A story from the antisexual community: An interview with Aqua-ace

On AVEN I met someone who had an amazing experience: she had come to AVEN by way of the (self-identified) antisexual community–the community arising from the Russian website,  Antisexual Stronghold.  Because of the language difference, the English asexual community is hardly aware of the antisexual community, much less its internal conflicts and development over time.  That AVENite, Aqua-ace, granted me an interview so that we could begin to lift our ignorance.

Siggy: Tell us a little about yourself.

Aqua-ace: I live in the US. I’m a psychology major and gender and sexuality studies minor. I identify as asexual, and I guess I’d also say gray-romantic, but that’s because I’m not sure if I experience romantic attraction or not. I also consider ‘celibacy’ (your terminology may vary!) to be just as much a part of my a/sexual identity as my asexuality.

I’m currently a member of the Project Team, and I’m the Resources and Survey Director. That position interested me the most because I wanted to help restart the AVEN survey, and am very interested in looking at the current state of the asexual community, comparing the different communities within it, and how the asexual community as a whole changed over time. From my psychology background, I have some knowledge in statistics, and can take part in statistical analysis of the results. I also see some room for new resources to be made.

I’ve got to be the least representative person ever elected to the Project Team, but even if I weren’t asexual, I’d still care a lot about the asexual community, and still want to help them fight against the damaging norms of compulsory sexuality. Besides, I’ve learned a lot about sexuality and romance from my time in the asexual community, and met a lot of great people.

Siggy: You said you’ve interacted with the Antisexual Stronghold before. What was the nature of this interaction?

Aqua-ace: I was never actually a member there, I was only a lurker. But I was part of an English-speaking offshoot community, and one of the most active members there was one of the multi-lingual members of the Antisexual Stronghold. This offshoot was a forum on forumotion.com, but the admin running it deleted it back in May, because they didn’t like the direction it was going.

I think there were 3 types of people who identified as antisexual: There were the ideological crusaders, who wanted to denounce the ‘evils’ of sex or at least the evils of being enslaved by biology. Other people who joined, particularly sex-repulsed allosexuals, saw this community mainly as a support group. They were glad to not be alone, in not wanting sex, but wanted help coping in a sex-saturated world

And there were those who are critical of sex, and sexuality, and how they affect people, including themselves. They liked intellectual discussions, and some were interested in activism too, about fighting against compulsory sexuality. I was one of those in this group. They and I were willing to discuss issues surrounding sexuality, because it’s important to know how sexuality affects people. We were especially hoping to find out how to help the sex-repulsed allosexuals in our ranks. There wasn’t much information to go by, so we were in a lot of largely uncharted territory.

The admin of the offshoot community was an extremist who essentially wanted a sexual counter-revolution, and was disappointed that most of the members didn’t agree with that. I was willing to become admin in their place, but the admin declined.

Siggy: How did the community define “antisexual” and “extrasexual”?

Aqua-ace: ‘Antisexual’ (Aнтисексуаль) as an identity traces back to the fidonet group ru.antisex, which was created in 1995, and predates the oldest online asexual community. They identified as antisexual, and not sexually abstinent, because there’s something more to it than just the abstinence, and they don’t identify as celibate, because that’s taken to be for religious reasons. Originally, ‘antisexual’ was defined as something akin to ‘negative attitude towards sex’, but this was too ambiguous. It’s not clear if it meant what the asexual community would call ‘sex-repulsion’, ‘sex-averse’, or ‘sex-negativity’, and if the latter, what degree of sex-negative?

The turning point was around 2006 or 2007, and a much more clear definition was given. Well, it was much more clear in theory: Choosing life without sex, a conscious rejection of it, that is specifically for non-religious reasons. They never intended for it to mean condemning people who want sex, nor pushing their views on others, as this antisexuality is supposed to be strictly voluntary.

There is another offshoot community called Freedom From Sex [http://www.freedomfromsex.net/] (note: is only in Russian, and doesn’t have an English-language counterpart), which was founded in 2012, and is directly an offshoot of the Antisexual Stronghold. This was another turning point. The main difference is that Freedom From Sex thinks trying to reclaim the antisexual label is too difficult, and an alternative would be better at this point. They think the antisexual label got taken over by extremists before 2006-7, and that by the time that second definition I explained was made, the damage was already done. Some also thought that identifying as antisexual didn’t seem very accurate, especially if they’re sex-neutral and/or asexual.

On Freedom From Sex, the term ‘sex-free’ was originally suggested, but they decided on a term meaning ‘outside of sexuality’ instead. In Russian, it’s vnyeseksual’nost (Внесексуальность), and its approximation in English is ‘extrasexuality’. Personally, I like ‘extrasexual’ as an alternate term, but in English, it can sound like the opposite of what is intended. If all else fails for the English-speakers, well, there’s still ‘sex-free’.

Siggy: Do these definitions include involuntary celibates?

Aqua-ace: No. Antisexuals and extrasexuals are ‘voluntary celibates’.  Although they don’t identify as ‘celibate’. By their standards,’celibacy’ is for religious reasons. There’s a strong emphasis on the ‘non-religious reasons’ aspect.

