This post was written for the September 2015 Carnival of Aces on “Living Asexuality.”
Writing about sex-favourable asexuality in AVEN’s journal AVENues was the first time I felt connected to the asexual community. I tell my friends about sex-favourable asexuality because when I tell them I’m asexual, I want them to understand how I live as asexual and what being asexual actually means for me. And yet, I so rarely explain what sex-favourable asexuality actually does mean for me.
I usually speak and write about sex-favourable asexuality abstractly and in third person. In general talking about asexuals who like sex is dominated by third person accounts. Siggy’s point that asexuals who like sex may not be speaking up because we don’t want to be under personal fire really resonates with me. I’m hesitant to candidly talk about my sex life on the internet. Even using the term “my sex life” suggests I have one. The more I reveal, the more likely it is for someone to say I’m not really asexual. The Thinking Asexual wrote a while back “that if you want sex to the point of being unhappy without it, you’re not a full-blown asexual. You’re a gray-asexual.” I could identify as gray-a instead, and some gray-as and I probably have a lot in common, but I’m one of those people Siggy mentioned that will fight for my right to the asexual label.
Every time someone conflates asexuality with no sex drive/interest in sex/sexual behaviour I am rendered illegible. For many people that is their asexual experience, and it is an asexual experience that is necessary and important to talk about, but that is not THE asexual experience. I don’t think I’m the only one that feels illegible. In a recent question to the Tumblr blog Asexual Advice an anonymous person wrote, “i feel kinda invalid within the ace community bc i experience literally no sexual attraction at all but im sex favored and people say im not ace bc i like sex.” Sex-favourable aces are a minority, and so our stories should never dominate asexual discourse, but it’s important for our stories to exist.
Even though I think it’s important to share, I’m hesitant to actually do it. If I wrote about “my sex life” it would become fair game on the internet, free to be quoted, commented on, taken out of context, and reproduced elsewhere, to hyper-analyze how asexual I am (or, more accurately, am not).
For me, the context surrounding my hesitance to talk about being sex-favourable, and why I am finally forcing myself to talk about it anyways, is just as important as why I identify as sex-favourable. There has been so much pain and pleasure welded together in my being both sex-favourable and asexual. I’ve discussed this before, complaining “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” and “I fit best into allosexual communities [over asexual 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.”
Now, keeping in mind all of that context I’ve carefully built up to frame my first person account of sex-favourable asexuality (or delay it), I’ll tell you a few stories.
Once upon a time I wrote “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.” I was talking about me. That’s not the only time.
The most conservative personal story I have goes like this: a guy I’d recently met kept dropping hints that he liked me and wanted to do something about it but didn’t know how to do so respectfully. He said something like, “so usually the guy just makes a move on the girl, but I don’t know how this works because… you know.” You know, you’re asexual, went unsaid.
“I don’t know either. Sorry I’m not of much help,” I said with an apologetic smile.
Eventually he just blurted out, “can I kiss you?”
At this point I thought he was a nice person but I knew I was not sexually attracted to him. However, I’m never sexually attracted to anyone, so that doesn’t tell me anything. “Sure,” I said.
About three seconds in all I could think of was, “this is so boring…. does he know I think it’s boring? Now this is awkward. I’m not at all attracted to him. Can he tell? He’s actually turning me off. It’s not him though. How am I going to date if this keeps happening? I feel so asexual.” I stopped the kiss.
To this day I am still so mortified that I don’t even remember exactly what I said to him after, but I know it included telling him it’s not him, it’s me, and then apologizing profusely. He was really awesome about it and I was kind of a fumbling mess.
I have never come across anything in the asexual community that prepared me to interact socially as a sex-favourable asexual. I hope those resources are out there, but I haven’t seen them.
How do you tell someone you’re not at all into them, in fact you get turned off by them, but you actually want to progress? I don’t think many other sex-favourable asexuals would have this exact problem, but it matters to me because I’m sex-favourable.
Over time I’ve noticed that I sometimes stop being turned off by people after we’ve become friends. I still won’t be sexually attracted to them, but my usual turned off feeling goes away. That’s not quite demisexual, but I haven’t seen anyone else talk about it under asexuality either.
