Not everybody wants to do it

This post was written for the July Carnival of Aces; this month’s topic is “Sex-Aversion & Sex-Repulsion.”

Content warnings: mentions of sexual violence and gender dysphoria, but no specifics

When I wrote about the treatment of sex-averse and sex-repulsed aces in ace communities last month, Elizabeth commented that she wasn’t sure what sorts of resources repulsed aces need. Needless to say, I sat down and thought about exactly what resources–beyond the general acceptance and respect that I discussed in my last post–I would have liked to have as a younger and less self-assured ace.  Let’s start with an extremely basic request: I want there to be judgment-free space for people who don’t want to have sex.

Sounds obvious, right?  It’s not like I’m the first one to recommend it; emeraldincandescent has mentioned the need for spaces for newbie aces to “detox,” Sciatrix mentioned the need for subspaces more than six months ago (as well as four years ago), and the need for more subspaces (including possibly subspaces for sex-averse aces) came up multiple times in the comments on this post.  But let me reiterate: I want there to be spaces for people–not just aces–who don’t want to have sex.

I think part of the reason why my last post struck a chord with so many sex-averse aces is that we simply don’t see ourselves outside of ace spaces.  While some sex-favorable aces may be able to identify with allosexuals, sex-averse aces feel marginalized because they’re asexual, and then feel further marginalized because they’re sex-averse.  Disconnecting behavior from attraction is often used to remind aces that they can have sex without invalidating their identity, but sex-averse aces may consequently feel as though everyone else in the world wants to have sex and has positive feelings about sex.  Allosexuals?  I mean, they’re sexually attracted to people, so they definitely want to have sex.  Asexuals?  Well, some of them want to have sex!

In fact, there are more people who aren’t all that jazzed about sex than a lot of sex-averse aces realize. People in ace communities occasionally have some pretty one-dimensional ideas about allosexuals, when there’s actually a fair amount of diversity with regards to sex drive.    And even among aces, just being sex-indifferent or sex-favorable doesn’t mean that someone wants to get it on.

There are a lot of reasons why a person who experiences sexual attraction may not really be that into sex.  If you’ve ever seen (A)Sexual, the allosexual husband of one of the ace women talks about not really enjoying sex that much and thus not feeling like he’s giving up something particularly important by staying with his wife.  I know a couple of people who are similarly apathetic about sex or have low (or no) libido–despite experiencing sexual attraction–and have found some of the conversation in ace spaces really helpful, even though they don’t identify as asexual themselves.  I also know allosexual people who might identify as “partially averse,” because they enjoy some aspects of sex/sexual acts but are squicked out by others.

Then there are the allosexual people no one wants to talk about, because there’s something “wrong” with them and their attitudes toward sex.  There are people who have experienced sexual violence and are sex-averse or sex-repulsed or have complicated attitudes toward sex that don’t easily fit into the “sex-loving, sex-positive allosexual” stereotype.  There are trans people who are sex-repulsed because of dysphoria, and would really rather not put their genitals near anyone else’s, thank you very much.  There are people who have medical conditions such that sex doesn’t feel pleasurable to them or sex is physically difficult or painful.  There are people who have sensory issues and would prefer not to have to deal with any bodily fluids.  The list goes on and on.*

I am asexual, and yet my attitudes toward sex are often more similar to those of the aforementioned groups than they are to many sex-favorable aces’.  And yet, with the way many ace spaces are currently constructed, aces and non-aces are divided up into binary groups, and never shall the two meet.  I think that’s part of the reason why sex-averse asexual folks can feel so isolated–while sex-favorable and sex-indifferent asexual folks can see people who have similar attitudes toward sex outside of asexual spaces, and can sexually “connect” with the rest of the world, sex-averse aces often get the message that they are sixty million units of measurement away from the norm and shouldn’t even bother trying to engage with non-aces.  (Think of all the relationship advice, both from aces and non-aces, that counsels aces who aren’t willing to have sex to only date other aces.)  Rather than being able to connect with allosexual folks who might be equally disinterested in sex, sex-averse asexuals thus feel that they’re a minority within a minority.**  That’s not even considering the gatekeeping of aces who might not have been “born asexual” or the stigmatization of sex-aversion with a “cause.”  If you’re already feeling like a minority within a minority, you’re probably not going to want to identify with allosexual people who are consistently labeled “ill” or “broken.”

