Reviews | Why is sexual feminism out of fashion
Some second-wave feminists had treated heterosexual sex – as well as distantly perverse queer sex – as inherently degrading, if not counter-revolutionary, which naturally distanced many women from feminism. (In a Village Voice essay in 1972, Karen Durbin described abandoning the women’s movement in part because she was “hopelessly heterosexual.”) Part of political liberation.
But sexual positivity now seems to be fading out of fashion among young people, failing to speak out about their aspirations and frustrations just as anti-porn feminism failed to speak to those of a previous generation. It is no longer radical, or even really necessary, to claim that women take pleasure in sex. On the contrary, taking pleasure in sex seems, for some, vaguely obligatory. In a July BuzzFeed News article titled “These Generation Z Women Think Sexual Positivity Is Overrated,” a 23-year-old said, “It feels like we’ve been tricked into exploiting ourselves.
I started noticing the abandonment of sexual positivity a few years ago when I wrote about a renewed interest in Dworkin’s work. Since then, there have been growing signs of rebellion by young women against a culture that favors erotic license over empathy and responsibility. (A similar shift is occurring in other areas; generational battles for free speech often revolve around whether freedom should trump sensitivity.)
After #MeToo, feminists expanded the types of sex considered coercive to include not only assault, but also situations where there are significant power differences. Others are using new terms for what appear to be old trends. The word “demisexual” refers to those who are only attracted to people with whom they share an emotional connection. Before the sexual revolution, of course, a lot of people thought most women were like this. Now, an aversion to casual sex has turned into bona fide sexual orientation.
In March, Vox’s Rebecca Jennings reported on the spread of the “Cancel Porn” movement on TikTok. “This is just one facet of a conservatism, for lack of a better term, that proliferates on TikTok from rather unlikely sources,” she wrote. “Young women, presumably progressive (for the most part)” who think that what is sometimes called “feminism of choice” is addressed to “patriarchy and the male gaze”. Jennings quoted the caption from a video: “Liberal feminism tells young girls that the culture of sex is liberating, conditioning them to think that if you don’t have extreme problems at a young age, they are boring and boring. vanilla, and encourages them to get into sex work by the time they turn 18.