Question of the Week: October 16th, 2012

This is the Question of the Week, a way to stimulate conversation.  It occurs every other Tuesday.

Is it important for asexual people to be knowledgeable about sex? Why or why not? About what subtopics about sex (mechanics, how to have it safely, etc) do you think it is important for asexual people to be educated?

(Thanks to Calinlapin for this week’s question.)

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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13 Responses to Question of the Week: October 16th, 2012

  1. Midori Skies says:

    I think it’s important for asexuals to have some basic knowledge about sex, although I don’t think it’s at all necessary to go into details like techniques or mechanics, which is just going to squick out the repulsed aces without teaching them anything they will probably need to know. What is important is basic information about risks like STD’s and pregnancy (just basic stuff, not the scare-people-into-not-having-sex stuff that I got in middle school) and basic information about how to have safer sex, just in case. Plenty of aces won’t ever need to use that knowledge, but some will be curious and want to try things out, or will get pressured into trying stuff, and if that happens, knowing the basics of how to have safer sex is going to come in handy. You aren’t necessarily going to be able to tell, ahead of time, which aces will or won’t ever have sex. Ever is a long time, and sometimes people do change their minds about things (and sometimes they don’t, too). For a lot of asexuals, this knowledge is going to be like knowing what to do if there’s a fire: you’ll probably never need to use that knowledge, but if you do, you’ll be really glad you have it.

    It would just be nice if sex ed didn’t assume that it is inevitable that everyone will definitely have sex, sooner or later. Most people, sure, but not all, and as a celibate, repulsed ace who has basically zero interest in ever having sex, I really don’t appreciate being erased and/or told I’m broken.

  2. Seth says:

    I think it’s important for everyone to at least know what sex is and the basics of how it works and what the potential consequences are, because not knowing can have serious repercussions (however uninterested someone may be, rape is still a possibility). Anyway, there’s a fundamental problem with the idea of only explaining what sex is to allos and graces: how do we tell who’s ace and who’s not without explaining sex to them? And while there may be exceptions (mostly MAAB repulsed aces), safe sex education is still important, because, as the ace community is so fond of saying, orientation does not necessarily dictate behavior. Also, again, rape is still a possibility, so FAAB aces committed to celibacy may still choose to go on the pill. Beyond that… well, I doubt many of us would care all that much about tips and techniques for having really great sex (isn’t that an oxymoron?). Even those of us who do end up having sex will likely just be following their partner’s lead, and anyone who is actually interested that sort of information can research it on their own initiative.

    Did I miss any subtopics? I don’t think I did.

    • Sciatrix says:

      It’s pretty late for me and I admit that I’m tired right now, but this comment is really, really rubbing me the wrong way. Are you seriously arguing that women need to be educated about sex because rape but guys don’t? Because a) MAAB people can and do experience rape, so they should probably be warned in particular about crap like the disconnect between getting erect and wanting sex (among other things) and b) guys should be educated about rape in particular in order to teach them to seek explicit consent and, y’know, not rape people. Because rape is caused by rapists, not women. And that goes for all guys, because a) you can’t really ask all the dudes who have contemplated rape in the room to raise their hands and volunteer for a special seminar about not having sex with people who can’t or don’t consent, and b) all guys need to be told about things like the fact that rape jokes encourage actual rapists to feel safe. Rape: Dudes need to be educated about it, too! It is not just a problem for ladies and people who are perceived as ladies!

      And you’re saying that FAAB celibate aces should consider going on the Pill because what if rape happens? I am a cis lady, and I’m celibate, and I actually am on the Pill for medical reasons. Being on the Pill is a significant cost to me both financially and emotionally. At least in the States, you are basically required to go to a gynecologist and submit to a yearly INVASIVE pelvic exam/Pap smear in order to get the prescription, partly because almost all OB-GYNs assume that everyone coming in to see them is sexually active or has been sexually active (or why are you on birth control?). If you personally do not have a cervix to imagine a metal, extremely uncomfortable object being inserted into, I encourage you to imagine that you have to get a rectal exam yearly to access your medication.

      My prescription–you know, the one I take for an actual physical condition–is also not covered by my insurance because it’s birth control and elective. Yeah, even with the new laws, it hasn’t switched over yet. My insurance now takes some Pill brands without a copay, but I haven’t gotten around to going to a gynecologist to get a new prescription because hey, pelvic exam, which is something I find fairly traumatic! On top of all that, there are issues with hormonal birth control for many FAAB people that I don’t personally have, such as the fact that for some people it can induce nasty mood changes, extra-painful cramping, weight gain, skin problems, etc. It can also clear up some of these issues, depending on the person, but it’s not a cure-all panacea either.

