The Proud Celibate

Earlier this year, I read this fascinating and provocative article:

UNPOPULAR OPINION: I’m A Sex-Negative Feminist

Sex-negativity makes a lot of feminists uncomfortable, but I frankly couldn’t give less of a damn if my politics hurt your feelings.
Jul 10, 2013 at 11:00am

I’m a sex-negative feminist.

I call myself sex-negative partially because it’s an unsettling term — one that invokes particular histories that many feminists would rather paper over or erase completely — and partially because I fundamentally disagree with the assumptions about sex, kink, and consent upon which mainstream sex-positive feminism is based.


Sex-negativity makes a lot of feminists uncomfortable, but I frankly couldn’t give less of a damn if my politics hurt your feelings.


I’ve considered myself to be sex-negative (or at least critical of sex-positive feminism) for a while, but have only recently started expressing that view outside of conversations with trusted friends. Sex-negative feminism isn’t particularly, well, sexy; openly articulating criticisms of sex-positivity is to simultaneously make oneself a target for straw(wo)man arguments aimed against radical feminism, for accusations that you’re shaming or judging others, or for assertions that you are frigid or prudish or pathologically broken — all of which are sentiments that have been expressed by self-identified sex-positive feminists toward less enthusiastic women.


It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when the author Marie Calloway asked if she could interview me for a piece she was planning on writing about young women and feminism, that I decided to go public about being sex-negative. I answered Marie’s questions via email; not long after that, my interview, along with that of our mutual friend, was published on Thought Catalog, and included the following quote:

“Related to choice feminism is sex-positive feminism, much of which makes me rather uncomfortable.  It often seems to me that, for many self-identified feminists, sex is the one domain in which feminist politics should have no import (unless that politic is that sex and/or pleasure is always good and healthy and desirable and that fantasies and desires have no bearing on life outside the bedroom).  Sex is not a realm separate from politics — it is always already political and social and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Kinks are not necessarily harmless.  Even the notion of consent, considered by so many to be a simple matter, is problematic — in a patriarchal society where women’s agency is circumscribed by male supremacy, how meaningful is consent? These issues are purposefully obscured by sex-positive feminists who believe that sex is an inherent good and that to feel otherwise is somehow aberrant, abnormal, a position that should be remedied.”

The following day, I stumbled across a rather long piece on The Frisky dedicated to criticizing the “potshot” I allegedly made at sex-positive feminism and kink. According to the author of that post, the fact that I question the usefulness of the ways that we currently talk about consent in feminist circles is “truly dangerous.” Commenting that many sex-positive feminists obscure or erase the fact that sex is not inherently good or pleasurable for many people is “untrue, unfair, and just plain wrong.”


With all due respect, fuck that shit.


Being sex-negative doesn’t mean that I fancy myself the chief inspector of the sex police, or that I am personally judging what you do in bed, or that I’m conservative, or that I’m engaging in repressive moralizing. It doesn’t mean that I hate sex workers, or that I want to ban sex work or porn (and, in general, I tend to leave those conversations to women who do sex work while I shut up and listen to what they have to say). It doesn’t mean that I hate sex or that I’m embarrassed by it.


What it does, in fact, mean is that the way you fuck is not “private,” apolitical, or outside the realm of critique.  Sex does not happen in a vacuum immune to outside structural influences; in fact, it can (and does) replicate inescapable systems of power and dominance.  Being sex-negative means acknowledging that sex, and kink, have nothing intrinsically “good” or “positive” about them (in direct contrast to sex-positive feminists, many of whom argue that sex is an inherent good and that less charitable opinions toward sex are the result of a poisonous, prudish society).


It means understanding that many women have neutral to negative experiences with sex, whether due to a lack of desire or sensitivity or past traumatic experiences or myriad other reasons, or may not wish to have sex at all, and that none of this makes them unhealthy, aberrant, or wrong.


Thus, sex-negativity urges feminists to reject compulsory sexuality, which has historically translated to forced sexual compliance with men but has recently been extended to non-hetero sex and sexuality as well.


Sex-negativity also encourages us to question “consent is sexy” attitudes (since sex is inescapable from patriarchal and other power relations, and thus what is “sexy” caters to men and the male gaze) and understand that even in situations where consent is given, sex is not necessarily enthusiastically consented to or utilized as a means to ends other than pleasure and intimacy.


