For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

Archive for February, 2010

Unpacking romantic privilege

Based on this essay, unpacking white privilege*, and on leftover thoughts from Valentine’s Day- that it endorses the privilege romantic people have in this society anyway. Here’s my list, off the top of my head. There’ll be a lot of important things I’ve forgotten, and your mileage may vary, but:

Daily effects of romantic privilege:
1. I will constantly find my lifestyle endorsed and promoted above all others in every form of media.
2. My lifestyle will be the promoted as the only safe place to raise children, to not die alone, sometimes even the only place to experiment with consensual sexuality.
3. When I want to ditch people I’ve known for years to spend time with someone I’ve just met, it will not be questioned.
4. When I make unhealthy decisions in my love life, I will continue to find that these decisions will not make me seem less mentally secure, or that my lifestyle will not be seen as less valid.
5. If I am romantically compatible with people of the opposite gender, or live somewhere that supports same-sex marriage, I will have all the benefits of marriage- visitation rights, property rights, inheritance rights.
6. I will further be able to declare my main life partner in a universally recognised ceremony, particularly if I am monogamous.
7. I will escape stereotypes of impotency, madness or coldness.
8. I will be able to have children easily, and probably rely on either financial or time-related support from my partner in raising these children. I will also often be able to adopt relatively easily.
9. I will be able to easily explain my marital situation, and people will instantly accept the validity of my relationships.
10. If I am single, the things people say to comfort me will probably have that effect. They are unlikely to make me feel more broken and insecure.
11. I will have one of the major commercial holidays of every year dedicated to making me look and feel special. More if I become a traditional mother or father.
12. I will have card/present shops, as well as books, magazines and entire industries catering mostly to my style of relationships.
13. I will be able to spend most of my time in the company of like-minded people.
14. I will always be able to qualify my relationships in binary terms.

I’m going to stop there, because it occurred to me that this isn’t necessarily the most helpful way of looking at it. Yes, there is a lot of privilege on romantic people in our society, and it’s important to understand that and unpack it, but there are also a lot of advantages to aromanticism, largely in that you can more easily change the relationship models to suit you. So, for example, number 3 becomes “I feel valid in spending my time with people I’ve known for years, and not treating a near-stranger as suddenly the most important relationship in my life.” Numbers 11 and 12 become “I do not feel forced, simply by my romantic status, to indulge in ceremonies that are often needlessly tacky and capitalist,” while 13 becomes “I will gain the ability to respect other’s views by being surrounded by wildly different priorities.”

These privileges are definitely there, and they do hurt- privileges like the ones above were the reasons I was in confused denial about my possible aromanticism(/pomoromanticism?) for so long. To say that you don’t expect to have any romantic relationships in your lifetime seemed, and still seems, to me to be accepting a role as a second-class citizen, and, as a white, British, middle-class man, the loss of even that small* amount of privilege shocked me.

And it should be discussed. But there is little point in discussing this idea as a hierarchy. Romantic people are trapped in a gilded cage, similarly to men. While they have privilege, they also have unwritten laws following them everywhere. The position of the aromantic or pomoromantic in society should be seen not as a deconstruction of every time romance is held to be better than aromance, though these are telling. Rather, it should be seen as one of a whole host of narratives which can work to pull down the traditional romance structure which, like the traditional gender structure, works well for few, and to replace is with something freer, more individualistic.

*Insert statement here clarifying that aromantic struggles are less than black struggles, while also pointing out the stupidity of the oppression Olympics.

Happy belated St. Skeletor’s day

A moderately postponed rant about Valentine’s day, brought on by all the blogs whose last 4 days of posts I’ve just caught up on.

Around about the 1st of February, I opened the daily paper to find a four-page spread on Valentine’s day. The first two pages were how to get a relationship before Valentine’s day if you’re a straight woman. The next two pages were how to get a relationship before Valentine’s day if you’re a gay man. (Yes, we’ve come a long way, but a lot of it was still written by straight men with gay friends, and all of it contained really simplistic stereotypes). It’s something I’ve seen several times since, now I’m aware of it.

My response to this, fed by my growing hatred of ‘buy this and you’ll be happy’, was the same as my response to a lot of the heteronormative dating crap we’re meant to eat up and be thankful for, and can be summarised thusly;

Do none of these people even realise how horrifically wrong their outlook is?

