As a feminist, I know that my body is one of the few things I have agency over, despite the efforts of a male-dominated culture to strip women of this power. I know that the personal is political – my sexual life is not separate from the rest of my life. My sexual experiences should reflect my moral and ethical convictions in the same way as in other realms. And so I ask myself the question, what is good sex? And I know that the answer is just as important as the question.
Mainstream media gives us one answer. Good sex is rough, oftentimes violent. Good sex is oppressive and requires one party to dominate (typically the male or more masculine figure). Good sex does not require any kind of emotional connection, just physical gratification. Good sex eroticizes violence. Good sex involves chains, whips, handcuffs, and rope. Good sex means pain. Good sex is what porn shows us. As John Stoltenberg puts it, pornography keeps sexism sexy.
So what are we being told that sex can mean between people, if anything? Stoltenberg talks about the merging of pleasurable sensation with principled action. Can it even be done? He’s referring to the moral-feeling level of sexuality. That is, conscious sex that allows people to be whole people to one another – not parts, not things, not objects for consumption. Once you have that sort of thing established, sex becomes a more meaningful activity, and a decision that requires more thought than we’re used to.
I’ve always felt that sex should mean something, that there should be an emotional connection – and most importantly, trust. There should be mutual desire and plenty of communication about needs and wants. There have been times when I questioned myself (am I just being a prude?) and wondered why I couldn’t just have pleasure without all of the emotional ties. Who’s it going to hurt, after all? But it didn’t take me long to realize that there is nothing fulfilling in it for me if there isn’t that connection. And now I am so glad that I feel this way, because I’m going to make certain that my sexual experiences are meaningful and empowering.
I imagine sex that is mutual, reciprocal, and affectionate. Both partners maintain body integrity and there is equal capacity for decision-making. In addition, there is physical pleasure and emotional expressiveness. There are no whips, no gags. There is no dominating power, no submissive body lying underneath. There is certainly no force and no violence. There is clear-as-day consent that you can’t mistake for “no.” There is deep satisfaction for both partners and a sense of empowerment that lasts longer than the morning after.
Call me picky, but I’ll take this or nothing at all.
“Equality is still a radical idea. It makes some people very angry. It also gives some people hope.” – John Stoltenberg, Refusing to be a Man