It means, above all, engaging in the kind of sustained analysis of sex, kink and consent that we willingly grant to pretty much every other facet of our individual and collective existence.


The virulent opposition commonly expressed toward sex-negative views is fascinating. Most self-identified feminists that I encounter believe that our society is male-dominated, privileges men, and is patriarchal (also racist, homo- and transphobic, classist, and ableist, among other things), and that sexism has a measurable effect on our day-to-day lives.


We can talk freely and easily about how institutionalized and structural misogyny purports to give men unfettered access to our bodies and how that materializes in street harassment, rape culture and the restriction of access to reproductive health services; and about how sexist and unattainable beauty standards fuel huge(ly profitable) industries that prey on women’s insecurities, reward or penalize women on the basis of how closely they conform to these standards; and how this game plays into patriarchal, racist, and classist hands.


Yet when sex is the topic, we fall over ourselves in an attempt to pass the least amount of judgment and avoid being categorized as “man-hating” or “anti-sex” or “judgmental” or “shaming” or “prudish.”  Too many of us are so committed to escaping accusations of frigidity and joylessness that analysis falls by the wayside, leaving feminist sexual politics in an untenable position.


Part of the problem is the seeming opposition between “sex-positive” feminism and just plain “feminism,” no qualifiers, and the demonizing of the latter. Sex-positive feminism originally coalesced in the late 1970s and early 1980s in opposition to abolitionist feminists who, through groups such as Women Against Pornography, conducted guided tours through the strip clubs and toy stores of Times Square and lobbied for anti-porn legislation on civil rights grounds.


At that time, sex-positive feminists (who mostly identified as “pro-sex” or “sex-radical”) argued that the effects of anti-porn feminism were harmful to sex workers and sexual minorities and that sexual liberation should be a central goal of feminism.


Thirty years after the “sex wars,” sex-positivity has emerged as the default setting for mainstream feminism, with anti-porn feminism largely relegated to the margins and more nuanced positions often completely elided and erased.


Feminists who do not identify with sex-positive ideologies are often accorded little room in discussions and spaces; the assumption is that if you are not sex-positive, you must be an anti-sex fuddy-duddy better left in the movement’s dustbins (see also: the attacks leveled at sex-negative feminists that I discussed above).


Perhaps this is attributable to the misguided actions of anti-porn feminists, since sex worker savior complexes and deep undercurrents of racism and classism aren’t a good look for anyone. It could be the end result of mainstream characterizations of feminists as ugly, sex-hating lesbians and the subsequent desire of many women to demonstrate that “We’re not all like that”  (as though masculine women, butch lesbians, and otherwise non-feminine women are the ultimate bugaboos, despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them), or to non-feminist and/or male approval of sex-positive positions and the seeming possibility of greater acceptance for feminist goals in general.


The root causes of this shift are debatable, but no matter who or what is responsible, it’s time for a change in the conversation.


One of the truisms of sex-critical and sex-negative feminism is, “We can’t fuck our way to freedom.”  Arguments about how analyzing desires, kinks, and the material effects of sex in our society should be off-limits, or that sex is private and we “like what we like” and should leave it at that, are harmful, whether or not the participants are consenting.


Rather than sidelining criticism, we need to rethink sex and its effects within frameworks of oppression, power and violence, without bullshit truisms about choice or the immutability of desire. And please, no whining about your hurt feelings.


