There is debate among sex-positive feminists about whether statutory rape laws are a form of sexism. As illustrated by the controversy over “The Little Coochie Snorcher that Could” from the Vagina Monologues, some sex-positive feminists do not consider all consensual activity between young adolescents and older people as inherently harmful. There has been debate among feminists about whether statutory rape laws benefit or harm teenage girls, and whether the gender of the participants should influence the way the sexual encounter is dealt with. The argument that is brought by some sex-positive feminists against these statutory rape laws is that they were made with non-gender neutral intentions and are presently enforced as such, with the assumption that teenage girls are naive and nonsexual and need to be protected. Sex-positive feminists with this view believe that “teen girls and boys are equally capable of making informed choices in regard to their sexuality”, and that statutory rape laws are actually meant to protect “good girls” from sex. In “Sex-Bias Topics in the Criminal Law Course: A Survey of Criminal Law Professors” 24 U. Mich. J.L. Ref. 189 (1990), it is said: “Other feminists are opposed to or ambivalent about strengthening statutory rape statutes because such protection also precludes a young woman from entering a consensual sexual relationship, to which she may be competent to consent. These feminists view statutory rape laws as more controlling than protective – and of course part of the law’s historic role was protecting the female’s chastity as valuable property”. She also noted that, at that time, in some states the previous sexual experience of a teenager could be used as a defense by one accused of statutory rape. She argued that this showed that the laws were intended to protect ideals of chastity rather than issues of consent.
Works that critique sex-positive feminism include those of Catharine MacKinnon (1987), Germaine Greer (1999), Pamela Paul (2005), and the essays in Dorchen Leidholdt (1990), among others. Their main arguments are that certain sexual practices (such as prostitution and pornography) are exploitative toward women and have historically benefited men rather than women, and that thus, the indiscriminate promotion of all kinds of sexual practices merely contributes to female oppression. Catharine MacKinnon argues that any concept of sexual liberation must be understood within the framework of male domination in society, in the context of an imbalance of power between men and women, and with due regard to the history of male and female sexuality; she writes: “Men have eroticized the idea that their sexuality has been denied, but their sexuality has been nothing but expressed and expressed and expressed. Sexual liberation, from this perspective, looks like a male rationalization for forcing sex on women.”
Ariel Levy in her 2005 book Female Chauvinist Pigs also critiques sex-positive feminism. While not being opposed to sex-positive feminism per se, nor wishing to specifically proscribe certain forms of sexual behavior, she sees a popularized form of sex-positivity as constituting a kind of “raunch culture” in which women internalize objectifying male views of themselves and other women. Levy believes it is a mistake to see this as empowering and further holds that women should develop their own forms of sexual expression. The response by sex-positive feminists to Levy’s book have been mixed; Susie Bright viewed the book quite favorably, stating that much of what can be seen as “raunch culture” represents a bastardization of the work of earlier sex-positive feminists such as herself. Others, such as Rachel Kramer Bussel, see Levy as largely ignoring much of the female-empowered sexual expression of the last 20 years, or misinterpreting it as internalization of male fantasy. Kara Jesella argued that sex-positivity may not necessarily be empowering, but it may also not be disempowering.
Dorchen Leidholdt argues that “sex” (the way sexuality is expressed in society) must be understood as a social construct defined by patriarchal social structures, and therefore must be scrutinized; she writes, “If you understand that sex is socially constructed – which we do – and if you see that male supremacy does the constructing – which we see – and if the sex in question is the sex men use to establish their dominance over women, then yes we’re against it.” According to Ann Ferguson, sex-positive feminists’ only restriction on sexual activity should be the requirement of consent, yet she argues that sex positive feminism has provided inadequate definitions of consent. Also, in an effort to reconcile radical and libertarian feminism, Ferguson argues that sexual behavior should be either basic, risky, or forbidden, specifying that forbidden sexual practices “include incest, rape, domestic violence, and sexual relations between very young children and adults,” as well as any other activities for which there is evidence of resulting subordination. This evidence is key for Ferguson in identifying a forbidden sexual activity. Since consent is so problematically defined, Ferguson’s categorization of forbidden sexual activity circumvents the issue of consent entirely. Sheila Jeffreys argues that the “sexual revolution” on men’s terms has contributed less to women’s freedom than to their continued oppression. She argues that existing traditional ideas about heterosexual sexual relations, such as male sexual entitlement within marriage, are aggravated by sex positive ideology. Bell hooks argues that one problem with sexual liberation movements is that they focus on the right to engage in sexual activity, but often ignore the right to refuse to engage in sexual acts. Another criticism is that what are often presented as feminist ideas are in fact ideas originating in male-dominated sexology.
Authors and activists who have written important works about sex-positive feminism, and/or contributed to educating the public about it, include Kathy Acker, Megan Andelloux, Susie Bright, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Diana Cage, Avedon Carol, Patrick Califia, Betty Dodson, Nancy Friday, Nina Hartley, Josephine Ho, Amber L. Hollibaugh, Brenda Howard, Wendy McElroy, Inga Muscio, Joan Nestle, Carol Queen, Candida Royalle, Gayle Rubin, Annie Sprinkle, Tristan Taormino, Ellen Willis, and Lorde. Several of these have written from the perspective of feminist women working in the sex industry.
Information on formal organizations that endorse sex-positive feminism seems lacking but one major outpost of sex-positive feminism is the former cooperative business Good Vibrations founded by Joani Blank in 1977 in order to sell sex toys and publications about sex in an environment welcoming to women. Blank also founded Down There Press which has published various educational publications inspired by sex-positivity. There are a number of other sex-positive feminist businesses who thrive on a combination of sex toy sales and distribution of educational materials. Good For Her, a woman-owned sex-toy shop in Toronto, Ontario, holds an annual Feminist Porn Awards.
Nonprofit groups supporting sex-positive feminism include the currently defunct Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force associated with Carole Vance and Ann Snitow, Feminists for Free Expression, and Feminists Against Censorship associated with anti-censorship and civil liberties campaigner Avedon Carol.
Feminist pornography is a small but growing segment of the pornography industry. A Feminist Porn Award was established in 2006. The equivalent in Europe is the PorYes award for feminist porn, established in 2009. The magazine On Our Backs was founded in 1986 to promote a more positive attitude towards erotica within the community of lesbian and bisexual women. It flourished until 1994, struggled from financial problems and changing ownership and the final edition was published in 2006.