What Does Sex Positivity Mean In Practice? - Par Femme

by Par Femme

By now, many of us can’t-take-a-joke, ruining-everything millennials are aware of the term ‘sex positive’. We’re outspoken against kink-shaming, we know there’s no such thing as a slut, and far be it from us to claim that our way is the only way to experience pleasure. We talk about consent and we know we should ask for what we want (even if we still sometimes struggle to actually do it). So what, then, does sex positivity actually mean in practice? And is it everything it’s cracked up to be?

It’s a cobweb of a question, so let me isolate one sticky strand. It’s something that I’d always had my suspicions about but became hyper-aware of once I started reviewing vibrators and writing short fiction with frisky female characters. I’d post on my Instagram—a private account where 99% of my followers are people I’ve met in person or otherwise have on good authority aren’t bots. The remaining 1% are luxe American cannabis brands, because why not? 

It’s this: you can ‘come out’ as somebody who has and enjoys sex on their own terms. I say ‘come out’ facetiously—most of us do. And yet it’s still scandalous. In my case, being a woman who writes about pleasure is automatically seen as seamy, sordid, a latter-day Jezebel who’s up for anything, with anyone. A wave of suggestive comments hit my DMs as soon as I post my latest writing on Insta. 

Many of these messages start the same way: with misplaced admiration for the reviews, the products, sometimes (with a tone of faint surprise) the writing itself. They’re almost always from people who’ve never expressed any interest in me before. It’s an in, or their opportunity to have a crack by starting a conversation that wouldn’t have otherwise happened. 

It also creates the inverse of a safe space: the much-dreaded grey area. On the one hand, I’m being asked to talk about my work. On the other, it’s not for my benefit. Sex is still the reward. It’s still something that the cis woman gives the cis man, and I imagine this dynamic is amplified a thousandfold as other genders and sexualities enter the mix. 

This presents two sides of a multifaceted coin. One: That despite doing everything right—setting boundaries, acknowledging that physical pleasure is a vital part of my wellbeing, and looking after myself emotionally, I’m still an easy mark for unwanted sleaze. And two: Why does that upset me? Because according to my own set of principles, I should be able to brush it off, or better yet, own it. Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere, right? 

(The deep irony here is that anybody that knows me well knows that as much as I’d like to be Dorothy Parker dressed like Jessica Rabbit, I’m more like Peter Parker before the spider bite. Dressed like Jessica Rabbit.)

It’s that false dichotomy—my own internalised Madonna/whore complex. It bothers me that men see me as raring to gowith them just because I’m open about my personal pleasure. Even though my writing is largely about solo orgasms, and totally take them (and their appendages) out of the equation. And then there’s the other side: Of wanting to be seen as totally chill, at one with my sexuality, not worried at all about my employers finding my writing with a quick Google. Instead, I’ve become familiar with blocking, unfollowing and even just tactically ignoring. 

The thing is, though, I don’t plan to stop writing about pleasure. And despite being in a lull that I’ve complained about over countless cocktails and coffees, I don’t plan to stop having sex and orgasms, either. And maybe that’s how I practice my sex positivity. A small act of resistance where I keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. What do they call that again?

— Tabitha Laffernis 

Par Femme
Par Femme



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