Question of the Week: September 30th, 2014

Last week, I published some previously unpublished analysis of asexual community survey data.  One new finding: About half of the people who said they were at least somewhat repulsed also said they would be willing to compromise and have sex at least on occasion in a relationship.

If true, there are at least two different narratives we can use to “explain” the trend.  (1) People are complicated, so why should we expect them to fit into our boxes?  (2) Repulsed asexuals are so affected by compulsory sexuality that they feel they must “compromise”.  I’m not sure which to believe.  (Actually, there’s a third narrative: the survey wording is biased.)

Why do you think there are so many repulsed asexuals who are willing to have sex?

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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16 Responses to Question of the Week: September 30th, 2014

  1. Given the issues that have been identified with the wording of question 12 and the unreliability of the results, it would be useful to get better data before coming to any firm conclusions.

    Having said that, there’s a striking difference between the responses from the “somewhat repulsed” group and the “completely repulsed” group. What did people mean when they chose these options? Are they somewhat repulsed because their feelings of repulsion are less intense or mixed with other feelings? Or because they experience repulsion at some times and not at others? People in the latter group might be willing to have sex in ways or at times that do not trigger their repulsion while still experiencing repulsion at other times (and perhaps declining sex with their partners at those times). In that case, there would be no contradiction.

  2. Brin says:

    (1) People are complicated, so why should we expect them to fit into our boxes? (2) Repulsed asexuals are so affected by compulsory sexuality that they feel they must “compromise”. I’m not sure which to believe. (Actually, there’s a third narrative: the survey wording is biased.)

    I’m thinking all of the above, but mostly 1 and 3. “Sex” is notoriously difficult to define, plus the attempts to define it are almost always broad enough that someone can be repulsed by some acts called “sex” and willing or eager to do others.

  3. luvtheheaven says:

    Everything said in the comments already sounds about right. Can we do a new asexual census survey sometime soon? I wasn’t in the asexual community yet when that one happened. I bet with different questions, differently worded things, more options, a new set of data would provide some surprisingly different results. 😛 I’d organize the whole thing but I don’t even know where to begin/how to make it happen. Maybe sometime in the future I can help out in that way, but right now, I don’t think I am the person for the job.

    I also come at this from the perspective of a sex-averse/repulsed asexual who was willing to try sex, though, so let me tackle this from that angle. Remember this blog post I wrote? Basically, I think that if someone is a virgin and only knows intrinsically that they are sex-repulsed, but don’t know it from actual experience… it’s incredibly hard to fully fight away all of the compulsory sexuality narratives because the person has no “proof” that sex would really be *that* “uncomfortable” for them.

    They might think hypothetically they would be willing to compromise but that’s a very different thing than actually being in a relationship, having tried compromising a few times, and STILL being willing to… do what you’re repulsed by, despite repulsion. They might also hypothetically think they’re repulsed, but be confused about what that means for them if it’s all just hypothetical. Or, like Laura basically just mentioned, maybe the people who answered the survey like that thought that “compromise” meant “finding ways to please a sexual partner that don’t repulse me”. That maybe they can’t see themselves having a typical sexual relationship, they are too repulsed by whatever ‘typical’ sex is in their minds, but a compromising sexual relationship doesn’t sound bad to them.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Well, “compromise” doesn’t (SHOULDN’T EVER) mean to compromise your personal boundaries for the sake of a partner… but rather to find some way that ISN’T crossing your own boundaries that can also give your partner some sexual satisfaction. Stripteases, spankings, and holding your partner while masturbating all count as compromise, but they don’t have to involve sexual touch of the asexual person’s body. As I recently told someone coming to me for advice… if it involves crossing your boundaries, that’s not compromise. It’s capitulation.

    So… I’m gonna go with the third narrative, here. “Compromise” is such a loaded and complicated word that it’s not possible to know what any one person means by it… and it’s a bad assumption to think it necessarily involves sex… unless maybe you define sex so broadly that you could have sex with a rock by walking through a stream or something (I’m actually referring to a paragraph from The Ethical Slut, where they try to make the case that anything that feels sexual = sex).

    • Siggy says:

      I didn’t like the use of “compromise” in the survey, and consider it another potential source of bias. However, if people didn’t like the word “compromise”, I think that would lead us to underestimate the number of people willing to have sex in a relationship.

