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.
“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.”
I just wanted to repeat this part for emphasis, this is exactly how I feel more often than not. Too sexual for the ace community, too ace for the allo community.
So if I’m going to put on my sex-favorable ace hat- which, admittedly, never seems quite right to me- I’d definitely say that a lot of ace discourse is useless to me now. It was useful, and it is useful when I want to be alone and aromantic or date other aces, but in terms of relationships with non-aces I never see anyone discussing issues I run in to.
For example, how do I explain to people that I am seriously neutral (or ambivalent) about sex, and that’s okay because I’m still saying yes? Or partners who feel that they shouldn’t have sex with me because I’m “really” asexual and that somehow makes it wrong (and they end up feeling guilty)? It feels weird to complain about these things given that when I was younger I had the opposite problems, which are more serious.
And this isn’t even getting in to the different ways and reasons someone might be sex favorable. I know for me it often involves picking up or using other people’s emotions in a way that brings a whole host of other complications (are my emotions fake if they come from someone else? If I choose them? Does it matter? Does this mean I’m still re-enacting my younger experiences- pretending to be sexual? For that matter, if I can choose to experience someone else’s sexual attraction, am I still asexual? The concept of sexual orientation starts to fall apart when the concept of self/identity gets blurry, and that’s far too spiritual/philosophical of a conversation to have here).
Suffice to say there’s a mess of sex-favorable ace issues I’d probably find very interesting and relevant to my life, but at this point I’m in no position to articulate things.
Haaaahahaha identity problems and origins of emotions, god. What is encompassed by “responsive desire” (and how does one navigate consent.. for that..)?
And absolutely, having to constantly reassure people “it’s okay, just because my identity is X doesn’t mean I can’t Y? I have agency?”
What most stood out and resonated with me, is Talia’s point about partners being hurt, really hurt, that you’re not attracted to them — even though you’ve discussed it at length, and they’ve said they’re okay. It’s an AWFUL feeling, and makes it so hard to trust I’m not hurting someone. Even with other grey-ish, ace-ish folks.
And especially when I actively *lost* attraction, went from being Okay-90%-sure-this-is-sexual-attraction to wow-repulsed-please-cover-up. And that was interpreted as, being about their body (which hadn’t changed!), and…turned out really badly.
Plus, people who *do* try to respect, hey you have agency to consent — and then repulsion and regret coming in later, and PTSD shenanigans — arghhhhh having to reassure someone, while you’re having a trauma reaction, not fun. Feeling like you’ve traumatized yourself, not fun.
I like arcflux as a way of capturing how I just. Whiplash around in terms of, sex-repulsed or -conflicted or -interested. And it takes my entire history with it: when I’m repulsed, it’s “oh god how could I have ever done anything with another person, oh god they have memories, ohhhh god why can’t I erase everything.” This is /really annoying/ and hard and painful. And I somehow forget! And find it difficult to imagine how I ever felt that way — and then I flip back.
So, yes, more about navigating interpersonal feelings, and what “responsibility” we have, and feeling like damagers, and damaged, and how to deal with non-constant repulsion/desire. (And like, integration of whole self, but lmaoooo)
This is a really interesting post, Talia, thank you for sharing it for the carnival!
One of the things I started wondering about as I was reading was whether there is a difference between sex-favourable aces (as you describe yourself), and aces who have some form of sex drive, but never feel the need to actually engage in sexual activity with another person (like me)? Or is there a difference at all? It’s interesting – I can’t really imagine being able to have sex with someone unless I was sexually attracted to them, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for you. Or maybe it is, feel free to correct me on any of this. Either way, it’s really interesting to hear from someone who experiences their asexuality this way.
I think there is a difference between sex-favourable aces and aces who have some form of sex drive but never feel the need to engage in sexual activity with another person. I’m not sure if I personally need to engage in sexual activity with another person (and why I don’t know is interesting in and of itself), but I’d prefer a relationship where that’s an option. My wanting sexual activity with a partner as an option, and the thoughts and experiences that engenders, probably means I experience asexuality differently from many other aces. But, I think we can all comfortably continue to identify as asexual, even while we recognize those differences 🙂
Oh and sometimes I can’t really imagine having sex with people I’m not sexually attracted to as well. Then I remember there’s no one I’m sexually attracted to and try to make the best of it. Sometimes I can’t though. My interest in sex is reasons other than sexual attraction to my partner, but my lack of sexual attraction to my partner gets in the way.
My sex drive, interest in sex, and lack of sexual attraction sometimes seem incompatible. I really want to say that it’s okay that they don’t line up! That’s normal too! Just less common. However, it can be frustrating when I don’t understand how to work with them when they’re pointing in different directions.
