Let’s End The War Between Abstinence And Sex Positive Feminism

In a disturbing post yesterday called, “Why Do Feminists Find Abstinence Intolerable?” Susan Walsh, a blogger for the site Hooking Up Smart, uses our current “hookup culture” as undeniable proof that all feminists hate abstinence. Say what? “Feminists are dismissive of hookup culture,” she writes, “frequently claiming that it doesn’t exist, that it’s just the overreactive imagining of old fogies and right wing nuts who don’t want young people having sex before marriage.” I’m not sure who all these feminists are who dismiss the existence of our hookup culture or what any of it has to do with the idiotic claim that feminists loathe abstinence, but throughout her troubling piece, Walsh awkwardly tries to link the two ideas. She quotes Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory who wrote last August, in reference to some new books exploring the hookup culture:

“These books are just the latest result of the mounting abstinence movement, which, despite its religious roots, has recast its attack on “hookup” culture as secular, even feminist. Perhaps young women are putting feminist ideals of equality into sex by refusing shame and claiming the traditionally male side of the stud/slut double standard.”

Clark-Flory is hardly “dismissing” the hookup culture. What she’s dismissing is the idea that hooking up must be a feminist movement simply because young women won’t subscribe to the archaic tradition that if they enjoy sex — casual or otherwise — they’re sluts. Walsh naively translates this to mean: “The new population of feminists has little tolerance for abstinence as a choice. If you’re not into a whole extensive menu of sexual practices, you’ve been oppressed by the patriarchy. You’re not legit.” Well, no, not exactly. You’re “oppressed by the patriarchy” only when you let the patriarchy affect your sexual choices, whether that means abstaining completely or screwing every guy you meet.

On one hand, I think I can understand some of Walsh’s intention in her post. She’s frustrated by what she sees in response to second wave feminists’ denouncement of “pornography and the sexual objectification of women” as glorification of casual sex by third wave feminists. I’ve experienced similar frustration myself in what seems like overt sexuality as a political statement. I’m turned off by women who are so calculating in their dismissal of sexual double-standards, they openly flaunt their sexual adventures, thumbing their noses at the patriarchy all the way. But that’s just me. I would no more want to shame them into silence than let them shame me for my personal choices. But shame is exactly what Walsh argues the sex-positive movement has created in its effort to de-stigmatize women who enjoy sex.

“It’s ironic, then, that young women today feel shame for NOT having casual sex,” she writes, adding: “They’ve tried on the male side of sex, and have found it a poor fit.” But, wait — what’s the “male side of sex”? Does she mean casual sex? Is casual sex strictly “male sex”? This is exactly the kind of sexist double standard that those big, bad, scary sex-positive feminists are fighting in their overt sexuality. But Walsh wants to keep them — us, women — sexually oppressed, ashamed of any behavior that might be “deviate from the mean.” She explains that many sex-positive feminists engage in sex that “flirts with violence, domination and subjugation,” which makes these women “several standard deviations from the mean.” In fact, she says: “They are so far outside the mainstream as to render their views interesting perhaps, but largely irrelevant to most of us.” So irrelevant, it seems, that she deems it necessary to write a long, rambling article warning others of their danger…in a website devoted to hooking up, no less. How’s that for irony?

It’s not abstinence that feminists find so intolerable, Ms. Walsh, it’s the narrow-minded idea that there’s a “normal” way to be and anyone that deviates from that is irrelevant.