The Most Dangerous Woman In America
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.