Published in Broadsheet, April 7, 2009
The female orgasm may be in danger. The culprit: the over-sexualization of the feminist movement. At least, that’s according to a blog post on the Sexist by Amanda Hess. She declares that, if forced to suffer through one more boring essay on the mysteries of the female orgasm in the name of feminism, she may never climax again.
The anti-sex-positivity ranter was set off by the 2009 Visions in Feminism Conference, a yearly symposium held Saturday at American University. Or, more specifically, it was the keynote speaker that rankled her: None other than Annie Sprinkle, a second-wave feminist performance artist who infamously spread her legs onstage and invited spectators to observe her nether regions. Since the theme of this year’s conference was “pushing boundaries” and “unfixing definitions of feminism,” Hess “humbly” proposed “that we unfix this ‘sex-positivity’ shit from the entire praxis.”
It isn’t that she thinks the porn industry, sex work and human sexuality aren’t relevant to feminism. She just thinks it’s “condescending to the feminist movement that we have to bring orgasms in to be taken seriously.” Her insinuation is that sex-positivity is an attempt at making feminism seem “less prude and scary and icky and straight-laced and serious and anti-man.” Since when is talking about the importance of female pleasure a shortcut to being taken seriously as a woman? If anything, claiming a version of sexuality that doesn’t include bunny ears and a fluff tail — meaning one that isn’t base solely on male fantasy — is the express route to being considered “serious and anti-man.”
Hess snarks: “So you’re a feminist, and you like sex — well, that’s normal. So do a lot of people, including a lot of non- and anti-feminists. So what does that have to do with feminist identity?” In other words: It’s totally passé for a woman to talk about sex without shame. She also believes that the movement pretends “to be totally outrageous,” but is “actually very, very boring.” Apparently, Sprinkle’s vaginal flashlight adventures leave Hess yawning, but that’s an awfully privileged position to hold. We wouldn’t be where we are today without that kind of once-daring work.
Like most things, sex-positivity taken to the extreme (for example: the conferences’ “live demonstration with rope restraints”) can be problematic — or in Hess’ case, a libido buzz-kill. But discrediting sex-positivism on that basis is to throw out the baby with the bath water — or, in this case, throw out the female orgasm with the rope restraints.