Star Speaks Out, Part 1: A Non-Monogamist’s take on Sex-Positivity, Exhibitionism, and Rape Culture

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Star Speaks Out, Part 1: A Non-Monogamist's take on Sex-Positivity, Exhibitionism, and Rape CultureAlternately titled, let's see how many current events buzz-words I can fit into one title.

Recently I've become very interested in the debates surrounding American rape culture, specifically its intersections with sex-positivity and feminism. I stipulate “American” rape culture, because the cultural norms and expectations that produce drunken frat-party violations are vastly different from those that produced the recent gang-rape reported in India, or others outside our Western frame of reference.

As a sex-positive non-monogamist, I often feel that in the mono-normative world where sex is a commodity, subject to supply and demand, my sexuality is devalued and I am one of “those women.” Those women are the bad girls, the promiscuous girls, the ones who (gasp!) like to have sex. We've all heard the phrase “no one will buy the cow when they can get the milk for free,” and when I refer to the commodification of sex, that's the perfect accessible example. People, and women especially, are taught that sex is a good that we have to offer someone else, and that we have to preserve, and even amplify, the value of that good. We make our sexuality more valuable by decreasing the supply, to thereby increase demand. Because apparently my vagina is a widget.

(Please don't confuse this symbolic commodification of women's sexualities by mono-normative society as the same as the literal commodification of a woman's sexuality in the cases of pornography, prostitution, or stripping. These are their own issues, involving another scale of consent, objectification, and economics. That's not what I'm talking about here.)

The worldwide SlutWalk organization has coined the slogan “still not asking for it,” to encapsulate their philosophy that a woman's personal behavior is never an invitation for sexual contact, and consent has to be offered, rather than assumed. I think the reason that these sorts of organizations even have to make those sorts of slogans, is because if a woman's sexuality is a commodity, wherein its value is based on its availability, then a woman who is sex-positive, sexually active, or just confident enough to display her body, has a low to non-existent sexual value. Thus, sex with her can or should be “free.” Payment, in the forms of consent and mutual enjoyment, is unnecessary because her sexuality has no value. This sounds like the view of a sociopath when put forth that explicitly, but I've seen comments from average men (and worse, other women!) in internet forums that put forth this very idea in less direct terms. A woman at a SlutWalk stood topless with body-paint proclaiming “Still Not Asking For It,” and one woman's comment on this Facebook photo was “I love and respect my body to the point where only one man deserves to look at my naked breasts.” The point she's making is that she believes that her body and her sexuality will decrease in value the more people it is exposed to. That if she exposes her breasts to other men, that means that they will be worth less because the sight is something someone has to “deserve.”

Let's connect this to me, the sex-pos polyamorous exhibitionist. Yesterday, I intentionally wore a revealing, provocative outfit to work because I wanted to be looked at. I felt delightfully objectified as I saw my friends, coworkers, and customers staring at my body. One of the men I work with said it took him at least the first hour of the shift before he wasn't staring at my ass constantly. I love and respect my body to the point where I want every damn person to look at it, and beyond that to the point that I believe that even if every person on this earth saw my naked body, that wouldn't give a single one of them the right to touch it without my consent. I believe that the value of my body is not based on who I hide it from, it's based on my value as a person, a human being with rights.

Another Facebook comment, also by a woman, on the aforementioned photo, said, “Keep that shit in the privacy of your own home, and maybe you wouldn't be giving off slutty vibes to everyone. You don't buy a fucking skin tight dress that pretty much shows your breasts and beaver just because you want to, you do it to get looks from others, and guess what BAD PEOPLE LOOK TOO.” (Internet-style typos corrected.) She's telling us two important things. One is that she believes that “giving off slutty vibes” is inherently bad, and puts a woman in the position of being in the wrong even before she may be violated. She later says “You walk around like a slut you will get treated like one.” Which, to those of us who value sluts, and the freedom to be one as a life choice, sounds like a fine deal. Treated like a slut? Ok, great, that means you'll respect my sexual decisions, which happen to be open and varied. That is, of course, not what she means. When she says I may be “treated like a slut,” she means treated like my sexuality has no value, and that I don't deserve respect because I don't demand it in the traditional method of hiding and fearing my own body. Her other point is a more subtle and insidious implication. When she says that dressing slutty is an invitation for people to look, and that this will include “bad people,” i.e. rapists, what's she's quietly implying is that the invitation to look is an invitation to touch, to molest. That simply being exposed and gazed at, and allowing herself to be seen by “bad people,” she deserves whatever she gets, because the responsibility for respect is not being placed upon the toucher, but the touched.

Eve Ensler‘s piece from the Vagina Monologues entitled “My Short Skirt,” comes so close to hitting the nail on the head for me. She says “My short skirt is not an invitation, a provocation, an indication, that I want it, or give it.” Yes, Ms. Ensler! True! She also says, “My short skirt, believe it or not, has nothing to do with you.” Well, maybe she misses the mark a bit. My short skirt has everything to do with you. Unless I wear my short skirt all alone in my living room, my short skirt is for you to look upon, for you to see me and consider my body, with desire, disgust, confusion, or whatever feeling moves you. It is not an invitation to touch or to approach, but it is present to your gaze and you may look, because that's why we choose any clothing. Unless we're wearing camouflage, when we pick our clothes we're picking what we want people to see when they look at us.

As any active kinkster or swinger can tell you, consent is king in our minority communities. The sort of behavior shrugged at by the general public, things like street harassment, or unwanted touching by friends or peers, are absolute taboo within the context of a dungeon or a swinger party. I admit I'm reaching a bit out of my element regarding swing clubs/parties as I've never been to one, but as I understand the rules are very similar to that of a dungeon, where I do have quite a bit of experience. In these environments it is simply unacceptable to touch another person without their explicit consent, even if they are stark naked, sexually aroused, or otherwise wildly desirable. Because these communities know that our desires do not convey to us any rights.

