The Echoed No To Sex: Consent And Multiplicity

Crossposted to my Pillowfort.

These days, there is a steadily-growing body of discussion around asexuality and mental health[1]. Over the past decade or so, the topic has recieved some much-needed attention. The relationship between neuroatypicality – particularly autism – and aspec identity is one we are beginning to describe, though there is still much, much work to be done. But while we are beginning to discuss the effects of autism, of depression, of PTSD, the intersection of asexuality and multiplicity has remained as yet mostly untouched upon.

The medical terminology for my perspective is vague, and muddled, and constantly evolving. Once, the default label was Multiple Personality Disorder, but that term has fallen out of favour these days, for reasons I won’t go into here. You’re more likely to hear my perspective referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), or perhaps Other Specified Dissociative Disorder (OSDD), both from the DSM-V (sadly not available online). Personally, I lean in favour of simply using the catch-all of Dissociative Disorders, since many of the differences between them are fairly minimal. (It’s all disorders around here. One gets used to it.)

If we use non-medical language, of the type more common to what scraps of a community can be said to exist, then plurality, multiplicity and systems are the words we see most often[2]. But multiplicity politics is not the point here. The meaning of the words is simple enough, when you break it down. Plural. Multiple. More than one consciousness. To put it simply, I am not alone in my head. As one can imagine, this complicates a great many things, but sex, consent and attraction are some of the biggest giants to topple.

Allow me to back up briefly, and give some context for those who don’t have a great deal of knowledge about dissociative disorders. I could throw around medical terminology, but that’s not a useful way of explaining the issue I grapple with. Too impersonal. So instead, think of it perhaps as standing in a hall of mirrors at a carnival, the kind that reshape your reflection. All these images are a part of yourself; that is obvious. They are bound to you, they follow you, and they exist only because you do. But they are taller, shorter, broader, thinner. They wear your face, but in a different shape; they may speak, but use a different voice. They are fragments of yourself: in a way, they are you.

And yet, not. I cannot speak for the parts of my mind that don’t belong to me. I cannot decide things for them. I cannot tell them how to be, or what to believe. They are mine, yes, but they are distinct from my own self. This is what I mean when I say multiplicity. And multiplicity is a complicated beast when it comes to sex, for two basic reasons.

The first is that consent – full, proper and willing consent – becomes inherently more difficult when the person giving it is not, by default, internally united in their desire. To put it simply, it is hard to give a full “yes” when one has to obtain it from more than just one person.

The second is that desire – not just in the sexual sense, but in the sense of a goal of any kind – can become somewhat muddled when there are multiple different perspectives being asserted. Often, the end goal of the “main” identity (the host, as they’re often called) is an amalgamation of the desires of many or all of the fragments. Existing as a multiple is an exercise in compromise.

Most of the time, with regard to most things, this is not a problem. We have become very skilled at reaching a compromise. Though some things cause more disagreements than others, we can generally reach an accord. At the end of the day, I spend the majority of the time “in control”, as it were. They follow: I lead. I am the one who has to deal with the consequences of our decisions the most, so they allow my opinion to hold more sway in most decisions. But sex is different.

For many multiples, including myself, trauma has played some part in the origin of their multiplicity. While “natural”, non-traumatic multiplicity is an increasingly-documented phenomenon, our personal multiplicity involves trauma. That trauma has involved sex. Most of the time, that is something I do not dwell on. And yet, it is an intrinsic a part of me as my aspec identity. I cannot undo what has been done, and I cannot ignore its results. When it comes to living in this body, sex is not my purview alone: it affects all of us in equal measure.

Some of my fragments are young children. Some are survivors, along with me. And some would not – or cannot – ever consent to sex. Only one of us besides myself has ever expressed any sexual or romantic interest in anyone. This is partially the nature of multiplicity – it’s hard for my fragments to consider seriously pursuing a relationship when most of the time, I’m the one who’s actually around – but it is also inherent to their personalities.

Our ambivalence as a whole is part of our collective aspec identity, because their disinterest is, in part, my disinterest. We are distinct identities, but while we each keep some memories to ourselves (and experience some amnesia as a result), there is enough overlap in what we recall and how our feelings affect one another that our sexual and romantic inclinations bleed together somewhat. While they, like me, have little concern for specific labelling, I know them well enough to wager that every one would feel that aspec (and arospec) were applicable terms to them.

