We Don’t Know if Asexuals Do or Don’t Want to Have Sex Because They Are All Queer Cats

So many people have told me “I could never date an asexual person because they don’t want sex” I’ve lost count. I often hear or see both asexual and allosexual people say aces don’t want to have sex and/or they don’t have sex. In this post I’ll discuss how this common narrative is both inaccurate and problematic. It wouldn’t be any better to start saying aces do have sex. Like in the term queer and the famous Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment, there’s a lot of lovely confusing middle ground and I think it is so much more inclusive.

Content warning: this post contains discussion of sex, invalidating asexual identity, hypothetical animal experimentation, and mentions bdsm/kink.

Statistical Inaccuracy

Asexuality is much too complex for blanket statements about sexual desire and behaviour.

According to the 2014 asexual community census 35% of aces have had sex and out of that 35%, 36.1% were influenced to have sex because “I find it pleasurable.” In other words, sex was likely a good experience that they participated in or even sought out because they enjoyed it.

Interestingly 42.3% of asexual people are indifferent to to the idea of themselves engaging in sexual activity and 2.7% are favorable (the rest picking repulsed). The numbers change for different ace identities, with 61.2% of gray-asexuals being indifferent and 11.4% being favorable. For demisexuals 54.3% are indifferent and 29.8% are favorable.

I think it’s worth pointing out that while many people who are repulsed by the idea of having sex don’t want to have it (thus following our common narrative), it is possible that there are a number of aces who are repulsed and yet still want to have sex for a myriad of reasons. Usually we don’t do things we are repulsed by, but sometimes we do, and if you venture into the bdsm/kink community doing stuff you are repulsed by is actually incredibly common (and there are aces in the kink community, even if we don’t talk about them much).

Being repulsed, indifferent, and favorable also aren’t necessarily consistent states. For some people these states may fluctuate, mix together, or not be useful to describe their experiences.

These statistics do not include aces that would find sex pleasurable or are curious about sex but haven’t had it. As Siggy pointed out to me while reading an early version of this post, do aces want to have sex is such a loaded question. Do you mean right now? In five years? How often? The idea of aces wanting to have sex at all is so vague that it would be difficult to get useful answers.

My point in referencing these statistics is to show that at least some aces do have sex, want to have sex, and might want to have sex but we don’t know about them. Simply saying aces don’t have sex or don’t want it is inaccurate.

Problematic Ideas

I think there’s an important difference between “I came to identify as asexual because I don’t want to have sex and asexual people don’t have sex” and “I came to identify as asexual because I don’t want to have sex and that’s a part of the asexual experience.” In the first statement all of asexuality is conflated with your personal reason. In the second statement you come to identify as asexual because it can encompass or include your personal reason.

Notably asexuality usually gets conflated with particular experiences and not others. It’s easy to say allosexual people are the ones who have sex and as their opposite, aces don’t have sex. In this instance there’s both a binary and homogenization going on, both of which Ecofeminist Val Plumwood addresses as integral parts of oppression. In a binary we assume two groups are complete opposites like night and day (aces and allo people are complete opposites). In homogenization we assume everyone within a group is the same (all aces don’t have sex). While there may be similarities within a group, there are also important differences between individuals. Homogenization and binaries thrive when we stifle narratives that don’t fit into stereotypes.

I personally do a lot of self-stiffling; every time I write on this or similar topics I ho and hum, edit my work at least twelve times, send it to the other contributors for feedback, and then consider not publishing it at all. A while back I mentioned I don’t identify myself as asexual on dating sites. This post could be considered the long explanation for why I do that; it’s very uncomfortable for me to talk to allosexual people about my asexuality because I know they think I never want to have sex. When I mention that isn’t true some people thank me for teaching them more about asexuality. It’s awkward but nice. Others tell me I’m not asexual. My least favourite group considers the topic an invitation to ask invasive sexual questions (“so do you masturbate,” “how do you like to have sex,” etc.).

Beyond the Binary

It’s not about saying aces don’t want sex or they do; in a binary we will always abandon someone.

If you identify on the ace spectrum because you don’t want to have sex, you don’t have a sex drive, sometimes you do but it’s very low, you used to but now you don’t, you don’t have sexual attraction, you only have sexual attraction after you’ve formed a friendship bond, or anything down the very very long list, I want you to be welcomed. I also want to feel welcome if your personal reason doesn’t look like mine.

I think asexuality is inherently queer because, like queer, it can hold so many different identities. It is transgressive, shifting, changing, and against the norm. There are still stereotypes about what it means to be queer (including that queer = gay, plain and simple, nothing else), but many of us agree queer is so much more than that.

Instead of saying asexual people don’t want sex or asexual people want sex, I propose treating asexuality like Schrödinger’s cat. Erwin Schrödinger came up with a thought experiment of putting a cat, poison, and a radioactive source in a box. Until you open the box you have no idea if the cat is dead or alive, meaning the cat is simultaneously dead and alive. Until you ask someone how they experience asexuality, they simultaneously want to have sex and don’t. They also simultaneously have a sex drive and don’t. And so on. However most of the time it’s none of your business so be cautious and respectful about how or if you ask.

