The Prudes’ Progress: Re-membering Feminist Desire, Part VII – Re-membering Feminist Desire

This is the seventh part in an eight-part series of articles, The Prudes’ Progress, about non-objectifying, woman-identified sexuality based on ideas of equality and whole-personhood, in the tradition of lesbian feminism. For the first article in the series, which includes a table of contents, please click here. The articles don’t have to be read in order and contain many backwards and forwards links so you can follow them in whatever way is most useful for you, although forward links won’t work until the relevant article is available.

The Seventh Progression: Creating Places of Safety

It’s painful to put this so late in the list, because I think places of safety are essential for all feminists taking on any feminist project. But because “feminist” is such a broad word, and because many self-describing feminists might not be interested in Progressing, I’ve chosen to talk about the process of creating our spaces at a point where Progressing Prudes are aware of and have made significant progress working on some of the challenges of feminist desire.

Few – if any – women will have made it to this point alone. Movement away from instrumental sexuality is movement against the flow of society, and without others around who see things in a similar way, who are supportive and who are moving with us, it can be difficult to sustain. Even those who don’t know anyone else on this Progress will almost certainly have come this far via the support of general feminist community, and perhaps via taking part in specific struggles alongside other women.

Those of us who’ve had time and energy to come this far are likely privileged, lucky, determined or all three. For many people, demands of work, health, oppression and even daily survival have to take priority over the kinds of work described here. Even though I’ve tried to emphasise at many points how so many of the struggles for feminist desire are collective struggles, not individual self-improvement, there’s no getting away from the fact that it takes significant personal energy to do the individual work that’s a part of this Progress.

So I consider it our responsibility to give something back, and one way of doing that is to spend some of our time and energy on creating, maintaining and improving spaces which have political values and practices compatible with feminist desire. These spaces can be political groups, social groups, personal friendships and even sometimes online spaces, although the latter can sometimes lack a personal, empathising quality that I think is important.
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The Ethical Prude: Imagining An Authentic Sex-Negative Feminism


“A slut is a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you,” write Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy in The Ethical Slut: A guide to infinite sexual possibilities.

In doing so, they create space for every sexual possibility except for one: the possibility to consider whether sex may not be nice.

Some might suggest this space exists, already populated by woman-haters, given the shame, hatred and violence on offer for women who dare to have sex on their own terms. But these moralistic right-wing views don’t hold that sex is not nice – they hold that women who have sex (and others who are seen to be treated as women in sex) are not nice.

As such it is both progressive and radical to say that sex is not shameful for women, and that a woman should not be punished for her sexual choices; radical, because shaming and punishment are both commonplace.

But in the present day it is not radical to say that “sex is nice”. If anything, it’s tautological. Sex, for all practical purposes, is defined much of the time as only “that which is nice” – in many feminist discourses, if it is not nice, it is not sex.

This precludes certain ways of thinking about sex. I would like to look at the things we are able to think when we allow ourselves to criticise not just singular sex acts but the ‘niceness’ of sex under patriarchy as a whole.

We will describe sex-negativity as a worldview or mode of analysis, not a belief system or a system of morals. The goal is not to determine that ‘sex is bad’ – though the analysis does not preclude this conclusion – but to use this way of thinking to better understand sex and sexuality under patriarchy.

Trigger and Content Warnings

Trigger Warnings: This article discusses the intersections of sex, violence and power. It discusses rape and, tangentially, prostitution and pornography. It reproduces (in order to criticise) date-rape apologism. It uses the word ‘fuck’ a lot, in the carnal sense. There is one graphic description of the sex/violence/power overlap which is warned for in the text and preceded by a link to skip it.

Content Warnings: This article talks about the violence and power relations inherent in heterosexuality and in intercourse. It touches on the ways in which under male supremacy the receptive partner in intercourse is considered to be demeaned. It describes compulsion into heterosexuality and into sexual power relations reflecting heterosexuality.
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