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Being Sex-Positive in a World of Brett Kavanaughs, Donald Trumps

Fostering Sex Positivity in a World of Brett Kavanaughs, Donald Trumps

Assault and abuse aren't sex, Alexander Cheves writes.

I shared a bed with another boy on a church youth trip when I was 12. He touched me, then pulled my hand to his underwear. It was my first sexual experience and one I've written about fondly. He was a few years older than me, never asked my permission, and I never gave it, but to call it an assault feels disingenuous, both to the many people who've come forward to tell their stories in the wake of #MeToo and to the memory itself. I don't know if that makes me delusional or simply lucky.

The fact is, I've had to ask myself that very uncomfortable question recently. The looming threat of Brett Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court and the devastating testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford have made people across the United States rethink our memories and face incredible pain. While it's disgusting to watch a body of men attack Dr. Ford and work arduously to discredit her, such a public testimony charges us to ask vital questions -- both of ourselves and the culture we all participate in creating.

What does sex-positivity look like in all this? With such dark headlines of assault filling the public consciousness, it might seem wrong -- even distasteful -- to remind people of the importance of sex-positivity. But the fact is, #MeToo has its strongest foothold in the sex-positive movement and in people like me who push for open, healthy discussion about sex.

#MeToo has exposed powerful men in the entertainment industry and turned the public eye to the widespread problem of sexual assault. It could be rightly said that this movement has been a social response to the election of a president whose accusations of sexual assault number in the double digits. But since Donald Trump took office, we've also seen an increased, worrying crackdown on sex workers and forced shutdown of sites we use to safely find work, thanks to new legislation like FOSTA and SESTA which have quietly passed without much attention from the public. These laws claim to only target online sex trafficking, but many activists have made it clear that these laws mostly harm consensual sex workers, many of whom are women and queer people. The fact that Stormy Daniels, a sex worker, is one of our greatest anti-Trump warriors of the year should not be overlooked.

The passage of FOSTA/SESTA has already been catastrophic for people like me. We've also seen repeated hits to net neutrality and repeated attacks on porn. Let's not allow the #MeToo movement to usher in a sex-phobic backlash against "sex people" -- sex workers, sex writers, entertainers, artists, and those of us who believe sex is worth discussing, educating about, and celebrating.

Assault isn't sex. Abuse isn't sex. Sex is sex -- and it's still a good thing. Sex-positivity still matters, perhaps now more than ever. Sex people are the ones most equipped to start discussions about healthy sex, consent, and the sex-negative institutions that create horrible men like Brett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump.

As a sex writer and worker, I've noticed rising tensions about the subject I love. A sex-phobic clampdown on erotic media, sex literature, and sex work won't make women safer or stop assaults from happening -- in fact, it will do the opposite.

Sex-positive activists believe a healthy culture is one that encourages sex and sexual discussion without shame, erasure, or religious stifling. The sex movement has always embraced queer identities and gender equality. Wilhelm Reich, widely considered the father of the movement, is best remembered for his "magic orgasm box," the Orgone Energy Accumulator, which he unveiled in the United States during World World II. He claimed that his invention trapped "universal energies" -- what he called "orgone energy," from the word "orgasm" -- to create intense orgasms for anyone who stood inside. Every major scientist of his day, including Albert Einstein, discredited his theories, even though Orgone Energy Accumulators were popularly used by various countercultural writers and figures including William S. Burroughs and J. D. Salinger.

The box was the physical manifestation of Reich's writings. He believed the cure for widespread illnesses could be achieved with more orgasms, and he believed that most of society's ills could be remedied by more welcoming attitudes toward sex. His writings got him booted out of the psychoanalyst community in Austria, his home country, and made him a target of the Nazis. He eventually fled to the United States just before WWII, where he almost immediately caused outrage among the political and medical establishment. His FBI file was 789 pages long -- Harper's magazine branded him the leader of "cult of sex and anarchy."

Along with the work of Alfred Kinsey, Reich's writings -- and, yes, his weird box -- started a sexual movement that influenced the Beats, the youth rebellion of the 1960s, and activists like Harry Hay, father of the Radical Faerie movement. Reich died in 1957. Twelve years later, the Stonewall riots happened and ignited the modern LGBTQ movement. This postmodern sex movement saw the development of gay leather culture in underground gay bars in San Francisco and New York and sex parties at Fire Island before it came to a brutal halt with the outbreak of AIDS. The sex movement influenced queer feminist writers like Eve Sedgwick and Judith Butler, who pioneered the concept of queer theory in the early '90s.

The movement is still happening. With new drugs and antiretrovirals -- as well as medical innovations like PrEP -- HIV has become a manageable illness for many queer men. As a result, we are finally reclaiming a sex culture that feels like an heirloom of the past. Meanwhile, concepts like nonmonogamy and polyamory are breaking into the hetero mainstream.

That said, we still have a long way to go. HIV is still a stigmatized illness, and HIV criminalization laws still exist in almost every state in the nation. The stigma of HIV is worsened by the disease's association with sex and homosexuality -- it's no secret that infection rates are worst in America's Bible Belt, where attitudes toward gay and bi men are most unfriendly and racism runs rampant (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016 that half of black gay and bi men will test positive for HIV in their lifetimes). People are still being fired from jobs because of their previous work in porn. There is a still a conservative resistance to sex writing and sex media in the professional world -- my own portfolio is often a barrier to finding work. There are frighteningly few schools in the country with adequate sex education.

On top of all these problems is sexual assault. We've always been on the side of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. We've always been here, challenging gender roles, institutionalized patriarchy, and conservative faiths (all unsurprisingly with male gods) that create a culture in which a rapist can become a justice in the highest court of the land. We are #MeToo's loudest mouthpieces -- so let us speak without censorship or shutdown.

Assault isn't sex. Abuse isn't sex. Sex is sex -- and it's still a good thing.

ALEXANDER CHEVES is a New York-based writer. Follow him on Twitter @BadAlexCheves.

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