Friday 28 July 2017

Teen Vogue and Anal Sex

Content note: discusses sexual violence, transphobia and anal sex.

The tidal wave of critique Teen Vogue set off by writing an anal sex 101 post a few weeks back has just washed up in Aotearoa, with various NZ feminist Facebook sites posting criticisms labeling Teen Vogue misogynist or just plain "not woke."

Our feminist sites are not including the Christian fundamentalists and moral conservatives flack - that sex is dirty, bad and should only be joylessly discussed by someone's parents.  Well, that's a little facetious, but it's been a long time since I've seen "sodomy" so liberally sprinkled through my feed. 

The Teen Vogue article opens:
When it comes to your body, it’s important that you have the facts. Being in the dark is not doing your sexual health or self-understanding any favors.

With that sentiment in mind, we’re here to lay it all out for you when it comes to anal sex.  It's important that we talk about all kinds of sex because not everyone is having, or wants to have, "penis in the vagina" sex. If you do have "penis in the vagina" sex and are curious about something else, or are finding that that type of sex is not for you and you'd just like to explore other options, it's helpful to know the facts. Even if you do learn more and decide anal sex is not a thing you'd like to try, it doesn't hurt to have the information.
If you're not comfortable reading about anal sex, that's perfectly OK, too. We have plenty of other articles around a variety of issues and wellness. Feel free to click out if you'd like! No pressure at all.
It goes on to describe how anal sex works  making a distinction between "prostrate owners" and "non-prostrate owners" in terms of kinds of sexual pleasure someone can expect.  It's factual, accurate as far as I can tell with my non-prostrate owning body, and focused on consent:
Whether you are planning to give or receive anal sex, a conversation must take place beforehand. Enthusiastic consent is necessary for both parties to enjoy the experience.
Asking for anal can be a bit daunting, no matter who you are. Have a one-on-one with your partner and let them know that this is something you want to try. Be honest about your feelings about it. In a healthy relationship, you should be able to discuss anything openly. Everyone wants to have a good experience.

This resource gives people wanting to negotiate anal sex a good sense of how bodies work, it's queer and trans inclusive (through not using ideas of "women" or "men" which don't include trans and non-binary people, and not making assumptions about who is doing what), and it talks about consent.  Not just in the passages I've highlighted, but through the article making explicit that while anal sex might be some folks cup of tea, for others it won't be on the bucket list, and that's just fine.

And the feminist critique?  Well, a little bit like the moral brigades, there's some fairly explicit lip-curling about sex going on in Meghan Murphy's response:
Yes, some women claim to enjoy anal sex, which is fine, if true, but failing to discuss these basics in an article presenting itself as sex positive, body positive, and educational, is incredibly weird.
Nothing more anti-feminist, frankly, than not believing things women "claim," particularly in relation to things sexual.  When women's "claims" of sexual violence say, are queried in terms of their "truth", most people who call themselves feminist know which side we are on. 

This particular aspect - the sex-negativity, and therefore conflation of anal sex with sexual violence - screams out in these critiques.
I am terrified reading a study by Dr Cicely Marston from the London School Of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine titled “Anal heterosex amongst young people..”. (BMJ 2014) Some of the comments from girls who have experienced painful attempts at coerced anal sex are difficult to read as a both a feminist and as a mother.
I hope that author would find people's descriptions of painful attempts at coerced vaginal sex just as horrifying.  Because the issue here is consent, not what kind of sexual activity folks are engaging in.

And then there is the transphobia.  Ms Murphy's blog - and the others that follow - literally drip with the stuff:
The problem is that the article included a glaring anatomical error, failed to address any of the larger contexts surrounding anal sex and women (namely, patriarchy), and completely erased women from the conversation. Literally. Neither the word “woman” or the word “female” appear once in the entire article. Even the diagram depicting female and male anatomy uses the terms “prostate owner” and “non-prostate owner” (uncomfortably reminiscent of Green Party Women’s call to “non-men” last year), and Engle uses the term “vagina owners” in order to avoid uttering the horribly offensive word, “women.”    
The glaring anatomical error here is not Teen Vogue's, but the idea that talking about women without including trans women is acceptable, particularly in an article about sexual health.  The idea that trans men will have their experiences covered when it's assumed all men have penises.  And yes, Ms Murphy, some folks will not know where it place themselves in an article about "men and women", and some of us are not even only having sex with people with different genders.

Ms Murphy has quite some form here, leaving Rabble in Canada after petitions from many feminist groups challenged her writing. Her Feminist Current site seems to promote transphobia pretty regularly:
In April 2017, Riley J Dennis, a writer, YouTuber, and trans activist, who identifies as “a non-binary transwoman” and is in a relationship with a woman (which you’d be forgiven for assuming is simply a heterosexual relationship), posted a video asking the question, “Are genital preferences transphobic?”
Feminism can and should be debating what consent means, what sex looks like when it's fun for everyone involved, how we include all kinds of women in our conversations about sexist oppression, including in relation to sex.  But that's not what these feminist critiques are doing.  I'm sad to see them being promoted by established feminist groups in New Zealand.  To be honest, I expected a better level of analysis.

I'll be over here, reading Teen Vogue.


ChundaMars said...

Wow, what an innocuous article to complain about. I hadn't read the article itself until just now but I had seen some stories pop up in my feed about "Christian Moms" complaining, which surprises nobody when an article like this comes up, but feminist groups? Seriously?

I guess it just goes to show that sometimes people are so blinded by their own biases they read way too much into somebody else's words.

Thanks for your sensible take on it LJ.

Anonymous said...

Wow, just wow... I must be one of those woman who not only "claim" to enjoy anal sex, but also orgasm from it. Now where is my butt plug & lube...

CJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Moxon Ivery said...

"Nothing more anti-feminist, frankly, than not believing things women "claim," "

I remember how sceptical you were, LJ, when other women told you they enjoyed shaving their pubic hair / having sex with a partner with shaven pubic hair.

I also recall other bloggers here (not you, admittedly) who said they "couldn't imagine" any woman would ever enjoy certain types of group sex.