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The Most Dangerous Woman In America

August 24, 2010

Y’all, I apologize in advance. Ever since she first introduced herself to me by casting aspersions on my mental health, making a dig involving my mother, and then calling me “baby,” I’ve known that Susan Walsh wasn’t arguing in good faith. So I have really resisted responding to her directly.

But now she’s back with more lies and distortions about what I’m advocating, claiming I think all sex should be emotionless and going so far as to say that “if more than a few outliers were to actually adopt [my] model [of sexuality], the economy, then society, would collapse.”

Allow me to introduce myself: I’m Jaclyn Friedman, the most dangerous woman in America.

Anyhow, I’m human, and it’s powerfully frustrating to sit back and watch someone put words in your mouth that you would never say, and then watch other people believe them. So, since Walsh so helpfully provided a questionnaire in her post about how dangerous and wrong I am, and since most of these questions are pretty legit questions for someone who is new to the ideas I’m espousing to have, I’ve decided to answer them, in an attempt to clear up any misunderstandings Walsh and her readers may be perpetuating have about what I’m actually advocating.

Is everybody ready? Great. Let’s dive in.

* Is there a place in our society for two people who wish to express love through sex?

There are lots of places – in fact, I think that the vast majority of people at some points in our lives use sex as a way to express and explore the love we have for another person or people. That’s awesome. For many people, including myself, sex as an expression of love is one of the most intimate and emotionally moving experiences we can have. All I’m saying is that it’s far from the only healthy way to experience sexual interaction.

* What are the implications of defining sex as a performance?

When I talk about sex as a performance as opposed to as an economic transaction, it’s not a perfect analogy, because it’s not at all about an audience. What I’m getting at is more the dynamic that happens when actors are improvising with each other in private, or musicians are jamming by themselves in someone’s living room. They’re creating something pleasurable and exciting and creative together, and it doesn’t have to mean more than that everyone is enjoying the experience to be a worthwhile thing to do.

The implications of this model are many: instead of imagining that one person is giving it up to the other, and that person is getting some, we assume that everyone voluntarily involved is enriched by the experience. It’s no longer a zero-sum game. It also removes shame from anyone who likes to jam or improv a lot – you wouldn’t say someone is a music slut, would you? It also removes the fetish our current model has for virginity – why would it be highly valued to improv with someone who’s never done it before? That person would be best served by improvising with either another beginner, or with someone who likes to teach. But it wouldn’t be considered some great accomplishment to improv with someone for whom it’s their first time. No one would be selling their virginity at auction anymore.

Some of the other implications are ones I discussed in the interview: this model doesn’t have assigned gender roles, so it doesn’t assume anything about the gender of the participants. It includes people of all genders, sexual orientations, etc.

* Is sex between two people materially different than sex among
n partners? How so?

Well, more communication is required for more people, that’s for sure! Other than that? I’m no expert on group sex, but I don’t think so. It still depends on what kinds of sex the participants are seeking. Two people can have a one-night-stand that’s just about physical pleasure just the same as four people can be in a long-term committed, closed relationship with each other and have very emotionally connected and expressive sex.

* Is it possible to know during anonymous sex if your partner is having a good time? How?

Absolutely! The same way you can tell during sex with someone you already know: through healthy direct communication and the practice of enthusiastic consent. Enthusiastic consent means that it’s your responsibility to make sure anyone you’re having a sexual interaction with is not just not-objecting, not just allowing you to do whatever you’re doing, but actively psyched about whatever’s going on. Sometimes you can tell this non-verbally, through body language, noises, etc., but that’s harder to do with someone you don’t know or don’t know well (or, honestly, any partner you’re being sexual with for the first time), and that’s why if you can’t tell, you have to ask. You can literally ask, “Are you having a good time?,” or “Is this good for you?” or you can be creative in any number of ways, but you must stay in communication with your partner throughout the sexual interaction to ensure enthusiastic consent. It’s as simple as that. And it’s your partner’s responsibility to do the same with you.

Could one or both people be lying? Sure, but that’s true with partners you know, as well. Unless you’re threatening or otherwise putting pressure on your partner, that’s ultimately not your fault. It does suck to find out that happened, and it’s important, if you want to sleep with the person again, to find out why and if you feel comfortable that it can be prevented from happening again.

