Locker room talk and sex positivity


The three top entries in Urban Dictionary on the definition of ‘locker room talk’ seem to have a general consensus that ‘locker room banter/ talk’ (henceforth LRB) tends to concern taboo subjects not usually permissible in polite society, such as comments of a sexual nature, often with sexist and maybe even racist connotations. However, the definitions do differ pretty markedly in terms of how LRB is framed. Definitions one and three refer to men being the group making use of LRB, while definition two avoids explicit reference to a specific gender, instead referring to individuals who do so as “like-minded, similarly gendered peers”. In addition, the three definitions appear to be on a sliding scale of acceptance with regards to LRB, with definition one adopting an almost-apologetic tone (claiming LRB is for the purpose of male comedy and should not be taken seriously), definition two seeming more neutral by comparison as a result of its lack of rapport-building language (only third person pronouns are used) and definition three adopting a downright disapproving tone in suggesting that men who participate in LRB are “chauvinistic pigs”.

I agree that the definitions do capture what LRB encompasses, because LRB, despite its name, doesn’t have to take place in a physical locker room, just as not all conversations within a locker room will fall under the definitions of LRB given. Instead, LRB is an expression of socially inculcated desire made that can be understood by groups of individuals “because it draws on codes of signification that circulate within the wider society” (Cameron & Kulick, 2003). However, these definitions don’t make explicit reference to any sort of social or interpersonal functions LRB might serve (beyond definition one’s “for the purpose of male comedy”).


The purpose of LRB is generally to construct relationships between the speaker and the imagined object of desire so as to create a shared intimacy between the two. This “eroticisation of socially salient differences” (Cameron & Kulick, 2003) often involves traversing axes of power, and can make the speaker feel powerful. By using derogatory language, the speakers also signal their lack of solidarity with the group they are speaking about and therefore divorce themselves from what is often a less privileged group of individuals. For example, men may make reference to women being passive objects of sexual desire rather than, for instance, active participants in the act of intercourse. With regard to male users of LRB specifically, LRB can be used to index heterosexual masculinity and express commitment to speakers’ shared norms for gender and sexuality as a form of gender performance (Butler, 1990). Far from the harmless phenomenon it’s made out to be, by participating in LRB, encouraging it or even not discouraging it, speakers directly or indirectly create and perpetuate a culture of sexism and misogyny through the co-operative style of their talk.



To be sex positive means to have positive attitudes about sex and to be comfortable with one’s own sexual identity in the context of one’s own relationships with others. Beyond sex and sexual activities, being sex positive also involves learning more about the emotional, psychological and physical aspects of sex and sexual activity – that is, having an open-minded approach to sex (rather than regarding it as a taboo topic). Instead, sex-positive people regard sexuality as an innate part of being human and consider it invaluable in normalising sexuality (particularly female sexuality) as well as non-traditional gender identities so that individuals may make informed decisions about their bodies in the future. It also means to be accepting of with the sexual behaviours of others even if it goes against one’s own personal beliefs or preferences, so long as all parties involved do so in a safe and consensual.

In my opinion, its implications for contemporary identity politics are somewhat of a mixed bag.

On one hand, since identity politics are generally “grounded and validated” (Cameron & Kulick, 2003) with reference to an experience shared by members of a group who share an identity, the movement emphasizes the personal and political journey of the individual and values shared practices, symbols and rituals. This often extends to language use by members of the community, which serve as expressions of group identity. In terms of contemporary identity politics, outspoken sex-positive individuals who make themselves visible and reclaim previously pejorative terms such as “slut” and “ho” serve to enrich the environment that cultivates political change.

On the other hand, identity politics has a tendency to accentuate the positive. After all, it is the individuals who celebrate their differences that are oftentimes heard – no one goes out into the streets to proclaim that they are ashamed of themselves. However, this makes it easy to overlook subjects who do not share the same feelings of pride. In contemporary identity politics, this can mean erasure of groups that are less visible or less accepted by society at large, whether as a result of race, class or gender.

Lastly, contemporary identity politics also downplays the importance of power in enacting change. While it is doubtlessly a positive change that individuals are allowed and even encouraged to celebrate their differences, focusing purely on doing so can divert resources and attention from enacting actual change where it matters – in legislation or otherwise. While some activists argue that minorities celebrating their differences is a form of challenging existing hegemonic power structures in and of themselves, it should be remembered that in order for identity politics to serve its purpose, social inequality has to be reduced.


Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.

Cameron, & Kulick. Language and sexuality. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Author: Kai Wen

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