Shagging and feminism can be contentious subjects when you squish them together. While it shouldn't be that hard for people to wrap their heads around – just do what you want, as long as everyone is respectful and consenting – there are great divides when it comes to what constitutes "feminist sex".
Is it feminist to choke a woman in bed, for instance, if she wants you to? Why are some self-professed feminists opposed to decriminalising sex work, even though sex workers have long said criminalisation makes their work more dangerous? And how can mainstream porn become more ethical both on and off screen?
Flo Perry, an illustrator and writer (who you might know from running the much-loved London queer club night Aphrodyke), is on the cusp of releasing her new book, How to Have Feminist Sex: A Fairly Graphic Guide. Out on the 3rd of October, it's a collection of illustrations and words about a range of subjects, from body image and consensual non-monogamy, to porn, sending nudes and the politics of desire. Funny and concise in its delivery, How to Have Feminist Sex is the sort of thing teenagers should probably be made to read at school alongside their Blood Brothers set text.
In terms of the content, a lot of what Flo believes boils down to "what's fine in the bedroom might not be acceptable in the boardroom", with a constant focus on enthusiastic consent. She also points out how people are different in a multitude of ways, from our sex drives to what makes us come – and, as such, being with someone sexually is about navigating and communicating those similarities and differences, while also prioritising pleasure. Which sounds very simple written down, but can clearly be a mindfuck for some in practice.
VICE: Hi Flo. How would you define feminist sex?
Flo Perry: For me, feminist sex is all about having the sex you want to be having, rather than the sex you think you should be having. It’s about having sex that’s free of expectations that you might have learned from the porn industry, your parents, sex education at school or just general media and yoghurt adverts that we're blasted with. It’s about maximising pleasure for you in your sex life.
It personally took me a number of years to undo the myths I was implicitly taught about sex growing up. Do you feel the same way? What were some of the untruths you had to unlearn?
Yeah, definitely. I don’t feel like my work is done in that respect. It’s really complicated to analyse your beliefs and think: 'What am I doing because I want to do it? And what am I doing because the patriarchy tells me to?' And that’s an ongoing, complicated thing. I think it’s all about experimenting and realising that the world won’t end if you don’t shave your legs, for example – and if you want to shave them again, you can.
I feel like sex and feminism have historically been quite contentious themes when put together. For example, are certain sex acts anti-feminist? Some people think so. How did you approach that side of things when putting the guide together?
Yeah, feminism isn’t very sexy. Most people don’t have feminist sexual fantasies because it’s boring. Instead, you might fantasise about being a secretary who’s fucked by her boss, because it’s hot. I think that, basically, you need to be conscious of what’s a sexual fantasy. If it’s a sexual fantasy, it’s an adult version of play. There’s no point trying to change what you find hot – it’s really hard. If you get turned on by being in a submissive role in a sexist scenario, that might not change, and a lot of people are turned on by that. It’s feminist to indulge yourself in that, and know that’s not really your self worth. You can be the CEO, even if – when you’re fucked – you’re the secretary.
What are some other important things to remember when it comes to kink and feminism?
I think, generally, experienced kinky people are very good at being feminist, because if you want to do something that isn’t standard, then you’ve really had to self examine and think about that – or at least you should have done. If you fantasise sexually about hitting women – which obviously isn’t something that’s encouraged – there’s a feminist way to do it if you ask and respect the women you want to smack around the arse. And if they’re into it and they enjoy it – some women do enjoy it. These days, it’s easier than ever to find someone who's compatible with you in that way.
There's a section on porn in the book. What do you think mainstream porn should look like?
There’s a very narrow view of what sex should look like in mainstream porn. There’s every type of porn out there, but a lot of people just look at the front page of PornHub and think that’s it. Amateur porn has been great for showing a wider range of bodies, for instance. A lot more people are probably watching that these days – seeing something filmed on an iPhone has a unique sexy quality.
Any kind of porn can be feminist if everyone involved is having a good time, even if they don’t look like they’re having a good time. The problem is that a 13-year-old boy might watch that and not understand the levels of consent that might have gone into that. So it would be great if porn started with an interview or something, like: "Hi, I’m Sandra from Ohio! I’m going to get anally fucked and spanked today, and I can’t wait!" You have to watch them give their enthusiastic consent and at the end be like, "Yeah, I really enjoyed that!" [Laughs] That would be part of my ideal feminist utopia.
You’ve also got a section on virginity. I feel like in the past few years people have started to think of virginity as an archaic concept; something that’s not necessarily even real – at least in the traditional sense.
I agree. You have lots of virginities in your life: The first time you do anything sexual, the first time you maybe have penetrative sex, the first time you have sex in a Ford Fiesta in your parents’ driveway. We have many virginities, and they all have different amounts of meaning for each of us.
We also put too much emphasis, in society, on virginity having to mean something, and having to be "morally good", having to be with someone who you definitely like. But the vast majority of us don’t stay with the person we lose our virginity to, and a few years later you realise that it’s not the most important fuck you’re going to have in your life. There needs to be less emphasis on whether it’s something you’ll end up regretting, and more emphasis on the fact it’s meant to be something that is physically pleasurable.
Peep an extract from 'How to Feminist Sex', out the 3rd of October 2019, below.