This got me thinking about my position on sexuality. Traditionally, I’d belonged to the sex-positive camp of feminist thought. Not the version of uncritical sex-positive “feminism” concentrated in popular musicians like Madonna, Beyonce Knowles, and Miley Cyrus — the kind that revolves around marketing one’s body in order to achieve social advancement (thus turning one’s self into a trope and a commodity) — but the serious kind that IS open to things like criticizing and opposing the sex industry and sexual objectification and in favor of combating rape culture and promoting the average, and the disadvantaged, woman and girl instead of just models and sex workers, and who actually talks about women’s liberation on a regular basis; the Lorde kind of sex-positive feminist, in other words, not a poser. In reading the above article though, I began to see shortcomings in my worldview. I was still promoting the idea that sex is definitely a good thing, often making the argument that one problem with Internet pornography is precisely that it discourages actual sex by demoralizing women and by functioning as an alternative, particularly for men. The presumption on my part was that sex is necessarily rational and positive unless corrupted in some way (e.g. by lack of consent); something that society should promote rather than taking a neutral stance on. You could see that attitude reflected in the video I once linked people to here on this very blog, Do Communists Have Better Sex? The movie argues that the sex and gender-related policies of East Germany were better than those practiced in West Germany…because they resulted in more sexual activity occurring. In retrospect, it all seems like a form of apology for taking positions critical of the sex industry and patriarchy more broadly. So, in reading the article reprinted above, I had to ask myself: ‘What if I didn’t apologize?’


I now started to re-examine that notable trend amongst the global youth increasingly away from sexuality, and something suddenly stuck out at me: this trend is not being led by men who find virtual representations of women sexier and more perfect than real women, but by girls and women themselves! The Japanese youth, and in particular young Japanese women,  represent the advance guard of this global trend. There was an article in the Guardian last year on this very subject. Check out how it reads:


Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?

What happens to a country when its young people stop having sex? Japan is finding out… Abigail Haworth investigates


By Abigail Haworth
The Observer, Saturday 19 October 2013

Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counsellor who works out of her narrow three-storey home on a Tokyo back street. Her first name means “love” in Japanese, and is a keepsake from her earlier days as a professional dominatrix. Back then, about 15 years ago, she was Queen Ai, or Queen Love, and she did “all the usual things” like tying people up and dripping hot wax on their nipples. Her work today, she says, is far more challenging. Aoyama, 52, is trying to cure what Japan‘s media calls sekkusu shinai shokogun, or “celibacy syndrome”.

Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060. Aoyama believes the country is experiencing “a flight from human intimacy” – and it’s partly the government’s fault.

The sign outside her building says “Clinic”. She greets me in yoga pants and fluffy animal slippers, cradling a Pekingese dog whom she introduces as Marilyn Monroe. In her business pamphlet, she offers up the gloriously random confidence that she visited North Korea in the 1990s and squeezed the testicles of a top army general. It doesn’t say whether she was invited there specifically for that purpose, but the message to her clients is clear: she doesn’t judge.

Inside, she takes me upstairs to her “relaxation room” – a bedroom with no furniture except a double futon. “It will be quiet in here,” she says. Aoyama’s first task with most of her clients is encouraging them “to stop apologising for their own physical existence”.

The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact”. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.

Many people who seek her out, says Aoyama, are deeply confused. “Some want a partner, some prefer being single, but few relate to normal love and marriage.” However, the pressure to conform to Japan’s anachronistic family model of salaryman husband and stay-at-home wife remains. “People don’t know where to turn. They’re coming to me because they think that, by wanting something different, there’s something wrong with them.”

Official alarmism doesn’t help. Fewer babies were born here in 2012 than any year on record. (This was also the year, as the number of elderly people shoots up, that adult incontinence pants outsold baby nappies in Japan for the first time.) Kunio Kitamura, head of the JFPA, claims the demographic crisis is so serious that Japan “might eventually perish into extinction”.

Japan’s under-40s won’t go forth and multiply out of duty, as postwar generations did. The country is undergoing major social transition after 20 years of economic stagnation. It is also battling against the effects on its already nuclear-destruction-scarred psyche of 2011′s earthquake, tsunami and radioactive meltdown. There is no going back. “Both men and women say to me they don’t see the point of love. They don’t believe it can lead anywhere,” says Aoyama. “Relationships have become too hard.”

Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices. Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist. Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work. Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by bureaucratic disapproval.

Aoyama says the sexes, especially in Japan’s giant cities, are “spiralling away from each other”. Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms “Pot Noodle love” – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality “girlfriends”, anime cartoons. Or else they’re opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes.

Some of Aoyama’s clients are among the small minority who have taken social withdrawal to a pathological extreme. They are recovering hikikomori (“shut-ins” or recluses) taking the first steps to rejoining the outside world, otaku (geeks), and long-term parasaito shingurus (parasite singles) who have reached their mid-30s without managing to move out of home. (Of the estimated 13 million unmarried people in Japan who currently live with their parents, around three million are over the age of 35.) “A few people can’t relate to the opposite sex physically or in any other way. They flinch if I touch them,” she says. “Most are men, but I’m starting to see more women.”

Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers. “I use therapies, such as yoga and hypnosis, to relax him and help him to understand the way that real human bodies work.” Sometimes, for an extra fee, she gets naked with her male clients – “strictly no intercourse” – to physically guide them around the female form. Keen to see her nation thrive, she likens her role in these cases to that of the Edo period courtesans, or oiran, who used to initiate samurai sons into the art of erotic pleasure.

Aversion to marriage and intimacy in modern life is not unique to Japan. Nor is growing preoccupation with digital technology. But what endless Japanese committees have failed to grasp when they stew over the country’s procreation-shy youth is that, thanks to official shortsightedness, the decision to stay single often makes perfect sense. This is true for both sexes, but it’s especially true for women. “Marriage is a woman’s grave,” goes an old Japanese saying that refers to wives being ignored in favour of mistresses. For Japanese women today, marriage is the grave of their hard-won careers.

I meet Eri Tomita, 32, over Saturday morning coffee in the smart Tokyo district of Ebisu. Tomita has a job she loves in the human resources department of a French-owned bank. A fluent French speaker with two university degrees, she avoids romantic attachments so she can focus on work. “A boyfriend proposed to me three years ago. I turned him down when I realised I cared more about my job. After that, I lost interest in dating. It became awkward when the question of the future came up.”

Tomita says a woman’s chances of promotion in Japan stop dead as soon as she marries. “The bosses assume you will get pregnant.” Once a woman does have a child, she adds, the long, inflexible hours become unmanageable. “You have to resign. You end up being a housewife with no independent income. It’s not an option for women like me.”

Around 70% of Japanese women leave their jobs after their first child. The World Economic Forum consistently ranks Japan as one of the world’s worst nations for gender equality at work. Social attitudes don’t help. Married working women are sometimes demonised as oniyome, or “devil wives”. In a telling Japanese ballet production of Bizet’s Carmen a few years ago, Carmen was portrayed as a career woman who stole company secrets to get ahead and then framed her lowly security-guard lover José. Her end was not pretty.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe recently trumpeted long-overdue plans to increase female economic participation by improving conditions and daycare, but Tomita says things would have to improve “dramatically” to compel her to become a working wife and mother. “I have a great life. I go out with my girl friends – career women like me – to French and Italian restaurants. I buy stylish clothes and go on nice holidays. I love my independence.”

Tomita sometimes has one-night stands with men she meets in bars, but she says sex is not a priority, either. “I often get asked out by married men in the office who want an affair. They assume I’m desperate because I’m single.” She grimaces, then shrugs. “Mendokusai.”

Mendokusai translates loosely as “Too troublesome” or “I can’t be bothered”. It’s the word I hear both sexes use most often when they talk about their relationship phobia. Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. And the centuries-old belief that the purpose of marriage is to produce children endures. Japan’s Institute of Population and Social Security reports an astonishing 90% of young women believe that staying single is “preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like”.

The sense of crushing obligation affects men just as much. Satoru Kishino, 31, belongs to a large tribe of men under 40 who are engaging in a kind of passive rebellion against traditional Japanese masculinity. Amid the recession and unsteady wages, men like Kishino feel that the pressure on them to be breadwinning economic warriors for a wife and family is unrealistic. They are rejecting the pursuit of both career and romantic success.

“It’s too troublesome,” says Kishino, when I ask why he’s not interested in having a girlfriend. “I don’t earn a huge salary to go on dates and I don’t want the responsibility of a woman hoping it might lead to marriage.” Japan’s media, which has a name for every social kink, refers to men like Kishino as “herbivores” or soshoku danshi (literally, “grass-eating men”). Kishino says he doesn’t mind the label because it’s become so commonplace. He defines it as “a heterosexual man for whom relationships and sex are unimportant”.