In my opinion let people share how they came to identify as asexual and what asexual means for them on their own time, if they want to. Until then, consider them a big question mark you aren’t entitled to know everything about.

About Talia

Talia is an asexual, nonbinary, vegan-feminist that drinks a lot of coffee and stays up very late playing Blizzard video games and writing fiction. They are working on a PhD in Environmental Studies where they think a lot about oppression as intersectional and impacting identities differentially. Talia has a particular fondness for asexuality, fandom, and Critical Animal Studies. Their personal blog is petuniaparty.tumblr.com
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46 Responses to We Don’t Know if Asexuals Do or Don’t Want to Have Sex Because They Are All Queer Cats

  1. Coyote says:

    “As Siggy pointed out to me while reading an early version of this post, do aces want to have sex is such a loaded question. Do you mean right now? In five years? How often? The idea of aces wanting to have sex at all is so vague that it would be difficult to get useful answers.”

    Heh, yeah. What kinds of wanting is “wanting”?

    “Usually we don’t do things we are repulsed by, but sometimes we do, and if you venture into the bdsm/kink community doing stuff you are repulsed by is actually incredibly common”

    Incredibly common? …I mean, not unheard of, sure. I’m not sure it’s the *most* common narrative… Maybe we’ve been exposed to different sides of it, unless I’m misunderstanding what you mean.

    • Talia says:

      Incredibly common might be adding too emphatic, but I definitely think it’s common in the bdsm community. Humiliation, degrading, consensual non consent/forced, and fear kinks are often based on some kind of aversion or repulsion. Under those main umbrella types there’s dozens of individual kinks. Those kinks can also exist without aversion or repulsion too but from the resources I’ve read and people I’ve talked to aversion comes up very often. The community is vast so it’s definitely possible we’ve been exposed to different parts of it.

      Edit: It’s also possible I’m drawn to those parts of the community because I also experience aversion, giving me selection bias.

      • ettinacat says:

        I would say there’s a difference between aversion in the sense of “absolutely do not want” and aversion mixed with desire, and most of the kinks you’re listing are in the second category. There seems to be this whole psychological thing of fetishizing something aversive to get pleasure out of it.

        Then again, I personally only enjoy topping for those kinks, so it’s hard for me to say what the appeal is for bottoms.

    • Siggy says:

      When I said that, I was kind of thinking about how unworkable it would be as a survey question. “Do you want to have sex?” Is this survey… propositioning me?

  2. I. Clayton says:

    The Schrödinger’s Cat theory is a good one, and could, I believe, apply equally to any sexual identity. I can also appreciate the difficulties for aces who are sex-favourable, but, that being said, even those of us who do ‘follow the narrative’ and are sex-repulsed often face pushback and misunderstanding from both inside and outside the community. Perhaps it’s due to our relative lack of visibility, but I see aces of both kinds feeling isolated and not welcomed in the community, because they feel the opposite kind of ace is ‘more welcomed’. It’s quite bizarre. It’s possible the use of the Schrödinger’s cat notion could help with this, but, unfortunately, since it involves other people changing the way they treat us, I can’t say I’m hopeful—but perhaps I’m just a very cynical person.

    As a final aside, the idea that there are aces who are repulsed but do want sex is…strange to me? Perhaps because I’ve seen the various terms defined as follows: sex-favourable: willing to have sex/wants to have sex. Sex-indifference: No strong feelings about having or not having sex. Sex-repulsion: Does not want sex and/or is disgusted by sex. As mentioned above, these terms can seem fairly ephemeral, as, obviously, very few people want sex all the time. That said, they can outline a general attitude.

    I realise that perhaps there are aces who are repulsed and do want sex, but the idea just…doesn’t sit right with me. Perhaps it’s personal projection, but outside the BDSM community (of which I know little) it screams of being pressured and possibly forced. Particularly since, unless you’re living in a very conservative area, there is a massive pressure on people to have sex anyway. On another, more selfish level, it provides people who would want to pressure someone who is sex-repulsed like me with another excuse in their toolbox: well, not every person who is repulsed doesn’t want sex. Of course, that’s definitely a problem with society not the ace community, and were there a way to record these people, it would be useful, those are merely my thoughts on the matter.

    • Talia says:

      I tried to write this post in a way that also keeps in mind that sex-repulsed aces continue to face misunderstanding from in and outside the community even as I was trying to advocate for sex-favourable aces. It’s a really tricky balance and I’m open to feedback if I didn’t get the balance right. I think over a year ago someone on the TAA wrote a post about how sex-repulsed and sex-favourable aces are on opposite ends of the spectrum and both feel misunderstood by the greater community compared to the other. I think it was Siggy? Also while I share your cynicism about other people’s behaviour changing it’s still so important and I think not worth losing hope over.

