A brief summary of the "sex commons" session

Elizabeth's picture

I can't summarize the entire discussion because it was too lively and I was paying too much attention in the moment to take many notes, but let me summarize here the remarks I made at the start of the session. I hope others will add to this thread if they remember things that should be "archived" from that session. I also invite anyone who wants to start a topic in this forum to do so. There were so many interesting threads in the discussion on Saturday that I'd hate for them to all get jumbled in the comments on this thread. So please feel free to add topics as needed!

I introduced the idea of the sex commons this way: The commons is a resource. As a resource it needs to be useful, accessible, sustainable and independent.

  • Useful: all kinds of uses, including information, entertainment, community building, and self expression. Pleasure seeking is as important as information seeking.
  • Accessible: means that it needs to be searchable, networked, uncensored. Concerns also include barriers to basic internet access.
  • Sustainable: material needs to be archivable so that it is available into the future, and the work of building and maintainng the commons needs to be managed so that contributors don't burn out. Maintaining the commons involves cooperation and collaboration.
  • Independent: While not excluding large organizations, the commons needs to be as free from corporate control as possible. Issues of medicalization, privatization, and net neutrality are all important here.

What kinds of information are included in the sex commons?

  • Personal narrative blogs - important because they allow for the sharing of individual experience, an important source of information especially about sex.
  • Social commentary/analysis blogs - important because they help us reframe sex-related issues and regain some control over how sex is talked about in a range of spaces; also helpful for mobilizing activism.
  • Organization web sites - places like Planned Parenthood, RH Reality Check, and others are all important because their resources (financial and human) provide things like research, political action, and outreach services that bloggers can't provide.

Important ways of contributing to the commons include:

  • Blogging - whether it is personal experience or social commentary or photos or fiction sharing good sex-related material out there is important.
  • Commenting - no less important than blogging, commenters help others to evaluate information and they also contribute important information; without commenters there would be no dialogue.
  • Aggregating - web sites that collect and disseminate information help us navigate the commons and find useful material.
  • Linking - a way of citing and pointing to the sources we are using, and a way of telling people who like our work what other things we like; builds useful pathways through the commons.
  • Licensing work using Creative Commons lets us reserve some rights for ourselves while placing our work in the commons for others to use more widely than traditional copyright would allow.

Why is building and maintaining this sex commons a particularly feminist project? Because this model of information sharing helps us regain control over sexual knowledge that has in recent decades increasingly been controlled by large corporations and the medical establishment. This shifting of control helps people build better sexual experiences in at least the following ways:

  • Building vocabularies of desire - Lots of people don't know how to ask for what they want, and may not yet even be able to imagine the things that they want. The easier it is to read about other people's desires, the more vocabulary they have to think about and talk about what turns them on.
  • Reducing shame - Even when we know what we want, our desires might be stigmatized and we might feel shame around them. Reading about other people who share our interests and who are not ashamed can help us overcome our own shame.
  • Sharing knowledge about bodies and activities - Official sex education sites offer lots of good information but we also need the personal experience kind of information that bloggers share. While a sex information site can tell you about female ejaculation, for example, it is less able to provide detailed information about how it felt, what the emotional experience was like, how partners reacted, and so on.
  • Building community - We need have people we can share our own questions, experiences, and interests with. This kind of community-building can be done online as well as offline.
For more on this feminist approach to building more satisfying sex lives, especially for women, see the New View Campaign web site (http://fsd-alert.org). The categories above are drawn from their classification system for women's sexual issues.