Sex is good for about a thousand and one reasons. But in celebrating all the tingles, breathy voices, and electrified skin touches, we can often lose sight of one fascinating thought: not all sex is created equal. And so, we were blown away by Rebecca Traister’s “Consensual Sex Can Still Be Bad” in October’s New York Magazine in which she takes a brave, deep, dive into the often unexplored waters of feminism, pleasure, the cultural meaning of sex-positivity.
At the beginning of the sex-positivity movement, the key takeaway was women were allowed to say “Yes!” to sex. But that “Yes” now comes with an interesting set of expectations.Traister explains:
Because, outside of sexual assault, there is little critique of sex. Young feminists have adopted an exuberant, raunchy, confident, righteously unapologetic, slut-walking ideology that sees sex — as long as it’s consensual — as an expression of feminist liberation. The result is a neatly halved sexual universe, in which there is either assault or there is sex positivity. Which means a vast expanse of bad sex — joyless, exploitative encounters that reflect a persistently sexist culture and can be hard to acknowledge without sounding prudish — has gone largely uninterrogated, leaving some young women wondering why they feel so fucked by fucking.
We’re having sex for the sake of sex, and we’re saying sex with consent is always good sex even if it doesn’t feel good. A lousy lover or iffy situation becomes categorically “good” so long as consent was given. Never mind how you actually feel during sex, and certainly never mind how you feel after. This is a disservice to sexually active women. We all have first or second hand experience with sex that was fully consented tobut after a few days leaves us feeling really weird – and it’s hard to pinpoint why.
Somewhere along the way, our culture seemed to forget that sex is not just about the right to have it but about experiencing pleasure unlike any other (which is one reason O’a exists – to remind you all of the power of orgasm!). Which leads us to another of Traister’s points about sex:
It’s rigged in ways that go well beyond consent… Young women feel that they are being judged either for having too much sex, or for not having enough, or enough good, sex.
This is a huge tangle for women. Not only are we at risk for slut-shaming, but suddenly we’re at risk for pleasure-shaming, too. So we say “Yes” to sex because we do want sex (we like sex!), and perhaps also a little bit because we’re supposed to as liberated ladies. Except, as Traister notes:
“A lot of sex feels like this,” [Reina] Gattuso wrote in May, after her popular Crimson columns drew the attention of Feministing, a website at which she has since become a contributor. “Sex where we don’t matter. Where we may as well not be there. Sex where we don’t say no, because we don’t want to say no, sex where we say yes even, when we’re even into it, but where we fear … that if we did say no, or if we don’t like the pressure on our necks or the way they touch us, it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t count, because we don’t count.”
Part of us still believes our pleasure doesn’t matter. We say “Yes” to everything, and everyone, except ourselves.
Which is why it’s time for women – and men – to aim for more than “consent” as being the indicator of good sex. Just because we’ve consented to sex doesn’t mean sex feels good – during, or even after – and feeling good is most of the reason to have sex. We need genuine, honest communication between the sheets about our wants and needs. We need sex that allows for vulnerabilities and intimacy, where each party involved enjoys themselves from start to finish. And we need sex that brings pleasure not just in the moment, but when you remember it a day, a week, or a year later.
In other words, it’s time to redefine good sex.
Rebecca Trainster agrees:
One thing that’s clear is that feminists need to raise the bar for women’s sex lives way, way higher. “Sure, teaching consent to college freshmen may be necessary in a culture in which kids are graduating from high school thinking it’s okay to have sex with someone who is unconscious,” says [Maya] Dusenbery. “But I don’t want us to ever lose sight of the fact that consent is not the goal. Seriously, God help us if the best we can say about the sex we have is that it was consensual.”
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