* Is it possible to judge during anonymous sex if either or both parties will experience negative feelings after the fact?

There’s no way to know for sure, but if you practice healthy communication and enthusiastic consent it greatly reduces the risk that there will be. And there’s no way to know for sure that either or both parties will experience negative feelings after the fact if they already know each other either. Sometimes negative feelings come up after sex. It’s not the end of the world. If you end up feeling bad after a sexual experience to which you enthusiastically consented, that can be hard, but it’s also good information for you – listen to those feelings. Try to figure out what they’re telling you about what felt bad about the experience, and then do what you can to not put yourself in a situation again that will make you feel that way. Sometimes we have to learn about ourselves through trial and error.

* Between strangers, what does good, healthy communication look like? Can it occur without trust? Is trust possible between strangers?

Good, healthy sexual communication between strangers, beyond enthusiastic consent which I discussed above, involves being up front with your potential partners about what you are and aren’t looking for, what you like and don’t like, what safety precautions you want to take, etc., and expecting the same directness from them. Can they lie? Sure. Casual sex does have risks, and not having any experience “reading” your partner is one of them. That’s why you should always listen to your gut instincts if you have any inkling at all that this person might not be safe. But my experience is that most people who are out to scam you want an easy victim. If you require a whole bunch of frank, adult communication up front before you even meet, most of the liars are going to give up on you. Another test is to set a boundary early on and see if it’s respected. If s/he moves in for a kiss, smile and say, “I don’t know if I’m ready to kiss you just yet.” Or something like that. And then see – do they listen? Do they push? That will tell you a good deal about whether or not this is someone you can trust. You can always plant one on them 30 seconds later if you want to. ;)

Of course, the most important person to trust is yourself. Do you trust that you know what you want, sexually? Do you trust your own instincts? Do you trust your ability to set boundaries, and to walk if they’re not respected? if not, maybe having sex with strangers isn’t for you.

* Is it possible to know in group or anonymous sex if everyone is being safe? How does one “play safe” about disease and pregnancy? Are medical reports produced? Or does one trust one’s life to a stranger in good faith?

Medical reports are most welcome! I love it when there are medical reports, and am always happy to produce mine. Regardless, I rely on two things:

1) Direct, explicit questioning. Not just, do you have any STDs? I ask the following set of questions: When were you last tested? How were you tested? (I ask this b/c some people think that giving blood means they got tested for all STDs, which it most certainly does not.) What were you tested for? What were the results? How many partners have you had since you were tested, and what do you know about their STD statuses, and what protection did you use with them? Did you use it every time?

People who can’t adequately answer these questions are out. And like I said above, most people who are trying to pull one over on you will bail on or get squirrely about this level of questioning. It’s not foolproof, but neither is monogamy – many, many people have caught STDs from partners they thought were being faithful to them, and therefore were using no protection. Which brings me to #2:

2) Use protection always always always! Condoms, gloves, dams, plus an additional method of birth control if both semen and a pre-menopausal vagina are involved (I swear by my IUD). No matter how disease-free you think your partners is, you don’t know them. Use barriers + birth control always.

* Is this model an evolution away from sex as an expression of love, and the means of procreating, toward an orgiastic pleasure principle?

This model says that pleasure is a legitimate motivation for sexual encounters. It in no way precludes love or procreation as motivations for sex. And I don’t think, in this sense, that’s an evolution – people have been having sex for pleasure since there have been people. I’m just trying to make it so that women aren’t punished for it if that’s what they want.

* Does this model reflect a stunted maturation process? According to Freud, “an individual’s id follows the pleasure principle and rules in early life, but, as one matures, one learns the need to endure pain and defer gratification.”

Well, I have a degree in Psychology, and I think Freud was full of shit and had truly laughable -and unethical- research methods. So I reject the basis for this question. But if I had to answer it straight up, I’d also say: no. Practicing this model requires a person to know what they want from sex, communicate that directly with a partner, and ensure their partner is enthusiastic about what’s happening. That’s hardly a sign of stunted maturation.

* Is this model viable? What percentage of women would embrace it? Men?

