I am perhaps the worst example of a “normal” feminist there is. For one thing, I was raped by a woman. For another thing, I’m not willing to assume she did it because a man put her up to it. For yet another thing, I don’t really like sex or sex-positivity. I’m a bit anti-everything, I guess, but there’s not much else I can say about that without sharing a little bit about me.
I first came into an awareness of feminism when I was maybe fifteen. Feminism was supposed to be the backlash against patriarchal society ie: the shit men with privilege inflict on us. As a survivor of ongoing sexual abuse from both of the two main recognized sexes, and someone possibly on the asexual spectrum if not fully asexual, I didn’t exactly hit the giggling and wanting it phase that is supposed to come in your teens. Nope. Instead, I hit the phase where it seemed like everyone wanted and needed a boyfriend. Boyfriends were social capital and everyone knew it. If you didn’t have one, you weren’t cool, and your female friends would start ignoring you. Stupid, but that’s middle/high school for you. Anyway, it was common knowledge that boys liked sex. Everywhere I turned at school, I’d hear a guy shouting “suck my balls” at some girl, propositioning someone he didn’t even know to do him in the parking lot, etc. You’d hear about girls getting dumped after like…a week because they hadn’t “put out” yet. The idea of a penis going anywhere near me was unthinkable. My friends for whom it wasn’t unthinkable were mostly being mistreated in relationships. One of my close friends was dating this jerkass who hit her and who basically used her body to jerk himself off but didn’t care about her pleasure at all. People were weirdly jealous of me for being a “virgin” (I didn’t know I was raped at the time) and simultaneously certain that I needed to “get laid” in order to lighten up. I started being afraid to go to school because every single time I heard this shit going around my school was another reminder that I wasn’t good enough. That the shit my abusers did to me was/is okay. That even if the really violent version of it is not socially sanctioned, the social pressure and expectation that you MUST cater to a guy (or dominant woman’s) sexual power trip in order to have worth is somehow okay as long as you pick which person you give that up to.
I figured that feminism would be completely anti-sex based on all of that. All I saw from sex was that there was always at least a little bit of a horrible dynamic in it. I thought it was all men-against-women, but then I started to realize that I was being abused by women. Then I got raped by a girl at school who was bisexual and abused people of both socially understood sexes. Whoever was “in charge,” whoever was dominant, it seemed like the main way people knew how to have sex was by having one person sort of “take charge” and the other person sort of do what that person said with zero communication or real planning. It also seemed like the only way people knew how to have relationships was by having sex and if it was good enough, hoping there was also a friendship.
I was angry. I wanted to know where this idea of love was. Guys had it wrong. Lesbians had it wrong. Everywhere I went there was sex, there was infatuation, and there was nothing. What about wanting that connection that’s more than friendship but doesn’t have to involve the weird power and control shit and the submissive elements that sex often has to (sorry – being penetrated or touched in sensitive areas feels submissive to me and that’s my reality, and penetrating someone else is just putting them in that role and I’m not into that). What about wanting sex to be less important than the relationship rather than more important or at best, about as important? Yeah no. For as many Disney movies as parents show their kids, people freak out if you want a relationship based on some romantic idealism versus a tingling between your legs.
In college, I learned about sex-positivity. Supposedly the answer to rape culture was to just “admit” that sex is fun and great and women can love it. I ended up wanting to know…what about me? Sure, there are books about survivor sexuality but they always carry that assumption that sex is good, everyone likes it, everyone must do it at some point, and so forth. The idea that I *have* to have sex is not helpful in dealing with sexual trauma. Sexual trauma comes from having to have sex rather than wanting it. Having to want it isn’t better. I end up wanting to know when people are going to stop shaming prudes. When are people going to allow a real conversation about the fact that a lot of porn perpetuates the wrong sorts of ideas about sex without it having to turn into this “you either have to be fine with 100% of porn or you have to hate sex workers” debate? When is it going to be okay to talk about how painful something like an abortion is and how you wished no one would have to experience that pain first or second hand without that meaning you’re anti-choice? When can I talk about how much I hate my genitals, how badly I wanted to distance myself from their existence without people telling me I shouldn’t feel that way. No, I have real reasons to feel that way. If you’re going to care, I need you to go there with me and get it. Get that “what do I do about the fact that I have a body part that makes a ton of people in this world feel entitled to use me like an object?” is a serious question. Get that “how do I handle the fact that this body part is what made it possible for a rapist to give my body pleasure and whether I blame myself or not I’M STILL ALWAYS GOING TO REMEMBER THAT and I’m still going to struggle with the fact that sex isn’t exciting, new, special, fun, interesting, good, loving, etc, for me and I don’t actually like the thought of it enough to even want it to be. Get that rape and sex are not these polar opposites but sort of…rape is a type of sex. A very bad type that can come from the “good” type or just come from a person who thinks they’re giving the “good type” not bothering to ask or listen. Get that my experiences count even if they weren’t consensual. Get that it is fucking scary to exist as a sexual being and that men are not the only people who can terrorize you for having a body that has sexual things about it.
I want people to stop shaming me for those things. For me, it isn’t revolutionary to hear “it’s okay to like your vibrator.” It would be more revolutionary for someone to say to me “I know you hate that you have to use it. I know that you do not want a sex drive. You don’t consent to masturbation at all, but your body can’t stand going without it. I know that means you’re in an abusive relationship with yourself, and that the only way to get around it is to make yourself like it ie: the same thing you did with abusers, or to make it ‘healthy’ which is hard to do with something you don’t want or even want to want in the first place.” It isn’t revolutionary to hear “orgasms are fun.” It might be revolutionary to hear “I’m sorry yours are pathetic but your body demands them of you anyway because this world sucks.” It’s not revolutionary to hear “you get to want it” but “you get to feel exactly how you feel and you have a right to be angry at it.” As long as “wanting it is okay” is the only message, the only narrative being shared about sex, then we’re still excluding and shaming a sizable portion of people and oftentimes letting a lot of problematic things about the state of sexuality go completely unquestioned.