I first started thinking and writing about sex-favourable asexuality in 2012 because I needed a term to describe an alienating invisibility that I felt when in the asexual community. Since then I have begun my Masters research on conceptual frameworks of asexuality and seen a few other people use the term sex-favorable. In this post I will revisit the term sex-favourable asexual and share my current thoughts on it. I want to position this post as part of a larger trend of rethinking how we discuss asexuality, asexual representation, and asexual 101 meta.
First, I retain the belief that sex-favourable asexual can be a useful and meaningful term because it responds to an absence in many asexual 101 discussions. Some asexual people like sex, seek it out, and want it in our relationships. Sex-favourable asexuality should not always be a priority in our community. Sometimes we need to stop talking about it to make room for other experiences, such as sex-averse asexual people and narratives that don’t reduce asexual people to eventually giving in to sex. That being said, sex-favourable asexuality should always be possible. There is a big difference between ‘we’re not going to talk about this group right now’ and ‘this group doesn’t exist under asexuality.’
Second, sex-favourable asexuality is a lot less rigid than I first depicted it as and I’d like to clarify that it cannot always be understood as one of three mutually exclusive categories.
My Context for the Term Sex-Favourable
In 2012 I was reading about asexual elitism on AVEN forums, an “old subject, which, for some reason, Just. Won’t Die.” To make sense of this uncomfortable climate I wrote an article for AVENues about hidden asexual elitism. Many of the conversations on AVEN and in scholarly publications assumed “asexuals either do not want to have sex or will have sex if it is the most convenient option.” Mark Carrigan wrote asexual people were sex-averse or sex-neutral about personally having sex and I added sex-favorable to this list.
The context that prompted me to originally write about sex-favourable asexuality is still largely the same today. Phrases like “we here at AVEN get along just fine without sex,” “asexual people are fine not having sex,” “for some sexual arousal is a fairly regular occurrence, though it is not associated with a desire to find a sexual partner or partners,” and “they do not feel an intrinsic desire to make sex a part of their relationships with other people” in some asexual 101 materials perpetuate the idea that all asexual people don’t have sex, and if they do, their asexuality is not compromised because they’re not interested in it. At best, that’s inaccurate because these 101 materials define asexuality by a lack of sexual attraction, but then discuss sexual attraction and sexual desire as if they’re the same thing. They’re not. For some people they’re linked and for some people they function independently, but ultimately they are different phenomena. Furthermore, we (usually) don’t call allosexual people ‘sexual’ because we recognize that they cannot be reduced to an interest in sexuality. In that same light, asexual people can’t always be reduced to a disinterest in sexuality either. Some asexual 101 spaces don’t repeat these trends and I’m really excited about that.
I’ve seen a lot of the same ideas in academia, which recently prompted the supervisor of my research to ask me how I don’t just start crying out of frustration when I’m reading this stuff in the coffee shop I like to work at. I really don’t know how. Some academics have written asexual people don’t have sexual behaviour, “asexuality is generally understood to coincide with a lack of desire for partnered sexual contact,” and asexual people are either averse or neutral to personally having sex. Anthony Bogaert has acknowledged that some asexual people have sexual fantasies and watch porn, but I refuse to accept this as any improvement because asexual people like this supposedly have a “rather exotic paraphilia” and Bogaert has suggested laboratory studies designed to find out the secrets asexual people don’t want to share. Please never do this.
Is Sex-favourable Asexual a Meaningful and Useful Term?
In lieu of the examples I think sex-favourable asexual is still a useful and meaningful term because it refers to an asexual experience that otherwise goes unrecognized. Sex-favourable aces are a minority in the asexual community, but being a minority isn’t any reason to be excluded from 101 narratives.
I often wonder if sex-favourable asexual people are such a minority because their experiences often do not make sense in asexual discourse and so they don’t stay in (or even join) the community because it’s not useful to them. I’ve long avoided the AVEN forums and the asexual tag on Tumblr because the way that many people write about asexuality there does not include me. I feel more at home in allosexual communities and you will find me responding to their censuses because I happen to be there.
Unfortunately, while allosexual communities can be friendly towards me, and I can learn a lot in them, I don’t experience sexual attraction and they can’t help me make sense of this. Furthermore, as Queenie wrote in a comment, being sex-positive and accepting sex-favourable asexual people are different. I fit best into allosexual communities when I don’t center my lack of sexual attraction as important to my life and experiences (which it is). I would do best in a space that recognizes me as both asexual and sex-favourable.