The phenomenon emerged a few years ago with the airing of a Japanese manga-turned-TV show. The lead character in Otomen (“Girly Men”) was a tall martial arts champion, the king of tough-guy cool. Secretly, he loved baking cakes, collecting “pink sparkly things” and knitting clothes for his stuffed animals. To the tooth-sucking horror of Japan’s corporate elders, the show struck a powerful chord with the generation they spawned.

Kishino, who works at a fashion accessories company as a designer and manager, doesn’t knit. But he does like cooking and cycling, and platonic friendships. “I find some of my female friends attractive but I’ve learned to live without sex. Emotional entanglements are too complicated,” he says. “I can’t be bothered.”

Romantic apathy aside, Kishino, like Tomita, says he enjoys his active single life. Ironically, the salaryman system that produced such segregated marital roles – wives inside the home, husbands at work for 20 hours a day – also created an ideal environment for solo living. Japan’s cities are full of conveniences made for one, from stand-up noodle bars to capsule hotels to the ubiquitous konbini (convenience stores), with their shelves of individually wrapped rice balls and disposable underwear. These things originally evolved for salarymen on the go, but there are now female-only cafés, hotel floors and even the odd apartment block. And Japan’s cities are extraordinarily crime-free.

Some experts believe the flight from marriage is not merely a rejection of outdated norms and gender roles. It could be a long-term state of affairs. “Remaining single was once the ultimate personal failure,” says Tomomi Yamaguchi, a Japanese-born assistant professor of anthropology at Montana State University in America. “But more people are finding they prefer it.” Being single by choice is becoming, she believes, “a new reality”.

Is Japan providing a glimpse of all our futures? Many of the shifts there are occurring in other advanced nations, too. Across urban Asia, Europe and America, people are marrying later or not at all, birth rates are falling, single-occupant households are on the rise and, in countries where economic recession is worst, young people are living at home. But demographer Nicholas Eberstadt argues that a distinctive set of factors is accelerating these trends in Japan. These factors include the lack of a religious authority that ordains marriage and family, the country’s precarious earthquake-prone ecology that engenders feelings of futility, and the high cost of living and raising children.

“Gradually but relentlessly, Japan is evolving into a type of society whose contours and workings have only been contemplated in science fiction,” Eberstadt wrote last year. With a vast army of older people and an ever-dwindling younger generation, Japan may become a “pioneer people” where individuals who never marry exist in significant numbers, he said.

Japan’s 20-somethings are the age group to watch. Most are still too young to have concrete future plans, but projections for them are already laid out. According to the government’s population institute, women in their early 20s today have a one-in-four chance of never marrying. Their chances of remaining childless are even higher: almost 40%.

They don’t seem concerned. Emi Kuwahata, 23, and her friend, Eri Asada, 22, meet me in the shopping district of Shibuya. The café they choose is beneath an art gallery near the train station, wedged in an alley between pachinko pinball parlours and adult video shops. Kuwahata, a fashion graduate, is in a casual relationship with a man 13 years her senior. “We meet once a week to go clubbing,” she says. “I don’t have time for a regular boyfriend. I’m trying to become a fashion designer.” Asada, who studied economics, has no interest in love. “I gave up dating three years ago. I don’t miss boyfriends or sex. I don’t even like holding hands.”

Asada insists nothing happened to put her off physical contact. She just doesn’t want a relationship and casual sex is not a good option, she says, because “girls can’t have flings without being judged”. Although Japan is sexually permissive, the current fantasy ideal for women under 25 is impossibly cute and virginal. Double standards abound.

In the Japan Family Planning Association’s 2013 study on sex among young people, there was far more data on men than women. I asked the association’s head, Kunio Kitamura, why. “Sexual drive comes from males,” said the man who advises the government. “Females do not experience the same levels of desire.”

Over iced tea served by skinny-jeaned boys with meticulously tousled hair, Asada and Kuwahata say they share the usual singleton passions of clothes, music and shopping, and have hectic social lives. But, smart phones in hand, they also admit they spend far more time communicating with their friends via online social networks than seeing them in the flesh. Asada adds she’s spent “the past two years” obsessed with a virtual game that lets her act as a manager of a sweet shop.