Specifically, what proportion of the population seriously enter February single and think “I absolutely have to get myself into a relationship before the commercial crapfest begins, and my consumerist overlords dictate that I must become an object of affection (and by affection, I, of course, mean money), because if I don’t manage to get myself a relationship by this particular annual event, I will have failed in the main goal of relationships, which is to use them as a crutch to shield myself from my lack of happiness (driven, of course, by my lack of possessions) and because everyone in the world is continually reinforcing the message that not to be in a relationship is to be a looser and a failure, and I’ve got to spend all my time doing that too, because otherwise they’ll suspect I’m secretly a looser underneath, and that no-one will ever validate my existance by buying useless things for me!”

And how have they been so adequately controlled to think that, and to stifle all thought of what a relationship really is, you know, two people, together because they want to be (Because THEY want to be. Because they WANT to be), and how that’s mutually incompatible with making sure you’re in a relationship on a particular calendar date? It really is a work of genius. If we (the general wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if, respect-your-fellow-people sort) had those marketing people working for our side, just think of the power.

Anyway, two smaller pieces of Valentine’s Day news.
I saw a red plastic bell which said “Ring for sex” in a card shop. I’ve decided, if I get a partner, rather than ignoring Valentine’s day, we’re going to get the most messed-up and heteronormative cards or trinkets for each other that we can find. And if I give them that one, it’ll probably still come with a link to Ily’s post.

Also, can’t figure out how to get the image over here, but a quick click over to this Valentine’s day page on Feministing is yet another example of that pesky space which so plagues asexuality.

Q+A with Joy Davidson, part 5

Since the last one was over with quite quickly;

All the disclaimers from before apply, the article is found in its entirety here, and I don’t own any copyrights, etc, and am quoting from it for the purpose of analysis.

Molly in Naperville Writes:
I have been married for two years, and I have never had an orgasm. I had two sexual partners before I was married and never had an orgasm then. I am in my mid-20s and starting to think there is something wrong with me. My husband and I have a healthy sex life, but the fact I have never had an orgasm comes up every so often. I am sort of OK with the fact that it hasn’t happened, but in the back of my mind I know it bothers my husband a lot. I feel guilty. I don’t blame either of us. … I just want it to happen once or occasionally. I could really use some advice on this topic. Please help.

Anorgasmia is one of those difficult issues that I think could have a complex and subtle relationship with asexuality. It’s definitely something that could be discussed more in an asexual context, but I don’t feel particularly qualified to do that, I’m not sure if anyone is. I was considering writing something soonish on male anorgasmia, and, now I’m starting to assemble my thoughts about it, I see it’s not a particularly useful or useable definition, because it groups people by the symptom rather than the cause (more on that if I ever write it). We have no idea why this woman doesn’t orgasm. Indeed, one of the problems with anorgasmia is that we have no idea why anyone doesn’t orgasm. The very loudest voice saying they’re fully confident and accepting of the fact their body doesn’t do that may just not have had the right experiences, while a woman like this, who you think probably has issues with ‘performance’ anxiety or conditions that don’t arouse her, may actually physically have far less response to genital stimulation than others, or have some sort of non-harmful mental block, the same sort of preference that says ‘I’m aroused by this gender, not the other’, but saying ‘I don’t need orgasms’. And then there’s the complicated issues of why it matters. There are people whose quality of life would be seriously depleted without orgasms, people who don’t like them at all, and have a more stone sexuality, there are probably people who get a lot of pleasure from sex without orgasm, and are somewhat sceptical of the ‘counting game’ everyone else seems to play. And then there’s whether your partner has any right to expect you to have an orgasm. Is it just misplaced pride? Do they have trouble understanding that you’re fine without it (if you are)? Do they judge themselves by the aforementioned counting game, rather than genuine intimacy? Or is it that a large part of their sexual pleasure genuinely comes from getting the other person off, and they’re struggling to do without that?

Backing away from my random and not particularly helpful stream of consciousness for a moment, let’s assume this woman has the potential to be orgasmic and has one of several problems stopping her from achieving it. It’s sure as hell not going to happen while she’s waiting anxiously for it.

