For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

Remember that awesome post by Ozymandias that I reacted to by being incredibly overemotional?

It’s now a blog. Check it.

I appear, for reasons either inexplicable or Semiel-based, to be one of the few people on their still-young blogroll. And one of the first, due to the way asexual issues tend to be adressed first in alphebetised systems (damn my asexual privilege). I am so glad I was halfway through a relatively coherent post about asexuality and feminism.

Also, obvious trigger warning is obvious, though I’m keeping mostly academic.

This idea was sparked when I read a post critiquing parts of the asexual community a while ago (yeah, I’m pathetically slow at the whole blogging thing). Part of the argument was that the way the needs of sexuals were discussed in some parts of the asexual community equated, to feminist eyes, to something that looked a lot like rape culture.

I should start by pointing out that I’m really not happy with the way sexual attraction is presented to asexuals (often by other asexuals, who, to be fair, don’t know much better). Sex is presented as something that no-one who isn’t asexual can live without. This is just another example of that self-creating denial of reality I mentioned. It ignores the fact that large swathes of the human population wait until marriage before sex, many of them because it’s ‘nice’, rather than out of fear. It ignores the fact that a surprisingly large percentage of college graduates are still virgins. It ignores direct evidence that a lot of ‘normal’, non-asexual people just aren’t that bothered.

So sexual attraction is described as a rampant animal. It cannot be controlled. It cannot be reasoned with. And it is normalised- 99% of the population go around with this all day, every day, in the same way that we’re told that all (non-asexual) men think about sex so often that they would never be able to, for example, go on a game show and concentrate on naming items on a conveyor belt or steering metal around an electrified wire without connecting the circuit, because they’re thinking all the time about sex.

So I’m a man who experiences sexual attraction. I’m calling bullshit on that myth now. If you, dear reader, genuinely feel that you have a very high sex drive, that you couldn’t be in a monogamous relationship with someone who doesn’t want sex, for example, then feel free to express that. But don’t express your desires as universal desires. Because all you’re going to do then is deligitimise your own opinion. Sexual attraction doesn’t work as a raging beast of hunger for most sexual people, or for most men.

The next step in the promotion of rape culture is moving responsibility onto the asexual person. First, it is assumed that asexuals, by seeking out romantic relationships, have themselves to blame for any compatibility issues. Then it is assumed that the asexual person has to be the one to deal with the beast they’re unleashing, a beast that is pretty much fictitious.

For anyone who has a good idea how rape culture works, hopefully your mind is racing to this conclusion. Asexual people and women are both seen as a sexless class (though this is not exactly true of asexuals, and very much not true of women). A myth of an unquenchable sexuality is created and this sexuality is normalised. Then the sexless class is given responsibility for maintaining a sexuality that they cannot comprehend or predict.

The effect is different. In mainstream rape culture, it leads to victim blaming, rapists as a force like gravity, one which it is your duty to protect yourself against. When used against asexuals, it tends not to justify rape, but to encourage ‘compromise’ in romantic relationships, and to discourage any notion that non-sexual romantic relationships can work.

I am still unsure as to how this similar but different experience of rape culture can inform feminism. Perhaps it reinforces the idea that normalising female sexuality, making sure women are allowed to feel desire and say yes, stops women being responsible for the bugbear of male sexuality. Perhaps the asexual community can say something new about relationships- about how compromise works in mixed-libedo relationships and what happens when compromise is impossible. There’s something to be learned here. Even if it’s just the disheartening realisation that the right to say no is just the beginning.

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Comments on: "The asexual community and rape culture" (7)

  1. The reasons are Semiel-based, btw. He nominated you. But I love the blog and you’re definitely going to stay on the blogroll. :)

  2. […] asexual curiosities: The asexual community and rape culture The next step in the promotion of rape culture is moving responsibility onto the asexual person. […]

  3. The person on the lower end of a mixed-libido relationship (is it just one-dimensional? I’d separate intensity and importance, at least) being the one to change is one way to address it, but not the one I would necessarily recommend. Now give my my cookie :D. But in all seriousness, is saying the people involved need to sit down and discuss it, without suggesting a specific solution, automatically putting the burden on the asexual person?

    I’m not sure “compromise” is always or even typically possible, but at least they should discuss rather than assuming past each other, no? Or is that one of those, as it were, seductive fallacies of the sort that generally finds its way to bingo cards?

    Apologies if this is 101 stuff.