On the flip side, I sometimes wonder if sex-favourable asexual is too many words to be practical. When I mention my academic research, or say that I am asexual, people will tell me that they know what asexual means roughly half the time. Their definition is always a person who does not have sex or does not want to. I could come out as sex-favourable asexual, but this can go wrong in so many ways.
Sometimes people experience a strange kind of relief when I tell them I’m sex-favourable. They can handle my not experiencing sexual attraction (which really means, they can ignore it) because I experience sexual desire. I’m just like them! This both completely misrepresents me and risks further enforcing their confusion and prejudice against asexual people who don’t experience sexual desire.
Other times I just confuse them. They can’t wrap their head around being sex-favourable and asexual. Some of the responses I’ve gotten are: “you haven’t met the right person yet,” “but when you do find someone you’re sexually attracted to you’ll have sex with them,” and “I don’t understand how that’s asexual.”
I have practiced coming out to acquaintances in a lot of different ways and it’s only gotten more confusing. Telling them I’m not sexually attracted to people always gets a, “oh, so you don’t have sex,” reaction. I don’t like talking to people I barely know about my sexual behaviour. I could theorize it and break down sexual attraction, sexual desire, and sexual behaviour for them, but rarely are others so interested in sex theory. Lately I just want to say “it’s complicated” and give up, but it’s really not that complicated. It just doesn’t make sense in our culture that positions asexuality and allosexuality as opposites regarding sexual behaviour.
I could say I’m just asexual, but I can’t really because I’m not the kind of asexual that you think I am. If I say nothing, I’m assumed to be heterosexual (which stings on multiple levels).
I like that I’m asexual. Why can’t I talk about it? Why should I be silent because someone else doesn’t understand? Except that’s not how identity labels work. While I will happily say I am sex-favourable asexual in the asexual community (because even though I experience invisibility, sometimes I make sense here), I currently have no idea how to talk about my sexual orientation outside of it and that really hurts.
Demarcating Sex-averse, Sex-neutral, and Sex-favourable
I often write about sex-favourable as the opposite of sex-averse. Sex-neutral/sex-indifferent is depicted as some nebulous gray zone in the middle. These depictions likely come from my defining sex-favourable as a third option, but humans are a lot more complex than three distinct options allow for.
What about asexual people who like sex but get turned off by their partners? They’d probably be unwelcome or pathologized in sex-positive spaces. What about asexuals into bdsm that is not sexual? What about people who are rarely aroused, but when they are, prefer to have sex with a partner over masturbating or doing nothing? Most of the time they’d probably feel comfortable in sex-neutral spaces, but they’re not really sex-neutral/indifferent, as they’re sex-favourable. These examples point to how three distinct categories don’t work.
The three options of sex-averse, sex-neutral/indifferent, and sex-favourable are pedagogically useful, but only if they are understood as pedagogical/teaching tools and not accurate representations of reality. It’s probably much more realistic to say, well, here are three categories that might be useful to you, but some people don’t fit into any of the categories, some people regularly switch categories, some people sit on the borders between categories, etc.
I personally identify as a sex-favourable asexual because it is a meaningful and useful marker for me in the asexual community. I am most aware of myself, and my needs, when reading asexual 101 material, or discussions of asexuality, that erase sex-favourable asexuals. I stop and go, oh, I don’t exist here. I am impossible. I am also relatively comfortable in sex-positive spaces that recognize that the people in them are personally favourable towards sexual behaviour. In spite of that, sex-favourable as a term cannot completely explain me.
I have a few sex-neutral traits and a lot of sex-averse traits. The ones I’m comfortable sharing are that I am uncomfortable watching people kiss and have a strong aversion to genitals.
When people talk about being sex-averse I can nod along and feel somewhat included, but it’s only when talking about sex-favourable asexuality that I feel I make sense. I have a few exceptions, but the ‘box’ almost fits.
Technically having sex-averse and sex-favourable traits could cancel each other out and make me sex-neutral, but most of my reactions are on such strong polar opposite sides that I can’t be explained by a grey zone in the middle.
I usually write I’m sex-favourable because the label represents how I feel I best fit into the asexual community. Since labels aren’t immutable truths or referring to some true inner core, I think that’s fine. My gut instinct is to hope that I am not speaking over people who are just sex-favourable, but I also think it’s important to not impose a hierarchy of the best or truest sex-favourable ace. I hope that people who experience sex-favourable asexuality differently than me write about it as well.