Let’s see what Joy says:

Davidson Responds:
You don’t say how you’re trying to have an orgasm, so I’ll presume that you’re going for the Big O during intercourse, which is the least likely way to achieve a climax. Rest assured, there is nothing wrong with you; only about a third of women have orgasms during intercourse. The vast majority of women have them through separate oral or manual stimulation of the clitoris. Even women who do climax during intercourse often require simultaneous clitoral stimulation. However, if you’re an “orgasm virgin” the cooperative choreography required to master that can be tricky.
Learning to orgasm is much easier as a do-it-yourself project. Once you become adept at self-pleasuring, you can share your newfound successes with your partner. For step-by-step help, pick up a copy of Lonnie Barbach’s classic book, “For Yourself, or Julia Heiman’s “Becoming Orgasmic” or my book, “Fearless Sex.”

In the short format, Joy’s chosen what her experience tells her is the most likely option- a poor type of stimulation and/or some anxiety issues, which can both be solved through old-fashioned D-I-Y. That’s probably a good call. I found it quite bizarre (but I tend to get my opinions from sex- and especially masturbation- positive people) that the writer doesn’t mention masturbation in the first paragraph. It seems so obvious to me that it’s the best way to find out if and how you can orgasm.
In a desperate bid to include something asexuality-related in my penultimate article in this series (just in case there are still asexuals around, or who might find it in the future), I may as well mention that asexuality is an introspective definition. All the categories of sexual attraction, sex drive, romantic attraction, and so on, are settled by looking at fantasies, desires and masturbation habits, rather than by partnered sex. This is something asexuals can bring to sex-positivism; the increased ability to be introspective, and to know your own sexuality regardless of how it relates to those around you, which I think can be an incredibly strong trait.

Q+A with Joy Davidson, part 4

All the disclaimers from before apply, the article is found in its entirety here, and I don’t own any copyrights, etc, and am quoting from it for the purpose of analysis.

A little mini-episode now. I quite like this brief letter as a stand-alone thing, and I think I’d like to find the time to write about something else, so I decided not to join it to the next one.

Part 4:
Chuck Writes:
Is it possible to become asexual after you’ve been married eight-plus years, with a child?

Yes, I think so. I think many people find sexuality fluid, and what makes sense at one time in your life can become something completely different at another time of your life.

If I was an agony aunt, I think I’d have a helicopter, which could fly around the place and drop little sacks onto people, embroidered with the words: “Context, please!!” I’m speculating wildly, but I bet he’s not dealing with someone becoming asexual. He’s dealing with someone finding out that they’re asexual, or with someone who’s becoming something else (like uninterested in sex).

Davidson Responds:
It’s certainly possible to lose desire for sex in a long-term relationship, but losing desire is not the same as being asexual. People who believe they are asexual claim they have never had interest in sex.
There are many reasons why a woman would turn off to sex — some are medical or hormonal but most have to do with the changes in her relationship. Lack of trust or feelings of anger and resentment can play a huge role. So can the inability to communicate sexual needs or have them met by your partner. Illness, depression, anxiety and certain medications can also have an impact.
Complaints of ebbing sexual desire in marriages, whether by the female or male partner, are the most common reason that people visit sex therapists. You are not alone in your frustration or sense of loss. I’d like to suggest that you look through some of the reading resources I’ve suggested, and then perhaps contact for a therapist referral. Best of luck!

I have a couple of disagreements with what Joy wrote here. Firstly, as I said, I think people can often change sexuality. It’s interesting to compare Joy’s answer in this section to “Can a sexual person become asexual” to her answer in the first section to “Can an asexual person become sexual”. I think it works both ways.
Also, and on a far more minor point, Contextless Chuck never mentions that a woman is becoming asexual. Joy assumes this from what she’s read. I don’t mind too much about this, since some things about the way the letter is phrased would suggest it, and sometimes you just have to guess at what isn’t there to make a good response.
I only mention it because there’s an extent to which I think it’s written with the idea of asexual men being less common, and also because it may arise from ideas about women being ‘complicated’, backhand sexism that sneaks in when you’re not watching it. Having spoken to Joy, I don’t think this is any sexism on her part. It’s just that I get touchy because this side is always reported, and the side which deals with men’s complex emotions/desires is always hushed up.
Replace all of the gendered words in Joy’s speech with their male or non-specific equivalents and you get a paragraph that is still completely true, but which you’d never see in a mainstream magazine or newspaper, and which a lot of people sadly really need to be told.
That’s it for this week. Sorry there’s not much genuine analysis of the issues going on here, even less of specifically asexual issues, but I’ll be back for the penultimate in this series next time.

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