rhizomes.07 fall 2003

Paula Kamen and Carol Siegel: A Dialogue Across Feminist Generations
Paula Kamen and Carol Siegel

[1] CS: I've invited you to engage in this dialogue in my special issue of Rhizomes, "Theory's Others," for many reasons.  Primarily I'm concerned because, since its emergence in the late 1990s, third wave feminism has often seemed to partake of the traditional conflicts that divide women against each other along generational lines, with middle-aged and older women casting the young into the role of "other," and vice versa.  I'm hopeful that our dialogue can combat that trend.

[2] My sense of the mechanisms of othering has always been influenced by my belonging to the baby boom generation (I was born in 1952) and thus participating in what was probably the most intense generational conflict in recent history, the rise of the 1960s youth counterculture.  That decade of hostility across sharply drawn generational boundaries conditioned me, among many Americans, to expect enmity between middle-aged people and those in their teens and twenties.  I've also been very much influenced to expect cross-generational conflict between women by my life in the United States, where mainstream cultural assessments of women's worth seem to be made primarily in terms of physical attractiveness, which is considered virtually synonymous with attributes usually associated with youth. Living under the threat of seemingly inevitable devaluation because of aging intensifies competition between generations of women, even when they identify as feminists.  Because older women must cope with a social and cultural atmosphere that to a large extent denies us status based on wisdom gained from experience or achievement, while favoring women whose bodies and faces look fresher and tighter, we often fall into the trap of regarding younger women as threats against whose power we are compelled to struggle.  So we sometimes try to shut them out of the support systems we've created or we treat them as our inferiors. 

[3] Beyond this long standing determinant of competition, distrust, and anger between generations of women, is the generational gap within feminism itself, discussed by numerous feminist writers.  Basically, as you know, that gap opened over views of sexuality, with the second wave increasingly focusing on battles against pornography and representations of women that they believed reflected a male sense of sexuality that denied women's humanity, while third wavers emphasized their right to whatever sexual expressions pleased them. Because in their public writings and pronouncements, second wave and third wave feminists often seem determined to define their own political positions through negative portrayal of the other, it seems crucial to attempt to reduce our impulses toward othering by talking across the generational divide.   

[4] Having a dialogue with you in particular is important to me because we have both, in our own ways, added to the discourse on late twentieth and early twenty-first century concepts of what it means to be gendered female.  In 2000 you and I both published books on changes in attitudes about gender identity, sexuality, and feminism.  Your book, Her Way: Young Women Remake the Sexual Revolution, is journalistic, based on extensive research and interviews, and seems to me mainly aimed at an audience composed of the people you focus on, the general population of young American women.  My book, New Millennial Sexstyles, is in the genre of academic gender studies, and focuses on young men as well as young women. The study is intended to address concerns of feminist theorists, in my own generation and the next one, who fear that our culture is becoming "postfeminist" in ways that undermine the gains of the second wave of the woman's movement. 

[5] It seems to me that we agree on many issues, which did not surprise me as I have always loved your work and have considered you one of the most important, defining voices of third wave feminism, since the appearance of your wonderful book, Feminist Fatale.  However, I found a few aspects of Her Way so troubling that I want to have this public conversation in hopes of looking more deeply into what I think are misunderstandings between the two feminist populations our work represents.  Through earlier, informal interchanges with you, I have come to believe these misunderstandings may be based less on actual divergence in our understandings of how feminists might want to experience sexuality than on differences in the connotations words carry for women of different generations.  Some of the misunderstandings also seem related to differences in the approaches favored in journalism and those favored in academic writing.  Discussing these differences might clarify for our shared audience how current representations of gender and sexuality are being interpreted by feminists like us who share an optimistic view of the cultures young women are creating.

[6] I want to begin with what was most troubling to me in your book, your references to young women now "defining sex more in women's terms," than the previous generation was able to do.  This is extremely problematic for me because, as a statement, it seems to me in contradiction to your assertion (with which I agree) that women today recognize that we have vastly different sexualities and so the way any woman understands her desire, her eroticism, her sensuality, and her sexual needs may be completely different from the needs and feelings of any other woman or group of women.  Your book explicitly describes a less prescriptive feminism than that of the second wave and yet, in my view, it undermines this sense of openness through recourse to the concept that all women define sex differently than men do.  The idea that there are some basic attitudes, feelings and needs that all women share, seems to underlie your reiterated observation that the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s failed to allow women to have sex "on their own terms," an idea that I strongly disagree with.  

[7] For me the sexual revolution was an outgrowth of the youth movement in opposition to the mainstream culture that began with the Beats (a group my parents identified with) and came to fruition in the early 1970s.  It was about escaping the mass ideological programming of bourgeois capitalism, with its emphases on propriety, family, and acquisition, and instead making room for values and behavior to be determined by individual desires, or more precisely by the specific physical sensations and pleasures each person considers to be her or his sexuality.  Because of its core resistance to the official coding of desires and physicality as moral or immoral, reasonable or pathological, the sexual revolution allowed us to act on our sexual desires and pursue pleasure purely on our own terms.  Some women were uncomfortable with this new freedom and preferred the more familiar sexual mores connected with traditional gender roles and expectations.  They saw in adherence to the old standards an opportunity to secure a husband who would take financial responsibility for them and their children and would protect them from predatory males.  For them the sexual revolution was unsettling and threatening in that it undermined what many considered the only power women have had, the power to use their sexual desirability as a means of getting love from men that would be manifested as support and protection.  But for young women like me, who wanted sexual pleasure but wanted autonomy and not domesticity, the sexual revolution meant that we could separate sex and love in a way nearly unprecedented for women. 