      • Elizabeth says:

        It would, probably. But it would probably also lead to including people who would say that what they do counts as compromising, and maybe could be counted as sex… but for them, it wouldn’t really be sexual. So there would be many “false positives” AND “false negatives,” whatever that means according to whatever the survey writers really intended the question to mean. Just messy all around.

      • Sara K. says:

        Perhaps asking about people’s boundaries in the survey would help?

  5. queenieofaces says:

    Given the number of messages I get that are something along the lines of “the idea of having sex makes me want to throw up but I feel like I have to because depriving my partner of that is cruel/because sex-aversion is wrong/because asexuality doesn’t mean not liking sex,” I’m going to say that compulsory sexuality has a non-zero effect. (Heck, I’m pretty sure I checked some combination of “willing to compromise” and one of the repulsed boxes, because I still have days where I feel like I’m worthless and broken if there is no situation in which I would ever possibly say yes to sex.) I’m not sure it can explain all the overlap (in fact, I’m 99.9% sure it can’t), but I think it probably explains some.

    I also wonder what numerical difference we’d get between people who have never had sex and would potentially be willing to compromise on sex and people who have actually compromised on sex and would be willing to keep compromising.

    • Siggy says:

      I’m glad someone is advocating this narrative, since it seems like it at least deserves some serious consideration. And in fact, it’s the first narrative which one of the other data analysts grabbed for, and some time was spent trying to characterize this group so we can better target any help they might need. I’m not sharing the results though because I don’t trust them.

      The other thing is, even if we had all the time in the world to interview each person individually, we would still have difficulty determining who fits the first narrative, and who fits the second one. Compulsory sexuality is a subtle thing.

    • Miriel says:

      I agree with the effects of compulsory sexuality. The narrative I almost always hear, from aces and others alike, is that if you don’t want to be alone forever, you’d better be willing to lie back and think of England. I’ve only heard a few times, from *very* select portions of the ace community, that maybe the sexual partner could go without sex. Elsewhere? Nope. It’s viewed as impossible, unreasonable, or borderline cruel. Take a look at AVEN sometime. AVEN loves it some “compromise.” Or, for that matter, look at what people outside the community say, even when they’re trying to be helpful. I do semi-regular internet trawls for “asexual” and “asexuality,” and of course I dredge up things along the lines of, “help, I think my SO/my crush/this person I think is hot is asexual.” And what do I see? Well, in between the (many, many) negative replies, I see plenty of, “I don’t know much about asexuals, but I’ve heard most of them are willing to have sex anyway with a romantic partner!” Which, well, okay, but I hardly ever see the reverse being advised. Even when it’s not demanded, “compromise” is seen as the norm.

      And these are the people and sources that are *supportive* of aces, or at least trying to be. Step outside of that, and things get much worse, as I’m sure you all know. (Just today I saw a gray-a woman getting called a selfish, narcissistic sadist for not having sex with her partner.)

  6. killerbee13 says:

    Well, I of course didn’t take the survey, but I personally fall under #1. I am a libidoist and repulsed asexual, but my repulsion (“Revulsion” if you remember from the Carnival) isn’t universal, and there are many sexual activities that I may be interested in, and indeed, may personally seek out.

    I understand that libidoist asexuals are somewhat rarer than they may be percieved to be, so I don’t know what kind of effect this situation would’ve had on the survey, but I assume it is non-zero.

  7. Pingback: Being repulsed and “compromising”? (part 1) | Cake at the Fortress

  8. accessdenied says:

    I know for me, personally, there’s a big difference between sex in the abstract and sex in the specific, so that I can comfortably say (and have said) “Yeah, I might do [sex act] with [person]” but if that person replies “Great, let’s try it now!” and starts taking their clothes off, that’s when the aversion sets in. I can totally picture myself checking ‘somewhat averse’ and also ‘agrees to maybe have sex in relationships’ because I’m not currently in a relationship and there’s such a disconnect between Potential Future Accessdenied and Accessdenied Presented With A Real Live Naked Human. It’s so weird, thinking about sex and being totally fine, and then actually having sex and feeling awful. There’s always the little doubt in the back of my head, maybe if I try it THIS TIME it’ll be great, and that’s probably just compulsory sexuality speaking.

  9. Pingback: Linkspam: October 3rd, 2014 | The Asexual Agenda

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