Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sex My Studies Up

Jane Sexes It Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire Edited by Merri Lisa Johnson
Weight: 15 oz
Method of Disposal: Giving to my friend Tracy

Feminism and Sexuality are two topics that I believe cannot be discussed separately. They come up a lot in conversation. People struggle to grapple with the two together, but there is no other option. I feel comfortable in the many layers of possibility enveloped in the blanket terms, feminism and sexuality. I consider myself pro-sex, whatever that really means. I love talking about sex, reading about it, discovering new things, enjoying new experiences. I am a huge fan of sex toys, sex talks, porn, and people having the right to provide sex work while maintaining their safety and respect.

I often have to think and then re-think my defense of porn and/or sex work. It is a strange and blurry area. The Feminist Sex Wars have been written about a lot, and I have respected women on both sides of the pro/anti-porn debate. I spent a good deal of my college-life studying Catherine MacKinnon, loving her and disagreeing with her all the way (she did convince me to become a vegetarian). I am fluent in Pat Califia. Dworkin holds a special place in a crevice of my heart. I cannot possibly forget my past desire to follow in the footsteps of Susie Bright or, hell, even Sue Johanson. I’m not picky. I just want to talk to people about how incredible and versatile sex can be.

Recently, discussion about porn, sex work, and human rights has been renewed in my life. I find myself with some of the same questions I thought I had already answered and some news answers that question the ideas I had once fully developed. I am uncomfortable in some of my beliefs again, and I am more confident than ever in others. I am confused. This is not an unusual feeling, but it has been awhile. I am excited to rake it all over again and give it another look-see. It is an ongoing conversation I am having with Tracy that has me re-reading a large stack of books on feminism and sexuality. I am going to pass the stack onto her when I am finished because I think she has her own confusion—different than my own in many ways, though there are overlaps. This is the first book in the stack.

As per usual, I had high hopes for Jane Sexes it Up, but I wasn’t overly impressed. I also don’t think it helped me work out any answers for all of my questions. I found myself periodically checking the publication date to make sure it was really written after the year 2000. If it had been in the late 80’s I might have been more enthused. I felt too young for the essays, but too uncomfortable with my potential ageism to admit it right away. It all felt so dated to me.

“Fuck You and Your Untouchable Face” consistently quotes one of my favorite Ani Difranco songs--when I was in high school. I still love me some Difranco, but it felt weird. I appreciate the author’s honesty and openness, and I respect a good conversation about queering heterosexuality. I just didn’t learn anything, and I don’t know what she meant when she used the words “queering heterosexuality.” There was too much reservation in “Of the Flesh and Fancy: Spanking and the Single Girl.” And who judges spanking anymore? I know people do, but I am not around those people much so I forget. And what is wrong with the word “flog” or “flogging?” I like a good flogging from time to time, and I like that it is not dainty.

I did like “Liquid Fire: Female Ejaculation and Fast Feminism.” That might have been the best essay. I wasn’t anxious to leave it. I wanted to follow her through the sex club, and she was a good leader. I liked her sexual openness and how she subtly showed how you can maintain control of your body and your consent in a building with many sexual partners with a simple word or sentence if everyone respects each other. It doesn’t have to “take you out of the moment,” and everyone can maintain their hunger. The lessons on ejaculating were enlightening, and the author seemed confident.

“Scrutiny and The Female Porn Scholar” and “Pearl Necklace” had so much potential, but they quickly became some of my least favorite portions of the book. “Pearl Necklace” had me. I was so onboard with the masturbation, the ejaculation, the bath tub water turning cold, the rape fantasies, but she lost me somewhere in all her rape language. She defended it with her so whats, I like its, and who cares. Are those even a defense? Could you try just a little? I am all about rape fantasy, forceful sex, role playing, BDSM, and so on and so forth, but consent is my #1. And I don’t mean just saying “no” if something is unwelcome. Where was the discussion about consent, safety, consideration, and respect? “A Cock of One’s Own: Getting a Firm Grip on Feminist Sexual Power” was an essay I could not relate to but could see vague outlines of in my memory. I cannot remember the last time I spoke with someone who was anti-dildo, but I have girlfriends of friends of friends who are anti-dildo. I know they are out there. I have read about them in letters and in this essay, but I don’t see a lot of it in my sexual partners.

Maybe I am just super-sexed. I mean, maybe I hoped something would shock me, compel me, maybe even turn me on but nothing did. Worst of all, I don’t think I learned anything and the book came nowhere near helping me with my new prostitution and porn dilemma. I guess I didn’t know what Vulvodynia was before, and I do now. I thank Kantinka for sharing her story with me and all of us. I am not sure it gave me a good pro-porn argument, but I am glad I read it. It gave a good reason for why one might watch porn, but I can think of 100 of those. I need more good reasons for why people make porn-- other than money. A subversion of the patriarchy, playing with the strict rules of society, promoting sexual fun and play, helping others in their exploration of sexuality, pure enjoyment, just a job, what? Where do all these reasons fit into the dominant porn industry? Is it fair to look at “mainstream” porn and judge all porn? It seems that (at least in a capitalist society) the big rigs always have some fucked up idea of morality and the small, little independents struggle to stay alive. I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe we just need to be more responsible about how we purchase sex. Is there a Conscience Consumer list out there for the sex industry? Can anyone help? Do you have any book recommendations? I have many more books to come, Whores and Other Feminists being the next.


  1. Well, I have a treat for you: "Sex at the Margins," by Laura Agustin. It blew the doors open for me, all the things that didn't add up.

  2. Thank you for your recommendation and for reading my post. This book looks like one I imagined was out there but could never find. I think I quit believing in it. I am going to find it now and devour it right away.