    • Unfortunately, there isn’t much 101 on the topic of ‘compromise’ at the moment, because it isn’t discussed enough. I agree that two (or more) people sealing themselves off and communicating directly about their wants and needs is by far the most productive way to do this. My problem is more with how, in some sections of the community, sexual attraction is viewed as an all-consuming need, and asexuals who want relationships are told they have to meet that need in some way if they want productive relationships. In fact, this sort of thing is the ‘assuming’ that you point out is dangerous- the sexual partner could assume the asexual person would hate sex, or they could assume that it wouldn’t be traumatic to go along with it, the asexual partner could assume that the sexual partner needs sex, or is perfectly willing to live without it. These assumptions are going to be wrong for a lot of people, and its better just to ask.

      On another note entirely, I’ve always had a problem with the simplicity of the libedo scale, especially when taken to extremes like the Dan Savage ‘Minimals and Maximals’ terminology. I’m glad to see some recognition that the reasons people have sex or don’t are actually a lot more complicated than that.

      • Thar’s the first explanation I’ve seen of what’s wrong with Dan Savage’s view that’s not just “augh, he’s a hateful bad person who despises anything slightly unsual!” or at least, that doesn’t come off that way to me. I always heretofore got the impression that the problem was that he didn’t privilege the (legitimate, but obviously not always best for everyone) option of the non-asexual giving up sex to have a relationship with an asexual person. So thank you.

        I’m not sure how I’d articulate the difference between intensity and importance, but it’s fairly clear to me they’re not the same thing, and it’s possible to be high intensity and low importance, high importance and low intensity, or any other combination, and while grouping everyone who’s high on at least one of those axes, or everyone who’s low on at least one of those axes, doesn’t really work, separating people who are, say, high-imp low-int from people who are low-imp low-int doesn’t quite work either.

        • Sorry to disappoint you, but a slight ignorance of the subtleties of the mechanisms behind libedo is not the reason I disagree with Dan Savage. The reason I disagree with Dan Savage is because he’s a hateful bad person who despises anything slightly unusual.

          To be more precise, since that argument apparently doesn’t hold much sway with you, Savage prizes relationships between two neurotypical, able-bodied, thin, gay cismen and possibly similar straight relationships. His answer (and this comes not as a man in the street but as a dedicated romantic advisor) to anyone outside this category (and the ones I’ve specifically seen evidence of are bisexual, asexual, trans and disabled people) who dares to try and place themselves in the dating sphere, especially those who try to date above their station (ie. with the normals), is to lay all the blame for the relationship problems onto their unusualness, and insinuate that they were presumptous even to try connecting to a proper human who shouldn’t be bogged down by their otherness. Again. And again. And again.

          The precise words he has used for asexuals is that they’re “inflicting themselves” on anyone they date- words he has stood by throughout several columns and several phony apologies.

          On the other point- I think possibly the best way of saying ‘How much sex do you want to have and how much are you willing to have?’ is not to use libedo or sex drive as indicators, because they’re often contradictory and confusing. I think the best way is to actually directly ask that question. The best shortenings I can come up with here are ‘people who like sex’ and ‘people who don’t like sex’ with ‘people who aren’t bothered’ and ‘people who really, really like sex’ also on the scale. They’re relatively cumbersome, but they’re way, way better than ‘maximal and minimal’.

  4. I don’t think the asexual community is entirely to blame for the idea that sexuals NEED sex and will shrivel up and die without it. At least on AVEN, there are many sexual members who push this quite harshly. I once posted about my friend who I know for a fact is NOT asexual but could consider a relationship with an asexual woman because the emotional connection is more important to him than the sexual one. A sexual member (who is dating an asexual woman) told me that he “highly doubts” my friend is sincere and could actually do this. Granted, some of the sexual posters who join are quite supportive and loving towards their partners. Others are very angry about not getting sex. Constantly, you hear the stories from these people about how frustrated and impatient they are getting towards their partner. It seems like many of these sexual individuals see sex as a given, and also as something they are entitled to in a relationship. It is quite disturbing to me. They also seem to think that if the asexual really tried or really wanted to, they could enjoy it.

    I also hear a lot of statements like “she hates sex but she likes how happy it makes me.” Ugh…wow. That was how it was in my last relationship and it’s not a healthy situation to be in. The over-focus on “compromise” seems to forget that consent isn’t an area where compromise is really possible. Sadly I think a lot of sexuals who join sites like AVEN join because they are upset about their partner’s asexuality and are looking for a loophole or simply to vent. Most partners who are okay with dating an asexual are not likely to need the support of such a site.

    Asexuals are often encouraged to compromise and if they won’t, they are reminded of the grim statistics. Only 1% of the world is asexual. You’re only good enough (romantically) for 1% of the world, less if you’re gay. People spout this like it’s fact, yet I have never seen a comprehensive study of the “sexual” community that proves that sex is an absolute need for all of them and no happy couple can emerge without sex.

    This is exactly what I needed to read tonight. Thanks for writing it.

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