In 1994, Pat Califia committed her thoughts on gender, sexuality, censorship, kink, prostitution, safer sex, and leather to print in a book titled Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex. As an outspoken, self-identified leather dyke, Califia took on laymen and academics alike for “white-washing” and “sanitizing” sex and its transformative and radical abilities. She bemoaned the limiting mainstream depictions of the gay and lesbian communities, society’s inability to adequately process and accept public sex, the limitations of the right-wing feminist agenda, and the repression of healthy, consensual BDSM practices. In the years that followed, Califia revisited the text, producing a second edition in 2000 that featured additional chapters addressing other major issues such as age of consent, child pornography, slut shaming, the necessity of excess, and the importance of sex work. Califia has continued pushing sex positivity to the forefront, often using personal experiences to discuss the state of sexuality in the United States. More than a decade after the second edition of Public Sex hit the shelves, have we managed to discover the culture of radical sex Califia was seeking?
The LBGTQ communities have managed to make strides toward sexual equality. Some moderately positive representations of S/M and kink have filtered into the mainstream. Movements like the Slut Walk and Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) tireless advocacy for sex positivity in laws and social arenas has garnered support from diverse portions of the population. Women Studies, Queer Studies, and Human Sexuality courses can be found at colleges and universities throughout the nation. Looking at the surface, it certainly seems we’re heading toward the culture of radical sex Califia was searching for. However, when we take a closer look, it’s clear we haven’t made as great a gain as we may have hoped.
Almost 20 years after Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex was first published, America still finds itself struggling with most of the issues Califia took aim at in the original work. BDSM remains illegal and underground in many places. The right-wing feminist agenda has consistently sidelined or steamrolled allies from the gay, lesbian, trans, and sex worker communities, claiming their issues are outside the realm of feminism. Slut shaming remains a “natural” part of society and men or women that are openly sexual can expect to be gossiped about, shunned, or targeted for sexual harassment and assault since they’re “asking for it” with their clothing choices, flirting, or sexual history. If we hope to see serious changes to our culture of misrepresentation, repression, and silence around sexuality, more passionate people need to take up the task of pressing for accurate representations, equality, and sex positivity.
Follow Califia’s lead and unleash your inner sex radical by trying a few of the following suggestions:
1. Vote – Take time to make your voice heard. Educate yourself about items and candidates that will appear on you ballot and support sex positive laws, regulations, and legislators.
2. Volunteer at or donate to a sex positive organization – Many sex positive organizations are non-profits and have to rely on the kindness of their supports for financial and staffing assistance that allows them to continue their work.
3. Study sex – Educate yourself about sex. Take time to learn about the physical, mental, emotional, and cultural issues. The next time someone tries to feed you misinformation you’ll be prepared.
4. Live out one of your fantasies – Being a sex radical is as much about your own fun and pleasure as allowing others to find and live into theirs.
5. Have a full STD panel test done (and bring a friend) – Self-care is important and so is being a good example.
6. Purchase a sex toy, adult magazine, condoms, or other sex-oriented item without shame.
7. Cross-dress – It doesn’t matter if it’s in public or private, take a walk on the other side for a little while.
8. Write to your representatives about what kind of laws you’d like to see in place regarding issues of sexuality – Even if there’s nothing currently on the table regarding sexuality, let your representatives know where you stand. When issues arise on the topic, hopefully they’ll remember your comments.
9. Talk to someone whose sexual identity or practices differ from yours.
10. Enjoy yourself – Regardless of who or how you love, take pleasure in doing it your way!