presented as crime by police, newspapers, television, and some feminist movements. It's presented as humor by everyone from stand-up comics to your friends at the bar. Some of these six ways of talking about sex are important, some of them are fun, and some of them are pure bullshit. But none of them are really about enjoying love and sex, or embracing them as a force for good in our lives.

Compared to these six ways of talking about sex, the sex-positive message is tiny and marginalized. These five approaches are what you get from every mainstream media outlet. Sex-positive commentators are struggling to be heard on blogs, podcasts, small presses and free alternative papers. For those of us who are trying to present sex in a positive light, it's okay to take the darker side of the topics as rote. It's okay to overcompensate in favor of the positive message. It's okay if Violet Blue or Susie Bright don't spend all day talking about human trafficking -- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has more than got that stuff covered. There's not much for The Stranger to say that every major media outlet in America hasn't already said.

Sex-positive writers are swimming against a tidal wave of negative messages about sex, yet they're the ones who are expected to give equal time the negative side of sex? Why not ask Dr. Phil to give equal time to the positive side of sexuality? Sex-positive writers haven't got the time. There are too few of them and they're fighting an uphill battle to elevate the discourse about sexuality. That's the reason, for instance, that you will hardly ever see a bad review on this blog -- I could write ten bad reviews a day of things I felt portrayed sexuality badly and still never scratch the surface. Rather than become an increasingly bitter blogger, I've decided I'm only going to write good reviews of things that deserve recognition for some welcome sex-positivity. The only exception I've made in three years was for something I felt was passing itself off as sex-positive when it really wasn't.

Here's the size of it: sex-positive outlets have enough work to do countering negative messages. The don't have time to send them, no matter how valid they may be. It's very important that people talk about sex as a vector for disease, or in the context of sex crimes -- but plenty of people are already doing that. On the other hand, very few people are talking about healthy, happy sex -- you know, the kind of sex most people are having. And that's too bad. Because the when healthy, happy sex is ignored, when it isn't spoken of, when it is repressed, when it is locked behind millions of bedroom doors and made invisible, that's when all the negative stuff can perpetuate itself. A culture with a healthy attitude about sex wouldn't have half the problems we do.

So, to all you bloggers, podcasters, writers, actors, web series directors, here's a request from me and my fellow enthusiasts -- keep it positive!


  1. I had a little tiny funeral for the little tiny clump of cells that I killed when I popped a zit last night. It was a beautiful ceremony.

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  2. Yes! Thank you for saying that! This is even worse if you are a female and blog/write about sex and/or polyamory [resists the urge to insert self-promoting link/s].

    If you have a blog about, say, Persian cats, nobody seems concerned if you don't spend half the space talking about cleaning the litterbox.It's just with the icky sex stuff that we're deemed irresponsible if we don't make the whole thing into a cautionary tale. D'apres the old theater saying, if there's a non-traditional relationship in the first act/paragraph/post, etc., there must be a death, divorce, or ice pick by the third... Sigh!

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