Ti-Grace Atkinson, a radical feminist philosopher, positioned it as the enemy of independence and insecurity. “What is love but need?” she wrote in 1968. “What is love but fear?” Other early feminists weren’t against romance in a perfect world, but they reasoned that until conditions improved, heterosexual love was too tied to marriage and societal expectations of what it meant to be feminine. Shulamith Firestone, in her classic 1970 manifesto “The Dialectic of Sex,” saw romance as “a cultural tool of male power to keep women from knowing their conditions.” Radical lesbians like Jill Johnston viewed loving women instead of men as a necessary political choice.
Of course, if romance is the enemy of revolution, it’s also the enemy of rigid mandates like celibacy. Ultimately, the pro-sex feminists won out. In this moment of feminist resurgence, no one is suggesting we stop having sex.
For me, a woman who came of age with Lil’ Kim and “Sex and the City,” the idea feels like cutting off your nose to spite your face; eroticism is an irresistible source of pleasure. Which is precisely the point: “Why has all joy and excitement been concentrated, driven into one narrow, difficult-to-find alley of human experience?” Firestone wrote. Even she knew what it was like to be consumed with the pursuit of romance. In 2012, in an interview shortly after Firestone died, the feminist activist Rosalyn Baxandall told me that Firestone was “no political celibate” in the late ’60s; instead, she remembered her as “boy-crazy.”