Sexual Labouration: Unexamined Sex Positivity is Bullshit

By Bracy Appeikumoh

On an anti-feminist message board, a man proclaims:

Girls will say female privilege doesn’t exist and then pay rent with pictures of their butthole.

His fellow incels rally around him and cheer to proclaim that he has won the internet for the day. This post is screenshotted and shared, the OP is now based and has owned the feminists with his eloquent arguments.

In WAP, Megan Thee Stallion boasts about how her body is so banging that guys are willing to cede tuition money, cars, and phones just for a chance with her. This becomes the synecdoche for a summer plagued by economic insecurity and a wave of women turning to online content subscription services to survive this hellscape.

My Twitter timeline is littered with women touting how OnlyFans has gotten them their dream car or dream house or dream apartment, meanwhile I sit and wonder about the security of my future. These success stories (which are now virtually inescapable) make this a tempting prospect, but what does it mean for a woman to find greater financial reward in posting pictures of herself online than in anything else that she does? (And let’s be real, these success stories are not the majority).

Women seeing and seeking greater financial freedom through OnlyFans serves to prove beauty is the only currency afforded to women and we are meant to leverage that in pursuit of acquiring other things.

There is a narrative forming around OnlyFans and other virtual sex work that posits that it is meant to be sex positive, an avenue for women to unabashedly express their sexuality. Are there women who enjoy getting jiggy with it on camera? Of course, and they have fun doing so and reap the rewards. However, there are a lot of nuances and subtleties involving our various behaviors and decisions. To quote Ann Swidler’s Culture in Action: Symbols & Strategies, “Publicly available meanings facilitate certain patterns of action, making them readily available.” [1] Yes there are women who like being sexy because it’s fun, but do I dress sexy because I want to dress sexy or do I dress sexy because I know the types of reactions I will get for being sexy? I am not against sex positivity, I am just wondering why the arch of sex positivity bent toward patriarchal sexuality? Sex positivity has turned into this gotta catch ‘em all term that is being exploited by the patriarchy to repackage misogyny as empowerment. From what I’ve gathered, OnlyFans is empowering because:

  1. The attention brought to our bodies is flattering and affirming in a society that sees female bodies as either “fuckable or invisible” [2]
  2. Money is money, heck, being financially independent and free from lecherous corporate overlords bosses will make anyone feel like they’re King of the world

This “empowerment” narrative is often created and curated by those who already had some form of privilege prior to entering sex work. As Suprihmbé (ThotScholar) points out in her essay, heauxthots: Defined/Definers: My thoughts on common terminology around erotic labor & trafficking, “the sex worker movement is dominated by white women who are usually better off than me, or academics and researchers who feel they set the standard for the rhetoric/theory surrounding our [sex workers’] issues.” [3]

Another distressing facet of this co-opted sex positivity is that female sexuality is always projected inward, toward her own body, whereas male sexuality projects outwards onto the female body. A woman expresses her sexuality by uploading her nudes and lewds to OnlyFans, a man expresses his sexuality by downloading said woman’s nudes. Our sex positivity has only worked to eroticize the same gender dynamics that are already staples in our lives i.e. it’s bland, uncreative, and male gaze-reliant.

Because we judge the female body on its appearance and have been able to commidify that judgement, sex work is inextricable from the female body. (And before anyone says we judge everyone on appearance, let’s just say you don’t need a fucking PhD to see that there’s a concrete difference between a man taking a shower, putting on a suit, dabbing on some cologne in order to be presentable and a woman squeezing herself into a waist trainer, wearing booty-popping shorts, using boob tape, feeling pressured into getting a BBL, lip fillers, skin bleaching, botox, lace fronts and hair extensions, contour, body makeup, hip dip fillers, false eyelashes, shaving all the hair on their bodies, labiaplasties, breast lifts, breast implants, fake nails, and fucking high heels. Women have to go full-on cyborg on this quest in pursuit of ever evolving beauty ideals). [4]

If sex positivity wasn’t about placating the male gaze, the male body (in its entirety) would be given the same amount of camera attention on porn sets. If sex positivity wasn’t about placating the male gaze then there would be a large selection of POV cunnilingus scenes. If sex positivity wasn’t about placating the male gaze, ManyVids wouldn’t sort and filter straight porn by breast size. But that isn’t the case now is it?

Endnotes

[1] Swidler, Ann. “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies.” American Sociological Review, vol. 51, no. 2, 1986, p. 273., doi:10.2307/2095521.

[2] Dines, Gail. Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. Beacon, 2010.

[3] suprihmbé / ThotScholar. “Heauxthots: Defined/Definers: My Thoughts on Common Terminology around Erotic Labor & Trafficking.” Medium, Heauxthots by Thotscholar, 9 Sept. 2019, medium.com/heauxthots/heauxthots-de%EF%AC%81ned-de%EF%AC%81ners-my-thoughts-on-common-terminology-around-erotic-labor-trafficking-f9df45ea2b9a.

[4] BBL, stands for Brazilian Butt Lift, a specialized fat transfer procedure that augments the size and shape of the buttocks without implants.

Feature Image: Getty Images, by Justin Sullivan. https://www.gettyimages.com/search/photographer?assettype=image&family=editorial&photographer=Justin%20Sullivan&sort=mostpopular#license

Bracy Appeikumoh is a Sarah Lawrence College Creative Writing (Speculative Fiction) MFA candidate who writes to imagine a world wholly different from our own. She explores issues such as sexuality, gaze theory, the subversive effects of fandom culture, and internet culture. Also a nerd.

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