Siggy: Are there many people in these communities who identify as asexual?

Aqua-ace: Not that many identify as asexual, at least in the larger, Russian-speaking part of the antisexual/extrasexual community.  In the English-speaking part, I saw a larger percentage of asexual and asexual spectrum people.

Siggy: Do they even talk about their sexual orientations much, or is it just about living without sex?

Aqua-ace: They don’t talk about sexual orientation that much, but the asexual members are the most likely to. It’s more about living without sex instead.

Siggy: Is there much discussion about different kinds of antisexuals and extrasexuals?

Aqua-ace: There’s one sub-type I know of, and those are the antiromantics.  Just because someone chooses to reject sex, doesn’t mean they have to reject romance too. How much someone wants sex, and how much they want romance, should be questioned separately.  That is something I learned from them.

Siggy: What are the most common reasons why people consciously reject sex for life?

Aqua-ace: That’s not entirely clear. I haven’t seen any mention of sex-repulsion in the Russian-speaking part, and the only English speakers who know of sex-repulsion, found out about it from AVEN. Ideally, this conscious rejection is done after questioning the nature of sexuality itself, and finding from one’s own conclusions, that sex just isn’t worth it for them. Sex-repulsion is one reason.

Sex isn’t worth it for someone when the drawbacks significantly outweigh the benefits for them, though there may be ideological reasons too. They don’t say that people who have sex are evil or immoral–those that aren’t extremists–but don’t like that there’s so much suffering associated with sex.

Siggy: Why are there so many discrepancies in English and Russian?

Aqua-ace: The English version of the Antisexual Stronghold is extremely out of date, and hasn’t been updated since the first site admin left. The first site admin was fluent in English, but he left a long time ago. The Antisexual Stronghold split off from ru.antisex after he left, and the second site admin doesn’t communicate in English.

The consequences of this information gap were severe. No wonder why a lot of AVENites think antisexuality means being against sexually active people on principle, and couldn’t understand why and how there are self-identified antisexuals that don’t mean that at all! Searching through some old threads on AVEN, those extremists who acted like crusaders against sex got heard first, and couldn’t be shaken off. What I explained about how the principles of the Antisexual Stronghold weren’t translated into English, because they came later, under that redefinition circa 2006-7. I know this from information that’s mainly in Russian.

This might have been a problem since the start of the antisexual/extrasexual community. ru.antisex was pretty fanatical, or mistaken for it. What led to the split between ru.antisex and the Antisexual Stronghold is that the latter wanted to make it clear that someone who wants to be antisexual doesn’t have to have the same viewpoints as the founder, and can disagree with him.

Siggy: Could you explain how you started out in the antisexual forum and eventually wound up on AVEN?

Aqua-ace:  It’s kind of messy, but I found out about antisexuality through the Antisexual Stronghold 2-3 years before I found the asexual community, and it was from there I realized I’m not wrong for not wanting sex. They are the first ‘voluntary celibates’ I’ve seen. I knew of asexuality already, but unsupportive friends constantly denied my asexuality, to the point they dissuaded me from looking into the asexual community, and they just about made me think I was wrong about myself. I joined the forumotion.com antisexual community shortly before finding AVEN, in September 2012. I also found out about the asexual community on tumblr right around that time. Between AVEN and the tumblr community, I got involved in the tumblr community first, because one of my friends on tumblr is asexual, and she posts asexuality-related stuff on occasion. I ended up getting introduced to the tumblr community through the stuff she reblogged.

To be honest, my first impressions of AVEN were negative ones. Some of the self-identified antisexuals said they had bad experiences with AVEN, and I’ve also heard of tumblr community asexuals also saying bad things about AVEN, though different things. I first went to AVEN assuming the worst.

But at the same time, I needed to know more about sexuality from the asexual perspective. What can the asexuals, an outside perspective, tell us about the nature of sexual attraction?  AVEN is more organized than the tumblr community. I could more easily find questions about sexual attraction, libido and repulsion. This was important because some of the self-identified antisexuals are sex-repulsed allosexuals, and I wanted to know how to help them, but couldn’t relate to their experiences first-hand, aside from not wanting sex. I was looking for a bit of outside help. At the time, I still considered myself an outsider to the asexual community. I was still in the process of trying to reclaim my asexual identity, after being forced to second-guess myself for the past few years.

In that offshoot antisexual community I was from, there was actually no consensus on what ‘antisexuality’ was, and whose standards to use. Some of them actually did mean something closer to what a lot of AVENites mean by ‘antisexual’, while others strictly meant what the Antisexual Stronghold actually meant. The former had conflicts with AVEN because of their viewpoints (i.e: elitism, acting as crusaders against sex), while the latter had conflicts with AVEN because of terminology differences that got taken the wrong way. I’m in the latter camp there. Unfortunately, those self-identified antisexuals who had trouble with AVEN because of their viewpoints screwed over the rest of us. I was aware of this by the time I joined AVEN, and I knew trying to explain this would be really daunting.

Siggy: Did you run into any misunderstandings due to differences in terminology on AVEN and in the antisexual/extrasexual communities?

