In Defense of the Sexually Prudent Feminist

Recently a really good friend told me that I’m a jealous, sex-negative prude because I chided them for not telling me when they took off to bang a stranger.  I was told that I “need to get laid” or at the very least “be in a monogamous relationship” so that I don’t focus on her sex life so much.  I was told that it’s bad that I don’t have casual sex and that I was somehow less of a feminist for it.  I was called a horrible person because I was concerned about my friend’s whereabouts and safety.

Everyone wants to fight slut-shaming nowadays, which is something I wholeheartedly support.  I believe that we are all free to have any type of sex with whomever we want in a legal and consensual manner, and I hold that principle very close to my heart.  While that principle creates a safe space for promiscuous ladies to do as they feel, people often overlook the fact that this should also be creating a safe space for the lady who doesn’t prioritize sex at all.

I wish I could say that this the first time I’ve been criticized like this, but it’s not.  More than once in my life I have been shamed for not identifying as a slut, and I have personally received these criticisms exclusively from other lady friends who identify as feminists.  During my time in DC I was thrilled to see that the feminist punk/queer scene was very sex-positive.  I mean very sex-positive.  So much so that I felt that there was an expectation to “put out” if you identified as a sex-positive person.  I definitely learned that not only was it perfectly acceptable to be in a constant state of sexual availability, but that it had become something akin to fashionable shoes or clothing.  It was what the cool people did, and I was friends with all of the cool people, which meant that most often I was heading home at 2am in classic “fifth wheel” style while my friends went down on strangers in hot tubs. The next day I would get comments like “you need to loosen up” or “stop over-thinking it, you need to just fuck somebody” or even “why are you so uptight?”

Earlier feminist movements won us all the right to be who we want to be.  When you boil feminism down, that’s all it is in its simplest form – doing what you want, when you want, and with whomever you want.  Fifty years ago, most wimmin were relieved of the pressure to behave in certain ways, sexually as well as socially.  We fought for and won the right to say yes or no to sex, and over the years I fear this realization has morphed into an expectation to always say yes.  The attitude seems to be, “Our forebears fought for our right to have sex any way we want, so you better get out there and have sex lest you don’t value their struggle!”  It’s very similar to the argument given around election time when people start trying to mobilize people of color by pointing out the fact that it used to be illegal for us to vote at all.

The reasons why I’m sexually conservative are personal so I won’t be sharing them, but know that they are as valid and real as any other womyn’s reasons for why she wants to have lots of sex with lots of different people.  I have never disapproved of casual sex and I’ve had a fair share of it myself, but it’s not right to shame me or challenge my ideals because I don’t want to have it anymore.  I dare even call it misogynistic, because then we are just behaving like the status quo amongst ourselves: “This is how a feminist behaves and if you don’t assimilate, you’re not a real feminist.”  I am no less of a feminist because I’m not into sleeping around.  I am not a traitor to my cause for believing that you should pay attention to street names and landmarks and get that information to a friend if you’re gonna go home with someone you don’t know.

And for real – where did this notion of “don’t ask people where you’re going and don’t tell a friend because that’s rude” come from?  I mean, are you fucking kidding me?  When I was coming up into radical feminism, I always understood that personal safety was #1 and that you should never be ashamed to call a friend and let them know where you are.  I understood that some people just weren’t worth fucking, and that included people who would put their pride before your need to feel safe.  To this day I don’t ask permission to put condoms on men – I just do it, and I don’t ask for addresses or locations – I just get them. If I get kicked out, well then clearly I chose poorly that night.  When did young feminists start being concerned about alienating their hook-ups and not getting fucked because they want to be safe?  I am still baffled by this, and I honestly need someone to explain it to me.

There are a zillion reasons why a womyn might identify as slutty or prudish, but so often I’ve found that only the sluts get wholesale empowerment and support from feminist communities.  More than once I have been at a table full of awesome queer chicks talking about all the crazy sex they have on the regular, and I just don’t speak because…Well, I don’t have crazy sex on the regular.  Romantically, I am pretty shy and I typically don’t go out of my way to hit on people – and if I’m brave enough to say that, the response I usually get is “Aww, poor Rashaun, let’s get her laid!”  If I tell people I don’t have much sex, the knee-jerk reaction is most often horror followed by a half-assed attempt to get me to fuck a stranger.  She isn’t having sex – oh no!  What’s wrong with her?  The fact that I don’t want to have sex with strangers – or with anyone for the most part – does not make me sex-negative.  The fact that I don’t personally approve of or participate in certain sexual behaviors doesn’t make me a prude or inherently jealous of those who do.