      Yes absolutely there is something very dangerous about the narrative that aces who are repulsed may want sex. I completely agree that it can be used against aces who don’t want sex, but the reason I brought up being repulsed but still favourable is because that’s how I feel personally. I’m still not very comfortable declaring it publicly on the internet and so I sometimes use vague terms that may make it seem like I’m referring to some hypothetical subject. I definitely feel a pressure to not share how asexuality works for me because it could be damaging for other aces, but theoretically that feels problematic to me. Should we just not talk about parts of the community at all because their existence is too messy? If I feel this way others might too and we will never feel like we exist or develop resources for us if people keep saying I don’t think that’s possible or I don’t think you should talk about yourself. I am also carefully saying in this same post many aces don’t want sex, never want sex, and that’s completely valid and important even as I advocate for others who feel differently.

      • I. Clayton says:

        I thought the balance was fair: sorry for not clarifying that and in fact I would advocate that everyone should be able to talk about their experiences—awkward as they may feel for others. The trouble as I see it is that, outside of this website, I see nothing about people who are sex-repulsed of any sexuality—since you don’t have to be asexual to be repulsed. As a result, I tend to feel very alone—I would argue that if everyone wrote about their experiences more, the issue we’re talking about wouldn’t be so much of a problem. I guess to put it simply—I see so few narratives about sex-repulsed people—even those that don’t want sex, that reading about those that do makes me feel inherently uncomfortable due to aforementioned reasons. It’s the fear that that will become the dominant narrative, and merely lead to further pressure.

        Of course, all of these feeling are very personal, and not always fair—I don’t think you should have to censor yourself because the way to feel is ‘inconvenient’ to some of the rest of us. At the same time, it will take considerable societal change for my own feelings of discomfort to go away. It’s simply a very complicated and very difficult issue, which is only made worse by the relative smallness of the community, and the fact that writing about these issues is a thankless and frequently anxiety-inducing job. Burn-out is a huge problem in activism and is much worse in communities as small as ours.

        It’s also hard to strike a balance when the topic is so sensitive and so deeply debated. It has a lot to do with both how others perceive the community and how we perceive ourselves. It’s unfortunate that many people outside the community are unable to view things from a point of view that isn’t highly binary—I agree that if more people as a whole were simply more accepting of the variance and depth of both the ace and other communities we’d have to deal with far fewer problems.

        • Talia says:

          No problem thanks for clarifying now 🙂

          I agree with so many things you said. I’m sorry to hear you feel alone but am not surprised by it. I never see non-aces talking about being sex-repulsed, even though I’m sure they’re out there, and I only see sex-repulsed aces talking in a few spaces. This is both an issue inside our community and outside of it. As you said if people wrote more about their experiences this would be less of a problem, but that’s also a very difficult task. It’s something I personally work through a lot when posting on this blog (or writing drafts I never post lol). I’ve also tried to balance it with reading experiences I don’t share, which like you sometimes I feel discomfort doing, and sometimes I just get behind on because life happens. The one positive of having a small community though is that change might happen quicker in it.

    • Siggy says:

      Although sex-favorable/sex-indifferent/sex-repulsion is often set up as a trichotomy, it can be misleading if you think of those terms as parallel in meaning. I’m old enough to recall back when it used to be a dichotomy, with only sex-indifferent and sex-averse/repulsed. At the time it was assumed that nobody wanted to have sex, and the dichotomy was more about one’s comfort level with sex and visceral reaction to it.

      I think the addition of “sex-favorable” was necessary, but it also cast the terms in a new light, and now it’s easy to forget that there’s a difference between “willingness to have sex” and “comfort with the idea of sex”.

      For reference, see this discussion.

      • Talia says:

        Ooh I read that original post so long ago and in re-reading it now I feel like I’m at a different place with understanding my own asexuality and it resonates more. That’s really helpful for explaining how repulsion and being favourable can co-exist.

  3. Blue Ice-Tea says:

    Thanks for writing this! As I wrote for the last CoA, I struggle a lot with binaries, and I frequently find it difficult to fit my own experience into them. So I find this post really reassuring and affirming. 🙂

  4. Zoe says:

    I think both you and that survey are approaching this wrong. Those statics mostly show that we are a bunch of people who don’t care about sex, it just isn’t on our radar most of the time. That’s about as true as it gets to the heart of why I identify the way I do. It isn’t about wanting or not wanting, it’s about how sex wouldn’t even cross my mind without someone else pointing it out. I think about sex in a day about as many times as I think about the soil composition under my building or how plastic is made. I’m sure if someone enthusiastic and informed enough roped me into it, I would probably be engaged and interested for a moment, but I would go back to my regular life as soon as I was out of their presence and rarely, if ever, think about it again.

    Dating allo people is always a challenge because they do see that binary and they want a simple answer that follows that all or nothing mindset such a binary brings. If I tell my potential significant other I’m not into sex ever at all, I get dumped pretty fast for being frigid. If I tell them I might be into it sometimes, they assume I want them to try harder or they suddenly want a schedule and it’s never full enough.
    There’s no winning sometimes, but there’s a lot people in the world and you are allowed to be picky and frank and upfront about who you are. The Venn diagram of people you don’t want to date and people who aren’t willing to explore the facets of your unique brand of asexuality is a circle.

