Sex-Positive Feminism's Values in Search of the Law of Pleasure

The Oxford Handbook of Feminism and Law in the United States (Deborah L. Brake, Martha Chamallas & Verna Williams, eds.), Oxford University Press, 2021 Forthcoming

Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 20-07-01

27 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2020

See all articles by Susan Frelich Appleton

Susan Frelich Appleton

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: July 6, 2020

Abstract

In challenging traditional stereotypes of female sexualities centered on passivity, subordination, harm, and repronormativity, sex-positive feminism’s proponents criticize legal feminism generally for undervaluing women’s pleasure, which they celebrate. Yet these proponents often struggle with charting a supportive and affirmative course for law and legal institutions, which have long fostered sex negativity.

This essay proceeds in three parts. Part I identifies sex positivity not as a distinct theory but rather as a thread that runs through multiple iterations and eras of feminisms, sometimes expressly and at other times latently, as a potential answer to criticisms and problems. Along the way, this Part demonstrates the importance of power and power disparities in sex-positive feminism and the role of gender. Part II turns to the place of law and legal institutions in sex-positive feminism, juxtaposing prevailing critiques of law’s sex negativity with promising opportunities for change. Part III continues on this note of optimism, consulting popular culture for possibilities to support a more fully developed sex-positive and feminist legal regime.

This essay will appear as the chapter on sex-positive feminism in the Oxford Handbook of Feminism and Law in the United States (Deborah L. Brake, Martha Chamallas & Verna Williams, eds.), Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2021.

Keywords: sex, pleasure, feminisms, power, sex education, BDSM, popular culture

Suggested Citation

Appleton, Susan Frelich, Sex-Positive Feminism's Values in Search of the Law of Pleasure (July 6, 2020). The Oxford Handbook of Feminism and Law in the United States (Deborah L. Brake, Martha Chamallas & Verna Williams, eds.), Oxford University Press, 2021 Forthcoming, Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 20-07-01 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3644689

Susan Frelich Appleton (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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