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Sex-positive feminism, sometimes known as pro-sex feminism, sex-radical feminism, sexually liberal feminism, or individualist feminism, is a movement that was formed in the early 1980s. Some became involved in the sex-positive feminist movement in response to efforts by anti-pornography feminists, such as Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, to put pornography at the center of a feminist explanation of women’s oppression (McElroy, 1995). Other, less academic sex-positive feminists became involved not in opposition to other feminists, but in direct response to what they saw as patriarchal control of sexuality. Authors who have advocated sex-positive feminism include Susie Bright, Betty Dodson, and Pat Califia.
Sex-positive feminism centers around the idea that sexual freedom is an essential component of women’s freedom. As such, sex-positive feminists oppose legal or social efforts to control sexual activities between consenting adults, whether these efforts are initiated by the government, other feminists, opponents of feminism, or any other institution. They embrace sexual minority groups, endorsing the value of coalition-building with members of groups targeted by sex-negativity. Sex-positive feminism is connected with the sex-positive movement.
Gayle Rubin (Rubin, 1984) summarizes the conflict over sex within feminism:
…There have been two strains of feminist thought on the subject. One tendency has criticized the restrictions on women’s sexual behavior and denounced the high costs imposed on women for being sexually active. This tradition of feminist sexual thought has called for a sexual liberation that would work for women as well as for men, The second tendency has considered sexual liberalization to be inherently a mere extension of male privilege. This tradition resonates with conservative, anti-sexual discourse.
The cause of sex-positive feminism brings together activists against censorship, queer activists, feminist scholars, sex radicals, producers of pornography and erotica, among others (though not all members of these groups are necessarily both feminists and sex-positive people). Sex-positive feminists reject the vilification of male sexuality that is often promoted by radical feminists, and instead embrace the entire range of human sexuality. They argue in favor of giving women the same sexual opportunities as men, rather than restricting male sexual expression in the form of pornography (Queen, 1996). Sex-positive feminists generally reject sexual essentialism, defined by (Rubin, 1984) as “the idea that sex is a natural force that exists prior to social life and shapes institutions”. Rather, they see sexual orientation and gender as social constructs that are heavily influenced by society.