    • Talia says:

      I disagree and I think you’re conflating how you feel about sex with all asexual people’s feelings about sex, which is what I was talking about in the Problematic Ideas section. I think about sex almost daily, including how I’m repulsed by it, how I am not attracted to anyone, but ultimately that I have a sex drive and still want to have it often. I am pretty sure I have a higher sex drive/libido than some allo people. I am not sure how often other sex-favourable aces think about sex, but it’s definitely on their radar and they definitely care about it. The experience you’re describing sounds to me like sex-neutral or sex-indifferent, which is one part of the asexual community. It’s still completely valid, but it’s a part of the community, not the whole community.

      Dating allo people is a different challenge for me because I’m interested when I’m not attracted and sometimes even when I’m repulsed. Allo people don’t understand that and in my experience can find it unsettling.

      • Zoe says:

        I apologize for coming off as dismissive and I would agree I threw a little too much of a blanket generalization out in my comment. I may have been speaking more to my own experience and the clear majority in those statistics, but (though the idea that anyone, even someone on the ace spectrum, might want sex is a deeply odd one to me) people wanting sex and not being attracted to others is still perfectly reasonable and not to be brushed under the rug.

        However, I would also say that you are no less guilty of conflating your experience, and perhaps worse so. A lot of the problems I found in reading this post, and that I see in a lot of the comments, is from not being very familiar with your unique situation. It is hinted at but unclear in the text, which is was not a plea for potential partners to be more open minded but actually a deeply personal post that you dressed up to parade as inclusive. I agree with it in spirit, the idea that people are much more complex than their labels is one that merits more discussion, but you have hindered it greatly with your own hang ups. This has been stifling to conversation and is likely terribly discouraging to you. So, if you want to write about the difficulties you have in dating because of your unique aceness, please, do us all a favor and be more plain about it in future.

        I understand it’s a difficult topic for you to be open about, but your situation sounds legitimately horrifying and in need of support, comfort, and validation. Do seek it out. Yours is a story worth telling, have some faith that your community will hear it.

        • Siggy says:

          Your response seems really inappropriate. I don’t think Talia was expressing any grievances so significant that you could describe them as “legitimately horrifying”. And why is it that when you explain your experience, you’re speaking to your own experience “and the clear majority in those statistics”, but when someone else talks about their experience, including an explanation of those very statistics, suddenly it’s “deeply personal”?

          For context, I am an author of the survey report that Talia cites. I really don’t know where you’re getting your interpretation of the survey from. The survey doesn’t ask how much people “care” about sex. And it couldn’t ask that because it’s an intractable question.

          The complications in the sex-favorable/indifferent/repulsed trichotomy are well known to us on the survey, since we get many long write-in responses from people talking about how they don’t fit the trichotomy. (In 2014 we didn’t allow write-in responses for that question, but we see it in all the later years.) When Talia was commenting on the complications, that wasn’t something “deeply personal”, it’s a common experience that gets born out in the survey.

          • Zoe says:

            This is why no one likes activists. Even if someone is agreeing with you, if they pick at even one aspect of your argument, they are the enemy. The heart of this post is still good (get to know someone before you write them off), but if you’re going to reference a statistic that breaks your claims, either frame it differently or don’t mention it.

            @Siggy All you’ve done at this point is picked a semantic argument. My point still stands.

            Also, I’m not talking about whether or not we should discuss minority experiences (in fact, I have said several times that it is a good thing and should be done), I’m saying the argument refutes itself when framed the way it is and is asking to be picked apart.

          • Siggy says:

            The OP used the statistics to claim that there are a lot of complicated experiences, which is true. You used a misinterpretation of the survey to claim that aces “mostly don’t care about sex”. Right, that’s semantics.

            I am not here to be your friend, I am an expert on the survey you’re referencing, and I’m saying your interpretation is garbage. I don’t care if you would have preferred to remain uncorrected on the matter, tough luck.

        • Talia says:

          You want me to have faith the community will hear my personal experience and validate it, but in the same comment you refer to that experience as both “deeply odd” and “deeply horrifying.” Furthermore, how can the community validate my experience without recognizing that that experience is calling out on parts of the community to change how they speak, write, and think? A big part of being sex-favourable is feeling too asexual to fit into allo spaces and too sexual to fit into ace spaces. It’s not a problem that I’m too asexual or too sexual. I think you recognize my issues with the former but not my issues with the latter.

          I have written some posts that only focus on my personal experience and I will continue to write posts, like this one, on wider issues in the community. This post does refer to some of my personal experiences, but since I’m not the only sex-favourable ace in the community, and how people who are not sex-favourable aces are speaking in ways that make sex-favourable aces invisible and invalid, I think it’s an important topic. Like Siggy pointed out, you seem to be saying that it’s appropriate for your personal experiences to reflect the community, but don’t think it’s appropriate for my personal experiences to inform what I think are issues in the community (instead calling them “dressed up to parade as inclusive”). Why are both of our personal experiences not equally valid sources of information about problems in the community?