This is already becoming very long, so I've decided to split the post into two. Tune in next time for the tie-in to feminism, and the issue of respect for sexual men as well as women.

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Star is a 20-something kinky, poly, pansexual, educated, married lady who just likes to talk. About everything. All the time. She can be reached at starontheswingset@gmail.com.

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    compare your body to a painting…. if i paint a picture of food, its for people to look at. No one would ever think to touch or attempt to try and eat it. Same as when you dress your self up to be looked at, its permoission to look, not touch

  2. Avatar

    Gecko, while I think your response is well-intentioned, I think your choice of metaphor completely misses the point. You’re right, no one would ever think to touch a painting just because it’s beautiful, but that’s because paintings are not meant to be touched. A person’s body is meant to be touched, to be enjoyed. My point is that just because a person wants to touch me, doesn’t mean they should. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any reasons why a person should touch me – there are. Pretty much all of them are “because I want them to.”

  3. Avatar

    For what it may be worth, from a male perspective that I will grant may well be unusual, but not utterly fringe either, I have never understood how or why it could be beneficial in any way for women to withhold sex in order to make it “more valuable”.

    It always seemed to me that getting the sex that you want from your sex-life, rather than using it to get other things that you might want like concessions, gifts etc., was really the whole point, and I’ve always had a much higher regard for people who approach their sexuality in this way, in your way if you will.

    I look forward to part two… 🙂

    Thanks

  4. Avatar

    Star, in my 30+ years of experience, the social norms at swing clubs are very touchy-feely. It is NOT uncommon to be touched without consent in swing environments. You had a good piece of writing until that last paragraph. Maybe next time, do some homework before you start heaping praise on something you know nothing about.

    • Avatar

      I have gone to several clubs and parties for swingers. I can tell you that while I am constantly objectified (which is why I go) I am never touched in a sexual manner without eithe sex asking. That is the first rule of any club. Perhaps you should associate with more respectable swingers.

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    Ivy, I apologize for mis-speaking. When I say I have no experience with swing clubs, that is true. Not being a swinger myself, I’ve had no reason to. However, please don’t think my comments are based on nothing. My knowledge of that environment is based on reading things that other swingers have written, and communicating with people I know who have been to those sorts of clubs. If your experience is different, that’s equally valid.

  6. Avatar
    TheOtherProfessor on

    Star,
    No need to apologise to Ivy, as you are both generally correct (there may be regional differences but, by and large, there should be no touching without consent at swing clubs) and you qualified your statement sufficiently in the post. Her “you should do some homework” statement is just unnecessarily snarky and critical given those factors. In the 80s, when she started, it may have been true that there was a lot of non-consented-to touching, but I haven’t seen in any of the several clubs and parties I’ve been to (in a play environment…I have seen some flirty touching that wasn’t explicitly consented to, but that ‘s a different case, I think).

  7. Avatar

    So glad you brought up Eve Ensler’s piece, especially since we’re in VDay season right now. I was my city’s VDay organizer and producer of The Vagina Monologues for years, and though I didnt do “Short Skirt” (I was the “moaner” instead) it is one of my favorite pieces, because (as I beg to differ with you slightly here) the point really IS that one’s clothing choices are very often NOT about what other people think, but about what we personally like on ourselves. Eve wrote exactly what she meant there. The problem lies in the interpretation in the mind of the beholder. Which is what Eve’s piece and the Slutwalk movement is trying so hard to change.

    From years of doing VDay, other female empowerment productions, and burlesque and cabaret shows etc I have come to see that the opinions on attire have all to do with the age, self-esteem, body image, and social conditioning of the person doing the judging, or the mate of the person doing the judging. In general, younger women, women with less self-esteem, less positive body image, and with more restrictive social conditioning DO tend to choose clothing with more of “what others will think” in mind. Older women, women with positive self-esteem and/or body image, and with more liberal social conditioning care much less about other people’s opinions and far more about their own likes and comfort. Likewise the men partnered by, raised by, and/or socially cultured with those women are going to pick up on the way those women speak about, and treat each other and themselves with regard to attire.

    In other words, while you at 20 went to work in your sexy outfit because you wanted the attention it was going to (and did) get you; if I (at almost 45) go to work in my sexy dress its because I woke up with a “damn Im Hot” vibe and now every time I look in a mirror that day, I am reinforcing that to myself. If people are noticing good or bad, matters as little to me as it will the next day when I decide its slouchy yoga pants and tunic day. The point is the attention either of us gets, or not, has all to do with what’s happening in the viewer’s own mind, regardless of what reasons WE had for bringing out the sexy that day, so its THERE that a change needs to be made, and that change has to start with, us, the WOMEN, if we ever expect men to get on board.

    You and I both know, that when either of us walks into a room in our sexy clothing, the majority of the people thinking (if not actually expressing) the derogatory remarks and attiudes about us are going to be OTHER WOMEN. This is what needs to stop. We need to be able to look at the woman who clearly made an effort to look sexy, or clearly feels confident and sexy regardless of what shes wearing, and say “You go girl” by smiling appreciation at her, or complimenting her, especially in ear shot of other women, ESPECIALLY if we don’t know her. We need to not allow other women to cut her down with disparaging remarks behind her back. We need to hold a safe space open for each other to be authentically ourselves, support and empower each other to do so, and make sure the males in our lives do the same. It’s the only way to end the stereotype, it’s the only way to stop the shame/blame game, and it’s the only way to make sure ALL women are safe.

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