There’s no way for me to throw out a number that would mean anything, because no research has been done on this. But if I judge anecdotally from the response to the Yes Means Yes anthology, from the thousands of young people I’ve spoken to in the last few years about these issues, on campuses and on my book tour, from the incredibly moving and overwhelming response to My Sluthood, Myself, then yes. Untold numbers of women and men are already embracing it. But to make this model truly viable, we need to stop punishing women for pursing sexual pleasure. We need to stop suggesting that if women are sexual and then are raped or murdered they’re “asking for it” – a charge numerous Walsh commentors have lobbed at me. We need to stop suggesting that women who pursue sex as pleasure have low self-esteem. We need to stop saying it’s better for girls to get cancer than be sexual, which is exactly the argument that was made against providing the HPV vaccine under all insurance plans. We need to stop arguing that, for poor women who have sex, pregnancy is mandatory but anesthesia during delivery is a luxury, which is what the Utah legislature is currently considering. I could go on and on with the ways our culture punishes any woman we think is a slut. For us to see how viable this model truly is, we have to stop punishing women for being sexual. That’s what my work is all about.

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2010 10:56 am

    I want to join you in this fight against her, but I feel like a deer trapped in the headlights of her idiocy.

    I hurt.

  2. August 24, 2010 10:58 am

    Awesome, as usual. My favorite part of the, I’ll be generous and say “confusion” on the part of Walsh et al. was the conflation with “performance,” in the performance-model of sex, with “not-genuine” or “fabricated.” There were quite a few comments expressing distress at what hideous side-effects making sex a performance would cause, like you and Amanda were suggesting that casual sex ought to be a show for a third party somewhere.

    It seems pretty ridiculous to me that someone would interpret the performance model so wildly incorrectly, but I’m surprised all the time these days. I guess “collaboration” might be a less complicated word to use to describe the model, but Thomas’ essay was complete enough back in YMY that I didn’t think it needed much clarification.

    Also, I may just be a crazy liberal (and one of those men-folk that Walsh seems to think so poorly of in general), but didn’t like 40 studies just come out in the past couple of months showing that casual sex doesn’t cause mental distress in teens, doesn’t hurt the chances of a relationship, and doesn’t lead to academic failure? I mean, there’s actual research to support these claims, and not a small amount of it.

    • August 28, 2010 12:11 pm

      Yeah, I think “Collaborative” model would be a better name for it. A lot of people who don’t perform music or act, only have an idea of performance as something they pay for and watch, not something they participate in. So, I can see where the confusion and manipulation of the term both come from.

      Also, you have to remember that Walsh and her ilk are heavily invested in the “women give sex for love” idea. So to them, it’s already a “performance model.” Men pay in love for the sex they give. They “sell” the performance of sex for affection. It’s bad, fucked up and wrong. But I can definitely see how that model makes it easy for them to misinterpret the concept of sex as a performance, both honestly and willfully.

  3. August 24, 2010 11:19 am

    Congratulations, Most Dangerous Woman! I hope you put that into your bio. :)

  4. Stochast permalink
    August 24, 2010 1:28 pm

    For someone with an MBA, she keeps talking about the economics of sex in a very strange way. As you say, a scarcity model would require that people have a limited amount of sex that they can “give”, yet, aside from the limitations of space, time, and personal energy, a more appropriate economic model of sex would allow for multiple “transactions”. Her perspective only makes sense if one person can only ever sleep with one other person.

    Also, a good way to tell who is on the slut-shaming side of the argument is to look out for whoever is saying that women are “asking for it.”

  5. August 24, 2010 3:01 pm

    Keep up the good work! Maaaaaaaaaaybe if women keep saying it, it will start to sink in. We can hope, anyway.

  6. August 24, 2010 7:19 pm

    I always knew you were trouble.

  7. August 24, 2010 8:40 pm

    I hate a bully and that woman is unbelievable. I hope she reads my comment. I wasn’t nasty to her, just told her like it is in my most humble opinion. I wrote:

    Hi,
    I’m not a slut, I’m a 32 year-old virgin waiting for the right man. That slipping out so you may know where my point of view is coming from, I honestly don’t see why I should condemn someone who takes her pleasure where she may. Considering some men are also that way, why should it be the woman who is disgraced? Not all men are rapacious beasts who can’t control themselves and it seems insulting to men too. Women shouldn’t be against eachh other because we have different ways of expressing our sexuality. It’s very doubtful that women will start humping every adult they see if given free reign.
    I think it’s mean to be talking about someone the way you are on your blog, bringing up trauma, and trying to stigmatize someone. Not good at all.

