The problem with being a feminist is that jerks assume two things about your sex life: either you're a frigid lesbian who hates men; or you're a fuck-happy slut who has no feelings. The truth is, of course, more complex.
I mean, there are of course man-hating lesbians and fuck-happy emotionless sluts among the community that calls ourselves feminists (and they're welcome in it!). But for the rest of us, being a feminist is one of a bunch of principles around which we order our life: and, when it comes to fucking, it's the part of our lives that can be the most difficult to incorporate our principles into.
And, to a great degree, it's because advice about fucking (even while feminist) is always about what you shouldn't do. Don't watch porn, don't give blow jobs, don't go home with just anyone, don't give away the milk so that he doesn't think the cow is free. Don't be an exhibitionist, don't be submissive, don't engage in sex work, don't expect to be loved if you've been too slutty. There have been times where even I've been tempted to dismiss feminist ideals of fucking as little more than the same fantasies spoon-fed to us in romance novels and rom-coms: slow, emotionally intimate love-making while you stare into one another's eyes as the music swells. Not that there's anything wrong with that on occasion, or if that's your thing, but sometimes, I just want to fuck.
That's probably why the Jaclyn Friedman - Amanda Hess collaboration Fucking While Feminist stuck in my head so much. In it, they discuss some of the difficulties of navigating dating — and fucking — while trying to keep to their principles. In large part, though, I liked what the name implied: that when you go into the bedroom (or kitchen or where ever floats you boat), you don't (and don't have to) let go of the idea that, fundamentally, you and your partner are equals and there to give and receive pleasure
Part of the sexual liberation movement was supposed to free women to fuck as they liked it — but recent studies show that far too many women aren't reaching orgasm while they do it. Women who do are still decried as sluts — something Jaclyn found out after she wrote about the role casual sex played in helping her heal after a relationship — and told they can never be happy. Society obsesses about virginity and its role in helping women find love. The needs of LGBT people are ignored; polyamory discussions are lost in hand-wringing over polygamy in conservative religious sects. And women who explore exhibitionism, sex work, poly relationships or BDSM are told that they're just fooling themselves and hurting other women by allowing themselves to be objectified — as though the male gaze still determines a woman's sexual agency.
It's all complex, and individualistic and not easily reduced to the virgin-whore dichotomy. Which is why, over the course of the next day or so, I've asked a bunch of smart people to talk about what fucking while feminist means to them. I'll be posting a few interviews, linking to their posts and generally encouraging you guys to weigh in as well. But, I get to go first.
Fucking while feminist, for me, means that I have sex when I want to have sex — not because I want to keep someone else happy, or because it's expected or because that's what everyone else is doing. When I have sex with someone, I try to minimize the potential damage: if I'm not looking for something serious, I tell the person. If my feelings are engaged, I'm open about that despite the potential rejection. If I wonder for a second whether the person will call me back afterwards, and the thought that they won't bothers me, I don't do it. And when we're actually fucking, I respect their boundaries and demand mine be respected; I communicate and leave myself open to communication; and I generally try to behave as though I am having sex with an individual, not a body. I don't always succeed — I'm kind of a bitch, truth be told, and I've been known to behave badly when at low emotional points. But I try to engage with people as they would with me, and to make sure that I'm clear to myself about why I'm there and what I want.
But that's me. There are dozens of answers to the question of how to fuck as a feminist. The rule is that there really aren't that many rules — and while that's more difficult to navigate than "no sex before marriage" or "not until the fifth date," it doesn't make it impossible. And, it probably makes it more fun.
Earlier: My Sluthood, Myself