'Freedom to' and 'freedom from': A new vision for sex-positive politics

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66 Scopus citations


While the sex-positive movement has made a significant contribution to the advancement of women's sexuality, much of this work has emphasized 'positive liberty,' that is, women's freedom to expand sexual expression and sexual diversity. This work has largely ignored women's freedom from oppressive mandates and requirements about their sexuality, that is, 'negative liberty.' Drawing upon anarchist theories from the 19th and 20th centuries, political theories of positive and negative liberty, early radical feminist arguments, and the infamous 'sex wars' of the 1980s, the fundamental tension between women's freedom to do what they want, and freedom from doing what others require of them, proves a critical juncture in feminist understandings of sexual freedom. To illustrate this, I examine seven key examples where women are caught between joyous celebrations of sexual progress and disturbingly regressive attacks on their sexual empowerment: orgasm, sexual satisfaction, treatment for sexual dysfunction, rape and sexual coercion, body hair as 'personal choice,' same-sex eroticism, and sexual fantasy. Ultimately, I argue that the sex-positive movement must advance its politics to include a more serious consideration of the freedom from as it relates to the freedom to. In doing so, tensions around the 'sex wars' could evolve into a more cohesive and powerful feminist movement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-290
Number of pages24
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Sex positive
  • anarchism
  • radical feminism
  • sex radical
  • sexual subjectivities
  • women's sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Anthropology


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