          • Zoe says:

            “35% of aces have had sex and out of that 35%, 36.1% were influenced to have sex because ‘I find it pleasurable.'”
            Which means 68.4% of 35% of participants did not have sex for pleasure.
            “Interestingly 42.3% of asexual people are indifferent to to the idea of themselves engaging in sexual activity”
            Indifference is a synonym for not caring.
            “and 2.7% are favorable (the rest picking repulsed)”
            Meaning 55% are repulsed and 42.3% are indifferent. That’s what we call a majority last time I checked. Likely meaning that the idea that aces not caring if they have sex or not being open to the idea of sex is a fairly valid assumption for the group as a whole. I agree that we shouldn’t take statistics as an end all be all when dealing with individuals, especially with something so nebulous and subjective, but your statistics are still working against you even after we take into account some deviation. Otherwise, you’re suggesting that the results are completely useless as presented to begin with and should be thrown out altogether.
            This is where it gets personal in suggesting that we can’t trust these numbers at all because Talia happens to represent a minority, those who are interested, and because the numbers don’t match with the argument being made they are not worth looking at in any way.

            Perhaps I’m not current with the vernacular, but last I checked sex repulsed means being intensely averse to sex and yet “I think about sex almost daily, including how I’m repulsed by it, how I am not attracted to anyone, but ultimately that I have a sex drive and still want to have it often.” That sounds like a nightmare, to be constantly thinking about something that you are intensely disgusted by.

            Stay fiery, my dudes.

          • Siggy says:

            “Sex-indifferent” does not (necessarily) mean that you don’t care about sex. As noted elsewhere in the thread, it could refer to your comfort level with the idea of sex. Or it might mean you don’t care whether or not you have sex, which really isn’t the same as not caring about sex. The term has a long history. Have you just encountered these terms for the first time?

            I’m shocked by your attitude that minority experiences can only ever be discussed as something “deeply personal”, and never discussed as a general pattern. Gosh, this is an asexual website, what are we even here for.

  5. Nowhere Girl says:

    I wouldn’t like to say that I consider such a text irresponsible. It would be much too condemning. But I have to admit that I’m very wary of the “aces can have sex” rhetoric. I’m a sex-averse ace and fortunately I have never had sex. But I have seen a lot of narratives by asexuals who did and later regretted it. It really hurts when I see someone writing how “almost every day she wishes she could turn back the clock”.
    There are non-averse aces, kinky aces, curious aces – even I am curious to some extent, but still certain about not trying sex because I’m sex-averse and nudity-averse to an extent where trying sex would equal abusing myself. I just think that too much sex-positivity inside the ace community is not a good thing. We should support sexual agency, but I also agree with the author who wrote that we should (at least a bit) actively discourage aces from having sex. I don’t think that aces really need to be told that they could hypothetically try sex if they decide so. Such a stance is all around us, so we don’t need to promote it anymore within our community.
    At least for me, discouraging means for example: saying that one should only have sex if one is absolutely sure about wanting it. Saying that (I consider it a rather obvious thing which still needs to be spoken) having unwanted sex is psychologically worse than not currently being able to have sex despite wanting it, so in each case (not just for asexuals!) the opinion of the person who doesn’t want to have sex should have more weight. Reminding people that they are very unlikely anyway to enjoy an experience which makes them intensely umcomfortable. And, of course, fighting sexual pressure and sexual assumption. Nowadays, I actually consider it much more important than asexual visibility as such – I believe that not having sex and not wanting to have sex should become much more acceptable and if it does, it will benefit aces too.
    So, generally, I believe that what aces need more is not a message that they “can have sex if they choose to”, but rather a firm reminder that THEY DON’T HAVE TO HAVE SEX and actually SHOULDN’T have sex if they feel that they don’t want to.

    • Talia says:

      In my opinion this isn’t “aces can have sex” rhetoric or telling aces to try sex or even telling aces they can have sex if they choose too. I don’t think I’m saying any of those things, but if I inadvertently am I’d be happy for you to point it out so I can not say them better. This post is about aces who already know they want to have sex and feel actively excluded from the community but are still too ace to fit in with allo communities. It’s not about being sex-positive for the sake of sex is always awesome or some other problematic idea (because sex isn’t for many people), but recognizing the nuances of our community. I also tried to recognize that nuance in this post by accepting and writing about aces who don’t want to have sex and validating that. If you think there needs to be more disclaimers that’s valid, or if I need to disclaim differently also valid, but aces who know they want to have sex exist (me being one of them) and I think that’s important to write and talk in a way that acknowledges that existence.

    • Sennkestra says:

      So while I can see where you are coming from, I don’t think that having less sex-positivity in the ace community is the solution. Because I remember what the ace community was like, back when I first encountered it, and before the sex-positivity became a more common attitude in ace communities. It didn’t do anything to stop people from trying sex they may not have really wanted, whether because of outside pressure or just their own curiosity – it just increased the chances that they’d be shamed and blamed for it, even if they had a not so great experience and needed non-judgmental community support more than ever. (And personally, I think we also tend to overestimate the impact that ace 101 wording has on whether aces get pressured into sex – the social pressure from mainstream culture is huge and will find a way to manifest no matter what aces say about it.)

