6 Sex-Positive Feminist Pioneers You Should Know About


Now that so many high profile women are embracing gender equality and unabashed sexual expression, is it necessary to preface "feminism" with the qualifier "sex positive"? Miley, Kim, and Beyonce are all in the position to champion the practice of pleasure while paying lip service to the fight for women's rights, but sadly the spectre of sex negativity still haunts a majority of women in different ways based upon their race, class and cultural affiliation. Because we still don't have equal access to reproductive rights, because sexual assault, victim-blaming and slut-shaming is rampant, and because the virgin/whore binary is still so very real, sex-positive feminism is — to take a cue from Salt 'N Pepa — Very Necessary.

While it is heartening that so many pop stars and actresses today feel free enough to discuss their sexual orientations and sex lives, the trend of empowered sexuality isn't new. The sex-positive feminist movement has been mounting for decades, and the sex-positive pioneers who laid the foundation for the cultural enclaves that are currently pro-sex, pro-porn, and pro-pleasure should be celebrated for their contributions.

Contrary to some criticisms of sex-positive feminism, it isn't about uncritically saying yes to sex 24/7, but actually about owning your sexuality, whatever that means to you, and supporting another woman's right to do the same — however different her expression may be from yours. So in that spirit, here are six sex-positive pioneers every young feminist should know:

1. Susie Bright

Writer and activist Susie Bright was one of the first women to be referred to as a sex-positive feminist. A social justice crusader since her youth, Bright is best known for being the co-founder and editor of On Our Backs, the only sex magazine produced by women at its inception in 1984. She also penned the first sex toy catalog geared towards women for Good Vibrations, reviewed erotic films through a feminist lens for Penthouse, and foundedThe Best American Erotica series.

2. Buck Angel

Buck Angel is a filmmaker, performer and vocal advocate for transgender rights. Angel spreads his gospel of sex-positivity and self-acceptance around the world through speaking engagements and the dissemination of his documentary about transitioning, Mr. Angel, his adult films, and his groundbreaking film series, Sexing The Transman. His mantra, "it's not what’s between your legs that defines you," embodies a core principle of both feminist thought and sex positivity.

3. Mireille Miller-Young

Mireille Miller-Young, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her work explores the boundaries between race, class, pornography and sexual representation in visual culture, a topic that is not discussed nearly enough within many sex positive feminist circles. She recently published A Taste For Brown Sugar: Black Women In Pornography, which delves into the complex history of black female sexuality in adult cinema and showcases the lived experiences of a variety of black female players in the porn world.

4. Annie Sprinkle

Annie Sprinkle is a sexologist and the first porn star to have earned her Ph.D. Throughout her 40 + year career, Sprinkle has written, produced and/or directed a variety of sex-positive and pornographic media for film and theatre in addition to lecturing widely about her practice. Much of Sprinkle's work today has an environmentalist bent: her philosophy of "ecosexuality" is a potent combination of art, activism, sexuality and ecology.

5. Carol Queen

Carol Queen is a sexologist, writer, sex educator and performer who has written extensively about sex positive feminist issues. She currently serves as staff Sexologist at Good Vibrations and as director of the Center for Sex & Culture in San Francisco. Her work on bisexuality and kink is particularly groundbreaking — Queen has written and lectured about non-normative sexualities for universities, academic journals, mainstream publications and more.

6. Candida Royalle

Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Candida Royalle was arguably the first "feminist pornographer" and a pioneering sex-positive performer and filmmaker. Royalle was also the first erotic filmmaker to be invited to become a member of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, and until her death on September 7, 2015, she dedicated herself to preaching the gospel of sexuality without stigma, foregrounding female pleasure for decades before it was trendy to do so. Her legacy looms large within the field of sex-positive feminism and beyond.

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Images: Susie Bright/Wikipedia; Buck Angel/Wikipedia; DrMireille/Twitter; Annie Sprinkle/Wikipedia; Carol Queen/Wikipedia; Getty Images