[8] This is not, however, a merely personal issue for me.  Instead, I think it involves the battles over concepts of gender and essence that fragmented academic feminism in the 1980s.  In academic feminist writing those of us who are not white and/or did not come from the higher social classes have been struggling for over twenty years with the tendency of middle-class white women to theorize as if their groups represented all women or as if the feelings of the majority of them define one coherent female perspective, distinct from the perspective of men.  Many women from lower social classes, myself among them, and many women of color have written about our feelings of exclusion from totalizing and/or essentializing visions of what it means to be a woman.  A great many academics have brilliantly discussed the problems with what bell hooks and others call "white middle class women's feminism." I love the way your work has contributed to popular understanding of the racial and economic diversity of women and how that impacts on our experiences and assessments of them. 

[9] But what I see as a continuing blind spot in theorizing women's sexual experience is that we keep returning to the idea that all women want to be able to communicate clearly and honestly with their sexual partners, to trust them, and to feel affectionate emotional connection to them.  As I have tried to show in New Millennial Sexstyles, the majority of feminist writers, whether they are addressing a popular audience or academics, privilege such desires as basic to female sexuality.  And they distinguish such desires from a set of behaviors and feelings that are usually totalized as "male sexuality." Yet, these desires attributed to female sexuality do not seem to me intrinsically connected to sexuality at all.  Certainly while most people consider them a part of friendship, sincere and open communication, trust, and affection are not necessary components of pleasurable sexual experience for everyone.  I know many women who feel, as I do, that anonymous sex with a stranger one does not talk to at the time of the encounter or intend ever to see again after the encounter can be very sexually satisfying.  I'm concerned that this possible avenue to pleasure seems to be left out of the description your book provides of what it means for women to have sex "on our own terms."  And I am especially concerned that such women, demonized throughout history will continue to be "others" in relation to acceptable concepts of female gender identity, even within feminist discourse. 

[10] So I want to begin with this question: do you think that the behavior most characteristic of the sexual revolution, having anonymous sex or sex without emotional commitment or any intention of a continuing relationship with one's partner, necessarily means having sex on men's rather than women's terms?

[11] PK: Actually, I fully agree with your central point: that an object of feminism should be to expand women's choices, and not try to legislate what all women should do or desire. My book's major finding, reported very positively, is that young women today are striving more than ever for this ideal, to make their own individual choices, escaping the confines of the idea of what  "women" as a group are supposed to all want.  I report that the title, "her way," means that young women are more trying to follow each person's own voice, more than ever before. And both of our books seek to appreciate those parts of feminism and the sexual revolution that stand for giving women more choices, and not limiting them by substituting past rigid roles with new rigid roles.

[12] This confusion in interpreting my words brings up an important distinction between our approaches. Mine is journalistic and yours is more theoretical. As a result, while we may agree on many issues, we speak with different types of language, and this may not be immediately apparent. My phrasing, "on women's terms," is shorthand for this. If I were an academic, I may have said, "on each woman's terms" instead. (I also had thought that the context of this sentence, and the rest of the book, directly discussing young women's "individuality" would make this clear.)

[13] My journalistic approach has both its advantages and disadvantages. An advantage is that I am able to synthesize a great deal of information from a wide variety of perspectives (national studies, pop culture observations, my own interviews) and tie it all together, to provide a general "big picture" point of view. In contrast, a more scientific sociological academic study may be limited to a very small interview sample and very limited questions. (Instead of drawing conclusions about an entire generation, as I did, an academic may study one group of one defined age in one location, such as "the abortion attitudes of girls 15-18 in Cincinnati in June 1999.")

[14] A drawback, of course, is that journalists don't necessarily define their terms as specifically as academics (although many academics don't do this either). In my first drafts of my book, I started doing this, and found it became unreadable. Every thought was interrupted by pages of clarifications and qualifications and ruminations. For a topic as broad as mine, this is an impossible approach. As my editor at NYU Press finally reasoned, an academic sociologist would never have even attempted a topic as extensive as mine to begin with, so I wasn't obligated to write like one.

[15] I also want to clarify, up front, another distinct difference in our two approaches. I also am not communicating my personal beliefs of what women should or should not be. While I do have a point of view that underlies my book (welcoming women's greater choices), my main goal is to report what my interview topics tell me, as a journalist. This approach may be more generational, easier for a younger woman who is critiquing the women's movement from a distance, with less personally and politically invested in it.

