Asexuality is Not Antisexuality: Sex Positivity in a Negative World
As a culture, we have a complicated relationship with our sexuality. Perhaps it could be described as a love/hate relationship. See, as a whole, we love sex. We love it so much that many of us uphold it as the definitive factor of a healthy relationship; we inundate ourselves with it throughout our media; we include it on our hierarchy of needs on par with food, water, and shelter. But especially in the United States—which was, after all, settled by Puritans—we serve up a nice side of guilt with our sex, and as a result everyone who enjoys it is expected to feel ashamed of doing so.
So, even in this age of sexual celebration, we continue to infuse our perception of sexuality with negative messages. So much of our language when referring to sex is either metaphorical or negative, as if coitus and those things relating are either impolite to discuss or out-and-out unmentionable.
“Talk dirty to me.”
“Let’s do the nasty.”
“Aren’t you a naughty girl?”
“Are you having filthy thoughts?”
Our sex organs and the things we do with them are given more silly, euphemistic titles than any other body parts or activities known to man. Movies are more likely to be rated R for sex than for violence—and that restricted rating will often result just from showing a body part that might be involved in sex, even if it isn’t shown doing so. Really? A sex scene—or, God forbid, a naked lady—is more objectionable to our society than spurting blood and psychotic killers? This anti-sex dialogue is a symptom of a society-wide disease: we know we love sex, but we’re taught that there’s something depraved about having sexual urges and giving in to them.
However, part of what makes it tolerable to find sex compelling despite indoctrinated guilt is that everybody else deals with it too. After all, how bad can it be if everyone fights giving in “too much” (lest they be labeled promiscuous) and everyone experiences lust? How bad can it really be if everyone wants to “do it” even if they’re too polite to use specific language regarding what “it” they want to do?
Enter asexuality. Asexual people don’t feel sexually attracted to anyone. They don’t wrestle with sexual attraction to possible partners, and many of them (though not all) have a very low or nonexistent sex drive.
Immediately, for some people, the hackles go up. Who are these people who think they don’t need sex? Where do they get off thinking they’re better than the rest of us? They’ve got to be sick, or repressed, or suffering from abuse. Somebody get these people to therapy!
Wait, why does that happen? Is this a sex-positive or a sex-negative attitude? Are all statements in favor of more sex actually healthy for the perception of sexuality in our society as a whole?
One problem here is that we associate chastity with moral superiority. Some of our religious institutions require chastity vows as a show of sacrifice and devotion. A virgin is automatically assumed to be virtuous (or, at least, perceived to have retained virginity for a moral purpose). Regardless of whether a voluntary abstention from sex is done for the purpose of remaining “untainted,” it’s undeniable that our society associates celibacy with these images of purity, and must think of sex as something that spoils a person if we continue to perpetuate these attitudes toward people who remain “immaculate.”
It’s important to note that neither traditionally sexual people nor asexual people asked for this. No one alive today created this love/hate dynamic, but we have all been exposed to these messages and we have all been victims of them. The next step is to stop contributing to them. It’s time now to recognize that these messages exist and move past them into a truly sex-positive society.
Some asexual people, having been raised on the same anti-sex rhetoric as the rest of us, do indeed think of themselves as being automatically more wholesome by virtue of their nonsexuality, and do indeed look down upon people who experience sexual attraction as shameful animals who can’t control their appetites. That is not the prevailing attitude, but it exists. And it needs to stop.
Some people, raised with shame and feeling self-conscious at the prospect of asexual people because they can no longer assume that everyone has these urges, respond by attacking asexuality. They may hide it behind “concern” for an asexual’s health, or a belief that no human can lack sexual attraction, or an inability to process the concept itself . . . but ultimately, these attacks are motivated by how asexuals make THEM feel. It’s similar to straight people being against gay relationships because they “don’t want to watch two homos kissing.” Most open-minded non-asexual folks are willing to live and let live, but there are those who are not. And this also needs to stop.
What non-asexual people need to understand about asexuals is that we are not against sex and that we do not wish to be perceived as being “better than you.” We do not represent an attack on what you love, and even a cursory scan of the asexual community will turn up a majority that is in favor of liberal views on sex. (Not obsession with it—which is just as destructive as wanting to destroy it—but just plain acceptance of its existence and condoning of its use in healthy relationships.) Many asexuals support the rights of sexual minorities, and many of us feel marginalized as a misunderstood and invisible orientation ourselves.
We, the asexual community, are not any community’s enemy, and we do not want anyone to think of us as if we are. We usually don’t want sex for ourselves; that is true. But we are not anti-sexual, and we are not against you pursuing sexuality in the ways that make you happy. We do not want to make anyone feel self-conscious or defensive or guilty about what they want. The real enemy is the sex-negative narrative that affects us all.
Some people who experience sexual attraction may sometimes feel sorry for us if we don’t want to find happiness their way, and we in the asexual community may occasionally find the pursuit of sex amusing or confusing or irrational because we aren’t affected by it, but . . . we should all be able to agree that sexuality is supposed to represent celebration, not condemnation. We should all be allowed to express it toward one another in the ways that make sense to us . . . even if some people’s preference happens to mean not expressing sexuality at all.