I’m not sex-averse, so when I think of issues relating to sex-averse aces, I mostly think of problems I’ve encountered when doing visibility work. After all, when I do visibility work, I’m representing everyone, not just myself.
So far, most of my visibility work has been confined to queer college students. And more recently I’m trying to do a bit for feminist-y internet atheists. Both of these audiences are extremely sex-positive. And I can tell you that this is a problem for the visibility of sex-averse aces.
The first problem is in who does the visibility work. People who do visibility work for particular groups (as opposed to the general public) are generally people who feel comfortable in those groups, or even a part of those groups. So if I gather a panel of random people, there’s no guarantee we’ll even have sex-repulsed or sex-averse representation. It is imperative for people like me, who are not sex-averse, to actively think about who is missing. It is not enough to wait for sex-averse aces to speak for themselves.
The second problem is more conceptual (and thus makes for a meatier blogging topic). Sex-positive people have an aversion to sex-aversion. To sex-positive people, sex-aversion means saying, “You disgust me.” It means talking about the ickiness of certain kinds of sex, or of certain body parts. To sex-positive people, sex-aversion is the source of all evil (hyperbole, but yeah pretty much).
To my mind, it is fairly obvious and straightforward that this is not the same as what asexuals mean by sex-aversion. It’s sort of like, we can talk about how people fetishize certain women of color, or fetishize lesbians, but that’s entirely different from people who are kinky, am I right? When we talk about people disgusted by gay sex, that’s entirely different from people who experience sex-aversion, right?
I mean, it’s theoretically possible that both kinds of aversion have similar causes. Maybe people really do have an intrinsic aversion to gay sex because [insert bullshit evolutionary psychology here]. I think people on both sides will bristle at the proposal, since it appears to problematize sex-aversion, and legitimize homophobia. I would probably not say that on a panel. But here I’ll give you the honest lowdown: What do I know? I’m a social activist not a bullshit evolutionary psychologist.
One thing’s for sure: the social consequences are completely different. Disgust directed at gay men is organized. It’s used to oppress a class of people. By contrast, sex-averse aces, especially the ones that identify as sex-averse, do not have power, and know they do not have power. They’re not going to tell you to stop having sex just because they don’t like thinking about it. In fact, most of them are rushing to ingratiate themselves to the majority by minimizing their repulsion, by adjusting their narratives to make extra clear, they have absolutely no problem if you have sex. It’s funny, actually, that sex-averse aces have more pressure to be sex-positive than does the general population, just so they can maintain that image.
A common way for people to differentiate homophobia and sex-aversion is by saying homophobia is a problem because it is expressed aloud. I do not agree, because it suggests that sex-averse aces should just shut up, and that homophobia is completely acceptable if a person keeps it to themself. No, the proper way to differentiate is by the power structures. In modern western society, homophobia has the power to oppress, and sex-aversion does not.
That’s pretty much all I have to say about the subject, which is, as I said, pretty straightforward. It’s already longer than what I would have space to say in visibility work. For visibility purposes, how might I boil all that down to a sentence or two?
Finally, I should say that in visibility work, it is important to internalize the fact that we can’t cover everybody. There simply isn’t enough room, and omissions must be made. When talking to sex-positive audiences we often omit sex-aversion because it’s a touchy emotional subject, and repulsion/indifference is just one of many spectrums to talk about. However, I’ve become increasingly convinced that sex-aversion is not one of the things that should be omitted.
[Note: Throughout this post I use “sex-averse” and “sex-repulsed” interchangeably, although I’m aware that they have different connotations. I think the distinction is not relevant here.]