I Am Not Your Sex Cheerleader

A few weeks ago, an interesting conversation kicked up on Tumblr when several people started talking about how hard it is to find sex-repulsed perspectives in the asexual community. Because I am chronically late, I feel that now would be a great time to chime in on that.

Thing is, we’re right here. We’re just being really quiet about it.

Let me back up a second. I’ve never publicly identified as repulsed—in fact, I usually avoid the topic or say I don’t fit either of the choices.

That’s in part because the “repulsed/indifferent” axis—or whatever the cool kids are calling it now—anyway, I don’t think it’s an axis at all. For example, I am really uncomfortable with video porn and images, but text doesn’t bother me. I make sex jokes in the abstract all the time, and I work on sexuality for a living—I recently spent half an hour discussing testicle vs. penis size in the context of sperm competition for a completely work-relevant conversation and enjoyed myself immensely—but you bring my sexuality into the conversation, even in theory or in jest, and I shut down pretty quickly. (This is much more pronounced if I’m not out as asexual.)

Any way you spin it, though, me + sex equals bad, bad news. And that reality brings with it a certain number of challenges that aren’t necessarily the case for indifferent aces. For example, an ace/allo relationship for me is really not a viable option, which limits my relationship options to other aces—and that’s not a particularly wide pool. It also limits the types of spaces I can feel comfortable in.

So why don’t I talk about this in ace spaces more frequently?

Well, for one thing, it’s uncomfortable! Who wants to talk about situations in which they feel really nervous and gross? I don’t spend a lot of time talking about my discomfort with open surgical sites or blood either—why would I want to talk about my discomfort in sexual situations? I generally don’t like discussing my weaknesses and vulnerabilities in public, and it’s not much fun to say outright “Look, here’s something that makes me feel squidgy and gross,” especially not in public. In the same way, talking about the time that tour of the necropsy lab almost made me pass out because the surgical attending kept using a Lab’s severed head as a puppet is not really fun times for me.

For another thing, when I talk about asexuality, I want to come off as comfortable with myself and confident about what I’m saying. Generally, if I fail to do this, people get much more interested in trying to invalidate my sexuality because they think I’m unhappy with my orientation. By definition though, repulsion is discomfort with sex. It is really, really hard to project confidence when what you’re actually saying is “sex makes me uncomfortable and when you bring it up I really want to leave.” This is especially true given that discomfort with sex is frequently mocked in Western comedy. I suspect this also goes back to the idea of the Unassailable Asexual—we don’t want to be seen to be as less than perfect allies, or in any way as repressed when we talk to people outside of ace communities.

I think it’s still worth talking about this, though—or I never would have written this post.

I think that talking about this can help people identify issues with the dichotomy of repulsed/indifferent in the same way that focused discussion has identified issues with other models commonly used in community discussions. For example, I know a lot of people who are like me on that sensory modality thing. Every time I bring the topic up, I run into people saying things like “Well, written porn is okay, but video porn freaks me the hell out” or “as long as there’s no penises, I’m okay.” It’s also only via talking to other people that I really figured out exactly what makes me uncomfortable, which is something I’ve found really useful.

Besides, I think that just as there should be spaces in which people feel free to let loose about their sexuality, there should also be spaces for repulsed aces to occasionally blow off steam about being repulsed. Ace communities are not currently those spaces—I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a baby asexual find an online ace space, run through a particularly “sex is gross!” phase, and then get yelled at by other aces for insulting sex every time they talk about it. That’s not cool! I think there should be places for people to talk about things that make me feel uncomfortable, provided there’s warnings so I can avoid them. Why shouldn’t similar places exist for repulsed aces to vent about their feelings about sex?

I frequently see this attitude where you can’t discuss sex in ace spaces unless you hedge it about with “but for other people, it’s really great” and otherwise profess its awesomeness as an activity. And in some spaces, that’s frankly a good thing. You wouldn’t want to put a diatribe about how disgusting this or that activity is where someone who really enjoys it could stumble across it, in the same way that I’d really rather not trip over porn gifs in my Tumblr feed without warning. Unfortunately, that norm being so stringently enforced means that there are almost no places to talk about sex as something unpleasant or uncomfortable–especially if you aren’t a rape or assault survivor. It’s also really ridiculous that I default to being a sex cheerleader when personally, I find the whole thing absolutely horrifying when it comes to myself.

