Content warnings: mentions of sexual violence, but no specifics
Fellow aces, we need to have a discussion about how we treat sex-averse and sex-repulsed aces. Sex-repulsed and sex-averse aces are by no means a minority in the community–according to the AAW census, 65% of asexuals, 51% of grey-As, and 37% of demisexuals are either “somewhat repulsed” or “completely repulsed.” And yet, as several people have pointed out recently, sex-repulsed and sex-averse aces are consistently “viewed almost as a dirty secret the community should be ashamed of.” This treatment of sex-repulsed aces goes hand in hand with a series of ideas: Being indifferent is the Real Way to be ace. If you’re sex-repulsed, there’s something wrong with you, and you need to see a medical professional. If you’re sex-repulsed because of experiences of trauma or sexual violence, then you definitely need to see a medical professional and sit down and shut up and stop making people think that you’re a “normal” ace.
A strange extension of this erasure and/or silencing of sex-repulsed aces is that aces who aren’t sex-repulsed are pressured into having sex by members of their own community. It means that it’s significantly easier to find narratives from and advice for aces who have sex (and that’s just things I found in ~5 minutes of going through bookmarks) than it is to find personal narratives from aces who are sex-averse,* despite the fact that, according to the AAW census, only 1% of asexuals, 4% of grey-As, and 11% of demisexuals enjoy having sex. (It’s slightly easier to find stuff about aros who don’t have sex and don’t want to have sex, probably because, as everyone knows, it’s totally 100% impossible to ever have a romantic relationship without The Sex.) It means that people who seek out ace communities because they don’t want to have sex can feel alienated by their own communities.
Let’s start by getting our terminology straight. I’ve collected a couple of definitions of sex-repulsion/aversion here, but just to briefly recap: “Sex-repulsion” and “sex-aversion” are two terms used to refer to people who are averse to/repulsed by some element(s) of sexual activity. As with most other things, sex-aversion/repulsion is a spectrum. On one hand you have the people who are A-okay with other people having sex, watching sex scenes in movies, talking about sex, giving sex ed advice to anyone who asks, and/or drawing anatomical charts from memory, but would really rather not involve themselves in any sort of sexual activity. On the other hand you have people who are repulsed by sex talk, mentions of sex, anatomical diagrams, and/or or PDA. (Note: There’s an important difference between being personally repulsed and shaming other people.) There are also people who may be “partially repulsed” or “somewhat repulsed”–for example, they may be repulsed by some sexual activities but not others or they may be repulsed by sexual activity except under certain circumstances. Both asexual spectrum people and allosexual people can (and do) identify as sex-repulsed/sex-averse, so sex-aversion has little to nothing to do with one’s sexual orientation (although obviously a sex-repulsed ace is probably going to have different experiences than, say, a sex-repulsed bisexual person).
I have been sex-repulsed for as long as I can remember. When I was 11 or so, I had a very visceral “DO NOT WANT” reaction when I realized that sex wasn’t just Something Adults Do but rather something I would have to do as an adult. As I entered my teens, I kept expecting my feelings on sex to suddenly change; certainly, the adults around me kept telling me that would happen–when they weren’t too busy calling me a “prude,” that is. Every time someone started talking about sex, I felt like everything they were describing was something I would have to do in the future. Needless to say, given my “DO NOT WANT” reaction, I was pretty deeply uncomfortable around sexual conversations.
Interestingly, the thing that contributed the most to me becoming more chill about sex in general was the realization that I didn’t have to have it. Suddenly, people talking about sex became a thousand times less threatening, because they were no longer talking about something that I would have to do in the future. They could talk about That Thing They Did on Saturday Night, and it had nothing to do with me. I would never have to do That Thing, so That Thing could be dealt with mentally in the same way as bungee jumping–something I do not want to do (at all, ever), but that other people enjoy.
I do not consider my sex-repulsion–because it existed before I had any sort of experience of sexual violence–“more legitimate” than the sex-repulsion of ace survivors whose negative reactions to sex are a direct result of trauma. I do not consider my sex-repulsion “more legitimate” than the feelings of ace survivors who don’t know whether trauma caused them to be sex-repulsed. I do not believe that I have a “better reason” for being sex-repulsed because I have experienced sexual violence–if you don’t want to have sex, you shouldn’t have to defend your desire not to have sex, especially in ace spaces. I do not like that certain people, both inside and outside ace communities, feel that they have the right to police other people’s attitudes toward sex based upon whether they have a “good reason” for their feelings or not, especially since people who clear the “trauma bar” are often told that they should go get therapy because their attitudes toward sex are “unnatural” or “unhealthy.”
