What’s driving the anti-sex backlash? | life and style
Owhat everyone does apparently,’ my boyfriend said last night when talking about heating bills, ‘buys an electric heated hoodie from Aldi’, and that’s when that I knew it had happened. The anti-sex backlash was there.
He has been whispering for a while now, the threat of a compressed reaction to the past decades of sex positivity and a general softening of attitudes towards sex and sexuality. It culminated last month with a number of headlines asking, “Was Mary Whitehouse ahead of her time?” The thoughtful emoji comes into its own here, its yellow face and furrowed brow doing the work of a thousand thoughts. With his contemplative finger, he considers the claim: morality campaigner Whitehouse has been outspoken about the dangers of pornography.
But Whitehouse was also a homophobic lunatic, outspokenly against marriage equality and feminism, arguing that the BBC was at the center of “a plot to remove the myth of God from men’s minds” and that homosexuality was caused by abnormal parental sexual relations “during pregnancy”. or right after”, saying: “Sixty percent of homosexuals who go for treatment recover completely”. She reportedly applauded Boris Johnson’s exclusion of trans people from the Conversion Therapy Bill. The question then seems to be, not “Was Whitehouse ahead of her time?” but “Is time making a shrill U-turn to catch up with its conservative queen?”
In philosopher Amia Srinivasan’s brilliant collection of essays, The right to sex, she recounts her surprise at the reaction of her female students at Oxford University to the sex-negative feminism of the 1970s and 1980s: having seen the effects of pornography on their own lives, they were deeply sympathetic. They weren’t the only ones. new statesman columnist Louise Perry publishes The case against the sexual revolution, which argues for “a new sexual culture built around dignity, virtue and restraint”. It is likely to find a hungry audience in the “puriteen” generation, supposedly because it turns its back on sex positivity and, in some cases, sex itself. But from this distance, it seems clear that, on the whole, sex isn’t the issue. The problem is that sex continues to be used, not for pleasure, function or boredom, but as a political missile.
Like Whitehouse, conservatives today continue to see themselves as anti-establishment rebels, marching into battle with only their decency and common sense to protect them. Sometimes also, of course, a firearm. As Puritan politics spread, marginalized groups are feeling the first pinches. It is no coincidence that in the first few months of 2022 alone, more legislation targeting LGBTQ+ people has been introduced in America (aiming to criminalize transgender health care and ban transgender children from participating in sports). for young people) than any year so far.
Anti-trans activists on social media claim that trans people ‘cure’ children, a chilling word that crops up again and again today in right-wing discourse, especially in the US around new Florida legislation what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. . It’s a particularly crazy and cynical tactic, using the reality of child abuse to sow panic over predatory behavior, the intention being to sow the idea that LGBTQ+ adults are untrustworthy and should live under the threat of criminalization, surveillance and, inevitably, violence.
Since Disney said it would no longer support the bill (which prohibits teachers from discussing the existence of LGBTQ+ people), the company has become a focal point of far-right furor, with extremist American politicians, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene warning that Disney “wants to take your children completely and they want to indoctrinate them into sexual and immoral filth”. bought at the merchandising stand. “Take me all the way!”
No wonder there’s an anti-sex backlash, when today sex and the threat of sex is routinely presented as something inherently dangerous, whether it’s dating apps or Disneyworld. But despite the illusion that we live in a sexually liberated culture and despite the internet revealing new depths and flavors of lust, I think the backlash is happening because we were never truly liberated. Not from the model of sex designed by men, nor from the threat of violence or sexual shame or even from the idea that sex is necessarily important, political or identity. Despite the island of love and sex and the cityit seems that the sex-negative feminism of the 1970s and 80s never really died out, as so many of the issues that motivated it were brushed aside rather than destroyed.
The anti-sex sentiments rising today draw on historical wounds and the lessons that sexual liberators tried to teach – that sex was powerful and meaningful and greater than the sum of its parts – are being manipulated and militarized daily, by bad people in bad faith. I’ll be watching this culture war unfold from a middle-aged perspective, in my asexual, but at least comfy, heated hoodie.