Anti-feminist, anti-sex bloggers do not speak for me or my generation

Well, that pesky feminist-antagonizer is at it again. Susan Walsh, who only recently became “known” to the internet world for her vicious and nonsensical attack on Jaclyn Friedman, is now arguing against sex-positivism with another attack that specifically mentions Jacyln and Amanda Marcotte in the title, which is not surprising since that strategy paid off so well for her last time. Her post really doesn’t say much we don’t already know about her beliefs, but some of the arguments she is throwing out in the comments are so bizarre that they are hard to ignore.

Susan Walsh says:  I have no interest in where JF has sex, with how many people, or anything else. What I am interested in is her idea, that this model can work. If more than a few outliers were to actually adopt such a model, the economy, then society, would collapse. For this reason, it will always be the talk of the fringe.

I would love to see some data (from a credible source, mind you) that proves that “if the world were having casual sex” the economy, and then society, would collapse. Also, it would be great if you could show me some data proving that it’s only a few “outliers” who have embraced casual sex and sex-positivism. Consider it a challenge – anyone who can do it gets a cookie. (Hint: you’re never getting that cookie.)

The second thing that caught my attention was this:

Hooking Up says:

Both Friedman and Marcotte are middle-aged so I imagine that aging, along with drinking the sex-positive kool aid for so many years, frees them to be detached. But it’s not a prescription for your average 20 something who still wants to experience “true love” and “bonding” – which comes with a bit of possessiveness as it’s territory.

Susan Walsh says:

@Hooking Up

Welcome, thanks for leaving a comment! It’s interesting that you raise the question of age. I’m finding that nearly all of the women I’m in opposition to on this issue are in their late 30s or 40s. I suspect they don’t want to know what is really going on for women on campus, or women in their 20s looking for “true love.” The truth is that when Marcotte and Friedman graduated from college, hookup culture was just taking hold. They’re a generation to old to be promoting no-strings sex to students.
I’m older still – but I don’t speak for myself, I speak for the women who come to me for support in a culture that is fairly hostile to relationships. We need to be objective and familiarize ourselves with the research, whether or not it fits with our political objectives. Failure to acknowledge failed policy continually puts a new generation of women at risk.

So apparently, women who are “middle-aged” (I’m not exactly sure when 30’s became middle aged) might be able to practice casual sex without emotional devastation, but only because they have, er, numbed to the pain or something? So apparently Jaclyn Friedman and Amanda Marcotte are “too old” to speak for young women. Susan Walsh, who is older still, however, claims that she can – and does – speak for young women.

The thing is, Jaclyn and Amanda never claimed to speak for young women. Jaclyn’s piece, My Sluthood, Myself, was so powerful in part because she spoke only for herself and was very careful to point out that sex and relationships are different for EVERYBODY and cannot be generalized. In fact, that is the basis of the idea of “sex-positivism” that Walsh thinks will destroy society.

Susan Walsh, however, does claim to speak for young women and that offends me. As a young woman. It’s easy to speak for the handful of young women you socialize with, and maybe even the ones who read your blog. Susan Walsh says she speaks for the young women that come to her, and that would be fine if she recognized the fact that she’s not speaking for ALL young women – just some. And that is why in my response, I would love to be able to say that I speak for my entire generation, but obviously I cannot.

But I can say that I personally disagree with Susan Walsh just about as vehemently as possible. I can also say that the young people I associate with and the young people who comment on my blog also disagree with Susan Walsh.

I believe that casual sex can be a healthy and fulfilling experience. I believe that women are no more likely than men to “get attached” to a sexual partner during a hookup, despite Walsh’s claims about oxytocin, which Heather Corinna does an excellent job of dismantling using actual research at Scarleteen. I believe that people can enjoy periods of causal sex and then still have perfectly healthy monogamous relationships down the road if that is what they so desire. I believe that people can have sex, casual or otherwise, with any number of partners without destroying their chances at “finding love.”

Oh, and I don’t believe that if the world embraced sex-positivism, the economy, and then society, would collapse.

I am 24 years old. It was my generation that all those New York Times articles referred to when they wrote about “hook up culture.” Hell, they were referring to me. During my college years, I was a sex educator and sex counselor for my fellow classmates. I wrote a sex column for the school newspaper. And if, for some reason, being 3 years out of college disqualifies me from being considered a “young woman,” I would like to share an excerpt from a piece I published in my school newspaper in 2006, when I was 20 years old.

I wrote this BEFORE I identified as a feminist, before I began reading sites like Feministing, before I had ever heard of Jaclyn Friedman, Amanda Marcotte, or  Jessica Valenti. These were the conclusions I came to as a young woman in college based on my own experiences, the experiences of my friends, and the experiences of those I counseled, not to mention the courses on sexuality and gender theory that I took.

From “Meditations on Hooking Up”

Even Sex and the City did an episode on women having sex like men where they posed the question: Is it even possible for women to have sex without emotional attachment? I think it is definitely possible. I think it is possible for the women to have sex without attachment, just as I also think women can get attached after having sex. Same goes for everyone else, of any gender. I also think the same person can have sex with one person and feel nothing, then have sex with another person and be unable to keep emotions out of it.

But having sex without emotion is not having sex like a man. And having sex with attachment is not having sex like a woman. Its having sex like a human, and we are all capable of an entire spectrum of emotional responses, or lack thereof.