Doesn’t sex has enough advocates for its amazingness as an activity without needing asexuals to re-emphasize how amazing it is every time they talk about it?

About Sciatrix

Sciatrix is an American graduate student studying ecology, evolution and behavior. She identifies as asexual and has mostly given up trying to sort out the whole romance thing for now. She has previously blogged about asexuality at Writing From Factor X. In her free time, she trains in canine agility and knits oddly cabled hats.
This entry was posted in asexual politics, Community, Language and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to I Am Not Your Sex Cheerleader

  1. Midori Skies says:

    It’s probably telling that my first impulse here is to jump on this thread and use it as a safe space to talk about what repulses me about sex.

    Sometimes I don’t mind pictures of penises (unless they’re unexpected, in which case I almost always mind), but bodily fluids really gross me out. And sometimes I am ok with reading descriptions of sex scenes, but other times it bothers me. I’m not sure why. And one time when one of my friends decided to give me a basic demonstration of how to use a condom (merely by unwrapping the condom, holding the tip of it, and unrolling it a bit–no penises or bananas involved), it made me really uncomfortable.

    More on topic, I was initially confused that anyone would be “talking about how hard it is to find sex-repulsed perspectives in the asexual community”. There are so many of us! But then I read the rest of the post and was like, oh, yea, duh, that makes sense.

  2. I’m perfectly fine with thinking about sex (NOT ME, more like, my favourite characters), reading Hentai Mangas (or watching Hentai Animés, but the story is more than often not very good*) (animated things seem to be a bit off for me) and about “RL” porn… well, it’s mostly just demeaning of the girl and I don’t like that. I’ve never seen any GOOD written porn, so I’d pass on that one… (It seems a bit of a hassle to me, and it’s mostly so cheesy I start to laugh my ass off)

    I’ve had sexual contacts, but even if I consented, I somehow got the feeling that I didn’t really want it. And I’m just not interested. In doing it myself, talking about it is fine with me, but don’t you dare be demeaning of your (mostly female) partner, I’ll launch a “FALCONNNN… PAWNCH!” at you!

    Isn’t it somewhat strange (“strange” doesn’t even cut it CLOSE) that being sex-repulsed is “frowned upon” in the (fucking) ASEXUAL community? That’s like saying salt should taste sweet!

    *) Okay, “not good” as in “not to my liking”, I really like “Vanilla” stories (one couple in love with each other, no third parties)
    (What always puts me off are the tears, I mean, SEX MUST NOT FUCKING HURT! EVER! (I’ll seriously “Falcon Kick!” anyone who says that sex is supposed to hurt (even if just for the first time)))

    Moderator’s warning: Threatening violence even in jest is against our comment policy.

  3. ace-muslim says:

    This is an excellent post and I’m glad to see the discussion being moved forward again. It’s funny how the asexual community will dissect just about everything relating to sex or romance but I feel like there’s been relatively little exploration of what types of sex-aversion/repulsion are most common among aces, what the causes might be, and why it’s so prevalent in the asexual community.

    One thing that I’ve come to realize about myself is that as an aromantic asexual, I have basically no positive preference for or attraction to any gender, not even in terms of aesthetic attraction, but my aversion is definitely strongest in regard to men (I’m a cis woman) so that it’s kind of a “negative preference”, and that does affect when I think about having even a queerplatonic relationship and what kinds of people I might or might not want to have it with. It’s very curious.

    • Sciatrix says:

      I actually have something similar, in that I am way more averse to sex/a romantic relationship with men than to women. In fact, I’ve occasionally characterized my gender skew as less “interested in women” and more “not interested in men,” given that my relationship history currently includes nearly as many nonbinary people as women.