[16] I have noticed since my first book, on Gen X views of feminism, was published in 1991, I have had numerous misunderstandings with Boomer feminists, who assumed that everything I wrote was reflecting my personal point of view. In fact, the most negative review I received for that book was from a Ms. Magazine writer (who also was active in the antiporn movement). She couldn't understand how I could report negative criticism of the organized movement from young women, and still be a feminist. (For example, I had reported how some young women I interviewed distanced themselves from feminism perceiving it as anti-family. That critic reported that "Paula Kamen sees the women's movement as anti-family.") Of course, I didn't personally believe that feminism is anti-family, and valued my reporting such criticism from young women as constructive to future dialogues, so that older feminists know young women's doubts when they try to appeal to them. I was attracted to feminism to begin with for its ideal of social change, and social change is only possible by building a more mass-based women's movement – and not just preaching to the choir.

[17] So, reporting on what my subjects told me, in my second book, Her Way, I also communicated both criticism and praise for the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Through the book, I recognize that movement's very significant achievement to chip away at the double standard for women and allow them for the first time to pursue sex for pleasure, and outside of marriage.

[18] But, at the same time, I also quote longstanding criticism of the sexual revolution from my interview subjects. While they almost all are personally reaping the rewards of that time (such as with cohabitating, premarital sex, etc.), they criticize it as being conducted too much on traditionally "male" terms. As Shere Hite's enormous interview sample in The Hite Report (1976) overwhelmingly stated, as women gained the right to say "yes" at that time, they also felt the lost the right to say "no." The younger women of my book don't want to simply define sexual liberation according to promiscuity or "saying yes" to multiple partners on a very casual basis, but whether choices are made on one's own terms, as much as that is possible. As shorthand to explain this, I talk about the "male-defined" sexual revolution, which defined sexual freedom only according to promiscuity, of women saying yes to them. Of course, I was referring to traditionally "male" attitudes, not saying that men are naturally promiscuous, and women are naturally unpromiscuous.

[19] Sometimes I see my book as an ink-blot test. Ironically, Maggie Gallagher of the National Review slammed by book last year, in the summer of 2001, for being too "amoral" and tolerant of "multipartnered" women, such as Monica Lewinsky. And, the original publisher of my book, a trade house, rejected it partly on the grounds that it was too "amoral," not apologizing for the casual sex of those I interviewed.)

[20] CS: The different reactions to the book are fascinating.  I responded with so much alarm to the discussion of promiscuity because I agree with you, and Hite, that the majority of women do see "'saying yes' to multiple partners" as something that is more likely to appeal to men than women.  It seems clear that women who see sexual liberation mainly in terms of the freedom to have casual sex with multiple partners are in the minority.  Those of us who feel having this choice is essential to the freedom to have sex on our own terms will probably always be a small minority of the female population.  And it is for that reason that it is especially important for such women's desires to be acknowledged by feminists as legitimate, not as some sort of false consciousness or giving in to men.  Otherwise we will be minoritized twice, first by mainstream culture and again by feminism.   I appreciate your efforts to make clear that some women need to have the opportunity to have casual sex without being rejected by feminism, because otherwise we cannot have sex on our own terms. 

[21] Still, we seem to have some differences in the way we define casual sex.  Your interviewees as well as the young people I talked with for my book -- and most of the young women I know -- use the term "casual sex" in a very different way than I use it.  To me and most of the baby boomers I know who are members of what I'd call the radical sex community, casual sex means that the two people have just met prior to having intercourse.  They may not know each others' names (or real names).  They do not expect any sort of continuing relationship. They may not be able to talk prior to the sex because of loud music in the club or gathering where they meet.  If they do talk, it is about trivial things.  They may try to avoid letting the other person find out their address or phone number. They do not discuss common interests or philosophies.  They do not disclose anything about their past sexual or romantic histories.  They have enough sexual experience and sophistication to realize that another person who wants sex is likely to lie if asked about prior sexual experience as it relates to the possibility of STD transmission, so they will use all the STD protection they reasonably can to make the encounter as safe as it can be.  They understand safer sex as sex in which latex barriers to fluid transmission are used, not as sex between people with mutual friends or interests, who know and like each other.

[22] It seems to me that what the younger generation means by "casual sex" is a sexual encounter with someone they have dated once or twice, someone they know socially but to whom they do not intend to make a commitment.  Is this correct? 

[23] I ask because the distinction seems important.  What I used to call casual sex and am now calling anonymous sex seems to me a means of getting one's need for sexual pleasure met without dealing with the difficulties of having to take emotional care of another person or concerning oneself with their feelings other than to know they have consented to sex. 

[24] According to my definition, casual sex entails getting away from the traditional female role of attending to another person's emotional needs and instead being able to freely do as one likes without restrictions or limits beyond the other's consent.  It also means not having to pretend that one feels more than one actually does in order to get sex.  Not having to pretend that the other person has value to one as anything more than an instrument of sexual pleasure at this particular moment, instead of having to pretend to feel affection (something women of my generation usually had to do before the sexual revolution to avoid being labeled whores).  Does this make sense as a distinction to you?  And if so, how does it relate to differences between our generations as you see them?

[25] PK: Yes, this distinction between "anonymous" and "casual" sex may be generational. In all my interviews (about 75 in my "core" group for Her Way), no one ever used the word "anonymous," only "casual." "Anonymous sex" is now a foreign term, for better and for worse. I did see "casual sex" being applied to a variety of relationships -- to the brief, nonverbal encounter that you describe as anonymous, to an ongoing affair over many months. The bottom line is that the word "casual sex" is used whenever an emotional relationship is not involved.

