Trigger warnings: If you have any sort of sexual violence-related trigger, you might want to skip this post. Specific triggers in this post for rape, sexual assault, child molestation, corrective rape, invalidation of both sexual orientation and lived experiences, victim-blaming to the max, sexuality policing (if you think additional warnings need to be added, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to add them)
I’m currently working on a project to assemble resources for asexual spectrum survivors of sexual violence. (If you are interested in getting involved in this project, here’s the announcement post, here’s information on specific things I’m looking for, and here’s the tag for the project.) One of the first things I tried to figure out for the project was what specific challenges ace spectrum survivors face that non-aces don’t. This series (yes, there will be multiple parts) is the product of that brainstorming.
This series focuses on awful things people say to asexual spectrum survivors of sexual violence, sometimes out of spite, sometimes out of concern, and sometimes out of ignorance. Each section has a quote (or collection of related quotes) followed by a “translation” of the quote (or a distillation of the essence of the argument, if you will) and then commentary on why this is an awful thing to say (and suggestions for things you can say instead).
For the sake of full disclosure: I am a survivor of sexual assault, including corrective rape. This is not something I am ready to talk about, but I think it’s important to know where I’m coming from. I do not claim to speak for all asexual spectrum survivors; I’m just trying to get a conversation started.
The quotes from this post are a combination of things people have said to me personally, things I have seen written on the ace bits of the internet, and things other survivors have talked to me about. As such, the quotes may be somewhat biased toward partner assault. If you think I’m missing a category of comments, feel free to drop me a note in the comments or a reblog. While there’s a non-zero chance that I’m already planning to cover it in a later post, there’s also a pretty good chance that I was so busy typing aggressively that I forgot to include it and/or that I’ve never heard it before.
I’m sure these won’t be easy posts for many people to read (they certainly weren’t easy for me to write), so I will not be deeply offended if you decide to skip these posts. If you want someone to talk to, my ask box on tumblr is open or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Okay, everybody understand what this is all about? Everybody respecting their triggers?
Buckle up, you’re in for a disheartening ride.
“Maybe if you hadn’t been such a frigid bitch, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“If you didn’t want to put out, you shouldn’t have been dating.”
“This is what happens when you play hard to get!”
Translation: You deserved to be attacked. Also, your partner’s desires are more important than your bodily autonomy.
This is something aces who were assaulted by partners will often hear, sometimes from the partners themselves. Their partners’ excuses will often follow the form of “I just love you too much” or “I just want to help you” or “It drives me crazy that you won’t let me touch you properly.” I’ve spoken to people whose partners attacked them in their sleep or while they were otherwise incapacitated, because “you won’t let me touch you while you’re awake, and I don’t know how else to get through to you.” There are also those who, when they went to friends or family for support after an assault, were told that if they had just “put out” like they were “supposed to,” this never would have happened.
News flash: Nobody owes anyone sex. Ever. It doesn’t matter if a touch-repulsed asexual is dating a hypersexual cuddler–NO SEX IS OWED TO ANYONE. Even if upon entering the relationship both parties agreed to have sex every single day, if Person A changes their mind, they do not owe Person B sex. It is entirely reasonable to break up with someone because of a sexual mismatch. (There is, in fact, a whole post on how to do that.) It is not reasonable to “take” sex from someone because they won’t “give” it to you and you “love [them] too much.” That’s rape. And if you think that by forcefully “sexing up” your partner, they will suddenly undergo a massive change in attitude and sexual orientation and become wildly enthusiastic about having sex with you, let me inform you that your attempts to “fix” your partner would be corrective rape. If you think that when two (or more) people agree to date, they owe each other sex (or any other kind of physical contact, for that matter), kindly go sit in the corner and think about how you are contributing to rape culture.
If an ace tells you that their non-ace partner raped or assaulted them, you should not be telling them that they just needed to put out. You should not be telling them that they are at fault for their attack. It is, in fact, possible to acknowledge the difficulties of a mixed relationship without blaming the ace for the attack; you can say, for example, “I understand [partner]’s frustration, as it can be really difficult to compromise when the two of you have such different [sex drives/desires/what have you], but that doesn’t justify [his/her/their] behavior.” If someone confides in you about something so personal and sensitive, you should be supporting them, not tearing them down and blaming them for being attacked.
“What did you expect dating a sexual?”
“The only way to be safe from rape is to date another ace.”
Translation: You brought this upon yourself.
If you have ever said or thought any variation of the above, please go join the previous group in the corner and contemplate what you have done. Let’s break down the problems with these quotes:
1. This is victim-blaming to the max. No one should ever expect to be sexually assaulted by a partner. If their partner assaults them, that is their partner’s fault, not theirs.
2. Not all allosexual people are rapists. I can’t believe I had to type that sentence. Allosexual people are, in fact, capable of communicating with their partner(s), and are also capable of terminating relationships that are making them unhappy. If an allosexual person assaults an ace, that’s a problem with them personally, not their sexual orientation.