The Ace Theist offered a really thoughtful differentiation for the types of invalidation that sex-repulsed and sex-favorable aces face.  They wrote:

Generally, anxieties about being sex-favorable and ace come from the idea that if you like sex, you shouldn’t identify as asexual, whereas anxieties about being sex-repulsed and ace come from the idea that people aren’t supposed to be sex-repulsed in the first place. […] [T]he former makes people worry they’ll be pathologized and told they’re making the community look bad, since actual people tout the idea that being asexual is one thing, but it’s not okay to hate sex. […]  [S]ex-repulsed aces are worrying about something that they might be worrying about even if their orientation changed overnight.

As I outlined in my last post, sex-averse aces often face censure from their own communities, but even if ace communities are completely 100% okay with sex-averse aces, if sex-aversion in general is still pathologized, sex-averse aces will continue to feel isolated and alienated and broken.

That’s why I want space for sex-averse people of all stripes.  I want new aces to know that, hey, there are some allosexual people who are 100% willing to date or otherwise being involved in relationships with aces without any sexual compromise going on, because not all allosexual people are super jazzed about sex 100% of the time.  I want ace spaces that aren’t built around sex-positivity and celebrating all the sex other people are having.  I want spaces for people who find ace discourse really useful–because they’re not all that interested in doing the genital tango–but don’t feel comfortable identifying as ace, for whatever reason.  I want sex-averse aces to feel like they don’t have to preface their existence and feelings with disclaimers about how their thoughts are personal and certainly not a political stance against sex.  I want spaces for anyone who can’t think of sex as a positive personal experience, whether that is because of experiences with sexual violence, dysphoria, medical reasons, an inability to imagine a situation in which they would consent, or just because they do, no explanations necessary.  And, yes, I want space to talk about how some people are partially averse or only repulsed by certain things or in certain contexts and may be otherwise sex-favorable or sex-indifferent.  But in order to create space for those people, we first need to create space for people of all sexual orientations who don’t want to do it, because that sort of space doesn’t exist outside of ace communities (if it exists here at all).

I keep coming back to the idea of sub-spaces, and I think that is, ultimately, what we need.  I’m not sure it’s possible for one space to fulfill the needs of all aces–when sex-averse aces speak, sex-favorable aces feel erased, and when sex-favorable aces speak, sex-averse aces feel marginalized and alienated, and so the see-saw cycle continues.  Even if it is possible for everyone to get their needs met in a single space, is that the heathiest and most productive way to go about it?  Maybe it would be better to have spaces that are aware of all the possibilities–sex-favorable, sex-averse, sex-indifferent, sex-repulsed, not digging the sex- labels–but are intended to cater to one subgroup (or intersection or interest) within the asexual spectrum.  After all, it’s difficult to feel quite as isolated when you’re surrounded by a community of people who have the same opinions, experiences, and/or identities that you do.

*This is not to say that there aren’t aces who are sex-averse or sex-repulsed because of a history of trauma, dysphoria, sensory issues, etc.  Those aces do exist, and are often stigmatized for having “aversion with a cause.”

**A lot of people reblogged last month’s post to express shock that sex-averse aces were, in fact, the majority of the community.  It seems that many sex-averse aces were under the impression that they were only 5-20% of the community.

About queenieofaces

QueenieOfAces is a graduate student in the U.S. studying Japanese religion. She is a queer asexual. She also blogs over at Concept Awesome and runs Resources for Ace Survivors. She is never quite sure what to write in these introduction things, but this one time she accidentally got a short story on asexuality published in an erotica magazine.
This entry was posted in asexual politics, Community, Sexual normativity. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Not everybody wants to do it

    • queenieofaces says:

      Oh geez, I knew someone had written something tangentially related to this, but then I couldn’t find the post and wound up giving up. Thanks for linking!

  1. Yes! All of this!

    I am very impressed with how you found relevant things I’d written that I’d completely forgotten about. Because I somehow forgot that this has been a personal bugbear for a while. And it’s got even more so since I ended up in the sort of queer spaces that are starting to absorb a nuanced understanding of ace terminology and I’m meeting a *lot* of other people, like me, who are like ‘Well, I don’t think I’m asexual as such, but…’ or ‘I’m definitely not asexual but I found it really useful to think in terms of…’ or even ‘Totally not ace, but actually in practical terms maybe I’m more compatible with aces because…’. I’m getting a real sense that people are starved of language and the ace community’s language is the only thing that comes even close. If this space is going to come, I think the best way is probably out of ace spaces.

    A practical problem with sub-spaces is that they often become echo-chambers. For all AVEN’s faults, one thing it generally did pretty well was take new asexuals who are in that detox ‘sex is icky and allos are stupid’ phase and put them in a community with people who could quietly and gently say ‘Now, now. It’d be a funny old world if we were all alike’ over and over again, whilst giving *those* people something else to do in the community to counteract the boredom and frustration of that. It tried to maintain a kind of balance between actually giving repulsed people space to be repulsed, and making sure that there wasn’t a culture of overt sex-negativity, but the only reason it could even attempt that balancing act was because it tried to be all things to all people. I’m worried that separate and distinct ‘sex-liking ace spaces’ and ‘sex-averse people spaces’ would just end up becoming extremes of themselves.

