The introduction of Momentum: Making Waves in Sexuality, Feminism, & Relationships claims that “we must recast the dialogue about sex with the premise that humans are sexual by nature. Healthy sexuality includes mutual respect, responsibility, and pleasure among persons who are both emotionally and physically ready” This statement seems to be at the heart of the conference from which these essays were collected, and of sex-positivity in general. For this collection to be effective or engaging, it requires that the audience agree with this central tenant. Momentum caters to its audience of those involved or familiar with sex-positivity and sexuality studies. It is clear that for the writers, sex-positivity means more than just changing the dialogue around sexuality, but around how we interact and engage with the world in general. Essays touch on everything from social media, access to medical care, feminist history, and publishing among others.
As an activist I was particularly concerned with the essays devoted to social justice. Carol Queen echoes much of my own feelings towards anti-sex-work advocates when she laments the lack of sex work (specifically porn performer) voices in debates regarding working and living conditions. Maggie Mayhem illustrates important values and guidelines for handling intimate partner abuse in sex-positive or otherwise radical communities. Both of these resonated with me, as they explored the complexities of both the theories and practices in their respective topics. Their concerns go beyond specific communities or issues, but can be translated to other situations.
But the final essay, “Why the Sex Positive Movement is Bad for Sex Workesrs Rights” by Audacia Ray, was the most compelling to me. Her writing was much less incendiary than I expected from the title, and I felt that her explanation of why sex-positivity is not enough for social justice for sex workers reflected many of the problems I had with the collection as a whole. It’s not that I (or Ray) disagrees with the tenants of sex-positivity, it’s that many of these conversations are inaccessible or inapplicable to marginalized communities. I think that this is a crucial point to take home from Momentum – that these are good ideas, and good work is being done, but we need to continue working to make them better.
With the exception of Ray’s piece, there is an implicit celebration of sex-positive values and communities throughout the collection. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially for a compilation of conference papers, it is important to keep in mind as a reader. I found the Momentum collection to be an interesting and insightful look at what’s going on in contemporary sex-positive communities and studies. However, I think there is more to explore and boundaries to be pushed. This should be the starting point for conversations about sexuality, not the conclusion.