How do I know I want to progress when I’m not sexually attracted to my partner? What other criteria could help me decide? I’m sure someone reading this will think that I don’t actually want to progress and have been way too influenced by sexual normativity. I have a sex drive. Some of the time I want to progress. Even when I’m turned on, paying attention to my partner might turn me off. This can get kind of frustrating, to say the least.
Two concerns come to light for me. One, how do I deal? How do I navigate my own experiences of revulsion, lack of attraction, muddled up by a sex drive that comes and goes? How do I find the right partner that doesn’t mind this going backward and forward and respects this is who I am and doesn’t make me feel bad about it? Even when this guy was awesome, there’s a little voice in my head that tells me, people don’t usually experience sexual desire like this. I was so fed up with not having the words to adequately explain my experience I temporarily decided I should stop dating, lest I muck anything else up. That’s not the answer though. My first concern is related to the second; how do I help my potential partner deal?
For a long time I wondered if sexual attraction was part of some unspoken sexual contract. I think allosexual people assume that their partners will be sexually attracted to them. It makes them feel desired. I often worried that I might be a destructive force against this unspoken contract.
Once I told my ex-partner (who then identified as male and when I thought I was female) that I was as sexually attracted to them as a lesbian would be, which was not at all. I’d been dating my partner for years and they’d known I was asexual, but they hadn’t realized what it’d meant. I guess our previous encounters flashed before their mind in a new and scary light. My ex was crushed at the time but we worked through it together. I wasn’t sexually attracted to them, but unlike a lesbian it’s not like I had someone else I was sexually attracted to. There was no chance I’d leave my ex for a woman. For me, there wasn’t anyone. That’s just the way it was.
Recently I asked my ex what’s different about our relationship now that we are good friends and not partners. They said something like, “you know how I used to tell that it didn’t matter that you didn’t experience sexual attraction and weren’t sure if you experienced romantic attraction?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well,” they said, probably much more politely than this, “now that I’m dating someone who does, I realized it matters to me. Your lack of attraction really damaged my self-esteem.”
At the very least we were incompatible. Just like asexual people with no interest in sex and/or no sex drive can be incompatible with some allosexual people, my lack of attraction can make me incompatible with people for whom sexual attraction matters. I’ve learned that I could be willing and happy to have sex, I could even initiate it, but I could still be incompatible with sex-favourable allo people and sex-favourable aces. Most importantly, I’ve always had a silent fear that my lack of attraction might be a problem for some people, but I didn’t have the discourse and community to talk about it in.
If I want to be honest with myself, my asexuality did something destructive to my ex. They didn’t think it mattered at the time, but over 7 1/2 years my sex-favourable asexuality eroded my partner’s sense of identity and self. I experienced sexual desire, but never for them.
Now I’m dating someone new. He knows I’m asexual and we talk about it regularly (he even edited this blog post twice!). Maybe one day I’ll share what I’ve done to avoid my past mistakes, but there are still some stories I can’t bring myself to write. I’ll tell you another story though. One last one.
I spend a lot of time in the Marvel fandom on Tumblr. One day my boyfriend was trying to make a metaphor and said, “okay, well imagine some guy you’re really attracted to, like that guy on your Tumblr.”
“What? You know I’m asexual. I’m not sexually attracted to them,” I replied.
Dropping the metaphor entirely my boyfriend paused. “Why do you post so many pictures of those guys though?”
“Girls too,” I corrected him, waxing on about the aesthetic and intellectual appeal of Natalie Portman as Jane Foster.
I didn’t have the language to explain why I choose to be in allosexual communities that revolve around sexual attraction, desire, kink, and intent. I still don’t. And yet, as a sex-favourable ace, participating in that community does something for me that I can’t currently get elsewhere. More fascinating still, I’m not the only ace there.
I keep coming back to stories where the language to explain myself evades me. The stories are difficult to write, but hopefully with enough sharing we can legitimize that it’s okay to feel this way. I don’t want the defining feature of my living as sex-favourable asexuality to be confusion and loneliness amongst other asexuals. I’m definitely not the only one and I look forward to building from these stories to develop resources for us, in our community, together.