      I really think the main reason that that discussion hasn’t happened as fervently as it has with, say, romantic orientation is that people don’t really want to talk about their experiences with repulsion/aversion. Not only is it uncomfortable more or less by definition, and not only is there the internal pressure many of us have to present as invulnerably as possible, but it’s also just a pretty depressing topic to dwell in. I mean, who wants to focus on exactly why an activity is unenjoyable at first blush? The bit where there might be a lot of interesting complexity hiding underneath there sort of gets elided in all the discomfort.

  4. Eric says:

    Great blog entry. I had never given much thought to the sex repulsed concept, mainly because it is usually cast in a negative light, but after reading your article I feel that I fit pretty well into the repulsed side.

    I do agree that there should be a balance, and a place where sex repulsed people can have a discussion without bothering anyone.

  5. L says:

    I just call myself “sex skeptical” because I can be positive, indifferent, and repulsed. Sometimes depending on the context, sometimes just depending on my mood. But the one constant is that I’m, well… skeptical of assumed sexuality pretty much 100% of the time. I’m heavily critical of how it worms its way into everything and how that’s taken for granted. I’m pretty vocal about my insistence that sexuality should be opt-in in every facet of my life, from the advertising I’m exposed to, to the entertainment I consume, to the BDSM circles I roam in. I’m just much more comfortable when sex isn’t part of the conversation at all the vast majority of the time. And if it has to be, then I hope to god it’s being talked about in the abstract or hypothetical.

    • L says:

      Oops, I wasn’t actually done.

      But that said, I’ve seen wayyyy too many newbie aces confuse repulsion and celibacy for asexuality. And they have to have gotten this idea somewhere.

    • Sciatrix says:

      Oh, on the context of sex outside the personal, I ID as sex-neutral, for fairly similar reasons. I agree with you that I’d really prefer if sexuality be opt-in, honestly. Even outside the context of aces, I usually find that surprise! sexuality is often uncomfortable for plenty of allo people, too. I’ve been taking a class that involves a lot of that this semester, and I am not the only person who has been gritting their teeth, looking uncomfortable, and visibly checking out–and I’d bet you dollars to doughnuts I’m the only ace person in the room.

      I think your second comment is really interesting and may do a full post on it later. (It touches on a topic that I’ve been meaning to fully address since 2010.) I suspect the answer lies in why people feel the need to identify as asexual in the first place–if repulsion and wanting to be celibate forever is a huge part of why you’d felt alone and broken, it’s natural to assume that all aces feel that way at first. Add a bit of anxiety and a desire to fit in with the (percieved) norms of the community to that projection, and you have a recipe for someone being really loud and exaggerated about how grossed out by sex they are when they first join the community.

  6. Sara K. says:

    Yeah, I agree, it is hard to find sex-repulsed perspectives, especially if you aren’t looking specifically for them.

    If you ask me, I think I am ‘indifferent’, though I won’t put it on my Ace Calling Card. I am generally okay with sexuality + other people (I generally think porn is usually very boring, but it does not seem to particularly gross me out). As far as sexuality + *me* ,,, the idea doesn’t gross me out, make me feel squeamish, or cause me to shut down, so I do not think I’m repulsed. At the same time, ‘indifferent’ might not be the best word since I don’t want sex. I think the best way to describe me would be that I have a strong preference for celibacy.

    And when I see aces talking about how gross sex is, I also hear the voice in my head which says that they should stop insulting The Sex … and that voice is almost certainly a product of cultural conditioning.

    • ace-muslim says:

      I actually prefer to use the term “sex-averse” to “repulsed”, though both are accurate for me, depending on the circumstances. I feel like “repulsed” is too narrow or specific to fully describe my reactions. I’ve structured my life to avoid most situations that would generate a repulsion response in me and I rarely think about sex spontaneously, and even less often with myself in it, so the main thing that would trigger a response is unexpectedly coming across a dick pic or something similar. But I’m still averse to sex even when I’m not actively being repulsed by anything. I initially hesitated between “repulsed” and “indifferent” in the way that you described until I worked through exactly what my responses are and decided that “aversion” was the best word to describe it.

