In 1990, while she was studying sexology at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, Carol Queen, PhD, started her job as Staff Sexologist for the feminist sex toy shop Good Vibrations. Since then, she's been publishing books, giving talks, writing essays, and doing interviews (including this one) about sex, feminism, and where they intersect.
Queen first got into sexology as an LGBT activist in the 70s, when she realized homophobia was a subset of sex-negativity. In other words, LGBT people were among many whose sexual expression was restricted. This got her interested in sex-positivity: What would it mean to give everyone an equal right to express themselves sexually, and how would that affect marginalized groups in other areas of life?
"[Sex-positivity] really appealed to me as a big and inclusive way to talk about the many ways that sexuality and sexual orientation and diverse identities are demonized and discriminated against and what an alternative to that might look like," Queen tells Bustle. Over the past few debates, Queen has been fighting to destigmatize every form of sexual expression except non-consensual — and help people understand consent.
Since starting her work, she's seen many changes (some depressingly small) in how we have and view sex. Here are some of them.
1. Sex Positivity Has Become More Intersectional
More marginalized groups are being considered in sex-positive circles, Queen says. We're having discussions, for example, about how people with disabilities can have amazing sex lives and how trans people's partners can support them. And thank god we've reached that point, because it's these people who need sex positivity the most.
2. Feminism Is Finally Starting To Accept Sex Workers
Queen spent the first few decades of her career contending with feminists who equated heterosexual sex with male domination, porn with degradation, and sex work with disempowerment. Now, there's still a lot of stigma associated with sex work, but mainstream feminism is finally concerned with sex workers' rights, she says. And rather than demonize all porn or sex work, we're developing a more nuanced understanding of what constitutes oppression.
3. Women Care More About Their Own Pleasure
In 1998, Sex and the City came along to show us it's OK for women to have sexual desires. Sixteen years later, Broad City taught us it's OK for women to prioritize those desires above their partners' — and to not even want a partner. The questions women have asked Queen reflect these changes.
"I really am noticing... questions having to do with orgasm and sexual pleasure and comfort from women who are seeing so many more images of female sexual agency and fun around it, whether they're doing it via watching porn or just seeing it on television — these frisky, happy women, a trope we've all seen now," she says.
4. People Still Don't Quite Get Consent
Even as more and more women speak out against sexual assault, Queen is concerned that the we're focused on the wrong aspects of the recent scandals by criticizing the alleged perpetrators' appearances and sexual preferences rather than the accusations. From Samantha Bee telling Harvey Weinstein "Your dick is ugly" to Seth Meyers saying in an "A Closer Look" segment about Charlie Rose, "Usually when someone that old is walking around naked, a couple of male nurses lead him right back to his room," people have been body-shaming instead of shaming the alleged abuse.
Queen wonders if we're regressing back to sex-negativity by criticizing sexual acts for any reason other than being non-consensual. "I still worry that it's to shame sex as a whole as opposed to non-consensual acts," she says. "Sex is not the same as sexism."
5. Sex Is Everywhere Now, But Sex Ed Is Still Lacking
The internet makes it a piece of cake to find whatever porn you want in seconds. But that doesn't mean we know more about sex than we used to. We're still learning that women can orgasm through intercourse alone, that men's pleasure is the most important kind, and plenty of other harmful myths from mainstream porn.
Queen would like to see technology leveraged to instead give us accurate information about sex. We're already seeing that, with sites like O.school and Tabú, and hopefully, as more of these pop up, people will be less reliant on porn for sex ed.
"That's the next thing besides tearing down rape and abuse: successful communication and understanding about how real bodies function in a sexual situation," says Queen, "so people can get on with it and have the orgasmic sex that they think sex positivity is promising them."