But Walsh would like you to believe that her cohort is the mainstream and all us sex positive people are on the fringe. She included a poll on her blog post, the results of which I’m sure she’ll include in her follow-up post. How much do you want to bet the results back up her position?

After my last exchange with Walsh, I swore to myself that I would not let myself get baited and that I would take the high road. Or, that if I was going to be snarky, I would at least do it in a mature fashion. I admit that a previous dig at her for being afraid sluts were coming to steal her husband was a tad immature – and sadly, I’m the one she’s referring to when she wrote: “Until now, sex pos fems have portrayed dissenters primarily as women who are afraid that the ‘sluts are stealing all the menz.’ A favorite theme in their attacks on me was that I fear losing my husband to a woman like Friedman.” But at least I know when I’m being immature. It’s ironic – as it turns out – that it was me, a 24 year old, who stooped to her level, rather than the other way around.

Unlike Walsh, I do not claim to be able to speak for entire generations or entire genders. I do not claim to know what kind of sex is best for everybody else. I do not make wild, outlandish statements without data to back them up. I have respect for scholarly research, and take the time to evaluate a source’s credibility and bias. I do not respond to reasoned criticism by saying “nah, nah, I got more comments than you.” And I do not presume to believe that polling my own blog audience would give me a representative sampling of public opinion.

So no, I cannot speak for all young women and disprove Walsh’s ideas about my generation’s beliefs about sex and relationships. But I can add my own voice to the mix, and invite others to as well.

The reality is that people of all generations and of all genders have a diverse array of beliefs about sex and relationships. And that, in a nutshell, is why I believe in a sex positive model that validates that diversity of belief.

But if I were hard-pressed to make a generalization, I would argue that there is one thing MOST of us can agree on: that “If more than a few outliers were to actually adopt such a model, the economy, then society, would collapse…” is a load of crap.


    1. Well, the first observation is that it was written (or at least distributed) by the Heritage Foundation, which is one of the most ultra-conservative lobby groups out there. I mean, you could argue about the politics of the Heritage Foundation.. but the point remains that they are a lobby – they exist to try to convince others that their political and moral worldview is correct. Automatically, they fail the first test for real scholarship.


    2. Ok, looking closer, there are a few more reasons why these charts are not really as convincing as the Heritage Foundation thinks they are. First, they are all using data from 1995.

      Second, a lot of these are just common sense, or could be explained by the fact that older people a) tend to be more responsible about their health and preventing pregnancy, and b) have more sex education than teenagers.

      If you start having sex later, it only stands to reason that you’ll have less partners overall. If you start having sex later, you’re more likely to have an “out-of-wedlock” pregnancy (they don’t say unplanned – just “out of wedlock” – how many teenagers do you know that are married?)

      Third – some of these charts don’t even make sense! No. 5 for example is titled “Delay in Sexual Activity Reduces the Odds of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing” but it compares “Age of First Voluntary Sexual Intercourse” on the x axis with “Percent of Sexually Active Women Aged 15-44” on the y axis. Wouldn’t y have to be “Percent of Women Giving Birth Aged 15-44” in order to be relevant to the title?

      Not to mention that all the authors of these charts work for the… you guessed it… The Heritage Foundation! Aka, it’s not real research being published by a third party. They say the data for the charts comes from CDC studies, but not the charts themselves. It’s the Heritage Foundation writing the data to support their views and using the CDC’s name to make it sound credible.


  1. Yes, I mentioned that in the comments, Leah.

    Unfortunately the data they base it ON wasn’t collected by them. It’s the 1995 National Survey of Family growth, put out by the CDC.

    As I said, there’s two threads on this, but no one was able to strike a knockout blow against it. I googled the authors and the survey and came up with several pages, but without fail they seemed all be pro-chastity or conservative christian and needless to say they weren’t critiquing it.

    I’m hoping you’ll have access to more resources. Otherwise, the only thing I can think of to do is to totally study the methodology of the 1995 National Survey, and make sure the Heritage people aren’t trying to pull a fast one by misrepresenting something.


    1. sorry, I just edited my comment to address the CDC claims. See above – “They say the data for the charts comes from CDC studies, but not the charts themselves. It’s the Heritage Foundation writing the data to support their views and using the CDC’s name to make it sound credible.”


      1. I’m not really sure what you’re trying to say here Clarence, but if you’re truly trying to “figure out” if the Heritage Foundation’s version of the CDC study is credible, try comparing it to the original CDC study. I am willing to bet the CDC isn’t making blatant morality claims about “childbearing out of wedlock.”


  2. Leah:

    My sole interest in this study is the graph that shows the number of pre-martial sex partners vs the stability of a marital partnership.
    I’ll have to look for critiques of the national survey.

    After all that, if it DOES hold up, then I suppose one should examine the 2003 National Survey, and possibly do my own analysis.

    At that point, I will be shocked if premarital sexual partners 1> means bad marriage risk, esp given that there are downright incentives for divorce in the terms of custody and things. I suppose my last choice will be to find out why.
    I suspect IF all this is the case, that the age of first sexual contact might have something to do with it.

    Anyway, I’m not a fan of the Heritage Foundation, but I can’t dismiss a study like this based solely on who put it out.


  3. What bugs me about Susan’s comments is that she calls Marcotte “middle-aged”. She’s dead wrong. Even a casual look at her bio shows that she is in her mid-twenties, around the age of both you and I, Leah. So any classifications she makes about Marcotte based on her age are wrong. I hate when people don’t do research.


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