      • Kamath says:

        You’re right, “averse” is probably a better word than “repulsed”, because the latter sort of implies being sickened by sexuality in every context, doesn’t it?

      • Sciatrix says:

        I use “repulsed” basically because that’s the terminology I grew up with, and I haven’t seen a compelling enough reason to override the force of habit. 🙂 That being said, averse works well enough, too. The way I look at it, of course I’m not repulsed when sex isn’t there–but if it turns up and I flail backwards as soon as it pops up and relates to me, weeellll. I will say that “averse” may have better connotations as a word, though.

  7. Priscila says:

    I can’t stand seeing pictures/gifs of sex that suddenly appear in my dashboard and even written/said stuff can be really disgusting. But, as you also said, some sex jokes are funny, usually because they have a pun in it, and doesn’t make me think about what it really means.
    I really don’t like to think that most people may see me as an allosexual person and may think sexual things about me! It is even more uncomfortable.
    Anyway, great text.

  8. Kamath says:

    Thanks you for writing this! I feel exactly the same, and it feels very good to know that I’m not alone in that. With being perfectly fine with talking about sex in the abstract, and having no problem with written porn even though video porn squicks me, but above all feeling extremely uncomfortable with the thought of me having sex. (Which is – just no.)

    And there really is no space to talk about experiences and frustrations when it comes to that without running the risk of appearing to slut-shame or stigmatize sexuality or whatnot, which is not what this is about…

    • Sciatrix says:

      Huh. I wonder if there’s something in that about being erased? I mentioned earlier that I’m much more relaxed about sex in the context of me if it’s clear with all parties that I’m ace and no one is challenging my identity–out of curiosity, do you feel the same way?

      • Kamath says:

        Yeah, that only makes sense. It’s a lot easier to relax about a topic when you don’t feel like you have to defend yourself for the way you are.

  9. I’m curious if there’s any sex and/or gender influence on whether or not someone is likely to be repulsed or averse, or it if changes the type of repulsion experienced, or if it’s somewhat similar all around. Like, for instance (wild, totally unfounded hypotheticals ahead), someone with a vagina might be more likely to end up repulsed because one of the more common interactions with that area is “Ew, it’s that time of the month again”, while someone with a penis might be less likely to end up repulsed because one of the more common interactions with that area is “Hey, urinals are pretty convenient”. Or maybe it’s just that someone born with a penis has had it drilled into their head their whole life that everything going on downstairs is supposed to be unmitigated awesome that they’re too afraid or ashamed to admit that they’re not a fan of it. And are trans/nonbinary/etc. people more likely to be averse because of dysphoria or something like that, or are they less likely because of it? Or does absolutely none of it matter and repulsion is just a coin-flip for everyone? (Again, wild, unfounded speculation all throughout that paragraph.)

    I’m bringing this up, because there does seem to be a sex/gender skew regarding repulsion, at least anecdotally. I’ve seen many women say they’re repulsed, but not many men. And it doesn’t feel like it’s fully accounted for by the inherent skew in the community. And it seems to be a different kind of repulsion in some way. Repulsed women seem to describe things as “gross” or “disgusting” (specifically that “penises are gross”), but many repulsed men that I’ve seen talk about it will say things more like it’s “unclean” and will sometimes specifically refer to OCD or something similar, and it’s often a specific bodily function that’s disliked above all else. Again, that’s all anecdotal and operating on a very limited sample size. (And I’m not trying to imply that all repulsed guys have OCD or anything like that.)

    And finally, I’m also wondering if there’s any similarities or overlaps between an averse ace’s feelings and those of a non-asexual person when they’re faced with what they’re not attracted to. (Like, say, a straight guy that stumbles across gay porn.) Would they describe it as a negative preference, would they think it’s gross, or would their reaction be “Not for me, but whatever”? And I know there are non-asexuals who are repulsed, how do they recognize attraction through the repulsion?