      I therefore am kind of aghast that you would say “celibate FAAB aces should maybe get on the Pill JUST IN CASE some dude rapes them!” Are you seriously saying people should take on that kind of burden just to be “prepared in case of rape?” It’s really not that simple, and it’s really disheartening to see over and over again that women and people who are perceived as women should jump through hoop after hoop in order to be able to say “well, I was prepared!” in case the worst should happen. And worse, it’s not even a useful thing to say, because if one-time contraception after a rape (or unplanned sex) is the main concern, Plan B exists. That’s what it’s there for!

    • morethandog says:

      Jeeze. Do you think the Pill is just EASY? Because it’s NOT.

      I have chronic cystic mastitis. This is a painful condition caused by hormone fluctuations during my cycle. It causes cysts to form and grow in my breast tissue during certain parts of my cycle. The cysts are often very painful and any touching of them makes me feel sick with the pain. It may increase my risk of breast cancer and it makes it harder to do a reliable breast self exam or mammogram. It’s controllable, with the Pill.

      But.

      When I take the Pill, bad things happen. My mood is completely beyond my control on the Pill. I get angry. And I’m not talking ‘angry all the time.’ I’m talking ‘random surges of anger that would put the freaking Hulk to shame.’ I went off the Pill because I almost killed my cat during one of these surges. I love my pets, very much, and literally put their care before my own, but during a fit of Pill-hazed rage, I very nearly killed my cat, who was the most docile creature I’ve ever met due to a developmental delay.

      So I don’t take the Pill. I put up with the side effects of that, namely my breast condition.

  3. Sciatrix says:

    So I definitely think knowledge of basic anatomy for both sexes is really important for everyone to know, and that needs to include external female genitalia and the clitoris, not just internal female structures. My experience of sex ed included basic anatomy, yeah… but while there was plenty of material on the structure of a penis and testicles, the diagrams usually implied that female genitalia started inside the vagina and had nothing particularly external. No one ever mentioned clits. I also think “understanding of how menstrual cycles work” should be included in sex ed, up to and including things like “taking ibuprofen before you actually feel pain will reduce the likelihood of experiencing cramps”, just because that’s a pretty useful piece of information to anyone who is likely to experience cramping. Everyone should know how their body works and how to use it and what all the bits are for.

    Agree that everyone should know the mechanics of pregnancy, but that’s actually one of the few places that my (shitty) experience of sex ed held up pretty well. I don’t think that needs much change, honestly, except maybe a quick overview of how human embryonic development actually happens.

    I think basic contraception and STD protection is something everyone should know, whether or not they currently intend to use it, and I think people should be taught how to use the more common contraceptive/STD protective devices properly. You never know what circumstances you’ll end up in, for one thing, and for another hormonal birth control actually has a lot of uses for FAAB people that go beyond just “not having babies.” Among other things, I think people should be taught about the basics of HPV and why we vaccinate for it (and that it is implicated in other kinds of cancer besides cervical cancer, for people who don’t have cervixes).

    And then I think that learning to communicate openly with a partner (even about awkward subjects like sex) is a good skill to teach. Communication skills are going to be really useful to allo people wondering how to have better sex (by seeing what your partner wants!), but they’re going to be just as useful to aces trying to negotiate relationships with their own partners, and in general relationship communication skills are useful in a wide variety of situations.

    In terms of framing, if I was God-Queen of the Universe I’d present the material calmly and unsmilingly with the attitude of “Things It Is Useful to Know.” Don’t insist that this is OMG ESSENTIAL TO EVERYONE (even if it is!) because if you’re wrong or your students have decided it’s not currently personally relevant, you’ll just alienate them. And don’t giggle about it, either–treat it as serious information that is worthy of serious discussion, because it is.

  4. Calinlapin says:

    I’d just add that it could be a good thing for aces to know more about different kinds of sex. Let’s say : not vanilla, not straight, with more than two partners, etc.
    Because I sometimes see a disturbing pattern in how my fellow French aces think about sex. The reasoning is mostly implicit but still, I really don’t like it.
    The first step is to go from “sex is made as if it were compulsory in our societies” to “there is too much sex in our societies”. Well, for a start, I’m not really sure about this second idea. What kind of sex are we talking about ? Who is involved, doing what ? But it’s not over yet.
    Because it now goes from “there is too much sex in our societies” to “some kinds of sex are more OK than other”. And guess what, this is vanilla committed, straight sex that we’re talking about.
    So to conclude with, let’s be clear : this is not a prevailing phenomenon. Most of aces I know are able to tell the difference between criticizing how sex is presented in our societies and attacking the sexual activities of other. But still, to be more knowledgeable about all kinds of sex could help to make the difference clearer.

  5. Queenie says:

    OH MAN, ARE WE TALKING ABOUT SEX ED? I LOVE TALKING ABOUT SEX ED. IN CASE IT WASN’T OBVIOUS, I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT FOR EVERYONE TO GET SEX ED.

