Sexism and Asexuality: Part Four, “Real Relationships”

So far in this series, I’ve written about how sexism kept me from realizing I was asexual, how asexual women don’t get a pass from sexism, and how telling women they’re not really asexual plays into a sexist narrative where women can’t be trusted to know about themselves. This week, I’m going to write about the popular troll phrase, “Asexuals have just never been in ‘real’ relationships,” and how this phrase is simply another way of coercing women into unwanted sex.

I wrote about one problem I have with this phrase back in March, but today I’m going to go deeper. The idea that they’re only asexual because they’ve never been in a “real relationship” is something asexuals hear a lot; it should probably have a spot in the next edition of asexual bingo. So what constitutes a “real” relationship? In the eyes of most of the world, and the people saying it, a romantic relationship, and probably one that includes sex– which is something many asexuals don’t want to have.

Telling people they have to engage in unwanted sex before you consider their desires valid is a form of social coercion. It creates pressure on them to engage in unwanted sex, and it contributes to rape culture. When applied to women, it’s a form of sexism as well, since women already face disproportionate pressure to engage in unwanted sex. Women’s desires are already invalidated on so many grounds; adding more, telling women they have to check off “x” box before you consider their desires and experiences valid, is misogynistic.

Unfortunately, this phrase is found within feminist communities as well as outside of it. If your idea of feminist activism involves telling women you won’t believe them about their sexual orientation until they have sex they don’t want to have, you are not being a feminist, you are being a mouthpiece for the patriarchy. Go directly to feminist jail, do not pass feminist go, and do not collect two hundred feminist dollars. Go to your room and rethink your feminism. Women’s desires and identities are not something on which you can place conditions. An orientation doesn’t need “x” amount of relationship experience to make it valid; romantic desire doesn’t need “x” amount of sexual desire to make it valid; platonic desire doesn’t need “x” amount of romantic desire to make it valid.

Feminism means trusting women to be the authority on our own identity and desires, against a background of misogyny that tells us women shouldn’t have any desires and need men to tell us what we want, anyway. Feminism means listening to women about our own experiences and identities. And feminism means not coercing us into unwanted sex by refusing to believe our own accounts of ourselves until we have it.

About Aydan

Aydan is an aromantic asexual biology grad student in the US. She blogs at Confessions of an Ist about asexuality, Christianity, environmentalism, and feminism.
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2 Responses to Sexism and Asexuality: Part Four, “Real Relationships”

  1. Right on! That last paragraph is really powerful, and the entire piece is such a well-written truth. Way to be yourself despite society’s faulty dominant ideology and thank you for speaking up about your experience.

  2. Sable says:

    I’d like to add that the reasoning is both insidious and too circular for anyone to satisfy. Anyone who tries to jump through the real relationship hoop will keep finding more hoops to jump through, because there is no definition of real beyond convincing the asexual person they’re not asexual.

    The approach to asexuality represented by the phrase tries to reduce relationships to a means of proving that one of the people in them is worthy of claiming to be what they are. It hurts any asexuals that accept it’s validity, it hurts anyone they try to have a relationship with and it then hold the asexuals responsible for any damage done, by virtue of not being normal.

    It’s not a response considered acceptable to any other form of sexuality in any vaguely enlightened culture, but it can seem very reasonable to to people insecure in their asexuality.

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