The Freedom Not To Be Sexual

When I’m talking about asexuality, I love to say that it complicates things. And I mean it as a compliment. The idea that asexuality forces us to rethink some of our most basic assumptions about sexuality is a real delight to me. Among those questions I like to think about is the notion of sexual freedom. In one word, I’ve got the feeling that there is a problem with this idea of sexual freedom. I’ve got the feeling that the way the question is framed makes asexuality incompatible with sexual freedom. And that’s a shame, because a lot of us, asexual people, think of ourselves as sexually free. And I don’t see why we could not be.

The Pressure Cooker Metaphor

If there’s a problem with the idea of sexual freedom it surely owes a great debt to the Pressure Cooker Metaphor. To understand the Pressure Cooker Metaphor, you have to picture society as the pressure cooker and sexuality as the steam. Sexuality is thought to be a life force and this life force is trying to get free from the pressure cooker. Unfortunately, laws, institutions and mores prevent this force from expressing itself. Like steam in the pressure cooker, sexuality is repressed*. The problem is that repression makes the pressure goes up. And that’s dangerous. To prevent the explosion, one has to let the steam out. And that’s the job of the sexual liberation : to let the steam out, to free sexuality.

Sexuality is a life force 

I know that this pressure cooker’s story is very popular. Besides, I don’t pretend that it doesn’t have its uses. It does. My main concern is that this kind of plot doesn’t take into consideration asexuality. The first thing to say is that a conception of sexuality as a life force (the life force ?) makes me really uneasy. If sexuality is a life force, does it mean that asexual people are less alive than others ? Plus, as an asexual person, I’m a bit skeptical towards this idea of sexuality as an all powerful drive. Honestly, if my liberation depended on the liberation of my “sexual energy” I’d have to wait…forever.

You don’t exist

Besides, in this story of sexual liberation, the only problem you can have with sexuality is the lack… of sexuality. And this too doesn’t make any sense to me. But there’s more, because if you think carefully about it, you realize that this train of thought is in fact very antagonistic to the very idea of asexuality. Let me explain, if you presume –as the Pressure Cooker Metaphor does– that sexuality is a life force shared by everyone, there’s no room at all for asexuality. The only thing that can exist is sexual repression. Since everyone “possesses” sexuality, a person without sexual attraction (or even a person who doesn’t have sex) can’t be nothing more than a person who represses his or her “true” sexuality. And as a matter of fact that’s exactly what led doctors and psychiatrists to invent the HSDD**. No wonder they’re confused…

Wanna be free sexually ? Stop being asexual

Let’s bear with me for just a minute more. I’ve said that sexuality was thought as a life force, I’ve said that the repression of sexuality was evil, but there’s an epilogue to this story. Because, in order to prevent the pressure cooker to blow, there’s a remedy : the liberation of sexuality. And the liberation of sexuality is the release of sexual energies. To liberate your sexuality you have to break free from harmful inhibitions, you have to let your desires run wild. Or to put it differently : in order to free your sexuality you have to get as far away as you can from asexuality. It means above all not to be asexual. And I’m saying this again : what is bugging me is not the call to express sexual potentialities. Not at all. What I’m up against is the idea that the liberation of sexuality is the opposite of asexuality. Until evidence to the contrary, asexuality is a sexuality. And I don’t see why some sexualities should be less free than others.

Free asexuality

The conclusion in a nutshell is that, according to me, the very grammar of sexual freedom doesn’t allow asexuality to be included. It simply does not. Those views of sexuality as a life force, of harmful repression and of the release of sexual energies are far too deeply embedded in our sexual culture to give any room to asexuality. In fact you find those ideas everywhere : chauvinist masculinity, sexology, the queer movement, psychoanalysis and even some segments of feminist thought. Now, if like me, you think that a really inclusive politics of sexuality should account for sexualities as well as for asexualities, then we’ve got some thinking to do. Because in my mind a real theory of sexual freedom should be able to account for the fact that you can have less sex and be more free, that you can have less desire and be more free. But to include those possibilities, we definitely need to rethink the meaning of sexual freedom.


* : I’m saying this again : I support all consensual sexualities. Of course some sexualities are oppressed by the way society is organized and of course that’s a shame. But that’s not my point here. See this paper : The Two Meanings of Sex-positivity.

** : The Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (DSM-IV-TR) is a mental disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The ancestor of this disorder (in previous editions of the manual) was named “Inhibited Sexual Desire Disorder” which shows clearly – by the use of the word “inhibited” — the influence of the underlying Pressure Cooker Metaphor.

About Baptiste

I blog here or here and tweet here.
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7 Responses to The Freedom Not To Be Sexual

  1. Cousin It says:

    Between them, this post and your last one about the two types of ‘sex positivity’ have put me in mind of — and you might think it quite a leap — some of the arguments about whether or not atheism is condoned by the US constitution. In a nutshell it’s this: ‘religious freedom’ (as enshrined in their constitution) includes ‘freedom FROM religion’. So what we want is pretty much the same: that people recognize that ‘sexual freedom’ (or freedom of sexuality, which might be a slightly different thing) also includes freedom from sexuality.
    At least it shows that there’s precedent there!

  2. Cousin It says:

    Well …. most analogies break down at some point, don’t they?
    On the other hand – though you and I and most aces agree that asexuality is a form of sexuality – I think that most of those keen advocates of ‘free sexuality’ you discuss have a considerably narrower definition of ‘sexuality’ than ours.

    (Oh – and atheism certainly isn’t religion, though some people like to call it a belief or (worse) a ‘faith’ – sometimes just to irritate atheists, I suspect.)

  3. iamino says:

    I absolutely agree with what you write here. That metaphor of the pressure cooker (and also the religious analogy) makes me think of a political analogy. Political freedom in an democracy means the right to vote or not to vote. You are not less free if you choose not to give your vote. In some country you have compulsory voting (with or without a sanction). Compulsory voting, compulsory sexuality : in both case your freedom is not just a right, it’s a duty. I prefer if my right is only a right.

  4. Ricci Levy says:

    Freedom is both the freedom to and the freedom not to….

    Sexual freedom itself is about personal autonomy, and that would include the decision NOT to have sex. Sexual Freedom is about reproductive choice, the right to family, sexual health – it is, as are relationships, many, many things – not just sex.

  5. Moderator’s note: This is not an educational space, and this comment violates our comment policy. Please refer to the 101 resources, and no one reply to this comment.

    Something here reeally amazes me…
    You said you’re “asexual”, right?
    1) You mean that you’ve got NO NATURAL possibility of having sex, like, er… lack of sexual organs? (???)
    2) You mean you’re virgin and “not willing” to depart from your path?

    Not considering the first option, as far as I’m concerned, virginity is almost NEVER a choice… people are naturally led to sex, repression creates a long-standing virginity, people tend to hide this lack of naturality behind “values”…
    I prefer when people admit they’re virgin and not willing to be rather than being ideologically defensive towards virginity…
    Now, apart from that… is there something I’m missing? I mean: why do you say you’re “asexual”?
    Soz, I just bumped into this thread, don’t have time now to look through your blog to find out what goes on here, it’s really late at night over here, and… most of all: no offence ever meant, I hope I’m not annoying you with my points… 🙂

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