I joined ace communities so that I could have a space where I wasn’t constantly being pressured into having sex that I really, really, really don’t want to have, but when so much of my dashboard is “Aces have sex too!” and “Indifferent is the way to be!” and “It’s wrong to be sex-repulsed; go to a doctor!” and “You should experiment sexually!” I feel really isolated. I feel like I say the same things over and over and over and over and yet I don’t make a dent, because sex-repulsion is wrong and indifference is the real way to be ace and if you’re not willing to have sex, there’s something wrong with you, and if you’re an ace survivor you should sit down and shut up and stop making the “normal” aces look bad and aces like sex!
If ace communities are not a safe space for me, where am I supposed to go? Where are the 55% of asexual spectrum people who are at least somewhat repulsed supposed to go? Where are the 38% of asexual spectrum people who are not willing to have sex supposed to go? Where are ace survivors who are massively triggered by the idea of ever having sex supposed to go? Where are ace survivors who aren’t triggered by sex but just genuinely don’t want to have it supposed to go? Where are aces who don’t want to (or can’t) justify their sex-aversion supposed to go? Where are aces fleeing the demand to “just have sex, just try it, stop being such a prude” only to find the same underlying sexual normativity replicated in ace communities supposed to go?
Certainly, there are people who distressed by their sex-aversion. If your sex-aversion/sex-repulsion causes you distress, by all means, seek whatever help you need. But please don’t assume that, because sex-aversion causes distress to some people (or even to you, specifically), sex-aversion is inherently pathological. Don’t assume that sex-aversion has to be “cured.” Don’t demand that sex-averse aces go get “fixed,” especially if their attitude toward sex isn’t causing them distress. If you are concern trolling sex-averse aces, you are dissuading people who feel isolated by sexual normativity from entering ace communities. Even if someone’s sex-aversion is causing them distress and can be minimized or “cured” through medical or psychological treatment, yelling at them to stop being sex-averse won’t actually help them; yelling at people mostly makes them feel bad about themselves and retreat from spaces they might find helpful.
I won’t deny that it’s important to talk about aces who have sex. It’s important to talk about aces who enjoy sex. It’s important to talk about aces who are indifferent toward sex. But if those are the only stories we tell, we are missing a sizable portion of our communities. This isn’t just about making room for survivors; this is about making room for 55% of aces. I can’t believe I have to say this, but asexual communities need to make room for people who just genuinely don’t want sex now or ever. We need to open up space for the stories of aces who don’t want sex, who don’t enjoy sex, who aren’t having sex, who are triggered by the idea of having sex, who are afraid of sex, whose sexual experiences are overwhelmingly negative and violent, who will never have sex “just to be sure,” and who can’t (or won’t) compromise sexually. We should not sacrifice and silence members of our community for the sake of seeming “sex-positive.” We should not recreate and reinforce the compulsory sexuality that many members of ace communities are attempting flee.
How can you make space for sex-repulsed and sex-averse aces? Well, it’s mostly little things. You can stop saying, “Aces like sex” or “Aces have sex” and start saying, “Some aces like sex, and others don’t” or “Some aces have sex, but most don’t.” You can stop derailing posts about sex-aversion/repulsion and asexuality with “But aces can have sex too!” If you run an ace advice blog, rather than responding to someone’s fears about having sex with encouragement to go for it, you can remind them that they’re not required to have sex under any circumstances, and if they don’t want to have sex, they don’t have to have sex. You can stop making blanket statements about aces’ attitudes toward sex (“Aces don’t hate sex!”, “Aces like sex; they just don’t experience sexual attraction!”, etc.), because no matter what you say, you’re going to be wrong. You can stop treating sex-repulsed and sex-averse aces as though they’re reflecting badly on other aces just by existing. You can start thinking about ways to be a better ally to ace survivors, and then stop thinking and start doing.
I am asexual. I am sex-repulsed. I am not your dirty secret. Please make space for me, because I don’t have space anywhere else.
*redbeardace has suggested that people aren’t talking about sex-repulsion because nobody’s talking about sex-repulsion, but I also think it’s really important to remember how difficult it is to talk about something that A. very few people are talking about and B. is consistently denigrated and erased by other members of your community.