Soft Focus: Sex Positivity with Lauren Moran
We’re excited to bring you a new series of conversations on the YesYes blog, Soft Focus, where we’ll be exploring the nuances and contradictions of sexual politics. Each post will feature me and a guest discussing a shared question or questions we are grappling with, and ideally, make room for mistakes, the unknown, mutual support, and vulnerability as we strive toward more liberatory sexual politics together.
My first guest, artist Lauren Moran, and I started with a long list of questions with the intention of going through several of them. But when we met to record our conversation we only ended up getting to the first one. Originally framed as, “What is your understanding of sex positivity?” we instead ended up sharing a lot about what holds us back from living up to our own ideals of sex positivity, and what we wish to change to be more sex positive.
E: Do you want to start with the sex positivity one? It’s a thing I struggle with… ok, well, I struggle with all these things which is why I wanted to talk to you about them.
L: Me too! Your questions about sex positivity made me think about my relationship with that [concept].
I think we should start there. I actually think that’s the thing I … I have had trouble understanding, separating my understanding, of feminism emerging out of a second wave feminist understanding of sex, which is often sort of prudish and slut shaming. It tells women that we have to protect ourselves from men, it’s very binary…
That’s definitely how my mom taught me.
My mom also. I think the thing is that third wave, or I don’t even know if it’s third wave, but subsequent waves of feminism have been a little confusing to parse through for me. Because I’m a super sexual person and being in nonmonogamous relationships works really well for me. I often encounter people who I think of as being you know, supportive of my, and I’m saying this in the most sex positive way, ‘sluttiness.’ That it’s fine and good that I’m exploring my body and my relationships with other people and doing those things. And people that are supportive of all the ways I want to explore my queerness and my sexuality… And yet, sometimes I see certain things that I think are difficult for me to decide how I feel about them. Like some pornography feels interesting and exciting for me to look at and some of it feels abusive and shitty, and sometimes I’m not sure how to make sense of, like, what’s the difference for me. I think, part of me wants to be like ‘Yeah, whatever people want to do is great and they should do whatever they want to do.” And mostly I do feel that way but then occasionally I have a feeling of questioning in what ways we’re presenting ourselves, in what ways what’s sexy and what’s attractive are driven by patriarchy.
Oh yeah. I mean I feel conflicted about that all the time. I don’t feel like being feminine but like when I think ‘Oooh how am I going to attract people?’ that’s my default, you know? I wanna be more masc but then I find myself falling into these habits or patterns that are definitely like, ‘This is a way to attract someone.’ And it’s always way more femme, regardless of who I’m trying to attract or whatever. I default on that.
Yeah, even when I’m like talking with women. When I’m in a mode where I’m like, I would like to be desired right now, I default to a submissive or a feminine presentation.
I know I’ve noticed that I do too, and it bugs me but I don’t know if it matters. And then I feel stupid for judging myself in that way.
Yeah! Me too! I mean I feel like I’ve mostly gotten over judging myself, but the thing I’m trying to sort through now is like I feel I can sometimes be judgemental of other people in the way that they present their sexuality.
Sometimes, like on The Internet,* when I see like women being sexual in certain kinds of ways too, I go into this mode where I wanna be protective of them, and that response in my mind, is not really a sex positive response as a general rule.
(*emphasis added for self effacing mockery at the use of the word “The Internet” in an actual conversation.)
Interesting. I think I get jealous of people that are comfortable posting nudes because … I mean I take nudes all the time, but I never think of posting. And that’s just a personal preference. That’s not something I would do publicly but also I’m kind of jealous of people that are so comfortable with their body that they wanna put it on Instagram or whatever. Or not even comfortable. That’s the wrong way to put it. I guess I have all sorts of hangups or judgements on myself about privacy or publicness.
Yeah, I think that’s my main thing with it. I think when I notice this feeling the most often it’s because I have a really strong resistance to people that I feel are doing attention grabbing things. Like shock value or attention grabbing.
But then it’s hard to tell with younger people, like people in their early 20s right now who I’m friends with. They just post so many. I don’t know if it means the same thing to them. Like maybe they’re reading it as vulnerability?
But then it feels like very intense to me sometimes. And that’s playing off what you wrote [in our questions for each other] about sex positivity. it really made me reflect on how I have a lot of internalized sexism that I’m dealing with.
That comes up in the open relationship situation with jealousy and stuff. And how my immediate animal reactions are very sexist. Like, ‘That person is a slut.’ And I’m like what the fuck! I would never think that about anyone! But that’s like my knee jerk reaction sometimes and I’m like what the fuck, you know?
Yeah! I feel like I really have had to confront competitiveness with myself. Which, I’m not sure if that’s what you’re saying.
Yeah, also that. Yeah I think… Being a Capricorn… I compare myself with everyone too much.
Yeah, I’m about to turn 38 and I’m starting to realize that… well not that I haven’t realized this, but like that competition that we’re talking about, it feels really different to me now than it did when I was even, say 35, or 34. I feel like I’ve started to notice the ways in which women, as they age, start to become more “useless” because they’re not sex objects anymore, and more invisible because of that.
Yeah, it feels hard and scary to me. And also, I feel like I only lived a very short amount of my life where I felt confident and sexy, like I didn’t feel that way in my 20s. So like, the people that you are talking about, who maybe read [posting sexy pics] as vulnerability... Probably they do! Or like, if they don’t who cares? They’re expressing themselves and figuring out who they are.