3. Aces can and do sexually assault people. Not experiencing sexual attraction does not make you a wonderful person, and sexual violence is often about power, not attraction. Aces can be abusive. Aces can be rapists. Aces can molest children. The only surefire way to be safe from sexual violence is to become a cave-dwelling hermit and station a people-eating bear at the door.
I understand that some aces really want to date other aces! That’s totally cool. Ace/ace relationships can be awesome. If you want to talk about how awesome ace/ace relationships can be, go for it. But please don’t talk about how awesome all ace/ace relationships are (again, aces can be abusive) or how abusive all ace/allo relationships are. Generalizations and blanket statements won’t help anyone, and will make aces who have been assaulted (whether by allos or by other aces) feel really awful.
“Are you sure you aren’t just overreacting because you hate sex?”
“Are you sure it was really rape?”
Translation: I think you’re lying/overreacting.
Yes, non-asexual survivors face accusations of overreacting as well, but if you’re asexual, you’re going to get this in spades–just consider the reactions people had to Swankivy talking about being sexually assaulted. I’ve gotten this reaction as well, even from people I would consider friends. I had one friend, who is otherwise a wonderful and understanding person, ask me if perhaps what had happened to me wasn’t really that bad and it just seemed that bad “because of the whole asexual thing.” I then described to her in excruciating detail what my attacker had done, and she blanched and apologized profusely.
I shouldn’t have had to do that. I should not be forced to offer proof that my experiences were “bad enough” to qualify me as a survivor. My asexuality should not force me to achieve a certain score on the “legitimate sexual assault” scale so I can receive my “actual survivor certification.”
For some reason, some people believe that asexuals–as people who “hate” sex–are much more likely to exaggerate their stories or to claim that consensual sex was rape. I’ve got some news for you folks: for some people, it can be extremely hard to even acknowledge that they were sexually assaulted. They might blame themselves or come up with excuses (“he didn’t really know what he was doing,” “she said it was an accident so it couldn’t really be assault,” “it only happened once and I’m probably just overly sensitive,” etc.). This is especially true of partner assault–I have spoken to aces who took years to acknowledge that their partners had assaulted them, because they kept blaming themselves for the incident(s) or assuming that they were just being “too sensitive” or that their partners were “just trying to help.”
Being a survivor of sexual violence is not “trendy”–there is a huge stigma attached. There is a good chance that you will be seen as “broken” or “dirty,” and that’s not even considering the added “brokenness” of being asexual or the fact that many people, upon hearing that you’re an asexual survivor, will attempt to dismiss your sexual orientation, your experiences, or both (more on that in a later post). So, no, most people are not going to go around claiming sexually violent experiences for the thrill of it.
Also, good gravy, if someone trusts you enough to share something so personal and emotional, I sincerely hope you support and believe them rather than throwing them into a self-doubt/self-loathing spiral with your thoughtless comments.
That’s all for this time. Tune in next time for such thrilling comments as:
- “How do you know if you’ve never tried it? No, I mean really tried it.”
- “You’re asexual? Did something happen to you as a child?”
- “Well, you’re asexual, so being raped probably wasn’t as bad for you as it would be if you were sexual.”
and many more!
The first one- victim blaming people for not wanting sex (broadly speaking)- is interesting because people will also victim blame if someone wants sex too much. But I suppose a no-win situation is par for the course when it comes to rape culture.
I think it goes back to the idea of women (because, at least in my experience, this is a very gendered thing) needing to be sexually available, but only for the people they’re dating/married to/otherwise involved with. If a woman is TOO sexually available (i.e. wanting and willing to have sex outside of marriage/a committed relationship), then it’s her fault if she gets raped. If she’s not available enough (i.e. if she’s not willing to have sex with her partner/husband/boyfriend), then it’s her fault if she gets raped. Like you said, it’s a no-win situation.
I was molested? (I honestly don’t know what the word is for what I experienced) at a very young age by other kids my age. It was 4 of them and 1 of me, and I look back on it now and feel awful and disgusting. I think I dissociated at the time and just tried to ignore it and move on.
It wasn’t corrective in any way– I was 7. I didn’t even know what sexuality or asexuality was.
Anyways, I don’t have much that’s constructive to say other than that I hope there is some brainstorming about the way an attack is perceived pre- vs post- puberty in terms of acceptance of self and acceptance by others.
I’m trying to include information for folks who were attacked pre-puberty, but most of the people who have submitted stuff for the resource list are survivors of partner assault or date rape, so I don’t feel like I can write much of anything at this point. There is a little bit of discussion in the next post in the series about the problem the whole “you’re only asexual because you had a bad experience” hypothesis poses for ace survivors in general and for aces who were attacked as children specifically. But otherwise I’m afraid I don’t have much. If you have any recommendations for places to look for resources, I’d appreciate it!
