First, a primer, from a person with only a very basic understanding of the subject.
“Sex-positive” feminists (self-described) are often placed at odds with purported “sex-negative” feminists (not a word they use themselves; they just call themselves “feminists”) over subjects like sex work (ie, prostitution and pornography). There is lots and lots of overlap between the two groups, but it can be grossly simplified into the idea that sex-positive feminists approve of sex work, and believe that it is a job like any other that should not be criminalized or stigmatized, and might benefit from government oversight and regulation. Non-sex-positive feminists believe that sex work institutions are harmful to women, as individuals and as a class, and fight against legitimizing it. “Sex-negative” is a pejorative term for this group of feminists and not a label they use to describe themselves. They may, in fact, like sex, and may not, actually, stigmatize interpersonal sexual relationships; the harm they attribute to sex work is political and cultural, and very often violent at the individual level. The way they describe the consequences of sex work makes people feel bad about prostitution and porn, and when conversations turn to prostitution and porn, they can be real buzzkills.
Lots of men prefer talking to sex-positive feminists rather than feminists (according to the differences denoted above), because lots of men like prostitution and porn, particularly when the financial transaction makes it easy to pretend that it’s just business and there are no victims (at least when prostitution and porn are done correctly). Prostitution and pornography come up as topics fairly frequently within skeptical communities (frequently, that is, for a scientific and technical interest), largely because of the large proportion of men within the community (men are the primary consumers of the sex trades). It comes up because people within communities are social and talk to each other about lots of different things, and porn is a common bonding experience for men online. It’s when women get involved in these conversations (about porn or prostitution) as analyzers (rather than as providers) that you then start to hear about “sex-positive” and “sex-negative” feminists. Sex-positive feminists don’t mind porn in theory; “sex-negative” feminists do. The use of these labels delineates to women which types of feminists are welcome to participate within that skeptical environment. Hint: “Sex-negative” feminists are told to like it or leave it. Sex-positive feminists are told to explain why porn and prostitution are really OK if done correctly (and they usually will).
This entire business about the fake category of “sex-negative” feminism keeps the number of women participating in active skepticism to a minimum. Is it a conspiracy to keep porn around? I dunno. Scapegoating a less visible population is certainly a tried-and-true tactic of vilifying an “other” to promote in-group bonding. More or less demanding (by misrepresenting the women who vary from the rule) that women be sex-positive or be elsewhere means that women who are put off by the incorporation of sex into skepticism will stay out of your community; the risk comes in not knowing what percentage of women feel that way. Is it a majority of women? I dunno. Is the percentage of women in skepticism an indicator at all? I dunno (but the majority of women are not actively involved). But defining in narrow terms which women are welcome in skepticism is going to work against your efforts to recruit more women to the cause.
And this is the most astonishing thing: Who cares about sex-positive feminism within skepticism? Why on earth does a woman have to be a sex-positive feminist to help you with your letter-writing campaign to keep creationism out of textbooks? How is tolerating pornography relevant to the anti-vaccination movement? What does the politcal topic of regulating prostitution have to do with collecting data for human-caused global warming? And why do you want women to give you permission to mix up sex with skepticism in the first place? Why are you trying to bring sex into the business of skepticism? Which do you care about more? What does sex-positive feminism have to do with skeptical anything, outside of skeptical inquiry to the effects of sex work? The answer is nothing. There is no legitimate skeptical reason to invent and deploy (and then dismiss) a category of women who won’t overlook your non-skeptical, sexual behaviors within the community except that you don’t want to give the behaviors up and you don’t want to examine the reasons why. Like I said, buzzkill. And for some reason, separating sex business from skeptical business never seems to be an acceptable option.
I mean, it’s one thing to have a discussion about the potential harm of sex work or the possible benefits of legalizing or regulating sex work, and for people to discuss philosophy and data to support their arguments. (And these types of discussions might occur more often as more women become leaders within the skeptical movement, but they are not common now.) Supporting or decrying potential legislation, for example, based on evidence and reason falls well within the skeptical umbrella, but to fully explore the topic you’d need sex-positive feminists and other feminists and people who haven’t thought about it at all. Drumming out non-sex-positive feminists before the conversation can even be had would institutionalize biases and preconceived notions, and prejudice the group to conclusions about it. That’s not good skepticism. And if you’ve gone out of your way to denigrate non-sex-positive feminists beforehand, the ones you invite to participate in the discussion you’ve already predisposed your community to take less seriously.
The only place sex-positive feminists and non-sex-positive feminists come into conflict is within the scope of sex work and the politics of sex. Manufacturing conflict within non-sex work topics because you want to keep the sexytime in skepticism is going undermine your efforts to bring more women into the fold. Non-sex-positive feminists are not enemies to the skeptical movement. Requiring sex-positive feminism–be it officially or by casting aspersions on and creating strawmen about non-sex-positive feminism–unnecessarily alienates potential allies. There are a lot of women out there who could help you. Don’t pit them against each other over sex.