Thanks for the detailed reply! You know, I can actually relate to a bit of that as well. I don’t often talk about it, but every now and then I do actually really want to experience sex – not because I’m attracted to someone that way, but just because of my curiosity in it in general, and because I want to know what it feels like, from a physical point of view. But the idea of then actually having sex with another person is just a thing that my mind can’t get past, comprehend. Even when I was in a relationship with someone whom I trusted explicitly and was very emotionally close to, the idea of wanting sex with them was never something I could wrap my head around – even if I was having the feeling of ‘I want to maybe try this out’ at the same time. The two were completely isolated phenomena. Sometimes I do wonder whether that is just the societal pressure rearing its head – which I’m usually pretty immune to. Who knows.
*Smacks hand on desk* This! This is the kind of content I want to see – stuff I’ve never seen anyone talk about before. These are very interesting stories, Talia. Thank you sharing them.
The ace community at large seems to have become very comfortable in way they think about sex-favorable aces, but your post points out that there’s a lot of nuances and different experiences left to explore and discuss.
I can identify to a great extent with much of what you’re saying. There may be some overlap with what you experience and autochorissexuality. Thank you for writing so frankly and openly about this so that I can really get a clear image in my mind of what you mean. Directness in this sort of thing, when so much is personal experience that can’t really be shared by the masses unless it’s well described, is very valuable.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. It’s helpful to know that my stories came across clearly.
I think there is some overlap with my experiences and autochorissexuality but I don’t identify that way. I will probably write a post about this because I keep seeing the term come up again and again. My initial response is that I really want to problematize how Anthony Bogaert frames autochorissexuality as an exotic paraphilia and disconnect. Once I get past that (if I ever will) I’d be more willing to think about if autochorissexuality could tell me something useful about myself. I’m not sure. Bogaert suggests that autochorissexuals don’t want to participate in the sexual activities they imagine. That does not intersect with the way I think about sex-favourable asexuality. And yet, sex-favourable and autochorissexual are closer to sexual normative scripts than other forms of asexuality, so exploring the connections between them might be interesting!
I’ll be very pleased to read about this topic. I feel like I need to get myself better educated. Who knows what new term I’ll feel some identification with? I’m not even totally sure that others who identify as autochorissexuals have the same experience as I do. I wish I could find more people who identify that way and compare notes. If it’s useful for anybody reading this comment, I am pansexual in attraction and would be fine with sex except for a few hangups, mostly centering on a feeling of revulsion based on ickiness and stickiness and moistness that also applies to things like food and such. If you have some feedback I’d love some help placing myself better. Thank you Talia and anyone else!
I believe that “desire for sex” and “enjoyment of sex” are distinct states of mind that are independent of “sexual attraction”. Attraction (whether romantic, sexual or other), or lack thereof, can be a huge determining factor, but it’s possible to disengage that part of the mind if you can overcome personal morality, hygiene concerns and other inhibitions. My *guess* is that vision is a key element in this. Take away sight and shut down that part of the mind that is constantly evaluating attractiveness and emotional response. Embrace sexual objectification of your partners…
I think that it’s not vision and more sensory perception in general, because blind folks talk on this reddit thread about voice, smell and touch as factors in their sexual attraction.
I was wondering about that! Thanks Hez (can I call you Hez?).
Nah, stick to Hezekiah. (“Hez” sounds wayyy too masculine and masculine is something I’m not at all.)
Roger that. Thanks Hezekiah!
Thanks for the link – interesting to read. To be clear, I wasn’t suggesting vision as the only factor in attraction, but it is a major and immediate factor. Within seconds and even at a fair distance we assess sexual attractiveness. More important than attraction, or lack thereof, is the repulsion that is a sexual turn-off.
As a heterosexual, I can imagine having sex with a man, though the idea doesn’t hold much interest for me, but if I look at a man and ask myself can I have sex specifically with him, then all my instincts are strongly negative.
Thanks for sharing your personal stories like this, Talia! I think it is really beneficial, so that people who may have similar experiences to you, but maybe haven’t had a way to talk about them or didn’t know others were like them, can connect with you and others with different experiences can learn from you.
Reading your stories, it occurred to me that I don’t really comprehend exactly how sexual attraction works in relationships between allosexuals, but then I’ve never understood how to navigate these relationships at all so now I understand them even less!
Your post has me wondering if sex-favorable asexual is a better term to describe me than grey-asexual. I always insist on the “a” because I fall more towards the ace side of the spectrum yet I keep wondering if I’m too sexual to be ace. And by “sexual”, I mean that I have a lot of sexual energy that I deal with through reading erotica and doing burlesque, and I do enjoy sex with my partner. At the same time, I get bored with it easily (no matter how much I’m romantically attracted to my partner), and sometimes the idea of sex, beyond the romanticized views of it, just weirds me out. I always chalked it up to maybe being demisexual, but that never quite fit either. Maybe I’m actually autochoirssexual or maybe I’m really just grey-a. In any case, I’m glad you’ve got me reflecting a bit more and opened the conversation up (because it really is uncomfortable to talk about one’s experiences even if it is helpful).