Aqua-ace: Yes. I’ve even experienced miscommunications over this on AVEN recently.

When I first went to AVEN, I thought I wouldn’t be welcome there as a member, and thought there was a rivalry between AVEN and the Antisexual Stronghold. I further thought there was a rivalry because I heard that Apositive was founded in response to the excessive ‘antisexuality’ on AVEN at the time.  I found out that wasn’t the case, and that Apositive was founded out of backlash against the defunct Official Nonlibidoism Society, whose members were very elitist, and whose attitudes took over AVEN for a while.

Even when I knew there was no actual rivalry in the first place, I felt discouraged, because I knew understanding couldn’t happen if these differences in terminology kept us apart.

I also took ‘sex-positivity’ and ‘sex-negativity’ at face-value, and when AVEN members said that AVEN endorses sex-positivity, I took it the wrong way. I don’t think I heard that term before coming to AVEN, but at first I thought that meant that all sex is good, and favoring asexuals who either enjoyed sex, or at least didn’t mind compromising, but at the expense of the sex-averse. I was thinking “What the heck, asexual community? You’d rather have your comrades force themselves into sex they don’t want, to show how open-minded and progressive they are? If me choosing life without sex makes me an asexual elitist, so be it!”

I was also recovering from a toxic relationship, where I was pressured into sexual things a lot.

But I had to be patient when lurking on AVEN. I saw that sex-positivity doesn’t mean all sex is good, but I still thought it was a strange and counter-intuitive term. I probably shouldn’t be criticizing others’ choices in terminology though.

I’ve tried to explain that there are people who identify as antisexual, but aren’t against people who want sex, it’s just that they chose life without it and don’t identify as celibate. I’ve tried multiple times, and probably confused everyone. The first time I tried to ask about this on AVEN, I didn’t get a conclusive answer. Other times, members have said that what I was trying to describe as ‘antisexuality’ was what they’d call either ‘sex-repulsion’ or ‘celibacy’.  The thing that probably confused everyone was when I tried to explain that this is separate from celibacy, and that sex-repulsion isn’t a required component.

Another part of the problem is that much of the asexual community considers all people abstaining in the long term to be celibate, and doesn’t make the distinctions other communities do.  The involuntary celibacy community distinguishes between ‘voluntary celibacy’ and ‘involuntary celibacy’. The voluntary/involuntary distinction matters. But by the standards of the Antisexual Stronghold, the voluntary/involuntary, religious/non-religious reasons and temporary/permanent distinctions all matter, and I think all of those distinctions matter!  I’ve gotten frustrated that no one else on AVEN conceptualizes ‘celibacy’ this way. I prefer the precision.

Siggy: Nonetheless, have you become more comfortable with AVEN over time?

Aqua-ace: Yes, I have. It’s still feels very isolating that practically no one can understand the circumstances that originally held me back from the asexual community, and why I find these terminology issues so important. I can be really pedantic at times, but it goes beyond that. But I try to focus on the positives, and focus on what do I have in common with others in the asexual community, and how can I help them?

On AVEN, I spend the most time answering peoples’ questions in Q&A, or share experiences in Musings and Rantings, or greet people in the Welcome Lounge.  I want to reassure asexuals that they aren’t broken or alone. No one should feel broken or alone for not wanting or desiring sex.

Siggy: Do you miss the antisexual forum that disappeared in May?

Aqua-ace: I still miss it very much! I miss many of the people I met, and a lot of questions were left unresolved.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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9 Responses to A story from the antisexual community: An interview with Aqua-ace

  1. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    Thanks for this, especially in asking for clearer terminology on abstinence and celibacy. It’s definitely important to know why someone isn’t having sex.

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  4. Brian says:

    While there is much strong information in this interview, the tendency to over-classify personal outlooks and varieties of asexuality glares as a classic display of the factionalism that can hamstring organizing for human rights. A more human scale, relaxed analysis would hold that some folks are asexual in the generic sense, for a plethora of mostly unrelated reasons (biology, an ascetic way of living, or past trauma). The right to live as one wishes free of compulsory standards should fuel a pro-asexual movement. Ornate sectarianism imitative of the worst of political ideologies is a huge mistake that will likely send this movement the way of Leninism or religious cults. Keep it appropriately simple!

    • Siggy says:

      I really don’t consider antisexuality to be a form of factionalism. It’s a concept that formed in Russia entirely independently of asexuality, and its scope is not entirely overlapping. It sounds like you want antisexuals to simply call themselves asexual, but this is about as reasonable as calling on all asexuals to simply call themselves antisexual.

      • Brian says:

        I have just had it — in general on all issues — with excessive sectarian classifying of everybody and every thought line. I saw how this turned Marxist organizing into pure madness. Nobody was paying any attention to the real world or people’s needs any longer. It became “my ism’s better than your ism.” As someone who is realizing the rest of my life can be good and healthy if I can get some positive support to help me navigate a world that doesn’t understand my being asexual, I believe from experience that we must not succumb to this sectarianism. I’m not finding fault with your specifics so much as the greater method.

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