I had a friend ask me, “Do you still care about that stuff?” recently when I posted a link to a slut-shaming article. My first response was indignance—of course I still care about this stuff. I’m a woman. This happens all the time, and so many people shrug it off as small-mindedness or “just the way things are,” but I firmly believe it doesn’t have to be that way. I may have a Sisyphus complex about these issues, but hey, somebody’s gotta keep rolling that boulder of sex positivity up this damn hill, right?
But I was hit by a slight wave of doubt, nonetheless. Maybe I am shouting into a void, or maybe there’s not as much of a void as I thought. Maybe people are learning to talk about these things, not be as afraid of sex as they once were. Maybe we’re winning this battle.
This weekend I spent some time talking about what I do with a young person in my life who just started college, and I found the conversation easy. She’s not much familiar yet with pornography itself, but when I told her that my theory is—and that it’s shared by many of the people I’ve come to know through my work as a writer in the porn industry—that porn doesn’t have to be scary or degrading any more than sex itself does. It can be beautiful, it can be a celebration, etc… She didn’t have even a moment of hesitation or, “Welllllll…” She just nodded and agreed, as if this hurdle were no higher than perhaps mid-calf. Sex, she seemed to assume, was a pretty cool thing. No shame there. No worries. It’s ok to have sex, it’s ok to enjoy it, it’s ok to talk about it. Shit, her cheeks didn’t even get a little red.
And I thought… Well, shit. Maybe the work of people who have the same theories as I do, like the feminist pornographers and the loud, outspoken female performers who have blazed new trails in the industry, and sex positive people in general are making a fucking difference in the real world. Maybe this is working! And that might change the nature of what I write about quite a bit, but… That would be wonderful. Maybe I don’t need to worry so much when I read slut-shaming articles and advice columns because maybe those people really are declining in number. Maybe minds are opening all around me, or maybe the closed minds are just slowly being replaced with younger, more open ones.
But then I started talking to an older person in my life. Now granted I know that older prejudices are usually more difficult to dispel, especially in the mind of someone who has held them for a whole lifetime. I do understand this. But this person basically called me slutty for being involved in the Poetry Brothel. A live poetry event during which I dress up (in a really, truly, totally unrevealing-compared-to-what-people-wear-on-the-street-in-the-summer outfit that just happens to incorporate a corset) and read poetry publicly and privately for cash. Because we use the word “Brothel” in the name of the reading series and because we do one-on-one readings. That’s “slutty.”
And I realized that, yes, I do still need to care about the rights of human beings to deploy, display, and enjoy their sexualities in every damn way that contributes to human happiness. Because something so far removed from sexual immorality as the Poetry Brothel… something so absolutely dedicated to the advancement of fine literature in an exciting and engaging setting… something so absolutely right and moral and correct and fun and harmless… can still be considered negative just because it has the hint of sexuality in its name. That is wrong. The idea that sex can be so patently negative, scary, and offensive that its mere invocation as an idea can send anyone in this world into a place where they would make assumptions about the moral character of those involved… That is fucked up.
So, back to the bottom of the hill to start pushing this boulder again. It’s ok. My shoulder may be sore, but it can take it.