“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.”
*nods* Yeah, both as it being a problem for other people and that it’s actively destructive/damaging to other people. And for as much as the asexual community talks about how it’s no sexual attraction as opposed to no sex there’s not a whole lot of discussion about what that means and, at worst, I’ve seen actual denial that no sexual attraction on it’s own isn’t or shouldn’t be any sort of problem… which is just, like, so confusing because I keep coming up on situations where (non asexual) people are really not okay with mixing no sexual attraction and sex (where they feel like they’re being used or they feel unwanted or like there’s coercion going on (from either the asexual’s end or the non asexual’s end) or whatever) and these situations get brushed aside as not a thing(or, idk, not an asexual thing because if you’re looking to have sex then, you know…) because it’s all about having sex vs not having sex and sometimes I think I’m imagining that those types of feelings are out there (and that I have any reason to feel the way I do about those feelings), so it’s nice to see someone else talk about this stuff.
What Z said above: “And for as much as the asexual community talks about how it’s no sexual attraction as opposed to no sex there’s not a whole lot of discussion about what that means.” There’s not a whole lot of distinction about attraction vs sex; these are usually conflated, especially in the media, which is frustrating for someone like me, whose experiences are not in line with the stereotype.
I had never heard the term “sex favorable” but I like it. I discovered this community before terms like gray- and demi- were commonplace, so maybe that’s why those don’t resonate with me either. I’m just plain asexual, even though my sexual intimacy (or desire) is not null.
I’ve been in a stable relationship for nearly 10 years, so finding new partners is not something I concern myself with. Yet my identity is still central to who I am, the experiences I’ve had, how I relate to society, and the disconnect from others that will continue to follow me all my life. For me, it’s about lacking the meaning, purpose, or priority in this part of life that is supposedly central to who I am as a human.
“if you want sex to the point of being unhappy without it, you’re not a full-blown asexual. You’re a gray-asexual”
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Quick check on a possible word misuse: There was one paragraph where you used the word ‘illegible,’ but based on context, it seemed to me that a more appropriate word would have been ‘ineligible’. I could understand if you did mean ‘illegible,’ in the sense of not having the ability to express what you experienced, but it seemed like there was enough possibility of it having been a flub that I wanted to check, for clarification purposes.
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thanks for sharing this; much of it resonates with my experience. I only came across the concept of asexual identity last year (at age 49) – I knew I didn’t experience sexual attraction but never thought to claim that as a sexual identity since I do have a libido sometimes. It’s become more of an issue for me in the last few years, with a resurgence of sex drive and general interest in sex (sometimes that happens with menopause) but no clue or confidence in how to find a partner and a lot of anxiety around that (in part due to 20+ years of more or less satisfied singleness – I’m embarrassed by the thought of telling a hypothetical partner I haven’t had sex with someone else since the mid 1990s).
I’m also very reluctant to talk about any of this, even with friends I know to be ace – I’m coming to think that’s part of *my* ace identity, feeling the topic of my sexual identity an entirely private matter/feeling very averse to discussing sex in a nonsexual context. I’m definitely not comfortable with coming out as ace generally and then trying to explain what that means specifically for me since most people do assume that ace=no interest in sex. It already seems impossible to find a sexual/romantic partner without giving the impression I don’t want one in the first place. No doubt my reluctance to address this topic is part of the problem finding a solution to it! Never too late for self-awareness, I hope.
I know this is nearly a year old now but I thought it was important to say thank you for this.
I’ve only really identified as ace for about a year, before that I didn’t really understand what to call myself and didn’t understand why I didn’t feel all the things that allo people do. When all my friends were in highschool having crushes and saying how attractive they found boys I just kinda shrugged and said ‘I guess’, it was nothing I had ever thought about at all and I’ve never seen people that way.
Regardless I’ve always felt romantic attraction (biromatic to be specific) and when I started dating my first boyfriend since coming out I experienced a lot of the same self doubt and confusion as one of your stories when it came to my asexuality as well. I wasn’t turned on to the idea of me having sex at all with him initially and that’s not to say I don’t have a libido or a sex drive but it took some time for that all to go away.
I don’t have a problem with having sex at all now I mean its fun it’s enjoyable I feel great afterwards but I still don’t feel sexual attraction and trying to find other asexuals that experience this has been so hard and yeah I’ve found a heap of resistance and people telling me I can’t be asexual and enjoy having sex when disliking or feeling neutral towards sex is NOT the definition of asexuality.
So finding this little space where I feel like I relate so heavily to your experiences has really helped me to say I am a sex favourable asexual. 🙂
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Well okay now I’m crying lol it’s nice to feel seen. No one else gets it. (I know this post is half a decade old) But I’ve identified as ace for 4 years now and I find it so hard to explain even just being ace to people nevermind being sex-favorable. I’m glad there are others 🙂