Supporting sexual freedom means supporting all sexual freedom, including the sexuality of those of us who aren’t particularly promiscuous.  It hurts to know that there are those out there who would look down on me just because I’m not slutty, and yet I call myself a feminist.  I want sex and dating in my life, just like anyone else, but I have my own way of getting them, and my personal approach to sex and dating is just as valid as anyone else’s.  And since I determined it for myself, it’s just as feminist as anyone else’s.

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  1. If you haven’t you hsould pick up the book “To Be Real”- it’s great at tearing down all this talk of what it means to be the good/right/awesome feminist that everyone talks about versus what real life feminists are actually like and struggling with. It’s a great comfort to read about all of the different people who define feminism so differently and are so different but find the unity in the word, made me feel not alone several times. Love this post- you mentioned a lot of interesting triple binds that you can find being a feminist and in feminism. Thank you!

  2. When I read this post, two things jump out at me. First, how, when, and where someone has sex is their business and lots of sex doesn’t equal feminism. I really appreciated reading your discussion of your efforts to balance what you need with what people expect of you. The right to control what goes on with our bodies is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best things about feminism. The second thing that jumps out at me, however, doesn’t have anything to do with sex. When someone goes somewhere with their friends, that someone should tell said friends before they leave. That’s true if they feel ill or sleepy or want to go bang a stranger. Ditching friends out a bar (or wherever) is an act of asshattery. I know that wasn’t the main point, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it as I read this post. It’s just so disrespectful. I would also say that if someone wants to go bang a stranger, its a really really good idea if someone else knows where you are. That’s not about respecting your friend’s time, that’s about safety. But, hey, if someone wants to take risks, that’s their choice. But I sure as hell wouldn’t appreciate being left to wander around a bar, asking people where X was, and wondering if something bad had happened.

  3. 1) Your friend is an IDIOT. I was a sexually adventurous college student and the 1 time I went out with people who didn’t care to figure out where I’d disappeared to I got raped. So it is super important to know where the people you care are in environments where stuff like that can happen. It made evaluate who was a friend and the people who cared enough to leave their potential hookup to make sure I wasn’t getting roofied are on the TOP of that list.
    2) What matters when a person is having lots of sex or not, depends on their frame of mind. SO many chicks seek liberation and end up sleeping around because of an empty hole inside of them. When I was going out and getting laid alot, I was doing it because I wanted to try new things. It was purely for exploration but it quickly turned into a conquest thing for me and I had to stop myself and go “This isn’t fun anymore. Stop it.” You can be sexually non-adventurous just because you value sex or monogamy or because you find sex to be something meant for a deep connection. You can be sexually insecure and shy and not indulge in sex because it brings you guilt and shame. The mindset is SO Much more important on BOTH sides of the equation. It is feminism when you are doing with your body what you want WHEN you want and when you don’t let society or men dictate your actions. The choice is yours and more or less sex is not more virtuous or feminist.

  4. I really loved this post! I identify with what you said a lot. I’m an asexual feminist – not attracted to people, not interested in having sex with them. There’s a lot of criticism of asexual people for being unnatural and unhuman and sick and repressed, all of which is not true. Especially for asexual feminists! I’ve been told before that I’m just doing what the patriarchy wants to do an denying women a sex life.

    I have an iffy relationship with sex-positivism for that reason – in fact, I’m editing a long post on my own blog at the moment on the topic. While there are a lot of good things about it, I don’t actually see sex as inherently positive. It’s much more neutral than that. It has the potential to create good and bad experiences. It isn’t in itself something positive or negative. And when sex-positivism is used to make people who don’t have or want to have sex feel lesser, then it’s not something I want to deal with. A true sex-positivism would involve the freedom to also have as little sex as you want, or not to have it at all!

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