The following is a passage excerpted from the Introduction of Nina Hartley's latest book, Nina Hartley's Guide to Total Sex. Although the book as a whole is more of an "how to" guide on manuevering through the maze of roses and thorns and ultimate pain and pleasure that is human sexuality; this particular excerpt is where Nina lays out her basic philosophy of sexual freedom from a definite progressive, sex-positive feminist, and sexual liberationist perspective. I post this as a response to all those who continue to insist that those of us who call ourselves "sex-positive" are simply the negation of those we call "sex-negative".
Sexual Liberation: In and Out of Fashion but Always in Style (pp. 5-9)
If there is one thing we've all found out during the past half-century, it's that sex doesn't exist in a political vacuum. As a woman and a feminist, I developed my own sexual politics from the ideas of others and my own life experiences. They're simple in theory but not always easily applied. They require rigorous honesty and a willingness to learn. I believe the body's innate capacity to experience sexual pleasure is an inherent good, requiring no validation by external authority, but I also understand its power commands respect. My core position is that, between consenting adults, nothing short of physical harm is forbidden, no form of sexual activity inherently immoral. For that to be true, consent has to be real. Consent is not the absence of "no." It is a statement of shared intent that must be continually renewed. Every party to an act must fully understand and wilingly choose to participate. Within these parameters, all choices should be honored. That's been my message for more than twenty years, and I'm sticking to it.
These beliefs have broad implications from which I don't shy away. I believe that all womnen must have complete access to the full spectrum of reproductive choice. Without control over fertility, women cannot be equal partners in sexual self-realization, as nature makes the stakes so much higher for us. I believe all consenting adults have the right to private pleasure without fear of government intrusion or hostile social scrutiny. As you would expect, I consider the viewing of erotic materials part of that sacrosanct zone of private pleasure. I do not believe that all sexual relationships are, or should be, struggles for political power. We all have a say in how political we allow the personal to be.
Sexual liberation requires that we take full responsibility for our actions and that no outside agency or church, state, or social organization should be allowed to do that for us. I believe that sexual jealousy is not "natural" but learned and that it can also be unlearned. I believe that we each have within us all the love and joy we need (with plenty left over to share with others), and that only fear and conditioning prevent us from accessing those feelings. I believe that our bodies and our feelings, if honored and trusted, can lead us to our best lives, despite our diverse backgrounds. I realize that these ideas have been vigorously challenged from many quarters. Though I've submitted my own thinking to the test of daily life and the ongoing examination of what Zen calls "the beginner's mind," I remain an unabashed sexual liberationist in the broadest sense. My agenda is not hidden.
Sex, in its purely physical expression, has no intristic meaning. We, as adults, must give it meaning each and every time we choose to be intimate with one another. The beauty of the body is that it has its own wisdom, its own language, and its own timetable. Physiology has no "right" or "wrong." Friction on the flesh produces the release of neurotransmitters that, in turn, stimulate regions of the brain. Our skin is our largest organ. Not only does it keep our insides in and pathogens out; it also transmits sensations….and some square inches are more sensitive to attention than others. Caring touch keeps infants healthy, and lack of touch will create a condition called "failure to thrive," a potentially life-threatening syndrome most commonly seen in institutionalized children….though it can occur in any child lacking adequate care.
Only though touch do we learn at the most basic, nonverbal level that we are loved, safe, and important to our caregivers. How we are touched in infancy and early childhood directly affects the development of our brains, particularly the ability to form healthy attachments in later life. It's not just essential in childhood; we need it all through life. In adulthood, one form that need takes is erotic desire. It's inevitable, eternal, purposeful, and precious. It's also anarchic, distracting, subversive, and frequently quite selfish.
Every culture has rules and limitations surrounding sexual behavior, though we often fail to take that into account when our own choices are in question. In our search for personally satisfying erotic lives, we must understand how the culture of our childhood affects us today. Was it particularly modest? Free and open about nudity? Judgmental of unconventional sexualities? Shame based? Fear based? Did it stress comformity or encourage individuality?
All through life, emotional connection starts with physical contact, through the dominant "romantic" conception of relationships as constructed by our culture insists otherwise. When we open up our exploration of sex, we find it infinitely more complex and nuanced than we ever imagined. Many forces are in play when we allow ourselves to be sexual, and we need to be aware of their influences. While sex itself may be "natural," in humans, all sexual behavior is learned.
In order to be whole, we can and must learn what kind of sexual expression is authentic for us and own it, choose for ourselves what restraints to put on it, and ultimately make peace with it. I believe that this happens anyway, whether conscious or not….which is why consciousness is so important. Human beings have proven miraculously resistant to ferocious external pressures on their sexuality. Western civilization has inveighed against the sinful excesses of sexuality for centuries and seen no reduction in them whatsoever. Clearly, like it or not, individual sexual choice will always be in individual hands….and that's exactly where I think it belongs. I put my faith in the basic good intentions and good sense of human beings when it comes to sex.
It's worth every tear, every struggle, and every heartache to make peace with our sexual selves, even if we never choose to share our bodies. When we are truly centered in this way, we no longer fear the opinions of others or need to judge what others do. Our first and most important relationship is that with ourselves, and coming to terms with our bodies is the cornerstone of that relationship. Grounded in self-acceptance, we can build healthy relationships based on love and respect instead of desperation and deceit. There is so much more on the line than momentary pleasure. When total sex is a legitimate end to itself, its most important function is as a strong foundation for emotional intiimacy. That is its ultimate satisfaction.
When I talk about "total sex," I don't just mean "totally hot sex" or "totally rockin' sex," though these are certainly desirable goals in themselves. I mean sex that involves us totally, encompassing all the biological and emotional forces at work inside that remarkably sensitive envelope through which we feel the physical world.
That's the kind of sex I've learned to have….and you can, too.
[Slight varations in syntax by me, but the words are all Nina's, posted with her permission.
Copyright 2006 Avery Press, with addition permission from Nina Hartley/Ira S. Levine]
And they say that all we care about are our erections and "moist pussies"?? Ahhhh…yeah.