TIME Sex

The Duke Porn Star is Right: Kink Can Be a Feminist Choice

Duke adult film star student, Belle Knox, poses for a photo on March 5, 2014 in Los Angeles.
Duke adult film star student, Belle Knox, poses for a photo on March 5, 2014 in Los Angeles. Joe Kohen—Getty Images

The university student/adult film actress penned a controversial xoJane essay defending rough sex. She's right-- there's nothing un-feminist about kink

Duke porn star Belle Knox is back in action, this time with a long manifesto on XOJane about why loving kinky sex doesn’t make her a bad feminist. She also made her strip-club debut in New York this week, and announced on Fox that she’ll be returning to the Duke University campus this week despite the slut shaming and death threats.

Knox argues that she enjoys fantasies of sexual degradation (specifically rough oral sex) and that preference has no bearing on her feminist status.

The truth is: If a woman fantasizes about being dominated and degraded, it does not mean she actually wants or deserves to be dominated and degraded IN REAL LIFE. It does not mean she deserves to be name-called even though during a sexual act that might be the exact thing that turns her on.

Feminism means I can take ownership of what I enjoy sexually and that sexuality does not have to determine anything else about me. You might. But I will not.

Because feminism is not a one size fits all movement.

You tell ‘em, Duke porn star. She also says:

We play around with roles and identities while we are working out issues that are long buried in our subconscious. I’m an ambitious young woman. I’m a student at Duke. I’m a slut who needs to be punished.

Can you guess which one of those is a role?

Knox’s point would be better made if her whole porn career was some kind of long research experiment for a Women & Gender Studies paper. As it is, there are a few worrisome things about her essay, like the fact that 1) she is still a teenager, 2) she admits in the piece to a history of depression and cutting herself, and 3) defending porn as feminist is itself kind of problematic, because it’s often so dude-centric–despite a growing market for feminist porn. And some argue that violent sex fantasies inspire real life sexual violence, although there’s not a lot of scientific consensus on whether that’s true.

MORE: The Duke Porn Star Isn’t as Empowered as She Thinks

But she’s ultimately right that empowered women can also enjoy kink. Feminism is not a gulag– it’s not like there are guards that will shoot you if you try to escape for the night. Let’s get rid of this idea that feminism is an all-or-nothing pursuit that has to be 100% consistent because, as early feminist Margaret Fuller’s BFF Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

And last time I checked, penises and vaginas don’t have politics. Since when do our sex lives have to correspond with our political leanings? Some people (not me) might think Paul Ryan is hot, okay? And other people think Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock is “schockingly” sexy. It doesn’t matter if our politics align, because this is a sex fantasy, not a voting booth.

Besides, isn’t the whole point of a fantasy to be an escape from what other people think is appropriate? If what you’re doing is “appropriate,” it’s probably not hot. I don’t even want to know what a politically correct sex life would look like, but it sounds boring.

Just because many of us can’t imagine anyone enjoying rough (consensual) oral sex, doesn’t mean it’s not possible that some women do. I can’t imagine anyone enjoying a tuna salad sandwich, but that’s still a popular lunch choice.

If the Duke porn star actually does love rough sex, good for her. The problem would be if she were just pretending to like it in order to fulfill some guy’s fantasy. Some women feel like they have to pretend to like kink because their boyfriends want to recreate the porn they watch. But she insists that’s not the case, and we should believe her.

We believe sexual assault survivors when they say the sex wasn’t consensual. We should also believe Belle Knox when she says it was.

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