[26] Here's what can be seen as the positive side of that. Young women today are so used to this concept of sex without love that they are actually applying it to a variety of different sexual encounters and acts. Instead of something revolutionary and political and novel, this option of "casual sex" is taken as a given, as one of many options for conducting one's sex life. It doesn't have to be quick and nonverbal, and a one-time-only thing. They are still able to separate emotion from sex in a longer casual relationship. They don't need to cut off verbal contact or make the encounter very brief to maintain that level of distinction and noncommitment.

[27] (That new relative ease about casual sex, in its myriad forms, reminds me of a play I saw by Diana Son, "Stop Kiss," which featured the main character meeting a male friend for sex on a regular basis, with absolutely no confusion that this was casual sex. The common term of "fuck buddy," that has gained more popularity over the last decade, reflects the growing consciousness of applying the "non-emotional" context of what you describe as "anonymous sex" to a variety of even longer-term relationships.)

[28] Another generational difference may be with the concept of communication, of it being contrary to casual sex. You talk about true casual sex as not involving communication, even about STDs, and this really strikes a nerve. Over the past decade, as I report, the younger generation has worked through views that equate communication with ruining the romance or the sizzle or spontaneity of a sexual encounter. In fact, a major influence on college campuses has been widespread, feminist-influences anti-rape education, such as that now regularly taking place during student orientation weeks. To prevent date rape, counselors advise the importance of consent, only attainable through clear communication. You have to get a "yes" from a woman before you have sex with her.

[29] While this seemed odd and radical and stilted to me 10 years ago, this is now a given to young people, that talking doesn't have to ruin sex. They may see that as a view left over from the "male" defined sexual revolution.  In fact, as feminists in the women's health movement have stressed, as you recognize, talking is often essential for most women's true sexual pleasure, to instruct the man (and I'm assuming we're talking about heterosexual relationships here) how to help her get to orgasm. As every woman is different in this area, talking is often essential to point out her own personal preferences. With this younger generation, I would suspect that talking would be considered a bonus -- even for those women who are able to achieve orgasm through intercourse alone, or with a little self-stimulation of their own during the course of the act.

[30] At the same time, as young women are less political about sex than our predecessors, they also are less apt to judge what types are right are wrong for feminists. While they do not condemn communication during casual sex, they also do not condemn those who prefer to be as anonymous and silent and impersonal as possible.

[31] CS: I'm very heartened by your view that young women now take for granted their right to have sex with someone they find attractive without having to pay for their pleasure by giving that person loving attention later.   As I say above, when I was young women were expected to feel not just friendship but love for any sexual partner they had.  And female love was supposed to be manifested through an extensive range of care-taking behaviors ranging from listening supportively to the beloved's problems to laundering and mending his clothing and cooking him meals.  Monogamy was also seen as an intrinsic aspect of female love.  Women who had sex without love were considered immoral by both men and women and were so brutally punished for their outlaw behavior that it was frightening to admit to one's self a desire for casual sex.  Maybe this is one reason anonymous sex was the most attractive option for someone not inclined to link sex and love.  It provided some room to escape from what would otherwise be an overwhelming amount of expectations.  When I was a young woman, "sex on men's terms" meant to me that the woman would have to enact loving devotion to the man she had sex with.  She would only be allowed one sex partner in her life, and must wait patiently for his attentions while he did as he pleased, often having sexual relations with many women who also gave themselves to him exclusively.  

[32] Another aspect of the sexual revolution that was important to feminists like me was that what is now called casual sex had always been available to men and seemed to constitute their preferred mode of sexual relation outside of marriage.  Because vulnerability to pregnancy kept most women from engaging in sex for pleasure only, prior to the sexual revolution most heterosexual men did not have anonymous sex except with prostitutes or in cases where they assaulted a stranger.  Instead they had extramarital sex, if they were able to do so, with women and girls who were so eager to have a relationship with a man who might be willing to commit to them that they offered sex in hopes of establishing a bond.  Typically men who were not monogamously inclined would have one or more women in their lives who made themselves available to the man sexually, and often nurtured him in any way he would allow, in an effort to secure him as a husband.  These women risked "illegitimate" pregnancy and loss of "reputation" for a chance at attaining the social position of wife to a man who seemed to them otherwise unattainable.  The classic example of this was the woman who accepted the role of married man's mistress, competing with his wife and hoping to convince him to divorce so that he could marry her.  But to preserve their self-respect and some vestige of social status such women were expected to remain "faithful" to their lover, not accepting relationships with other men.  The biggest change the sexual revolution brought to women was the freedom to have casual sex with more than one man, on their own terms rather than the terms of their male partners.   

[33] Since I think we agree women have a right to enjoy casual sex with multiple partners without social penalties, I want to go back to the idea that communication helps prevent disease transmission.  I could not disagree more.  I think that, instead, it can lull women into a sense of false security. I've never known anyone who told potential and desired sex partners anything that could make them change their minds before the first encounter.  All extant studies have found the same: people lie to get sex.  Probably there are people so honest that they practice full disclosure of their sexual histories as soon as they feel arousal, but they must be quite rare.  In contrast to these paragons, I have known a number of men who told me that they were bisexual or had been IV drug users, while their primary life partners, let alone casual partners, had no inkling this was the case.  They "confessed" to me because my own behavior (and "bad reputation") made them confident I wouldn't judge or reject them. 

