Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again

Katherine Angel

Katherine Angel posits that consent is not enough, that while positive consent is the “least bad standard” for sexual assault legislation, it isn't equipped to make “sex good again”. She is critical of confidence culture, the idea that a woman should be invulnerable and self-confident — either knowing her desires and giving positive consent, or boldly rebuffing any man who crosses her boundaries. She argues instead for a model of sexual assault that places responsibility with the assaulter; for recognition of the power dynamics and inequality inherent in sex; and for acceptance of women's (and men's) sexual vulnerability, and the pleasure that can be found in experimentation and uncertainty.

Chapter Summaries

Positive consent is the “least bad standard” for sexual assault legislation, but it cannot achieve the larger aim of consent culture — of making sex good again. Advocates both for and against positive consent use the language of confidence: either that women should know what they want and enthusiastically communicate it; or else should boldly stand up to any man who oversteps his mark. The latter position ignores the real imbalance of power in hetero sex; the former asks that women “know ourselves in order to be safe from violence”, and that desire be “fixed and known” before women can experience pleasure

2. On Desire

Angel presents two contrasting views of sexual desire:

  1. the Masters-Johnson 'linear' model of sex, where desire is a spontaneous biological drive for both men and women
  2. the theory that male desire is spontaneous, whereas women's is responsive and more driven by non-sexual needs

The first, she argues, is a shoddy medicalisation of a social phenomenon, while the latter places women in a passive role and can transform female desire into transactional motive. The reality is that both shaped by societal forces: female spontaneous desire is repressed and punished by society, while men's non-sexual motives are rendered invisible

3. On Arousal

Sex studies claim to identify what really arouses women by measuring for example vaginal blood flow, and have repeatedly found that women's subjective arousal is 'non-concordant' with these physical responses. This finding are troubling for two reasons:

In measuring physical responses these experiments remove sex from its social reality: “it is not the case that sexual desire is occurring and women are disconnected from it; it's that what the laboratory is studying is not sexual arousal”

4. On Vulnerability

Consent and confidence culture position women as invulnerable, knowing full well their desires and needs and being able to communicate them clearly. This comes from a place of wanting to protect women from men who see uncertainty as something to be overcome — see 'no' as an invitation to push for a 'yes'. But sexual pleasure arises from vulnerability, from being both “met [… and] surprised in one's desires”: where consent reaches its limits, Angel advocates “conversation, mutual exploration, curiosity, uncertainty”.