I don’t want to feel negative about that!
Me neither! I wanna be like, ‘YES! Figure it out. All of you, yes! High fives everyone, you’re all hot and sexy!’
I know! And part of me feels that way, and part of me is always comparing myself to other people. Why can’t I be that way? Why can’t I be that hot and femme? But then that’s not what I want to be. And why is this my reaction?
I love performing femininity actually. It’s a thing that’s gotten me in trouble with other queers also who a few times have tried to police my use of the term “queer” because I present in a very straightforwardly high femme way. Women get judged for presenting too femme in certain circles that are more into queer androgyny. I don’t want to be a person who’s critical of that in other people. I feel that judgement. I don’t find that is happening a ton, but I’m just reflecting on moments where I’ve felt like, ‘Oh yeah, this thing that’s happening isn’t sex positive.’ And whether it’s me [doing it to myself] or someone assigning it to me, some of it is systemic patriarchal stuff.
I’m not ingesting this narrative of older women being cast aside. And by older I don’t mean “old” I mean just a little older than whatever is considered the primarily desired age, which is like mid 20s-mid 30s? Or like late teens to mid 30s? I just started noticing this happening recently. And so I’ve been like, I think I need to reframe for myself, What feels sex positive to me? What do my relationships need to feel like to also feel sex positive? My friendships and my romantic/intimate relationships.
It’s been weighing on me, which is why I wanted to talk about it as part of this project.
Totally, I mean… I feel so conflicted about it. I think I have very conservative defaults that I have been unlearning. I find myself very judgemental accidentally and then totally hypocritical at the same time.
Oh, Lauren… me too.
I think I’m still learning sex positivity. Sometimes I do find myself feeling uncomfortable. But then, I think I’m pretty supportive too. There’s definitely assumptions that I have to confront. I’m confronting my own discomfort with various things
Yeah yeah yeah.
I don’t want to kink shame people.
I mean I don’t have a problem of kink shaming people. I feel like I’m maybe the number one advocate in my life.
Wait, you’re a kink shamer!?
No no! I’m really good about NOT doing that. I’m like, whatever everyone wants is great!
I’m really learning that.
I feel like I got that down. I think the thing I’m really struggling with is not slut shaming or… not even slut shaming but I think like, not being a humorless queer. Which is this thing where we can’t laugh about ourselves. There’s all these things that we’re trying to unlearn.
I’m also trying to unlearn the slut shaming thing. But also as a total slut, that is hypocritical. I’m a constant hypocrite. And I’m just trying to be honest about that.
But I guess everybody is a hypocrite in some regard, maybe.
Yeah, right? And becoming more and more open to sex positivity I think.
I think what’s happening to me lately is that I thought I knew what that meant for myself and I’m needing to adjust it again.
Some people mean it in kind of an annoying way. Like there were a couple people in this festival in Germany that were like…. I don’t know… like they were a little bit too much … not sex positivity, maybe it was just like they were like too much into nonmonogamy and it was just like intense in the moment of getting to know people.
I think there’s a way that we’re still allowed to have boundaries about what we feel is appropriate. And I think that’s the thing that annoys me about like what I understand to be the culture of “polyamory.” It’s this thing that everything that’s about sex has to be sex positive, or has to be accepted by people. And I find it sort of irritating. I actually don’t only want to think about that or always think about that. And I don’t want to think about everyone sexually. It’s ok to have a relationship in which we never discuss that. And that’s not like, sex negative. It’s just like being like…
Different things with different people.
There’s all these… Well, there’s no correctness, or the kinds of things that are part of ‘normative’ culture.
No, there should be no generalization. Every situation is different. I don’t get why people don’t understand that. There should be no generalization or essentialism.
But there is, always. Often, with that. Maybe with sex positivity too. That probably is different for every person. I dunno but maybe like, I’m always going back and forth about that in my head. Like should there be standards? Or should it be specific to every situation. That’s a big debate between like critical theory and classical philosophy. Essentialism vs like, tearing it all apart.
That is what I’m struggling with right now about a lot of my understanding.
That’s something that I feel all your questions about politics and relationships, and my values…. I don’t think my values always line up with how I act in my personal relationships. And that’s something I’ve been trying to think about and reflect on. But like …. I have like urges and tendencies that definitely don’t align with my values.
I think that’s really common.
Oh, of course. I think everyone has that.
But I think people don’t confront those things as often. I think just trying to acknowledge them and sit with them and look at the contradictions is helpful.
Hopefully it’s better than not doing that!
Yes, hopefully. I mean that’s kind of what I’m banking on.
Wait! We didn’t get around to defining what sex positivity is to us! Can we just send each other our short personal definitions?
Yeah, sounds awesome.
Sex positivity is a deepening exploration of consent and pleasure; letting go; unlearning internalized oppressions (sexism, racism, ableism etc); experimenting with expansion of radical love and acceptance (Something I am trying for but not always achieving), feeling supported in your sexuality and gender identity and supporting others; healing from relational or systemic trauma; a health issue.
Sex positivity is the work of encouraging and producing a culture in which full sexual expression and pleasure is celebrated without shame or judgement by all people of all genders, racial identities, ages, abilities, economic conditions, professions, and relationship statuses/structures. Sex, sexuality, and gender expressions are free to be fluid and responsive. Consent and boundaries are respected. Harmful interactions are acknowledged in our communities and restorative actions are undertaken when harm has been done.