What I've Learned about Sex from Asexuality
Yesterday I was in the shower, the warm-cool space where I do my best thinking, and I realized that so much of what I’ve learned about my sexuality has been through asexuality–from somewhere invisible in sex-positivity, in feminism, from somewhere that isn’t sexual at all. Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction. It’s not like celibacy, which is a choice.
I don’t consider myself asexual, but from talking with asexuals, I’ve learned a lot about my own relationships, sexual and non. Here are excerpts from interviews I’ve done over the past year with David Jay, the founder of AVEN, illustrating my education in sex and not sex.
Friendships and relationships aren’t that different.
“In the asexual community the word single doesn’t exist. Because single implies that if you don’t have a romantic relationship you don’t have a valid source of intimacy in your life. A lot of “single” people have extremely valid sources of intimacy worth talking about. Instead, words like romantic and aromantic get thrown around to describe relationships. When asexual people gossip we don’t just talk about the relationships we are in, we talk about the relationship models we are in. Every asexual person ends up with this elaborate world view of how intimacy words and their relationships work.
We have to ask, what makes a relationship different that a really close friendship? What is monogamy? At what point would I be cheating on my romantic partner with my best friend? What commitments do we need to make in order for us both to feel safe and trusting? You have to go deeper than some sexual couples might, where that line is drawn by sex.”
Being open and honest about sex is great, but how you do it matters.
“The desire to create a dialogue of sexuality in our marketing driven culture can easily turn into over-celebrating sexuality and glamorizing or fetishizing it. I think that you should be mindful of the way that you are glamorizing sex or treating sex as intrinsically different or better than other ways of connecting with people.
We think that if your goal is to create an open honest dialogue about sexuality, you should be talking about asexuality too. By celebrating sexuality, you should also be celebrating the fact that sex is sometimes boring and that there are other ways to connect with people. Right now even in sex positive spaces if you start talking about how sex is sometimes boring it has the weight of I have to lower my voice and have a hand on my back in order to talk about it.”
Often, it’s really intimacy we are talking about, not sex.
“I would define intimacy pretty broadly, I would say an intimate relationship is one where you feel comfortable being vulnerable. In our society intimacy is really strongly correlated with sex. The ability for someone to fully emotionally connect with someone else is largely sexualized. There is a strong case to be made that not all important relationships are sexual and not all intimacy on an emotional level is sexual.
I’ve definitely had conversations with a lot of guys that start out expressing what they’ve label as sexuality. And if I kind of prod, there’s a lot of other emotional stuff that’s under that. And it may or may not have anything to do with sexuality, they just may not have another language set for expressing it.”
Gender is sexual
“Part of the boogeyman that gets you if you don’t gender perform right is that you won’t be sexually attractive. So, if you’re female you have to be feminine or you won’t be attractive and that means you won’t be in a sexual relationship with someone. But if you’re asexual that’s already not happening. And your only incentive to be feminine is if that is a genuine expression of who you are. And so I think, with that incentive stripped away, there’s less emphasis on gender but in some way, the emphasis left is kind of a little more genuine. Because it’s driven by self expression.
So much of how we express our sexuality is gender. The expression of our sexuality ultimately often is the expression of our gender. And we are still trying to figure out what the expression of asexuality looks like, learning how to have an empowered gender identity without sexuality is really tricky.”