unpopular opinion time: asexuality and sex positivity

This piece was first posted to sidneynia.tumblr.com on October 28, 2011, as part of the first Asexual Awareness 

I think it might be time for the asexual movement to tone down the sex positive stuff.

Don’t get me wrong: I know why they do it. I know they’re trying hard to counter the (rather nonsensical, if you ask me) stereotype that people who don’t want sex for themselves are automatically going to start policing other people’s sexualities. I think there’s also a kneejerk reaction among nonreligious asexuals to distance ourselves from puritanism. As an atheist myself, I’m certainly sympathetic to this notion. And I’m not asking that anyone become “sex negative” or take up the habit of shaming sexual people, because that doesn’t help anybody.

But we’re a group who’s trying to convince other people – other asexuals, sexuals, questioning persons, and everyone in between – that it’s OK to not want to have sex. So why are we expending so much effort talking about how it’s okay to want to have sex? Why are we spending all our time talking about what other people want to do, not what we want to do? Asexuals are seriously the only marginalized group I’ve ever seen whose dialog is so utterly defined by effusive praise of the ruling class.

There’s also the fact that constant sexual language – whether it’s pro, anti, or (intended to be) neutral – is alienating to those of us asexuals who have a strong inborn or acquired aversion to sex. Believe me, this is not something I want, but it’s something that’s here, that I deal with every day. The Sex Positive Asexual movement looks to me like a great castle wall that I can’t possibly scale until I somehow rid myself of this aversion (how?), with all my fellow asexuals waiting on the other side, having a party without me. And it’s not just me; there are a lot of “repulsed” (I dislike that word, but it seems to be the accepted one) asexuals on AVEN. A good portion of them are survivors of trauma. Why on earth would any movement want to shut the door to survivors of trauma? Those are the folks who need community support most of all. How can someone who has survived a sexual assault, for instance, be expected to just jump on the sex positive bandwagon? The message is “hey, we’re here for you once you’ve dealt with your baggage, but not until then”. How is that even remotely acceptable?

Because I dislike the scolding tone of “don’t” posts that come without a list of “do’s”, here are some conversations I would like to see that bring the focus back around the the legitimacy of asexuality as its own thingrather than an outsider’s platform for praising sexuality.

  • How do we separate “sex positive” from “sex normative”?
  • How is sex normativity embedded in our language and culture? What forms of sex normative language do we use every day that shame asexuality and other asexuality-spectrum orientations?
  • How can we – or do we even need to – reify asexual-erasing bigotry? Can we – or should we – come up with an “-ism”? I’ve seen a lot of reluctance, and just plain inactivity, when it comes to calling out asexual erasure, shaming and stereotyping (outside of a few high-profile instances like Dan Savage). I mean, for fuck’s sake, did anyone picket The 40-Year-Old Virgin? 
  • How can/should we continue the (truly amazing thus far) efforts to debunk the notion of asexual privilege? What’s the next step?
  • How can/should we educate communities – especially LGBT+ communities – about asexuality in a way that’s inclusive without being sex-normative?
  • Lately I’ve been really inspired by the atheist movement’s efforts to redefine themselves as more than just “the absence of belief in a deity/ies”, instead focusing on the positive aspect of atheism: the presence of trust in science as the best tool we currently have at our disposal for understanding the wonders of our universe. Can asexuals follow suit and define ourselves as something more than just the absence of sex? For me, for instance, asexuality is about enjoying a deep intellectual and emotional romance with my partner, supplemented (but not defined) by a mutual fondness for nonsexual touch. And I know it’s different for everybody.

Again – I understand why asexuals are so eager to debunk the asexual-equals-antisexual assumption. I just feel like we can do it without prostrating ourselves so thoroughly to the ruling class.


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1 Response to unpopular opinion time: asexuality and sex positivity

  1. Framboise says:

    I largely agree with what you are saying here, and am especially interested in the question of how to separate sex normative from sex positive. I have seen precious few examples “out in the wild” of sex positive spaces or discussions that were not highly sex normative.
    I also get the impression that the asexual community really doesn’t want to be associated with survivors of trauma. It’s such a common accusation when someone first learns you are asexual, that you must have survived child sex abuse. I imagine this accusation is especially painful to people who actually have, but it makes other asexuals weary of associating the movement with survivors, which is, as you rightly point out, actually very sad.

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