      I do think it’s important to frankly acknowledge that having sex, while not necessarily bad or shameful, is an inherently risky activity that has a high potential for emotional or physical discomfort or even trauma, especially if you already have doubts about it going in.
      But that requires space to have open and non-judgemental discussions about how to navigate sex and reduce those risks, so that when people do choose to engage in it they will know what they’re getting into and have a source for advice and support if things do go sour. And to get to that point, you need to have a firm grounding in sex-positivity.

      (Compare, for example, the lousy track record of abstinence-only or even abstinence-emphasized education: it doesn’t do anything to stop people from engaging in sexual activity they may not really want and often regret; in fact, it increases the risks, and often results in an extra dose of shame and emotional harm to boot.)

    • Siggy says:

      [cn: sexual violence] I remember back in 2009, when I personally felt a need to experiment with sex/relationships, which led me to pursue a relationship with my perpetrator. That was a serious problem, and I’m inclined to agree that aces should be actively discouraged from sex/relationships, unless they’re in the right place for it. (What counts as the “right place” can be contentious, but I’d say that desperate experimentation is not it.)

      But also, that was 2009, well before “sex-favorable” had even been coined (it was coined in 2013), before many people would even admit the possibility.

      Also, I am sex-favorable. IMO, to the extent we should discourage aces from having sex, we should do so for sex-favorable aces too. In fact, they may be even more at risk. (Related: The 2015 survey report suggests that gray-As and demisexuals are at somewhat higher risk of sexual violence.)

      Discouraging risky behavior and acknowledging sex-favorable aces, are not really at odds with each other, they are two things that actively need to be brought together.

      Although, one thing I am worried about, purely from the perspective of sexual violence and risky sexual behavior, is I don’t want the messaging to be so strong that people blame themselves when they do have sex, and something goes wrong.

    • ettinacat says:

      A nitpick: kinky ace doesn’t necessarily mean an ace who is at all open to sex. The fact that I like tying people up and flogging them doesn’t make me any less sex-repulsed. There’s a stereotype that kinky means highly sexual, but kink for me is an alternative to sex, not an adjunct to it.

  6. Rivers says:

    As a sex-replused ace, I really like reading posts like this that can help me better understand other kinds of aces and how to make sure I don’t throw them under the bus by accident. Because allo people typically have a very narrow idea of what an ace is/can be, it’s important to try to break those assumptions when possible.

    • Talia says:

      That’s exactly how I feel when I read about sex-repulsed or sex-indifferent aces 🙂 It makes me so happy when we embrace people in our community with different experiences than us.

  7. Rachel says:

    Sex-repulsed aces have been having a serious go at this, and while I can see why, I see a lot of important stuff here and if I’m not 100% on board.

    The meat of this post, as far as I can see, is that asexuality gets simplified and shoved into boxes that are designed by allos to fit their preconceived notions of what asexuality is and what it means. That is not okay. The relationship between asexuality and sex needs to be defined by aces for aces.

    Nevertheless, i think that this assessment is missing a crucial piece: the Schrodinger’s box approach of “don’t make assumptions about asexuality and sex” falls apart if that relationship to sex is dismissed or stigmatized once it becomes “set.”

    What do I mean by that? Go back to the “I could never date an asexual person because they don’t want sex” quote from the beginning. That quote means more than “I assume that aces never have sex.” It also means: I could never be with a sex-repulsed partner. The rebuttal “don’t make such assumptions about aces and sex” in practice means “but some aces are open to sex.”

    And that leaves us repulsed aces out in the cold. The “but aces can do _____” rebuttal has never benefited those of us for whom “doing _____” is not an option. Until “stop making assumptions about how aces relate to sex” incorporates “stop judging our relationship viability based on sex,” it is never going to help us. “Don’t make assumptions” won’t increase the relationship options for repulsed aces when we find ourselves being dumped en masse the instant we “set” as repulsed.

    I wholeheartedly reject the community infighting over repulsed vs. favorable aces on who has it worse, blah, blah, blah. And no, favorable and repulsed aces are not harming each other by virtue existing. Competing/incompatible needs are a thing. There’s no shame in admitting that. And I think it’s high time we stopped pretending that this isn’t what is happening here.

    • Talia says:

      Your statement “Don’t make assumptions” won’t increase the relationship options for repulsed aces when we find ourselves being dumped en masse the instant we “set” as repulsed” is a really good point I didn’t include and I appreciate you bringing it up. When I was writing this post I was thinking about 1) allo people who are interested in hypothetically having relationships that include sex dismissing me because of my asexuality even though I want the same kind of relationship and 2) remembering many discussions I’ve seen by aces who don’t want to have sex only being interested in other people who don’t want sex. I was thinking about people who seek out partners with the same interest in sexual behaviour, but you brought up a dynamic that I would like to do more reading and thinking about. I have read a few blog posts about how allo people can be respectful of ace partners not interested in sex, but do you have any recommended reading or something you’d want to elaborate on further about how to balance not judging relationship viability based on sex with people for whom sex is an important part of a relationship?

