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.