Lynn Comella has extensively researched sex positive ideology and its relationship to entrepreneurship and capitalism. She began her work in the Bay Area of San Francisco in the mid 1980s. She has coined the term "sex-positive synergy" which she uses to describe feminist pornography that incorporates sex-positive ideology and how this promotes a market for sex-toys and sexuality products. Given my background as an intern in a "sex-positive" sex shop, I am immensely interested in how she explores how capitalism's exploitative treatment of its workers can be justified in a store that claims itself to be feminist and sex positive. This book overall is essential in taking an in depth look in the way that capitalism has hijacked and co-opted sex-positive philosophy.
I have major problems with Zoe Ligon's work! However, she has become emblematic of current sex positive ideology. Ligon is cute, funny, "quirky" and conventionally sexy (thin white cis straight). She makes come problematic comments about sexuality and gender, and occasionally uses the art of QPOC without elevating their voices and their narratives. However- Ligon does know her stuff. She is knowledgeable about the physiology behind sex and how to maximize pleasure. She also runs an online boutique for sex-toys and safer sex products. Her Instagram has become immensely popular and she often creates meaningful and inclusive discussions about sex (safer sex, consent, pleasure, sexuality). In essence- Ligon has become a symbol of current third wave "pop" sex positive ideology (which has become closely linked with capitalism).
In "Sex Power & Pleasure" Mariana Valverde explores debates existing in the sex wars. She explores the argument that women who enjoy sex with men, rough sex, s&m, pornography, strap ons/dildos, or butch/femme dynamics are simply experiencing "false consciousness". Through my research this was one of the only texts from the mid-late 1980s that I found that explicitly uses the term "sex positive". She writes, “Pleasure and lust are indeed women’s concerns, feminist concerns, and they must be taken into account in any project to replace the pornographic code by woman-positive (and sex-positive) cultural codes” (135).
“When one of my lovers said that she wished she had an instruction manual for my body, I took that and responded to it pretty literally", Mira Bellwether has stated about her motivation to create the "Fucking Trans Women" zine (2010). Bellwether, a queer trans woman, was tired of having virtually no real representation of fulfilling sexual encounters for trans women. The zine uses a loose narrative, and many hand drawn diagrams, to discuss both pre and post- op trans women and various methods to achieve pleasure with a partner. The zine, unlike mainstream pornography or more clinical descriptions, shows trans bodies as beautiful, sexy, autonomous, and empowered. The zine should be considered a landmark textual artifact of sex-positive ideology. It is a zine that addresses the realities of sex- unlike some more mainstream and "palatable" versions of sex-positive manuals that center cis white women. This interview with Mira Bellwether delves deeply into her motivations for making FTW in 2010, the manuel's purpose, and her future plans.
In this essay, Judith Butler discusses the performative nature of gender, and the ways in which bodily sex and gender have been problematically linked. Queer theory began to problematize the use of “the personal is political” that radical feminists had favored in the 1970s and 1980s. From this, queer theorists began to establish that individual personal acts could not challenge hegemonic social norms surrounding gender, just as individual and personal acts did not piece together to create oppression. Butler called attention to the necessity of subversively challenging social constructs in order to reconstruct oppressive hegemonic social norms. Within the context of sex-positive ideology, queer identities (and queer theory) called for an exploration of the plurality of sexuality and sexual practices outside of cis and heterosexist norms.
On Our Backs magazine was a magazine created by Susie Bright in 1984. The magazine sought to provide lesbians across the US with relevant, exciting, and stimulating content. The magazine contained erotic/pornographic images and stories created by dykes for dykes. Additionally, the magazine had sexual advice columns, personal ads, and news articles all dealing with sexual wellness and arguments happening during the "sex wars" of the mid and late 1980s. On Our Backs is a critical piece of queer history, and has not ever been digitized, and is not available online. I was able to access the entire run of the magazine at William Way LGBT Community center in Philadelphia! After poring over the magazine for days, I scanned images of relevant articles pertaining to ideas surrounding sex positive ideology.
In her seminal text "Thinking Sex" Gayle Rubin argued for a radical analysis of sexual politics outside of existing feminist framework in. She, similarly to pro-sex feminists, argued that anti-pornography feminist discourse reiterated repressive hierarchies of sexual behavior. Within these constructed hierarchies even sexualities deemed non-normative by wider audiences are able to achieve respectability. Rubin uses the example of lesbian couples who are able to gain respectability through the assertion of their sexual relationship as “pure”, meaning they engage in monogamous relationship involving romantic sex without the use of additional toys or enhancements. Rubin acknowledges the importance of sex-positive feminist discourse specifically in its ability to confront these oppressive hierarchies of sexual behavior. However, where Rubin largely departs from sex-positive feminism is in her assertion of the constructed nature of sexualities and erotic behaviors. Relying on Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality (1978) Rubin reasserts that sexualities are being constantly produced through changing cultures, and that likewise the consequences for certain sexual behaviors are constantly changing through cultural and institutional forms. Rubin criticizes feminists for their reliance on essentialism that posits sexuality and sexual behavior as eternally unchanging. Importantly for the scope of this paper, which will focus on conceptions of queer pornography, Rubin argues for theoretical and material understandings of sexuality that account for plurality and constant development.
In this article Elissa Glick analyses the relationship between feminist identity politics of the 1970s, the emergence of queer theory and queer identity, and current sex-positive ideology's intrinsic relationship to capitalism. She discusses the ways in which sex-positive ideology has become problematically linked with capitalism (buying porn, buying sex toys etc) and has lost much of its transgressive and critical analysis of sexual politics.