[34] Coming from these experiences makes me want to stress to young women, as strongly as I can, that they must use condoms whenever they have oral, vaginal, or anal sex, no matter how well they think they know their partner, unless they have some reason more compelling than what he tells them to believe he is disease free and sexually exclusive with them.  Moreover, I want to take every opportunity to warn young women that STDs are not punishments for being immoral.  So the moral rules young people devise, such as the now prevalent idea that casual sex is more virtuous than anonymous sex or that oral sex is less serious than vaginal sex, have no bearing on disease transmission.   

[35] Another question that the discussion of communication both in your book and above raises for me is how important are differences in women's physical responses to sexual stimuli in determining what they want from sexual encounters?  Most contemporary feminist studies of women's sexuality, especially the very influential Hite Report, tell us that around two thirds of women are most likely to reach orgasm when they receive direct clitoral stimulation rather than through vaginally penetrative sex alone.  It is certainly understandable to me that because what most heterosexual men mean when they refer to having sex is penetrating the vagina with their penises, most women would feel that the communication and trust developed through an affectionate emotional relationship with the other person are necessary to women's pleasure. And I was interested in your book's discussion of the increasing interest young people are showing in sexual encounters centered on what you call "outercourse" and/or oral sex. 

[36] But what about the other one third of women, an enormous number of people, who easily reach orgasm through vaginal penetration?  And what about the additional women who have no inhibitions about positioning themselves or touching themselves in ways that bring them to orgasm during intercourse, without any need to tell their partners anything about their sexuality?   Should such women insist on the importance of communication and emotional connection, as what you call a "basic and human need," as a gesture of solidarity with the majority of women, even though these things may decrease our own personal sexual pleasure?   

[37] I'm not asking this question frivolously.   Ever since I was thirteen years old I have been verbally, and occasionally physically, attacked by other girls and women for my honesty about being able to enjoy sex without emotional connection to my partner.  I have been told this cheapens all women, the sex act itself, and makes life more difficult for women by giving men false impressions of what most/other women want.  Since becoming an academic I have been regularly criticized at conferences and in print as a "traitor to feminism" for saying that some women prefer the same sort of intercourse that seems to most appeal to the majority of heterosexual men, i.e. vaginal intercourse, and that we should have the right to go out and get it in any form we feel comfortable with.

[38] PK: Carol, again, this question goes to the heart of what I'm saying. I'm really surprised and appalled at the heat you've gotten for your point of view, and am glad you're speaking out about it. Actually, as I have said, a point of the "third wave," as I report it, is to grant women permission to have sex with or without emotional commitment, just like it is about expanding choices and challenging what you academics call "binaries," in general.

[39] When I discuss emotional connection in my conclusion, I am not prescribing it as the only "normal" or "feminist" way to go. I am talking about recognizing it as a valid choice, among many, for "sexual liberation." I am explaining a "third wave" definition of sexual freedom that is based not just on traditional "male" views of silence and casualness, but on what an individual woman wants – whether she wants emotional connection and communication, or not.

[40] The major sexual change I report in my book is young women now "acting more like men" sexually. This means having less shame about sex, having as many partners as men, initiating sex more, and starting sex at the same age. I use this "acting more like men" description as shorthand, for this shift away from traditional female sexual norms.

[41] In my conclusion, I say that in the big picture, "acting like men was the easy part." This sexual change only took about 40 years to happen. I talk about a greater challenge ahead to also define sexual freedom in other ways, about each woman doing what is best for her, whether it be traditionally female or male, "feminist" or "nonfeminist." In that discussion, I talk about the possibility of seeing what has been traditionally "female," involving connection and communication, also as a valid choice for sexual freedom.

[42] CS: This is so encouraging.  I have great faith in young women to redefine sexuality and feminism so that women's lives can be structured less around destructive competition and more around true cooperation, and this sort of acceptance of differences in female sexualities really justifies that faith.  Please tell me more about "outercourse," a term whose emergence you seem to see as signifying important change.  Is that the case?

[43] PK: Yes, the term "outercourse," basically meaning "everything but intercourse," is gaining popularity. I first saw it in a very good October 1996 Mademoiselle article by Valerie Frankel. And since then, I've heard it and seen it more in the media. That term is significant to recognize acts other than intercourse, which give pleasure to women, as valid as sex. (Not just seen as "foreplay" to the "real sex.") My friend Lisa Douglass, along with her sister Marcia, is coming out with a book, an update of their past 1997 volume, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Sex. (The new one is called The Sex You Want: A Lovers' Guide to Women's Sexual Pleasure.)  Here she talks in detail about the different forms of outercourse, involving both manual and oral stimulation. She even invents new terms to refer to these very popular acts, such as "clittage," stimulating the clitoris with the hand. I hope that these terms, which don't define sex according to what men feel, gain new popularity.