Japanese-American author Roland Kelts, who writes about Japan’s youth, says it’s inevitable that the future of Japanese relationships will be largely technology driven. “Japan has developed incredibly sophisticated virtual worlds and online communication systems. Its smart phone apps are the world’s most imaginative.” Kelts says the need to escape into private, virtual worlds in Japan stems from the fact that it’s an overcrowded nation with limited physical space. But he also believes the rest of the world is not far behind.

Getting back to basics, former dominatrix Ai Aoyama – Queen Love – is determined to educate her clients on the value of “skin-to-skin, heart-to-heart” intimacy. She accepts that technology will shape the future, but says society must ensure it doesn’t take over. “It’s not healthy that people are becoming so physically disconnected from each other,” she says. “Sex with another person is a human need that produces feel-good hormones and helps people to function better in their daily lives.”

Aoyama says she sees daily that people crave human warmth, even if they don’t want the hassle of marriage or a long-term relationship. She berates the government for “making it hard for single people to live however they want” and for “whipping up fear about the falling birth rate”. Whipping up fear in people, she says, doesn’t help anyone. And that’s from a woman who knows a bit about whipping.

Notice how this trend is described in the Japanese media. It’s described as “celibacy syndrome”. That is, it’s described as a disease. And yet, the affected, mysteriously enough, seem perfectly happy to have the supposed illness! As the above article highlights, these young people are being heavily pressured into sex by the government, the media, and the sex industry. And yet they’re not conforming. I think it should occur to one that maybe that’s because they know something about their own interests that these opposing elements don’t. Is celibacy a mental disorder…or, for many, a rational response to the patriarchal conditions under which sex takes place that shouldn’t be stigmatized? As you can gather, Japanese women have reached a place where, essentially, they must choose between having a career and having a sex life because it is not realistically possible for them to have both given the particular contours of institutional sexism in that country which require, for example, that married women give up their jobs and stay home. In this context, increasing numbers are choosing career over sex life. Is that irrational? Is that insane? Is that a mental disorder? Or is it a rational response to the conditions they face? It sounds like a rational response to me; one that corresponds to the economic advancment of women, which lies at the core of the more general social advancement of women. The same thing is happening everywhere, but just in slower motion, resulting in part from the alternatives that the Internet does, in fact, provide everyone with, and also amidst women advancing globally, not amidst a hardening of global patriarchy. I don’t think we should judge these youth. If anything, the fact that our species no longer has to fully reproduce another generation in order to survive should be considered a tremendous human accomplishment, and this development may be, in no small part, a reflection not only of patriarchal conditions and their dilution over time, but also of precisely the aforementioned human accomplishment; the fact that not having sex is now an option because not having children is now an option and because technology affords people alternatives to actual sex that satisfy many people sufficiently. I think the resultant drop-off in sex drive, particularly amongst young women both in Japan and around the world, is a healthy, natural form of adaptation to modernity and greater equality. It’s not that sex is a bad thing (I’m by no means committed to celibacy personally), but that its glorification corresponds to oppression (bullying people into having sex and children they don’t want to have) and patriarchy (pushing women out of the workforce who want to be in it so that, instead, they can be made to stay home and do housework and raise children). I’m not going to apologize for being against that stuff anymore.


Sex-positivity means that you consider sex a positive, good thing. The implication of that belief is that sexuality should be promoted. Many sex-positive feminists insist that it be promoted in an ostensibly egalitarian way (e.g. that women should ‘own their sexuality’), but sex-positivity and feminism are also separable. So again, the fundamental, defining quality of sex-positivity is the view that sex is a positive, good thing that society should promote.

Sex-negativity means that you consider sex a neutral thing: something that’s neither good nor bad by nature. Unlike sex-positivity, this orientation doesn’t stigmatize those not interested in sex as “prudes” or “boring” or in some other way abnormal and unnatural. Sex-negative feminism instead recognizes that an individual’s lack of interest in sex isn’t a kind of mental illness or freakishness, but often a rational sentiment developed in response to the patriarchal conditions under which sex takes place and gets promoted in society.

The term  ‘sex-negative feminism’ was invented by the rather self-congratulatory sex-positive feminists. It’s appropriation by other feminists is only a recent development in my observation, driven precisely by a desire to get people’s attention. It’s a sensational-sounding term, but it corresponds to politics that are hardly anything but rational. So I too have become a sex-negative feminist.

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