  8. Yodo permalink
    August 24, 2010 9:22 pm

    Jaclyn, Yes Means Yes saved me from that type of thinking she’s exhibiting and your blog continue to inspire me. I feel so much healthier and empowered about my sexuality, and my life has improved 100% since I read that book :)

    Keep on fighting the good fight. I swear the only time I hear about Walsh is when she tries to pick a fight with other women. I think thats a method to get blog hits or something, scratch your way to fame by putting other people down.

  9. August 25, 2010 12:52 am

    As a new reader of your blog, I want to say that I’ve found your work inspiring. Sluthood may not be the right path for me, but I wholeheartedly support all my friends of any gender who take that path. As someone working on degrees in both neurology and psychology, that woman is making herself sound like a complete idiot. Freud and a zero-sum commodity exchange human behavior model? Really?! Ee-gads, talk about long-debunked hypotheses. I got a headache just trying to figure out how she became so horribly misinformed and so bitterly bitchy about promiscuity.

    Congratulations on your new title! If those are the qualifications for “most dangerous,” then I hope that I may someday become slightly dangerous. :)

  10. Katy permalink
    August 25, 2010 1:23 am

    Jaclyn,
    You are an inspiration to sluts young and old everywhere! Thank goodness someone has recognized that it is finally time to come out of that shameful closet! You are sexy as hell and brilliant! I so appreciate this courageous post! You said it for all of us…now I’m gonna go out and get me some too!

  11. August 25, 2010 10:47 am

    I believe in this model 100%. Where I’m slightly stuck though is when it comes to performing sexual acts for money. I’m talking going beyond just stripping. I’ve defended many women before when my male friends have refered to them as sluts just because they like to have sex. However I’ve recently met someone who has been known to give oral for a few hundred dollars or many other things for more money. How does this fit into the model. I feel like I’d think differently about her if I didn’t know she did these things for money. But when I found out she was being payed my first instinct was to think “slut”. Which surprised me because I strive so hard to defend against the slut stereotype women get. Any thoughts?

  12. Michelle permalink
    August 26, 2010 10:49 am

    the responses I read from Susan and her supporters have this strange idea that educating guys to respect women would be neutering them, that sluts are ruining LTR’s for all the “good girls”, and there is some concern for the “good guys” who are not out screwing around who are not even getting the chance to get laid…wtf??? It is just utter bullshit that I cannot even argue with anymore. It is similar to arguing with someone who thinks Palin should run for President. Complete nonsense. Not to mention such a pathetic view of girls, that they are all out “hooking up” and regretting it 100% as though they are mindless drones. UGH. It was insulting reading that garbage..

    Keep up the good work Jaclyn! If you aren’t pissing someone off, you’re not doing it right, right?
    <3

  13. August 26, 2010 10:52 am

    Let me know if I understand Susan Walsh’s argument correctly:

    “Casual sex is bad for women becasue they often feel ashamed and guilty afterwards. In order to protect women from casual sex, we should continue to guilt and shame them for having casual sex. The reason that women sometimes feel guilty and ashamed of having casual sex while men don’t isn’t because we shame and guilt women, but not men. That’s just a coincidence, and Science™ corroborates this.”

    Do I have it about right?

  14. Anne permalink
    August 28, 2010 3:28 pm

    I think you and your work are awesome – and I’m sad you’re being misrepresented by those hateful fools.

    I think your work iis very inspiring :)

  15. Sam permalink
    August 29, 2010 10:40 pm

    Jaclyn,

    as much as I agree with your notion in general, I think the general structure of the “performance model” isn’t yet sufficiently philosophically grounded to be tactically useful in – particularly such – debates.

    I think the main problem is transcendence. Pleasure is, well, sort of, a deontological category. For someone valuing the exchange of pleasure in itself, sexuality is a transcending activity in its own right. But a deontological view of sexuality has not been that common in the timespan most people who are debating this kind of thing are aware of, whether or not they have read Foucault. So what is happening is in essence not a debate about hooking up or loss of relative value in a particular social setup due to sexual activity, but the question whether sexual pleasure needs something *ELSE* as a justifying reason or whether it is a justifying reason *in its own right*.