[44] CS: Me, too.  The current array of sexual terms seems inadequate, and the ongoing search for language to explain newly popular sexual practices suggests real change is taking place.  But I also welcome descriptions of sexual pleasure that redefine what men feel, and want, taking us away from the clichés that hold in place a sense of binary opposition between male and female sexualities.  I was particularly taken with the discussion last year in Dan Savage's sex advice column of female sexual penetration of males with strap-on dildos, which Dan and his readers decided to call "pegging."  That this practice, which disrupts the distribution of power between the sexes so radically, has become common enough to demand a definitional term is amazing.  Now perhaps we can all think beyond those old binaries in which male heterosexuality was considered inherently penetrative or, in the view of its opponents, invasive.

[45] But to return for a moment to mainstream female experiences, I understand that a large percentage of women can reach orgasm only through direct clitoral stimulation.  Certainly they should be able to have their needs respected, and I'm glad the increasing emphasis on "outercourse" helps with this.  However, I am aware, through my research into youth cultures, and through reading mainstream media, that many young people no longer consider oral sex to be sex, and that this leads them to celebrate as virginal or pure and chaste any women who reject intercourse in favor of outercourse.  Besides putting these deluded young women at risk of contracting STDs, this seems to me a way of keeping the old moral distinction between "good girls" and whores in place.  And when I read your reporting on how young women currently describe women like me as "sluts" and/or claim that "promiscuity" means women being available to all men, I feel as much under attack as I did prior to the sexual revolution.

[46] I am happy to see that women whose needs differ from mine are finally, through what you call "sexual evolution," beginning to experience an environment in which they can get those needs met.  But I don't want this to be at the expense of the gains women like me made through the sexual revolution.  For me the sexual revolution meant no woman would have to tolerate being called "a slut" or other pejorative names because she could enjoy sex without emotional connection.  It also meant not being forced to have a committed relationship with a man in order to have an active sex life.  And finally it meant not having to pretend to enjoy things sexually that we don't. Now, when I see that world of delightful radically unrestrained hedonism being discussed as a violation of the emotionally connected sexuality you call "a basic and human need," I get scared that the forces of repression will crack down again.  

[47] I have trouble with the way your book seems to posit an opposition between what you call "wildly hedonistic" behavior and "sex on women's terms."  As a wildly hedonistic woman with a number of women friends who would describe themselves the same way, I am disturbed because this seems to be discrediting our own self-knowledge, telling us that we don't recognize what we truly need and want, something I think all women have been told too often. I became involved in feminist movement because I desperately needed the support of other feminists who recognized my right to define my own sexuality and not be punished for doing so.  That need is still there for me, and many others.

[48] Do you think there's room within sexual evolution for feminism to support all women's sexual needs, including the needs of women who are primarily oriented toward hedonistic gratification of physical needs through intercourse?

[49] Again, I need to make some clarifications, which the context of my statements can clarify. Yes, I do believe that there's room within the sexual evolution, which I describe as young women's continuing movement for control, to support all women's sexual  needs. That is the point of it.

[50] In my introduction, I used the term "wildly hedonistic," but I didn't use it negatively. I was describing the very wide range of young women's more individualistic behavior, a new sexual pluralism. But what actually happens is that most women don't choose either extreme, being "absolutely Puritan or wildly hedonistic, but are somewhere in between. Young women may often be aggressive in some ways, but submissive in others." (page 5)

[51] Many of the young feminist activists whom I interviewed voiced hope for more flexible and open dialogue about sex. Instead of viewing feminism's purpose as telling young women what to think, they value it for teaching young women how to think critically. A prime example of this is a group I profile, Sluts Against Rape, founded in 1991 at my alma mater, the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. As a founder told me, the group started to "add some sexual fun" to the more staid Take Back the Night March against sexual violence. Dressed festively and saucily in high heels and lingerie, they bring home the message that women have the right to say no to sex, even if they also say yes to it. (And the name of their group, "slut," is meant to be ironic, not pejorative.) They wear this "slut" label proudly, with chants that include: "No means fuck you and yes means fuck me" and "We are gay, we are straight, we fuck on the first date." This is a very "third wave" statement, to embrace such contradictions, to look at women's real sexual desire as co-existing with their rights to say no to sex, when they want to do so.

[52] And, once again, when I called communication "a basic and human need," I was arguing not to reject it as possibly a part of sexual liberation. I wasn't saying that people who don't have this desire to communicate are wrong. But I was presenting it is a legitimate choice for those who want it.

[53] CS: This is reassuring.  In looking back over our dialogue to this point, I am tempted to read my own returns to the topic of denigration of women deemed "sluts" as indicative of how marginalized I've felt by feminism and how painful it has often been to me because of its support of majoritist views of female sexuality.  Like many people of minoritized races who can't feel comfortable with the ironic or resignificatory use of former racial slurs, I don't think I will ever feel comfortable with the term slut, which I grew up hearing exclusively in the context of justification of rapes, beatings, and extreme social ostracism.  But I do see that attitudes are changing.

[54] I've been making an implicit connection between a preference for penetrative sex and a desire for casual/anonymous sexual encounters because it seems to me logical that women who need direct clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm might do better at getting their needs met in situations where they knew and their partners, could talk about sex to them, and could trust that their partners cared about their satisfaction enough to stimulate them in the ways they prefer.  Conversely, it seems reasonable to me to believe that women whose primary sexual pleasure comes from intercourse itself would be more inclined to find encounters that consist of nothing but intercourse satisfying.  Do you think I am missing anything in making this connection?

