Tuesday, May 29, 2007

LESBIAN SEX CULTURES: Part One – Self-Determination


Recently, I read an article that said that gay men had a more developed sex culture than lesbians. I took umbrage. In fact, there are highly developed lesbian sex cultures. Granted, they may not be found prominently at the Folsom Street Fair nor in back rooms in bars, but lesbian sex cultures have benefited every person in the United States, and, I would argue, they have benefited people beyond the U.S. borders. To suggest that the sex cultures among lesbians are less developed than among gay men is specious, but more importantly such a suggestion is harmful to us all.

Lesbian sex culture, which I’ll speak of now in the singular, though that singular is not monolithic. I use the singular, lesbian sex culture, with the understanding that lesbian sex culture is a variegated, multiplicitous composite of a variety of cultures. Fundamentally, lesbian sex culture is premised on two values. The first value is that everyone has a right to determine for him or herself what to do with his or her body. The second value is that everyone has a right to experience a pleasurable and fulfilling sexuality. These two values provide the foundation of lesbian sex culture and extend beyond the lesbian community to impact broader notions about sexuality.

Let me begin by exploring the first value. It bears repeating. Everyone has a right to determine for him or herself what to do with his or her body. In short, everyone has a right to sexual self-determination.

This value of sexual self-determination has been manifested in lesbian sex culture in a variety of ways. One expression of this value is the work of lesbians, in conjunction with heterosexual men and women, to ensure reproductive rights. Reproductive rights, whether they are access to birth control or to abortion or to just basic, common-sense information about sexuality, emanate from a public sex culture that lesbians have created.

A public sex culture is not simply formulated as public sex acts. That is too simplistic. Public sex cultures make sex and sexuality visible so that it can enter the public discourse. The notion of reproductive rights found its expression and public entry, in part, through lesbian sex culture. This isn’t to say that the notion of reproductive rights was created by lesbians; it wasn’t, though lesbians were intimately involved with the work to create it. Rather, lesbian sex culture—our experience of our sexuality as both a private and a public experience deserves protection and expression—was central to the creation and public embrace of reproductive rights.

Another way that sex and sexuality are made visible is in sexuality education. Lesbians, whether openly lesbian or closeted, always have played a role in educating women about their bodies and their sexual organs, including how they work and how they can be pleasurable. This education, the belief in it and the consequence of it, is another public expression of lesbian sex culture. Our sexuality and our experience of it is made visible through the education of other women and through the creation of social movements that seek to further protect women’s bodies and women’s rights to sexual self-determination.

The basic value that women have the right to sexual self-determination is an idea that emanates from the theories of feminism. It has been made visible and put into practice by a broad network of women, with lesbian women integrally engaged in its creation and promotion. The value of sexual self-determination is one contribution of lesbian sex culture.


Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet who lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #3 dated May 29, 2007 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 582



1 comment:

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