The Feminist Guide to Hot, Happy, Healthy Sex
Originally published on SexReally.com on October 15, 2010.
When Amanda Hess of The Washington City Paper interviewed Jaclyn Friedman about “fucking while feminist” last spring, the blogosphere exploded with responses, head nods, and sighs of “Oh, Finally!” I’m probably not an impartial observer (full disclosure: Friedman is the executive director of Women, Action, & the Media, an organization I interned for during my senior spring of college), but I’m clearly not the only one who thinks that it’s high time we had a discussion about the impact of feminist beliefs on romantic and sexual relationships.
Last month in New York, I chatted about gender politics, kink, and sex-positive feminism with Zoe Yang, who wrote a sex column at Pomona College as an undergraduate. Yang told me that a lot of people assume BDSM or kinky sex is automatically anti-woman, but Yang doesn’t define feminist sex according to the sexual acts taking place. Rather, she looks at the motivations behind them. She says that there’s a “self-hood” and “authenticity” to feminist sex that’s missing in the Please-Your-Man-style intercourse often prescribed by Cosmo. As a girl who grew up on the likes of Cosmo, I was in complete agreement. It’s hard to take charge of your sexuality as a woman when you’re constantly taught how important it is to land and keep a man. So much of what we do (or don’t do) in the bedroom is decided based on our ideas of what makes us attractive to potential mates. Feminist sex and dating means that we stop being martyrs for men — but that doesn’t mean eschewing fun and pleasure. If anything, it maximizes both!
As Friedman told Hess in their conversation: “A couple of guys were shocked that I like to play various games in bed, because I’m a feminist. That’s always really interesting to me. I’m always like, ‘Are you kidding me? The feminists I know are the craziest women in bed you can find!’” Feminist sex doesn’t have to be vanilla or very PC. But what differentiates it from your run-of-the-mill sexual encounter is that it recognizes the importance of satisfying everyone’s needs. In other words, a gal shouldn’t feel the need to play coquette or vamp because of what she thinks is expected of her. Gender equality in the bedroom also doesn’t mean prioritizing your own pleasure over your partner’s (that wouldn’t be very equal, after all!), but it does mean that we ought to recognize how male sexual experience has historically been privileged while female desire (or lack thereof) has been pathologized. The days of declaring women “frigid” or “hysteric” may be long past, but slut-shaming remains very much a problem.
And of course, feminist sex also means that we keep in mind how fluid sexual identity and experience can be. There isn’t only one way to have sex, nor is there a “best” way. Great sex might include people of the same gender, multiple people, toys, games, etc. A lot of times, even straight, cisgendered couples find that there are other sexual acts more intimate and satisfying than vaginal intercourse. As long as you’re comfortable with what you’re doing, exploring your options is the best way to figure out what you and your partner(s) enjoy(s) the most.
For the next episode of Sex Really with Lena Chen, I invited three women — Chloe Angyal from Feministing, Amelia Parry-McDonell from The Frisky, and Yang — to talk to me about all the ins and outs of feminist dating and sex: What makes the personal political? What constitutes a dealbreaker? And perhaps trickiest of all, how does one “come out” to a date as a feminist? Tune in for their take on these tough questions, and share your opinion in the comments below!
Lena Chen is a blogger, writer and speaker on sex, gender and feminism. As a Harvard undergrad, she authored the blog Sex and the Ivy and her writing has been featured in The New York Times and Newsweek. She currently blogs at The Chicktionary.
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