Sunday, January 16, 2011

On the Phrase "Sex-Positive"

A term often used to describe conservative viewpoints on sex by feminists, especially secular feminists, is that they are "sex-negative." This term is often used to describe viewpoints that seem to put down sex, to subordinate it to other things and thus to limit it to less than its full potential with respect to human fulfillment and pleasure. Thus the conservatives are thought sex-negative because they see certain limitations on the proper use of sexuality and the body, and the feminists are thought sex-positive because they see, at the least, fewer limits on what can or should be considered the proper use of the same.

Of course as Chesterton notes, there is something disproportionate in human sexuality, such that "the moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant." But I think Chesterton was wrong on the details of what this means, if he meant exactly what he said. As soon as we attempt to elevate sex, to be "sex-positive," it is not sex which becomes a tyrant. Sex goes from being a servant of God and nature to the slave of lust, and we go from slaves of Christ to slaves of our passions.

The moment we attempt to be sex-positive, to rule by consent instead of by divine and natural intent, we become instead sex-negative and pleasure-positive. We become convinced that sexuality and our bodies are things that can be abused in the name of our pleasure; we treat it as something there for our pleasure, not for the purposes endorsed by the divine, which do not themselves conflict with pleasure but which include over and above enjoyment the unity of persons and the propagation of the species.

It seems then that the sex-positive feminists, in desiring to liberate sex, have liberated it from freedom and unto our abuses. If you don't believe me, watch where the world goes on matters of sexuality in the next few years. Observe the broken-hearted people who can't properly manage their "friends-with-benefits" relationships. Wonder why people who use consent, rather than divinely-ordered responsibility, as their barometer for acceptability, so often wind up with emotional messes on their hands. And then tell me that these people are the sex-positive and liberated ones.


Charlie said...

Actually, I'd suggest that some people are sex negative because the start with the assumption that sex is dangerous or sinful, and that it needs to be redeemed by (usually) heterosexual monogamy/marriage/procreation. The idea that only one form of sexuality is valid (and even then, for centuries, celibacy was seen as "higher") and that the vast spectrum of sexual diversity is sinful is, in fact, what makes people sex-negative, regardless of their political beliefs.

And while consent is certainly a big part of sex-positivity, so is well-being. When looked at from that perspective, we can see that it's perfectly possible to be sex-positive and to set limits or boundaries. Just because someone consents to something, whether it's sexual or otherwise, doesn't mean it contributes to their well-being or that of other people. That's where we get the more subtle nuances of sex-positivity that you seem to leave out.

Lastly, if (as you say) "divinely-ordered responsibility" is a better barometer for acceptability, how do you account for all of the people who live their loves by that standard and still experience "emotional messes"?

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

Charlie: Haven't seen you around here before. Welcome. I should let you know that you're welcome here at KBT anytime you choose to drop in and comment.

Part of the point of my post was to attempt a Chestertonian turnaround of phrasings--it is quite possible that in that endeavor I have failed. Now I don't necessarily expect that I've proving anything to you here, and you haven't proven anything to me except that, as I already knew, many people do have their definitions of sex-negativity and I fit it. (And that maybe I could do a better job of pre-striking on questions like yours.)

So be it. I mean no offense, of course, by saying that. But my terms are not yours and I do not accept your label of what I believe, just as I do not accept certain Protestant attempts to label my beliefs as un-Biblical.

Re: Your question, it's a problem of what happens when people leave out a key element of responsibility, that is, Love. Sometimes people get messes dumped on them even if they live right. That doesn't mean they're living wrong. I should note that most of the examples I am thinking of that go wrong on the more modern-sexual-ethic side of things are examples where people are being irresponsible, and since there are messes on both sides of the spectrum, I certainly wouldn't say that being truly sex-positive prevents emotional messes from occurring anymore than you would say being a true Catholic prevents the same. Obviously I think when things go wrong on 'my side' of things, they go wrong, at least most of the time, because people are doing them wrong. And I know that at least for some cases, you could say the same. Where does that leave us? Perhaps no better off than before. I'd be lying if I said I had a fantastic knock-down answer for you right now; right now, I'm just a Catholic punk with a blog.

I can see some room for talking about well-being, of course. But in my mind a key difference in the ethics arise if responsibility (including, but not limited to, well-being of oneself and the other) doesn't override consent. I certainly don't think nobody sets limits or that such limit-setting is impossible, and I applaud you if you do set limits because, quite frankly, that means you have some self-control. I do have two questions for you, if you do not mind:

1. Is there a circumstance such that both (a) someone consents freely and (b) you would consider yourself morally obligated to refuse to have relations with them?

2. Is pornography moral? I'm not necessarily asking you for a blanket 'yes' or 'no,' but I should ask that you give your boundaries if you choose nuance here, as to what pornography honors well-being and what pornography does not? I don't necessarily expect you to fit a particular mold here; I am aware that there is intra-feminist debate on the merits or demerits of many things, including pornography.

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

By the way, apologies about the moderation--we've had...a lot of less than legitimate posts in the past and this was the best way to curb it.

Charlie said...

1) If someone freely consented to something, I would choose to not have sex with them if I believed or knew that such a sexual act would cause harm to myself, to them, or to others. Defining harm can be tricky since one could argue (for example) that eating potato chips causes harm, much less some of the common sexual practiced that people engage in. And we could argue about whether a particular sexual act causes harm to an individual or not, but I don't think we can reliably assess that without know the details of a particular situation since it'll vary from one to another.

2) I don't think that the question "is pornography moral" makes any more sense than asking if newspapers, shoes, or cell phones are moral. A more relevant question, I think, is whether the people engaged in the production, performance, and promotion of sexually explicit media are treated fairly. But then, I don't think that there's anything inherently moral or immoral about any particular sexual act- it depends on the individuals in question and how they treat each other. I suspect that we differ in our opinions regarding that.

As far a what sexually explicit media honor well-being, I'd point to movies produced by some of the companies that focus on performers who are enjoying what they do and that don't pressure performers to engage in anything they don't want to. Good Releasing, Pink & White,, and others use that model, rather than the mainstream model of scripted sex and financial incentives, both of which provide external motivations for performers rather than their own desires.

Anonymous said...

sex is dark, i think chesterton said, sex makes us a little insane....
i have been reading "the jewelers shop" by wojtyal - it surprised me - i was expecting something corny, instead i found something true to my own experience of marriage - it's not the head over heels person you marry, or who most excites the senses, in the best of worlds, it's a person you might even try to avoid but you are drawn to as your companion for life -

it's wierd how much the reason for sex is not "out there" as we are bombarded with the ersatz by the media

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