And so, we come to the question that I have grappled with. Can I give consent to sex, in good conscience? Can I consent for all of us, knowing that my fragments will have to borrow a body and share a skin that someone else has touched? For some of them, that would be no issue: for some, that would be a reminder of trauma, a reminder that they would never willingly endure on their own.

My answers to this question are never definite, never full. I have had sex in the past to which I have given consent, without considering the parts of myself that are not mine to give. At the moment, I plan not to do so again. But that might change, as can all things.

Multiplicity politics is a complicated place, and the level of distinction that fragments “should” be afforded from the core will depend greatly on who you talk to. In all things but sex, we know where we stand. I do not know, yet, still, if I can consent for all of myself. I hope that one day, I will be able to. But in this, as in so many other ways for me, sex remains a murky grey area, characterised first and foremost by confusion, uncertainty and doubt.

[1] Resources and writings I have found regarding asexuality as it intersects with mental health:
– asexualsurvivors’ excellent collection of writings on asexuality and mental health (content warnings found on the page)
– ciiriianan’s post discussing asexuality and its relative intersection (or lack thereof) with disability
– Hope for Aces’s post about how their asexuality influenced their ED (CW: eating disorders, weight loss)
– Coyote’s post about “quoigenic”, being sex-repulsed and asexual origins
– The February 2018 Carnival of Aces on the topic “Mental Health”

[2] Some notes on multiplicity, for those wishing to discuss the topic:
Currently, the benchmark medical diagnosis relating to multiplicity is DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) The ICD-11 proposed definition is more accessible for those without a background in the topic, while the DSM-V definition is currently the most commonly referred to. Dissociative Disorders are not to be confused with Personality Disorders, which – while often comorbid with Dissociative Disorders – are a seperate category of disorder.
Community names for the phenomenon are most commonly multiplicity and plurality, and a person who experiences multiplicity is commonly called a system or a multiple, or occasionally a plural. Dissociated identies are commonly called alters or fragments, or occasionally headmates. The “original” identity is usually called the core, and the dominant identity (often, though not always, the core) is usually called the host. The identity currently “in control”, ie acting, speaking, moving, making decisions etc, is said to be fronting. Non-multiple individuals are often called singlets.
If you wish to discuss my particular multiplicity, my personal preferences are to be referred to collectively as a multiple. I am a host and core. My dissociated identities are fragments.

About Vacant

Vacant is an aspec queer and alleged human from Scotland. They can be found talking about their life and posting short essays and personal rambles on their Pillowfort. When they’re not writing about topics that take their fancy, they enjoy collecting fancy pens, reading, sketching and swordfighting.
This entry was posted in Articles, Intersectionality, personal experience. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Echoed No To Sex: Consent And Multiplicity

  1. Talia says:

    Thanks for sharing such a personal experience. I hadn’t thought of consent in this way before and appreciated being able to read about it 🙂

    You mentioned “Personally, I lean in favour of simply using the catch-all of dissociative disorders, since many of the differences between them are fairly minimal.” I think in some contexts the differences are minimal. For example, if we’re talking about mental health in general, the differences between dissociative disorders seems minimal because they all involve a type of dissociation. In your post how you talk about your experiences of multiplicity and consent only applies to some dissociative disorders (because some do not include fragments of yourself with different voices). The difference stood out to as a reader who has a dissociative disorder, but multiplicity and consent wouldn’t apply to me in the way you described. I’ve often muddled around thinking about dissociation and my asexuality so thank you for opening this up 🙂

    • Jam says:

      “The difference stood out to as a reader who has a dissociative disorder, but multiplicity and consent wouldn’t apply to me in the way you described.”
      That’s fair, I hadn’t considered that folks with depersonalisation/derealisation/non-multiple dissociative disorders wouldn’t think similarly. Thanks for pointing that out! Mostly, I just really dislike using DID as a benchmark for anything, since I think it does a poor job of representing dissociative multiplicity.
      I’m glad to have opened up the topic of dissociation and asexuality, it’s not that well understand generally so I’m always wanting to try and educate people on dissociative stuff.

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