    • Sciatrix says:

      You think menstruation is bad? Cramps aside, you actually don’t have to handle or think much about your vagina at all while menstruating if you don’t want to–that’s what pads are for, and no one really cares whether you use tampons or pads to handle the flow. I would actually point fingers at the health establishment for this one. I mean, no one requires men to go and have an invasive, uncomfortable experience with their genitals in the name of public health once per year, certainly not starting from adolescence. (Prostate screenings aside–no one starts those until late middle age, as I understand it.)

      I (like many cis women) need to be on hormonal birth control for reasons that have nothing to do with using it as birth control–in my case, it has to do with regulating hormone levels more generally. Because of this, I can’t just avoid doctor’s appointments entirely, but must go in for a pelvic exam/Pap smear once a year, which I find fairly traumatic. I am extremely low risk for cervical cancer–vaccinated for HPV, not sexually active, well below the range at which tumors usually form, zero familial history of any kind of breast or reproductive cancer. There is no reason that this screen should be connected to my yearly Pill prescription, since being on hormonal medication doesn’t increase the risk of getting this form of cancer. There is also evidence that requiring yearly smears vastly increases the rate of false positives for cervical cancer. But you know, I’m primarily focused on the trauma thing here–once a year I get to choose between accessing my actual medication and going through a process I find horrifying. There is no opt out. And while I know many aces with ovaries who just frankly avoid all OB-GYNs for similar reasons–particularly non-sexually active aces, who have very little reason to think there is an issue–I don’t get to do that.

      More broadly, I think women are more likely to be repulsed than men because of pressure to be sexual. I have a general theory that strength of repulsion is mediated by your experiences being pressured to ignore your disinterest/distaste for something. Women are more likely to feel that they don’t control initiation of sex (or sexual/romantic relationships), or that they should have sex they don’t want to have to hold onto a relationship. Even if they personally feel that they control their lives, the media around them shows men as initiators of sex, which means that men are vastly more likely to approach uninterested women than women are likely to approach uninterested men. I’m pretty sure that that skew is at the heart of the differential repulsion levels, honestly.

      No idea about that last one! You’d have to ask someone who experiences sexual attraction to figure it out. Someone meeting that description just popped up on my tumblr dash–have you seen this?

      • Aydan says:

        It’s also more societally acceptable for women than for men to be uninterested in the idea of sex. (Which should not be confused with societal acceptance for women not HAVING sex, and frankly, the discordance between the two is really disturbing– if you honestly think women hate sex then you should be okay with them not having it!) Starting from the Victorian era, the idea *was* that women were uninterested in sex, and a significant chunk of the American population persists in believing that women want love while men want sex.

      • Brin says:

        AA: Repulsed women seem to describe things as “gross” or “disgusting” (specifically that “penises are gross”), but many repulsed men that I’ve seen talk about it will say things more like it’s “unclean”

        I do tend to phrase it as “gross” or “disgusting” or “squicky”, but that’s shorthand. From what I can tell, my brain categorises naked penis-y people under “visibly ill, possibly contagious”, and reacts accordingly. Whenever I see a penis (or testicles), my quarantine instinct starts ringing alarm bells and yelling about tumours.

        Sciatrix: And while I know many aces with ovaries who just frankly avoid all OB-GYNs for similar reasons–particularly non-sexually active aces, who have very little reason to think there is an issue

        I didn’t even assume. I asked my GP if I–someone who has never been sexually active, will not become so in the foreseeable future, who is too young for diseases of age–should see a gynecologist anyway. She said checkups would be useless for me: I should only go if I think something’s gone wrong.

        (On the other hand, I haven’t tried to get hold of birth control.)

      • Sara K. says:

        I ditto Sciatrix’s comment on menstruation. I think a lot of the ‘ick’ factor around menstruation comes from a combination of biophobia and misogyny, and what I recall reading from asexuals who menstruate indicates that they do not consider it sexual, just as many asexuals do not consider menstruation to be sexual.

