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photo of a young white woman on the New York slutwalk holding up a sign that says consent is sexy, with lipstick kisses on it

On Wednesday, Hugo Schwyzer wrote a piece at Jezebel titled “He wants to jizz on your face, but not why you think”. For many reasons which I won’t go into, this was a pretty awful piece (it’s been taken apart at Tiger Beatdown and GarlandGrey by people far better than I). Essentially, Schwyzer seemed to be saying that since facials weren’t always about degrading a woman, but rather sometimes a “cleansing” act for a man, it was totally cool for women to like them (and even appeared to imply that they “should” like them).

This is obviously wrong. No one should feel like they “should” perform a sexual act they are not comfortable with for their partner. Even if self-styled patriarchal “feminist” Hugo Schwyzer says it’s cool.

However, that’s not what I want to talk about. In the furore surrounding Schwyzer’s article, there was a rather disturbing theme emerging in comment sections and on Twitter and other corners of the internet, and that was some feminists saying that he was obviously wrong and trying to find an “excuse” for facials, which are always inherently degrading, and no woman should perform one.

Now, here follows a small rant:

Firstly, I am sick to the back teeth of the “pathologising” of fetishes. Even if all facials are degrading, (and without going into too much detail, I am somewhat unconvinced by that) so what? Some people like being “degraded” (OBVIOUSLY there are limitations to this which I will return to), and no more can you “pray the gay away” than can you “feminism the sub away” (I tried to make it rhyme, but nothing rhymes with “feminism”). These desires don’t mean that said woman has been “coerced” or “brainwashed by the patriarchy”, and to try to dismiss them in this way is removing women’s sexual agency. This is A Bad Thing.

A caveat – when speaking in this way I am clearly talking about people who, with their partner(s), have decided between themselves and given “good consent” to a certain sexual act. No one should ever, ever feel pressured into doing something they don’t want to do.

But it must be said equally that no one should feel pressured by outside forces into not doing something they do want to do. That’s one of the reasons slut shaming is such a bad thing. No one except an individual and their partner(s) should decide what they do or do not do in the bedroom (or wherever).

Just because you might find something “icky”, does not mean it is wrong or that people should not do it (as the Crown Prosecution Service found out last week). There is also a strong case to be made for kinky or BDSM sex being more “feminist” than “straight” sex (in that it encourages more discussion of boundaries and clearer ‘good consent’ than just getting down to it).

One of the tenets of contemporary feminism is that women should be given choices and that we should trust that they will make the choices that best suit them, their lives, their preferences and their personal histories. Once we remove a certain consensual sexual act from the table by declaring it “not feminist” we are effectively removing the choice from the women involved. This is the antithesis of a feminism based on personal freedoms and the right to explore one’s sexuality free from paternalistic notions of what’s “good” and what is “bad”.

In sum – if Nadine Dorries, Stephen Green or the British Government don’t get to stick their noses into people’s bedrooms, neither do you.

Photo by ctrouper, shared under a Creative Commons licence.