      To clarify on your last point, do you mean that if we admitted that repulsed vrs. favorable aces had competing/incompatible needs, but didn’t seem them as harming each other by virtue of existing, that would help the infighting?

      • Rachel says:

        I’m gonna tackle the reply out of order because it’s easier that way.

        While a lot of repulsed aces, myself included, are pretty dead-set on only ever having partners who are likewise unwilling to have a sexual relationship, not all of us have that option. For some of us, “only date sex-repulsed people/other aces” means “can’t date anyone, ever” in practice.

        In a word, yes. I think that re-framing repulsed vs favorable aces as competing needs could reduce infighting. Reduce, not eliminate. I’ve seen a lot of… bitterness… from other repulsed aces toward favorable aces. The comment sheet of this very post is a something of a more polite and polished microcosm of that trend.

        As for balancing how messed up sex-based relationship viability is vs. personal desires for sex in relationships, I don’t have any good or easy solutions really. This is something that everyone has to weigh for themselves. My best ideas are: be open and honest about what you want concerning sex, respect that a person’s boundaries are absolute and inviolable, and sex can be a powerful and affirming element, but is absolutely never required for a complete and fulfilling relationship. And yes, that includes an ace’s boundaries, no matter what shape that takes. Saying “demolish sex normativity” is nice and all, but is too broad and nebulous to be immediately useful. If sex normativity magically disappeared tomorrow morning, would sex-favorable people be generally more receptive to having repulsed partners? Some or even many probably would, but not 100%.

        On a purely interpersonal level, I don’t think that there can be a “balance” between sex-as-important-in-your-relationship vs sex-based-relationship-viability-is-garbage. Either sex is happening or it ain’t. Either sex is a central support beam for your relationship or it ain’t. You can’t have it both ways.

        I don’t know of any essays that specifically address this at length, but the following might be offer some extra perspective (WARNING: possible low key sexual entitlement in the comments. Also, these mostly show a repulsed-leaning perspective, so I’m not sure how helpful they will be to you. Last, sorry about the miles-long website names; I couldn’t get hyperlinks to paste correctly).

        Carnival of Aces December 2014:


        Coyote’s Blog:


        • Talia says:

          What do you think would help with that “bitterness” repulsed aces feel towards favourable aces? Not that you have to solve it by any means, but I’m just curious what your thoughts are since we are discussing it. I completely agree that this comment sheet represents the polite and polished version of that bitterness, but I find even this comment sheet draining and alienating. I’m sure sex-favourable aces reproduce sexual normativity in large and small ways that exclude (at best) sex-repulsed aces and we always have to try harder to not do that. But I also think a lot of the bitterness sex-repulsed aces feel comes from sex-favourable aces just being associated with sexuality and that bitterness existed before sex-favourable asexuals even came together and identified ourselves. Like I came up with the term sex-favourable in 2012 to make space for myself in what I felt like was a hostile and indifferent community to me (but back then I referred to it as asexual elitism). The term sex-favourable itself was in a way a critique of the community.

          Do you think your idea that sex “is absolutely never required for a complete and fulfilling relationship” is something that needs to be both a societal idea and also something that needs to be understood/practiced on an interpersonal level? Or is there more nuance on an interpersonal level? In other words I’m trying to understand if in trying to be an ally this is something where my theoretical and political support also needs to be present in my own personal relationships. Or is that up to the individual after a very critical and cautious assessment? Still in other words, is sex being an important part of a fulfilling relationship always bad no matter what, or is it bad just when it’s assumed and not questioned?

          This conversation has made me think about how in the bdsm community people will regularly ask if they need to be open to dating non-kinky people or is it bad if they only want to date other people with compatible kinks (some of which are very very specific). That problem feels like it’s on the opposite side of a spectrum to aces who don’t want to have sex at all, with allosexual people in the middle. I’ve never seen what allosexual people who aren’t into kink think about that discussion. It’s obviously very different from what aces not into sex would think because the aces have a much smaller potential dating pool, but I’m kind of rambling because I think the bigger macro lens is interesting. I’m not sure what it’s interesting for yet though.

          Thank you so much for the links! I really appreciate it and look forward to reading them 🙂

          • Rachel says:

            I guess, as a community, we need to emphasize that favorable and repulsed ace are not inherently harmful to each other. We need to emphasize that sex normative paradigms set up by straight people are what make things so fraught for aces regardless of their attitudes toward sex. Our community bottom line when explaining asexuality to allos ought to be that our attitudes toward sex are diverse and need to be respected 100% of the time no matter what. I think that’d help. Sex favorability and repulsion are always going to be at odds because they present conflicting needs. And that’s okay. This tug of war game is never going to end until we both decide to put the rope down.

            I think you’re right on the money that repulsed-ace resentment toward favorable aces is a nasty after-effect of general alienation from sexual culture in general, rather than something that developed spontaneously. I don’t hold out hope that all repulsed aces will come around (that bitterness runs deep), but the proverbial ball is in their court, not mine.

