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Sex (Yes, “Sex,” Not “Gender”)

For a while now, a diverse stream of feminists under the rubric of “sex-positive” have been working to transform our cultural understandings of sexuality, perversity, work and oppression. They’ve argued that taking control of one’s own sexual pleasure is a vital aspect of women’s personal empowerment, and that people have every right to use their own bodies in ways they freely and consensually choose. A stripper, for example, should be able to exert her power in the capitalist exchange of goods for money. Sex work, goes this new thinking about s sexuality, is actual work that should be regarded as such and should be unionized. Many aspects of non-traditional sexuality (from queer sex to S/M, from non-monogamous relationships to a heterosexual how-to video called Bend Over Boyfriend) can liberate individuals or society as a whole.

Somehow, a disproportionate number of the leaders in this world are Jewish. Jewish women are making porn that reflects real human sexuality, working as educators, writing intelligent erotica and selling vibrators to the masses, Here’s a short round-up of some of the sex world’s most chosen of people: Hanne Blank, author of the groundbreaking Big Big Love: A Sourcebook on Sex for People of Size and Those Who Love Them, editor of Zaftig: Well Rounded Erotica, and co-editor of the Scarleteen.com, a sexuality education clearinghouse for teens and young adults. She’s a self-described “great big Jew (literally as well as metaphorically)” whose “sign is egalitarian Conservative with radical Reconstructionism rising and [her] moon, as it were, is in feminist havurot and ethical study.” Joani Blank (no relation to Hanne), the self-described Jewish Unitarian Universalist who founded Down There Press in 1975 and, two years later, opened Good Vibrations, the world’s first “clean, well-lighted” sex shop. Scarlet Harlot, aka Carol Leigh, was a red-diaper baby in Jackson Heights, Queens, before she became head of the Prostitutes Education Network, a founding member of ACT-UP and a leader in the sex workers’ rights movement. She writes: “When most middle-class women experience harassment. . .they are taught to challenge the abuses in their lives. Meanwhile, prostitutes are out there on the streets being harassed regularly by police and no one advocates to protect their bodies, let alone their sensibilities.” Annie Sprinkle, the original slut/goddess herself, the prostitute, porn star-turned-performance artist, author, activist, and sex guru responsible for the “public cervix announcement,” embraces her Jewish roots in a number of projects, including the Ellen/Annie piece in her book Post Porn Modernist: “The truth is, Annie Sprinkle still is very much Ellen Steinberg.” Karen X. Tulchinsky, the self-described “nice Jewish butch,” author or editor of 10 books about love, lust, and lesbian desire, including Friday the Rabbi Wore Lace: .Jewish Lesbian Erotica and In Her Nature, a collection of short stories about, among other things, “grieving and thriving as a Jewish dyke.” Laura Weide, creator of the now-somewhat-infamous “Labia Menorah”—by which you can light candles on 8 nights of vulvas—and Lesbian Porn 101, a comprehensive video history. Dr. Ruth Westheimer—the original. Her academic career began with a scholarship for a master’s in sociology that had been earmarked for a Holocaust survivor. From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to becoming America’s most famous and respected sex therapist.

Other notable sex-positive sisters include: Erica Jong, original choreographer of the “Zipless Fuck” in Fear of Flying (1973), Julia Query, member of the labor organizing staff of the Lusty Lady strip club (now unionized) and director/producer of the documentary, Live! Nude! Girls! Unite! [LILITH; Winter 2000] and Marey Sheiner, editor of The Oy of Sex: Jewish Women Write Erotica.