    There’s also the terminology – however transcendent in its own right, sexuality is not only *perceived* economically, it *is* at least part of an exchange of value – you yourself wrote about desire in a long term relationship and how immediate sexual arousal may not always be equally reciprocated, but other valued parts – enthusiasm for the entire operation – make it ok to either not have sex or have consensual, yet not fully enthusiastic sex – for love, which is an *important* value to exchange. I believe that economic language is putting off a lot of people even though they are describing the transfer of value between people, even if the value is exchanged in the same currency – sexual pleasure.

    Also, one thing –

    “Another test is to set a boundary early on and see if it’s respected. If s/he moves in for a kiss, smile and say, “I don’t know if I’m ready to kiss you just yet.” Or something like that. And then see – do they listen? Do they push? That will tell you a good deal about whether or not this is someone you can trust. You can always plant one on them 30 seconds later if you want to. ;)”

    While reasonable, I’d say that a statement like this would be torn apart in not just a few feminist discussions about questions of consent and sexual harrassment. Possibly also on *this* blog. Right? Why didn’t he *ASK* before attempting to kiss…? Was that sexual harassment? Etc. Point is, it feels a little like the sex positive position is using real-life examples like the one you’re mentioning here when arguing with people favouring a teleological approach to sexuality, but are employing a different set of standards when talking among themselves and with sex-negative feminists…

  16. Rachel permalink
    September 8, 2010 1:24 pm

    beautifully said, jaclyn.

    its sad what people will do and say when blinded by their own misogyny. but its a testament to the legitimacy and sensibility of your ideas that you can answer them calmly.

  17. September 16, 2010 8:13 am

    Yet another of the myriad ways Walsh’s argument fails is the one that bothers me the most — her sloppy, inconsistent, paradoxical, self-aggrandizing use of “love.” The definition of the term and in particular the way people treat one another when being “loving” shift radically from one sentence to the next. As an advocate of loving sex, I found this quite annoying. Another commentor, Joey, states, “I also find it alarming that you refer to sex as a ‘marketplace’ and women as the ‘suppliers’. With a depersonalizing, mechanical view such as this, how can you claim to be advocating in favour of love, commitment and respect?”

    Since both these women stand on a platform of speaking to help the generation of young women after them (so me), I have to say that I would take Jaclyn Friedman love over Susan Walsh love everyday. I have yet to experience shame and/or fear promote my or anyone else’s wellness, whereas informed and responsible risk-taking seems to be going very well for me and many others I know.

    Walsh seems to abhor pain and to largely invest in pain avoidance. She never distinguishes between the pain of trauma and the pain of healing trauma, the pain of brokenness and the pain of growth, the pain of hiding and the pain of opening up to new vulnerability and risk. All pain is bad. She clearly has no concept of healing sexual trauma, or any such growth it would seem.

    Very smart and good of you Jaclyn to answer Walsh’s questions (which I imagine she meant to be rhetorical) straight up, making good use of otherwise useless teardowns of your brilliant work and life. I took a lot from your answers, and I was already familiar with much of your other work. Thanks!

  18. Kat permalink
    September 17, 2010 8:54 am

    Kudos for facing these enraging views and misrepresentation of your ideas with aplomb.

    And thank you for continuing to share your own views in such a graceful way that it makes it difficult for anyone to oppose them, and not look ignorant and hateful in the process. I think the way you present your ideas has a lot of potential to steer people in the “right” direction who may have been misled in the past, encouraging responsibility and respect in all areas of life.

    Bravo :)

  19. September 28, 2010 9:39 am

    @Charli

    I can understand your revulsion at your friend’s ‘choice’ to accept a few hundred dollars for oral (and I assume by ‘oral’ you don’t mean poetry recitation,) as this seems to me to be the exact opposite of the ‘slut-hood’ Jaclyn seems to be describing. I think the way she defines a ‘slut’ is a woman who enjoys sex. For your pricey fellatio giving friend the sex is purely transactional, which to my mind is the exact opposite. The difference is the message each says about women, and about equality. The ‘slut’ is a woman who enjoys sex on an equal footing with her partner, the prostitute (or ‘friend who will do oral and much more for money,’) is not. I’m not against prostitution per se, as it is a choice that women make and women don’t need me (or any other men,) restricting their choice. However I do have concerns about the transactional nature and the basic inequality in the prostitute-client relationship.

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