[55] PK: Yes, again, I see this distinction as more generational. As I said above, sex without commitment is so accepted by this generation that it can take many, many forms – with all kinds of relationships (either a one-night-stand or ongoing), or sexual forms (from oral sex to intercourse). The possibilities are endless. I think that younger women would feel more comfortable communicating with even the most casual sex partner, and not limiting orgasm-inducing activities to just intercourse.

[56] CS: In his book, The Trouble with Normal, Queer Theorist Michael Warner argues that America's current emphasis on family causes us to pathologize people who do not want sex to function in their lives as a means of forming life partnerships or at least of communicating affection within an ongoing relationship.  Part of his thesis is that, as a result, we are losing sight of the ways individual, social, and cultural life can be enriched when people who enjoy casual or anonymous sexual encounters can engage in them without being forced "underground" by fear of stigmatization or worse punishments. 

[57] As a Foucauldian and Deleuzo-Guattarian theorist, I passionately agree with this idea.  Sex is meaningful to me as an end in itself.  I am offended by the idea that it is bad unless it is instrumental to something considered morally better and thus acceptable, whether that be procreation, forming a family, or merely communication of affection.  I think that wherever sex that has no pretensions to being anything but a physical experience is accepted as a legitimate part of human life, it can bring about new relations between people, helping to heal the divisiveness brought about by centuries of moralization of desires and sexual practices.   

[58] What I most fear is that feminism will continue, as it has done since the emergence of the Andrea Dworkin/Catherine MacKinnon anti-pornography movement, to be understood by the general public as sexually prescriptive, as a movement that tells people whether their desires are legitimate or not, and whose real agenda is to fight sexual cultures that transgress traditional proprieties.  Should I fear this, or is the new generation moving toward a more tolerant attitude toward radical sex or what many call "public sex cultures"? 

[59] PK: You should be more hopeful.  As I discussed, a driving force in "third wave" feminism is to make feminism less "prescriptive," less censoring, and more embracing of the true diversity and enormity of women's desires. I mentioned the documentary "Live Nude Girls Unite." That film is by a woman about my age, Julia Query, in her mid 30s, who worked for the Lusty Lady, a strip club in San Francisco (and Seattle). (Another young woman, Elizabeth Eaves, writes about her experiences as a feminist there in her new book, Bare: On Dancing, Sex and  Power.) One of the most interesting scenes is when Julia tells her mother, a dedicated Boomer feminist activist, about her work. (Her mother, interestingly, is an activist on behalf of prostitute rights.) But her mother believes that what the "sex workers" do is degrading, and she is ashamed of her daughter. The two women then engage in a dialogue about what is right and what is wrong, which is a metaphor for conflicts and dialogues between generations. Julia really embodies a "third wave" point of view that, for better and for worse, is less political, or classifying, about sex. 

[60] A positive is that there is more room for more choices. A negative, as many Boomer feminists have pointed out, is that we are less political. When do you draw the line and not accept something as a valid feminist choice? Is everything acceptable? Is all "transgression" acceptable?

[61] I actually appreciate some of the work of Dworkin and McKinnon to point out on a large scale some of the harm that objectifying of women can do. They have forced us not to take it for granted as "just nothing."  And, in the "big picture" of things, I see "third wavers" enriching us with another perspective, about the complexities and multiple forms of women's sexual desire, which we have just begun to explore.

[62] So far, along with prostitutes and other "sex workers," lesbians and bisexual women have been on the forefront in their discussion of transgressive female desire, with publications such as On Our Backs and writers like Carol Queen and Susie Bright.  Of course, lesbians and bisexuals have a great stake in this discussion of women's myriad forms of desire, as they have had to work to define their sexuality apart from men from the beginning. Lesbians have to acknowledge and study female desire, because they'd have no sex without it. In contrast, heterosexual women can more easily just accept old definitions of their relationships, ignoring undefined and complex female desire for the "sure thing" of what is considered as male desire.

[63] I appreciate your book for paving new ground for us heterosexuals, especially those not in already "radical" lines of work, such as in the sex industry. Yes, we have yet to begin dialogue about how to form relationships with men that are radical and allow for more diverse forms of exploration, apart from the 50/50 utopian monogamous close committed relationship envisioned by feminists in the 1970s that you describe in New Millennial Sexstyles. As your book illustrates, "radical sex" can have meaning beyond one's sexual orientation.

[64] I also hope that we feminists, of all generations, can incorporate some of the ideals of the journalistic approach into further debates. If we want to have constructive, critical dialogue as feminists about such thorny topics as sex, we have to be very tolerant of "politically correct" points of view, and hear what young women have to say, without being too defensive or judgmental. As Phyllis Chesler reports in her excellent book, Woman's Inhumanity to Woman, many second wave activists in the 1970s were derailed unfairly by the unfortunate practice of "trashing," or women socially ostracizing others who didn't conform to their philosophies. In that era, they didn't adequately deal with the issues of power and aggression and conflict, which are a part of our human make-up. Instead of sweeping them under the rug, we have to recognize them as basic parts of women's humanity, just as some people believe that compassion and communication are. Chesler talks about us accepting, and even celebrating, some parts of our aggression, and not dismissing them as "male traps." We also need to recognize these parts of ourselves to debate each other directly, using "the rules of engagement and disengagement," allowing ourselves to confront each other professionally, disagree, and then move on. After all, we're all in this together. And active dialogue about women's complex inner truths is the only way that the movement will stay relevant, and even grow.

