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?