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Hello, I’d like to ask permission to create a presentation using this post. I’m a student at a university with an LGBTQA center that is open to having more of an ace presence, and I was thinking of making a presentation on this topic/series to base a small one-off event around. We can correspond over email if you want to negotiate specific conditions first. I’d also be completely happy to send you the first draft of the powerpoint slides so that you can see exactly how the materials would look & how your words would be used. Those materials could even be uploaded to RFAS after, to be redistributed for use by others, if you wanted. Otherwise, if the answer is no, I understand, and have a nice day!
Hi! Sorry for the slow response, but I’m happy to have you use this for a presentation. You can email me at email@example.com to talk specifics. 🙂
Wonderful. Email sent!
I think that this is a very important topic. I (a Gray-Asexual woman) very much grew up in a context of “if you aren’t attracted to them its fine. You’re husband will just make you do it anyways!” mixed with an unhealth dose of faux sex positive side of “if you don’t want sex its cause you have hyposexual desire disorder and we need to “liberate” you from that”. Both sides told me I was being selfish and “non-compliant” for thinking anything else.
By the time I was 14 I was genuinely terrified of the idea of someone finding me attractive. It had been that drilled into me that I had no right to say no. By 15 I had starved myself down to about 85 lbs because I figured that if I didn’t sexually mature and looked bony maybe I wouldn’t get as much attention. By university I was a genuine wreck. There had already been some assault attempts. After another attempted attack I finally went in to see a psychiatrist…who diagnosed me with hyposexual desire disorder and refused me any other treatment until I complied with her treatment (which included “giving him another chance” and “being more compliant this time”). I left without treatment. Not long after that I was coerced into my first sexual encounter. I was told that if I did not have sex with this one guy, I’d be gang raped. The guy (who was himself a virgin) didn’t even know these people and had no idea I was coerced (he does know now, I told him years later). I became very suicidal after this. Within a year of this I’d been assaulted a few times.
Its hard now to explain to sexuals my thinking process after the assaults. It was very much “it was only a matter of time before this happened, I should feel lucky it wasn’t worse and more often, doing this to me isn’t as bad as doing it to a sexual girl because my thoughts and feelings matter less. What’s a no when you never want to say yes?” which sounds insane but this was consistent with what I’d been told before and was how people responded after. And all under the constant guise that I had HSDD and therefore I was just crazy (I even later had a lawyer tell me that it would have been very difficult to have even gotten a case through with that diagnosis, as my own psychiatrist had basically diagnosed me as mentally ill and “non-compliant” for not wanting sex – which doesn’t look good in court). My own mother got angry at me for being “non-compliant” and “always so resistant to being fixed” when I tried telling her, though I’m not sure she actually at all processed what I was trying to say.
After this I actually had a lot of sex. And (very sadly) this was taken as a byproduct of me “getting better” and then becoming “too slutty” when really it was more a byproduct of me developing a total sense of learned helplessness (I literally had people, even feminists, tell me that “no doesn’t mean as much if you were never going to say yes”. That was basically the only way my consent was ever framed to me. So no “yes” meant “no” was meaningless…which meant there was never any point in saying it). It got to the point where I didn’t even feel like I had the right to break up with people because if I tried I’d constantly be told that my reasons weren’t good enough and that I “owed” my partner more for “putting up” with my “condition” (I even just flat out had people word it as I owed sexual partners for not raping me more). I was actually so happy when a partner hit me in front of people one time over some little thing cause even though I hated the guy the concept I had a right to get him out of my own life without a sexual “permitting” me to was just absolutely foreign to me no matter what I thought of them or what they did…which is a very fucked up way to go through relationships and yet for years of my life that was all I knew.
Eventually I did get help. And my quality of life has been improved substantially by the removal of asexuality as a component of HSDD and by finding clinicians who didn’t believe asexuality was an illness. I did for a period of time date someone who was also grey-A who had PTSD and a very similar dating history to my own. It started out really great but there was virtually no functional communication so eventually it got to a point where we realized it wasn’t going to work. We just weren’t in a place to be emotionally there for someone else. My counselors all constantly implied that our lack of sexual interaction was the problem in our relationship and that we should attempt to have sex even if it made us uncomfortable (which we didn’t do) cause I think the idea that of a dysfunctional sexless relationship being dysfunctional for a reason not related to sex was still sort of off their radar.
After we broke up I eventually started dating a sexual again. We’ve been together for 5 years now and honestly he’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met. I did eventually end up sexually attracted to him. And that’s been a whole host of other negative comments. I’ve gotten a lot of comments like “oh, great! So he cured you!”, about how I owe him things for “fixing” me, and sometimes I do worry that that’s what everyone thinks and that’s really hard and makes me feel bad about being happy sometimes. And I also hate still sometimes having to go through my history to get LGBT+ oriented counseling services to not discredit that I need support just cause I’m not sexual (I’m even bi and they still sometimes give me this still). Especially when its not even a counsellor its just some person who you now have to share super intimate details with and have them as questions like “are you sure you just aren’t overreacting” or “would that even really bother someone of your orientation”.
Anyways, sorry to chat your ear off. But I think the problem (at least for me) goes deeper than the assaults itself and what I was told after, but also goes into what I was told before and how that sort of set everything up.