            I think that “sex should never be required for fulfilling relationships” absolutely needs to be a society-wide standard. It’ll help aces of all stripes, and many more people too, since aces do not have a monopoly on repulsion or sex-being-weaponized-against-you. On an interpersonal level, that gets tricky. Nuance is needed, but I’m not sure how to implement that fairly. Implementing that on a personal level opens the door for a lot of relationship policing (which is bad), but not extending it to a personal level means that all sorts of people are going to hop on the “well I still need sex” bandwagon as a get-out-of-jail-free- card (which is also bad). But relationship incompatibilities can arise from all sorts of things, not just sex. So why would sex be magically different in a society cured of sex-normativity? *shrugs*

            … I’m hesitant to talk about kink in any capacity, as I’m not part of the community. But for the sake of internal consistency, that’s something that each person needs to weigh for themselves. At least for me, I respect honesty of purpose. If kink-compatibility is that important to you, then be honest and consistent to that. But the trade-off to that is you don’t have the right to get offended when I point said relationship priorities out.

        • Talia says:

          It didn’t let me reply to your final comment (maybe our comment chain got too long?), but I agree with so many things you said. I especially liked your comment that “We need to emphasize that sex normative paradigms set up by straight people are what make things so fraught for aces regardless of their attitudes toward sex. Our community bottom line when explaining asexuality to allos ought to be that our attitudes toward sex are diverse and need to be respected 100% of the time no matter what.”

          I don’t really have anything else useful to add so thanks for answering my questions and for the interesting discussion 🙂

  8. Sennkestra says:

    On a similar note to your idea of “schrodinger’s cat” asexuals, I think one thing that I’ve been finding it more helpful – especially when explaining asexuality for the first time – is to try and highlight the fact that rather than there being a single or even two possible ‘asexual’ experiences, ‘asexuality’ should be seen as a large umbrella that covers many smaller little buckets for specific sub-experiences; and rather than there being one universal ‘asexual’ class of people, it’s more like a bunch of groups with similar (but not quite the same) experiences who didn’t fit in elsewhere and found that they had just enough in common with each other to make it convenient to just share the same new identity label and community (because as anyone who spends a lot of time on tumblr knows, inventing 50+ new terms and getting as granular as possible can be a little overwhelming).

    It sort of compares to how trans people, cis people, lesbians, gay men, nonbinary people, bi and pan people, etc. can have wildly different and even contradictory experiences yet still find shared labels like “queer” useful.

    The usefulness of this approach is that thinking of ace communities as a sort of “alliance” of related but not identical groups of people can help some people wrap their minds around why some are super into romance and others not at all, some super into sex and some not at all, etc. And hopefully drive home that you sort of have to ask for more detail before assuming what an individual does or doesn’t experience.

    (The downside is that’s really hard to explain in a clear and concise way, at least for me)

    • Talia says:

      I love that explanation!! I think you explained it really clearly here. I could definitely see it being easier to explain if you drew out the umbrella and the buckets and explain examples of what might go in them. Or you could say the spokes of the umbrella metaphorically represent different experience rather than buckets. Buckets works well because a bucket can hold an experience, but telling someone to imagine an umbrella and then imagine buckets under it is more complicated than telling someone to just imagine the already existing parts of an umbrella. Either way it’s great and I’m going to tuck that away into my brain my future use.

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  14. luvtheheaven says:

    I was re-reading this post and now thinking about how the sex-favorability statistic for demisexuals is probably… skewed? because. Well. I think many, if not most, demisexuals I’ve read blog posts from and one friend of mine are repulsed by the idea of sex with people they are not attracted to, the vast majority of people because of how demisexuality usually results in fairly rarely occuring sexual attraction. Yet they are sex-favorable, with the right person. On the other hand, I’ve met two examples of demisexual people who feel more like a sex-favorable asexual even when not attracted to a person. One of them felt like they couldn’t relate to other demisexuals whose blog posts I shared for that reason. It seems like it would be an interesting statistic to consider what the term sex-favorable means to different demisexuals, and how many of those who answered they were sex-repulsed meant it only when not feeling sexual attraction or if they are always sex-repulsed, etc.

    I know that’s not the point of this post though and maybe I should have commented somewhere else. It just was something I thought of when reading all this again and the first comment thread too.

    • ettinacat says:

      As a grey-ace, that rings true for me. Me personally having sex with anyone is a hell no, but sexual content in media has mixed effects on me depending on contexts that relate to the way my fluctuating attraction works. Specifically, I’m a kinky grey-asexual who only feels attraction if my kink buttons are pushed. Sex in vanilla media is never appealing to me, but sometimes sex in kink media is appealing, *if* the sex acts specifically tie into my kinks in the right way. It’s to the point where during a recent session vaginal dilator treatment for vaginismus, I was able to jolt myself out of feeling triggered by the sensation of lying down on my back with something in my vagina by imagining myself as a female character in a TV show who tricked a male character into sex with her and put a slave ring on him mid-coitus, because that scene hits my kink buttons so well that it overrides my sex-repulsion.

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