[65] CS: This delights me to hear!  As, I discuss fairly exhaustively in New Millennial Sexstyles, one of the most frustrating aspects of my life as an academic who is also both a radical feminist and a sex radical is that academic feminism is so heavily informed by psychoanalytic theories that posit opposed "masculine" and "feminine" subjectivities.  The result seems to be that many academic feminists talk about things like "male desire" or "female sexuality" as if all men wanted the same things and all women had identical desires and responses.  This does not fit in any way with my own experiences or observations of life.  What are your thoughts on this?  

[66] PK: Yes, these divisions into what is naturally "male" and 'female" in terms of sexual desire are less tolerated among young feminists, such as those I interviewed. In Her Way, this was not even an issue, of what is "naturally" female or male.  A major contribution of "third wave" postboomer feminists is to explore the "politically incorrect" parts of sexuality, to challenge any pre-existing theories that dictate women are "naturally" one way or another. I can offer many current examples of this of young women celebrating "sexual transgression." They range from Jane Sexes it Up, a new anthology of young feminist writings on sex, to the pages of Bust Magazine, to the 2000 documentary about young feminist strippers in San Francisco, "Live Nude Girls Unite!"

[67] What also comes to mind now is a new wave of books on "the dark sides" of women and girls, mainly by young women in their 20s and 30s, recognizing women's true aggressive sides. These include Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman, Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons, Fast Girls, by Emily White, and Catfight by Leora Tanenbaum. Another one is 47-year old psychologist Sharon Lamb's The Secret Lives of Girls, which actually recognizes and celebrates some positive aspects of girls' aggression.  Most of these women were educated in the 1980s and 1990s, a less politically charged and more individualistic time. With a critical and personal distance from the women's movement of the 1970s, they observed in the schoolyard that women were not the angels that some portrayed them as being. They also think in less ideological terms of what a woman is or isn't, not being forced to defend their merit or virtue to men to gain rights. As Rachel Simmons says, we don't have to prove that we are better than men to deserve equality to them.

[68] CS: This is illuminating.  I think you are right to see issues surrounding the gendering of aggression as relevant to concepts of female sexuality, and also right that it is a major step forward that today's feminists' are so willing to look at women's and girls' aggressive and even violent behavior.  After the beginning of this dialogue with you, I began to realize that one reason women of my generation distinguished so insistently between anonymous sex and other sorts was the high tolerance of male violence in our world.  And how uncomfortable and threatening that was for most of us. 

[69] I began dating in 1964, back in the days when no unmarried woman who wasn't a virgin could expect to win a rape case.  Because the legal system of that time did not recognize forced sex within marriage, or within any ongoing sexual relationship, as rape, and because popular psychology viewed women as pathological if they desired sex without love, once a woman began having sex with a man it was very difficult for her to extract herself from a sexual relationship with him, unless he wanted to be free of her. Most men seemed to assume that once a woman had consented to sex with them she no longer had any right to refuse it or to refuse to serve them in domestic ways.  Emotionally healthy women were generally expected to be grateful for any opportunity to keep the attention of a man with whom they had once consented to sex, since it was assumed that they must love him to have given in to his desires, and thus must have a tremendous emotional need for a permanent relationship with him. 

[70] We often seemed faced with a choice between anonymous sex with a stranger from whom we could easily escape once the sex was over and who probably couldn't find us again in order to try to dominate us, or else putting ourselves in a position (girlfriend, wife) where our relationship to the man would be entirely dictated by his needs and wants -- or else he could rape us or beat us up and the law would do nothing to intervene.  Remember this was back in the days when domestic violence was commonly regarded as comical and not given serious legal attention.  This was even more the case when the couple were not married, since the woman would be considered desperate to win a commitment from the man and willing to resort to false accusations as part of her strategy to ensnare him. 

[71] I remember feeling terrifying claustrophobia whenever a man with whom I had had a sexual encounter tried to get close to me emotionally.  And if he somehow obtained my telephone number and called me, I was certain that I'd soon be driven to flee for my own safety, as happened more than a few times.  For many of the early female sexual revolutionaries part of the thrill of the anonymous sex scenes was the way they allowed us to get the pleasure we wanted and then to escape fast enough not to be caught by men, who had all the power in our world. 

[72] From what you've written I can see that the sort of expectations that made casual sex so dangerous for women who wanted to retain autonomy are no longer seen as the norm.  In fact, the once prevalent view that a man owned a woman once she consented to sex with him seems now to be regarded as intolerable by the law and by all reasonable people.  What a great advance in consciousness!  I do now realize how it's possible for young women to talk to men and have friendly relations with them that include sex for the sake of pleasure only.  I never could understand that before. 

[73] Your responses made me feel so much more optimistic and cheerful!  Thank you for taking the time to engage in this dialogue.