All of the readings assigned for this week grapple with the complexities of consent and ethical sex. First, we will discuss the Rebecca Traister article to think through the ways that consensual sex can still be bad. Next, we will talk about polyamory in queer communities.


Rebecca Traister, “Why Sex That’s Consensual Can Still Be Bad. And Why We’re Not Talking About It”

In this article, Rebecca Traister is thinking about instances where consent to sex is clear, even enthusiastic, but the experience doesn’t feel good afterward, and probably didn’t feel that good at the time. She laments the way that within feminist theory and activism there is little critique of sex outside of sexual assault:

…which means a vast expanse of bad sex — joyless, exploitative encounters that reflect a persistently sexist culture and can be hard to acknowledge without sounding prudish — has gone largely uninterrogated, leaving some young women wondering why they feel so fucked by fucking.

Rebecca Traister, “Why Sex That’s Consensual Can Still Be Bad. And Why We’re Not Talking About It,” The Cut, 20 October 2015.

Traister points to the failure of campus feminism to address exploitative sexual encounters that are not sexual assault. Importantly, she connects this trend to the sex wars.

As you read:

  • Think about the relationship between consent and pleasure.
  • Pay attention to how the article talks about male sexual entitlement.
  • Consider how the article understands sex and sexual acts to be political. Do you agree with the author’s statements?

Find the Traister reading here.

Dean Spade, “For Lovers and Fighters”

Indeed, the romance myth is focused on scarcity: There is only one person out there for you!!! You need to find someone to marry before you get too old!!! The sexual exclusivity rule is focused on scarcity, too: Each person only has a certain amount of attention or attraction or love or interest, and if any of it goes to someone besides their partner their partner must lose out. We don’t generally apply this rule to other relationships – we don’t assume that having two kids means loving the first one less or not at all, or having more than one friend means being a bad or fake or less interested friend to our other friends. We apply this particularly understanding of scarcity to romance and love, and most of us internalize that feeling of scarcity pretty deeply.

Dean Spade, “For Lovers and Fighters,” in We Don’t Need Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists, ed. by Melody Berger (Emeryville: Seal Press, 2006), 30.

Dean Spade is an influential trans legal scholar and the founder of the Silvia Riviera Law Project, an organization that provides free legal services and builds community organizing by and for trans and gender nonconforming people who are low-income and/or people of color. 

As you read:

  • Consider the notion of polyamory in the context of queer and trans communities.
  • Think about how the essay addresses the question of what family is?
  • Reflect on how we incorporate our ideas about love and family into our communities, and vice versa?
  • Contemplate how relationships and families are connected to broader structures?

Find the Spade reading in the supplementary resources block on eClass.