        That said, I’m one of the lucky people who do not cramp or experience pain during menstruation. I can understand why someone who has endometriosis would have a very negative attitude towards menstruation. Yet I have a friend who has endo, and her reaction to menstruation is ‘ow’, not ‘eww’, so I suspect pain alone does not explain the ‘ewww’ reaction.

        I would also like to note that, in my experience, the people who talk the loudest about how disgusting mensturation is are … cis men. I can see this in the way menstrual products are marketed – if the company is run by men, the marketing treats menstruation as a shameful thing which needs to be kept discreet, but if the company is run by women, it treats menstruation as a natural process that nobody should be ashamed of.

        I also think there might be something to the idea that women feel more repulsed/averse because of social pressures. I know that I personally would be much more open to sexual experimentation if I lived in a culture without compulsory sexuality where I could be confident that I could say ‘no’ at any time without undue negative consequences.

      • Dawen says:

        I disagree on the menstruation thing – sure, there’s technically nothing /I/ do with my vagina during it, because I use pads, but… There’s the “ugh” of cramps/moodiness/cravings/acne/increased neediness (I have an increased need for touch in PMS and the first few days of my period), which doesn’t have to do with the vagina but is caused by a thing that is associated with the vagina, which leads to an indirect association. Then there’s the fact that sure, you’re not sticking anything up your vagina when you use pads, but you do feel the blood dripping out, which can be a little squicky. And then there’s the fact that, at least for me, the combined two weeks of PMS/period tends to lead to increased libido/capacity for arousal. And sometimes I’m Really Not Okay with my body feeling aroused for any reason, even if it’s basically HORMONES UGH. (I actually sometimes think I might prefer tampons for my heavy days because then I wouldn’t feel the flow, but then I remember all the potential health problems I don’t want to deal with and the fact that I couldn’t fit one past my hymen anyway.)

        I do agree on the medical exams, though, that can be a huge component.

        Also, I find it interesting that throughout these comments, AFAB people who are sex repulsed typically react strongest to penises. I kind of flux in my ability to tolerate written sex, but when I do I prefer it to have no vaginas/clitorises/breasts at all. I can handle the dicks but I’m much less capable of handling AFAB people’s bodies in general – whether that person is having sex with an AFAB or AMAB. I think it’s too easy for me to sort of self-insert into an AFAB’s point of view, which is a big no-no for me. (Video-type porn is a little thornier for me; I can’t do the audio at all but sometimes I can do the visuals, such as gifs. And typically I’m more capable of handling rougher sex as opposed to the tender, loving stuff; somehow the gentle caresses and careful kisses really, really bother me. Maybe it’s the sex repulsion combined with a bit of romance repulsion. And then there’s solo material of a select few very niche kinks, which is something else entirely.)

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  19. YelyahNaloj says:

    I used to be extremely sex/romance repulsed. Like even reading a kissing scene made me gag and want to quit reading. Now, I’ve worked a lot to desensitize myself, to where I’m more mildly repulsed/neutral. I usually don’t have much of a problem watching video porn (which is mostly what I used to train myself to be desensitized), but I think it is mostly because I feel detached from the scene. To me, there’s no difference in watching that and a nature video. I’ve also forced myself to be more comfortable talking about sexual topics, especially because I get asked a lot of invasive questions and am expected to be open and articulate on a subject that had caused me a lot of anxiety.

    Despite my efforts, I still tend to be somewhat sex negative even though I wish I could have a more “Good for you!” attitude, because I know everyone has different needs. Sex jokes still cause some discomfort even if I try to find them funny. Even though I’ve gotten better, I still don’t always like romance novels or books with sex scenes. I can think of one time lately where I’ve legitimately thrown up after finding out about a sex scene for a character I started connecting to. I think in books it’s hard because you are connecting to them as a person and reading it as if you are them, so when those kind of scenes pop up, it feels very vivid and violating. I definitely do not like people looking and talking about me in a sexual way. I’m pretty conscious of how I dress because of this. I don’t like getting flirted at. It just seems disrespectful to me, because I want to just have a casual and hopefully intellectual conversation.

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