The hallmark of sexuality is its complexity: its multiple meanings, sensations and connections. It is all too easy to cast sexual experience as either wholly pleasurable or dangerous; our culture encourages us to do so. Women are encouraged to assent that all male sexuality done to them is pleasurable and liberatory: women really enjoy being raped but can’t admit it, and the often horrid cartoons in Hustler are just a lighthearted joke. In a countermove, the feminist critique emphasized the ubiquity of sexual danger and humiliation in a patriarchal surround. Initially useful as an ideological interruption, this critique now shares the same undialectical and simplistic focus as its opposition. Women’s actual sexual experience is more complicated, more difficult to grasp, more unsettling. Just as agreeing not to mention danger requires that one’s sexual autobiography be recast, agreeing not to speak about pleasure requires a similar dishonest alchemy, the transmutation of sexuality into unmitigated danger and unremitting victimization.
Carol Vance, “Pleasure and Danger: Towards a Politics of Sexuality”, in Carol S Vance (ed.) Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, Pandora: 1992, extracts reprinted in Feminisms, Sandra Kemp and Judith Squires (eds), Oxford University Press: 1997