    • queenieofaces says:

      To give credit where it is due, Sciatrix managed to find those links. I was like, “I’m pretty sure slightlymetaphysical has written something on this but now I can’t find the links???” and then she found them for me, because she is awesome.

      Yeah, I worry a lot about sub-spaces becoming echo-chambers and taking the existing problematic undertones (“sex is icky and allos are gross,” “people who don’t want to have sex are ill and crazy,” etc.) and magnifying them massively. My hope is that there would be people in sub-spaces who would be somewhat more balanced and could try to, for example, help newbie aces detox without sending the fury of the internet crashing down on them. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part, though. Mostly, I think tumblr is really not a good place for that sort of detoxing or even for the expression of less than positive feelings about sex, unless you want the fury of the internet crashing down on your head. So maybe the solution is more forums! Or more awareness that not every conversation is about every ace, so that not every conversation about aces having sex gets shut down with “you’re erasing sex-repulsed aces!” and not every conversation about sex-repulsion gets shut down with “you’re being horrible and discriminatory and aces have sex!”

    • Aqua says:

      The best way to avoid these sub-spaces from becoming echo chambers, and becoming extreme, may be to lay down some ground rules to counter it. In the forum that I made, which I linked to in my last comment, one of the guidelines I wrote down was “Keep it constructive”. I think it also depends on the overall tone of the sub-space, and establish a tone that allows for people to easily share their experiences, without being dogmatic in any direction. This is important, because if the overall tone comes across as highly dogmatic (that is, the problematic undertones in either direction are highly magnified), then the written rules and guidelines mean little, because they weren’t well-enforced.

      It also depends on how open the sub-space is to outsiders. But in that case, there’d have to be a trade-off between being openness to outsiders vs. being a safe space (members not feeling like they have to censor their selves just to please outsiders).

      Having sub-spaces would be a good idea, because while AVEN would still have a balancing act to manage, knowing that there are sub-spaces should help prevent people thinking that discussing one group must always be a zero-sum game at the expense of the other.

  2. Pingback: Carnival of Aces: July 2014 Round-Up of Everything Submitted!! | From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts

  3. Aqua says:

    I’ve known of this issue for a long time, and am so happy to see it discussed here! I happened to have already created a space for people who don’t want sex, whether asexual or not. I aim to make it a place where people can talk about being averse to sex without judgment, and a place to talk about the other issues you described here. I also intend for it to be a space for scientific and philosophical discussion about the nature of sexuality (which I know sounds totally counter-intuitive, but I think asking those kind of questions could be helpful to people in the community), but if someone is there just for the social support aspect, that’s fine too.

    It’s a shame that kind of community barely ever existed in English, despite sex-repulsed and averse people making up such a large part of the asexual community. I know that there are repulsed/averse allosexuals too, and that they have nearly no visibility or support outside of the few spaces that exist. There may be a lot more out there, but don’t know of any resources for them. I’ve known some repulsed/averse allosexuals on an old forum I used to be on, but the admin gave up and deleted it. That loss was devastating. All of those discussions are gone. I remember the challenges that the allosexual members had. They described their experiences as being betrayed by their bodies, and I hope that they join so they can share their experiences, and work towards a constructive way of coping (they’re sure they never want sex, but need to cope with having their own bodies working against them). There was some information and discussion about this, but it is gone too. There is so little surviving information, and I’m trying to rebuild it. Not just rebuild it, making up for what was lost, but try and break new ground.

    The loss of that space was devastating to me, because it was the only space where I could discuss certain things. I was also devastated because I didn’t know if the allosexual members had anywhere else to go, and anyone else who felt like they needed a place to detox. At least I had the asexual community to fall back on, and I sort of fit in on AVEN because I didn’t have a need to detox, but what about the others?

    I’ve had those worries about ‘making the asexual community’ look bad, because I don’t want to compromise on sex, and don’t want to apologize at every turn for who I am, even in the asexual community. I want to say that I don’t want sex, without having to be others’ sex cheerleaders. I might have been taking this the wrong way, but that’s what I interpreted a lot of sex-positive rhetoric as when I first found the asexual community, and I thought I’d be unwelcome at first.

  4. Pingback: Acknowledging the Majority Does Not Remove Me from the Community | The Ace Theist

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