Reflections on the Use and Boundaries of Sex-Favourable Asexual as a Term

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.

About Talia

Talia is an asexual, nonbinary trans, vegan-feminist that drinks a lot of coffee and stays up very late playing World of Warcraft and writing fiction. They are working on a PhD in Environmental Studies where they think a lot about oppression as intersectional and impacting identities differentially. Talia has a particular fondness for asexuality, fandom, and Critical Animal Studies. Their personal blog is petuniaparty.tumblr.com
This entry was posted in asexual identity, asexual politics, Community, Language, personal experience and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Reflections on the Use and Boundaries of Sex-Favourable Asexual as a Term

  1. queenieofaces says:

    Okay, so I have a question for you. You brought up “they do not feel an intrinsic desire to make sex a part of their relationships with other people” as erasing sex-favorable asexuals, but that’s definitely something that people in my group have used to define asexuality when we’re doing panels and that sort of thing. (Although usually it’s more like, “Asexuals do not experience sexual attraction to other people. They do not feel an intrinsic desire to connect with other people sexually, although some may have sex for other reasons.” Followed by some reasons aces may have sex, if we have time.) What would you prefer that people said? I guess mostly the problem is that some people have trouble with the “does not experience sexual attraction” definition, and it’s difficult to define it in a way other than “experiencing attraction toward someone sexually,” ’cause “wanting to have sex with someone” is sexual desire or “being drawn to have sex with a particular person” could be sexual desire or sexual attraction, depending on who you’re talking to.

    • Talia says:

      I appreciate you asking this 🙂 One way to approach this might be, what are the reasons you are including that asexual people are having sex? If that list includes some asexual people like sex, some asexual people get turned on, and it feels good for some asexual people (or similar statements) I would consider that to include sex-favourable asexual people. My concern is that lists often include reasons such as compromise, emotional connection, etc. without including liking sex because it’s sex.

      Including statements like those I identified would work for me because the statement “do not feel an intrinsic desire to connect with other people sexually” applies to me because being sex-favourable is not about the person or the connection with them. Hypothetically that statement might not apply to other sex-favourable asexual people, but that’s just a speculation. I don’t know anyone that it wouldn’t apply to.

      For more clarification I identified the statement “they do not feel an intrinsic desire to make sex a part of their relationships with other people” as problematic because, on its own, it can be interpreted to mean that all asexual people don’t desire or initiate sex in relationships. In other words, nothing about them makes them seek out sexual relationships. It reminds me of the statement CJ Chasin recently made in “Making Sense in the Asexual Community” that “many asexual/ace people are behaviourally celibate, whereas others participate in (often unwanted although, ideally, non-coerced) sexual contact with (non-asexual) partners.” In this quote asexual people are reduced to only ever having sex as a compromise, emotional connection, etc. It sets up allosexual people as always the initiators of sex, assuming that if allosexual people aren’t present, asexual people will never have or want sex.

      Another way to approach this might be the definition of sexual attraction that you’re using. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to clearly demarcate sexual attraction and sexual desire. Right now my working model is sexual attraction is ‘your perception of an external sexual object’ (which sounds clinical as I build it off of Freud) and sexual desire is ‘your perception of being cognitively and/or physically turned on.’ Attraction is how you feel about someone else and desire is how you interpret your own body and mind. Sometimes they’re linked (as in you experience both or none) and sometimes they’re not (which is the case for sex-favourable asexual people). One of the arguments I make in the research I’m working on is that our society assumes that they are naturally and ideally linked.

      *edited for missing a reason.

      • Chasin says:

        You wrote: “It reminds me of the statement CJ Chasin recently made in “Making Sense in the Asexual Community” that “many asexual/ace people are behaviourally celibate, whereas others participate in (often unwanted although, ideally, non-coerced) sexual contact with (non-asexual) partners.” In this quote asexual people are reduced to only ever having sex as a compromise, emotional connection, etc. It sets up allosexual people as always the initiators of sex, assuming that if allosexual people aren’t present, asexual people will never have or want sex.”

        Actually, my statement *doesn’t* reduce asexual people to only ever having sex as a compromise. Nuances of language are important: “often” is not the same as “always” and furthermore, having “(non-asexual)” in parentheses instead of straight up very clearly marks the statement as *different from* something like “sexual contact with non-asexual partners”. Moreover, it doesn’t speak at all to *who* initiates the sex.

        There’s a lot more nuance than you seem to be willing to recognise.

  2. You wrote, “I feel more at home in allosexual communities and you will find me responding to their censuses because I happen to be there.” This is a privilege that many aces, particularly sex-averse aces, don’t have. For many of us, sex-positive communities are not welcoming or even safe and the asexual community is the first and only place we’ve found where we can talk about our experiences without facing invalidation or prejudice.

    I think it’s a very difficult balance between being as inclusive as possible and providing a safe space for those aces who have no other place to go. I feel that discussions in the asexual community tend to focus much more on inclusivity and not enough on supporting the aces who have no other place to go. I think that we always have to consider not only our internal community dynamics but also how the various sub-groups relate to the larger society.

    • Talia says:

      I agree that it’s a privilege because our society privileges people who can be understood as liking sex. Importantly though, it’s also a privilege of being able to pass. As I wrote, “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).” Sex-positive spaces are only welcoming and safe if I don’t mention that I’m asexual. They can’t help me understand being asexual. I have chosen to enter allosexual sex-positive spaces because asexual spaces have largely proven themselves neither welcoming nor safe when I articulate myself as sex-favourable. Thus, I feel, as a sex-favourable asexual person that I don’t have a space to go to either.

      I agree that it’s a difficult balance. I specifically addressed this in the introduction when I wrote “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.” My intention was to acknowledge that some asexual people need safe(r) spaces that sex-favourable asexual people will not be welcome in and that we should understand, support, and when possible, encourage those spaces.

      • Thanks for the reply. Your comment helps clarify a lot for me so I appreciate you taking the time to write it.

        It does seem to be a particular issue on Tumblr where sex-positivity is pushed so strongly and this is one of several issues unique to Tumblr. People who are not on Tumblr may not have any idea that these are big topics!

        My hope is that as the asexual community continues to expand and grow, we will be able to support more sub-communities that can serve as safe spaces for various groups that need them.

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  6. Thanks for linking out to me on an intelligent and detailed essay. I can really relate to that feeling like the discourse that goes on in a certain community is helpful … but like that there is no specific place for you, and you are so far on the “fringe” that even people in that community fail to understand. “I am impossible,” as you said.

    I would say that I am “sex favourable,” but I so rarely experience sexual attraction (of a nature that I would act on) that I am asexual in most contexts regarding other people. I think I have a fairly high sex drive, but just nothing to do with it. As you were saying, you’d think that something like that would even out to “sex neutral,” but it doesn’t. It’s just extremes. I am averse to the idea of sex with 99.9% of everyone. But I still perceive myself as very sexual within the narrow contexts that I am sexual. My friend over at http://othersidesthoughts.blogspot.com/ is doing an entry on different “areas” of asexuality on Friday. I’ll link him up to your post here to see if it stimulates his brain =D I’ll probably post on something similar soon. Nice excuse to link out to you 🙂

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