    I basically agree with a lot of what Sciatrix already said. People should learn anatomy and what exactly is happening to your body during puberty (I remember being freaked out when I started growing hips, because NOBODY MENTIONED THAT PART TO ME WHAT IS HAPPENING) . I also second the lesson on menstrual cycles–my puberty books seemed to imply that I’d get a few spots of blood on my underwear and then be done! I wouldn’t even notice that it had happened! (It did not actually turn out that way. First time I got cramps I was somewhat concerned I was dying.) I think a BIG thing to change is to completely disconnect what’s happening physically from sexuality; I remember being really upset that I was growing breasts (I was an athlete and they were getting in the way), and being told, “You should be happy; boys like girls with big breasts.” Weirdly enough, that just freaked me out more! (Other unhelpful comments included: “You should be happy you are getting your period, because that means you can have babies,” “You should be happy you have wide hips because that will make childbirth easier,” “Boys are going to be throwing themselves all over you, so stop complaining about your pants not fitting,” etc.)

    Everybody should learn basic information on birth control and STDs, since there’s really no way to know which aces will wind up being sexually active later in life (or which aces will decide to experiment with their sexuality). Also, knowledge is power, and even if I personally have never used birth control, I have passed the information I know onto friends, who presumably have found it useful. Also, it would be helpful if people talked about sex other than PIV, since I know of people who believed that if they weren’t having vaginal sex, they couldn’t get STDs. (NO NO NO, STOP.) Of course, I then worry about super repulsed aces, but since I am not super repulsed myself, I’m not sure how you could structure the lesson to get the necessary information to the students without squicking repulsed people out.

    Consent and communication talks NEED TO HAPPEN. Not just to prevent rape (for EVERYONE, not just ladies), but also so that people KNOW it’s okay to say, “Actually, I’m not into this; let’s stop.” Plus, like Sciatrix mentioned, communication is key even if everyone involved has the same romantic and sexual orientations–people are different and talking to each other is really the best way to make things work out. Also, I absolutely HATE the current rape education, because at least when I had it, it went something along the lines of, “Chances are good you’re going to get raped! You can’t do anything about it. It will suck. You will be shunned. Make sure to report it, though! Chances are good nobody will believe you. Anyway, thanks for listening, and have fun out there!” NOT HELPFUL.

    …I should stop writing in this comment box and write an actual post on this because apparently I have too many feelings about this.

    • Sciatrix says:

      Speaking on the repulsed issue–most of my friends who are repulsed have discussed feeling repulsed and upset if asked to imagine or discuss themselves in the context of sex, but not necessarily upset with discussion of sex period. Is repulsion at all sex ever, even dissociated from your own involvement, particularly common? If anyone who is reading these comments IDs as repulsed, please weigh in!

      • Kamath says:

        I’m repulsed ace, which in my case only means that I can’t stand the thought of myself in a sexual situation. I, too, have the impression that this is usually the case (at least among the aces I know!).

        Reading and talking about other people’s experiences is just learning more about the world, and I have nothing against that. Like you say, knowledge is power, and I’d rather know about these things that other people do than be completely confused about it! Basically, the only thing I would like to change to include aces in sex ed is that they stop explicitly and implicitly assuming that everyone will be experience and want to experience sex themselves.

      • Queenie says:

        I’m one of those “repulsed if it involves me” folks, but I occasionally run across people who don’t even want to talk about the concept of sex because it squicks them out. I have to say, though, I was much more repulsed by the idea of sex in general BEFORE I realized that it was “acceptable” for me not to be interested in having it. Once I came to terms with my asexuality, talking about sex became more like talking about anthropology than talking about something I’d have to do someday, and my repulsion kind of disappeared.

      • Midori Skies says:

        I’m repulsed, and I can get squicked out by talk of sex in general, and not just the idea of myself having sex. I can stand to talk about sex in a general way if there aren’t too many specific details of mechanics involved, though. For instance, a detailed sex scene in a book would totally squick me out, but I can handle talking about the fact that some people like to have oral sex without getting squicked out, because I can think about it as an abstact idea rather than thinking of the details. I’ll probably be squicked out when having a concept like oral sex explained to me for the first time (or by hearing someone explain how to use a condom for the first time), but I’ll get over it. On the other hand, if people want to talk about techniques for having oral sex, I’m going to want to leave the room.

    • Silvermoon says:

      I know this is years layer but I’d just like to say, as one of those super-repulsed aces: I probably would have dealt a lot better/actually paid some attention in HS sex-ed instead of actively trying to ignore stuff if there were less imagery involved. I remember going to a school-wide (???? Maybe just my grade or two grades) presentation in HS on STDs and they did the shock-factor graphic images in a PowerPoint…

      Except I never actually saw or paid attention because as soon I knew what was going o I sunk into my chair and let the person in front of me block my view.

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