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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.

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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 aasect.org 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.

Q+A with Joy Davidson, part 3

Copy-paste from last time:

All the disclaimers from last time 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.

Part 3:
Karen in Cincinnati Writes:
I had sex numerous times in my 20s and 30s (I am currently 43), but I only did it because the males in my life wanted it. Sex has always been extremely uncomfortable for me. I guess I could say that it hurts. However, I have performed it because the men in my life wanted it.
My husband, though, is not asexual, but has an EXTREMELY low sexual libido, and has chosen to be abstinent concerning sex with me. So, we had sex a very few times when we dated, but we haven’t had sex one time since we have been married because he knows that sex is painful for me.
Even though sex is painful for me, I can become aroused with the “right” movie, etc. I can also get “hot” with kissing, etc. However, I can only remember getting aroused one time in the five years we have been married and it was when I was watching a movie.
So, should I go to a doctor again to see if there is a way for me to have pain-free sex, or should I just be content with my asexual lifestyle or can you recommend another solution for me?

It has occurred to me pretty much every time I read a help column, and occurs even stronger now, but I’d hate to be an advice writer. My answer to pretty much every question is ‘that depends’, anyway, and when you get someone who gives you a little information and expects you to know not just what their problem is, but how to solve it, I know I’d have difficulty giving equal weights to all options. There are so many questions here. Is this woman asexual? If not, does she find her husband attractive? Would she enjoy sex if she was aroused? Can she get aroused on her own? Would she enjoy sex if it was done more to fit her individual needs? Does she fantasise about sex? Does she, or would she consider, doing anything other than ‘sex’? Does she have some medical condition that makes sex painful for her? If that was cured, would she enjoy sex?
I’ve thought it over, and my answer would be to give her a list of those questions and tell her that these are things it would be good to know, but not urgently. Her partner seems completely unfazed, and, heck, there’s a lot of stuff you can do in bed that doesn’t involve any form of pain (a lot of asexuals do other things, rather than coital sex), and negotiation on that front could keep the two of them both incredibly happy with their sex life. It’s worth exploring whether she can turn her arousal into that of what we think of as a ‘fully-functioning’ sexual woman, but it’s not necessary to know that, and she’d be better accepting herself fully as who she is at the moment (and a little boost of self-assurance is often just what you need to get the latent arousal flowing). I’ve got a feeling Joy’ll disagree with me on this one.

Davidson Responds:
We live in a culture that is saturated with sexual images, yet it is pitifully devoid of real sexual education for young people, which translates into a poor foundation for adult relationships. Uninformed teens grow into adults who may spend years, even decades, basing relationships on the minimal or incorrect information they accumulated as youngsters. Today’s emphasis on abstinence-only education leaves many couples without basic knowledge about how their bodies work or what to expect in a relationship. Much of your own suffering — as well as your husband’s — might have been prevented had you acquired comprehensive information about sexual health and pleasure. Nevertheless, I’m so glad you wrote now! You’ve described a complex situation, but there are two points that stand out: First, no one should ever have sex that is painful or even uncomfortable. Pain is a symptom that something is amiss and needs attention. And having sex because someone else insists is a surefire way to feel disempowered, which can erase whatever authentic desire you might otherwise have felt. If you were having sex you didn’t want, then you were certainly insufficiently aroused and lubricated, which could have caused sexual intercourse to be painful. In addition, certain medical conditions also make intercourse — and sometimes even gentle sexual touch — painful. Given your background, the precise cause of your pain can only be determined by a thorough sexual history and physical exam.
I would urge you to see a doctor, but, this time, be sure to see someone who is well-trained in the practice of sexual medicine and comfortable discussing the extent of her expertise working with patients who have sexual pain conditions. Anyone who is reluctant to have this conversation with you or doesn’t supply satisfactory answers is not the right doctor.
The second key point is this: Many people think that sexual desire is supposed to hit like a bolt from the blue; that a woman should merely look across the room at her partner and feel overcome with sexual urgency. If she doesn’t feel that way, she may imagine that there is something wrong with her or with her relationship. The reality is quite different. Many people — especially women in long-term relationships — feel desire only after they have experienced sexual pleasure and arousal. So, a long, lovely kissing session, or the right kind of caresses, or the mental stimulation of an erotic movie or conversation, could initiate the arousal that leads to a desire for more. However, building up arousal to the point where you are ready for intercourse — physically and emotionally — can be a slow process. Many women simmer “on low” for a long time before their heat begins to rise. Along the way, any disruption can turn the flame down and leave her cold. A partner who rushes, the experience of pain, even a major mental distraction can snuff out the fire. Anybody who has had only a few poor sexual experiences may conclude she is just not very sexual, when, in fact, it is pretty healthy not to feel sexual under circumstances that are uninspiring, counter-erotic or unpleasant!
I hope you’ll see a doctor about your pain, as well as learn more about your sexuality by taking advantage of the many resources — books, films and Web sites — that provide exceptional adult sexuality education. I have a list of some of the very best sources on my Web site, www. JoyDavidson.com, and invite you to have a look. You’ll also find answers to nearly every sexual question at http://www.LoveandHealth.info. And the AASECT.org Web site has referral information to sex therapists and a list of excellent sex education books written by its members.

I think I remember, reading this through for the first time and thinking “maybe I should make a blog series on this”, that this answer was about when I started to actually like Joy. Until then, I could grudgingly admit that she maybe had a point in her problems about the asexual community, and I knew she was probably very good at being a therapist, but, based on hasty first impressions, there seemed something a little too conservative in the (few) views I’d seen her share. It was at this point that I finally realised she was on the same page as me with a lot of the important issues- too little real sex education, abstinence-only that doesn’t work, a sexual model that doesn’t support women’s arousal patterns and physiology, we agree on pretty much everything except, maybe, the importance of sex in a healthy relationship (which is an incredibly fraught and complicated issue anyway, and I’m not too sure where I stand on it myself).
Also, isn’t it sad that we have the need, in our society, to give advice like “sex that doesn’t attempt to stimulate you mentally or physically isn’t the best sex to arouse you” to a woman who has the intellectual capacity and maturity to write and send a letter?

(Aside: Joy’s comments about the ill-preparedness of young people reminded me of this speech, which I read very recently, and which implores me to propagate it. Worth a read, I think)

Joy, as I suspected, focuses much more on how the woman can enquire about her sexuality, learning new things. This is partly because she has a greater range of useful knowledge than me on where you go to find out all that stuff, but I notice that Joy’s position in this article urges a far less ‘adapt to what you’ve got’ approach than the majority of asexual-written advice. Sure, this means that an awful lot of people will find out ways in which they can live closer to the sexual standard, but I would argue that this doesn’t always make you happy. It can often be best just to have the confidence to say “I like who I am. I like what I want and don’t want, and I’m going to work around every issue,” which is what you’d have to say eventually.
It’d be particularly easy in the case of this woman, who doesn’t have to force herself to change, all she has to do is learn to be happy with what she is, and deal with whatever comes of it. It’s a more important skill, that’ll probably make you a lot happier, and end up a lot truer to yourself, in the end.

On a different matter entirely, I wanted to look at the asexual connotations for a moment of this idea; “Many people think that sexual desire is supposed to hit like a bolt from the blue; that a woman should merely look across the room at her partner and feel overcome with sexual urgency. If she doesn’t feel that way, she may imagine that there is something wrong with her or with her relationship. The reality is quite different. Many people — especially women in long-term relationships — feel desire only after they have experienced sexual pleasure and arousal.”

It has a couple of very different meanings taken in an asexual context. Firstly, this is an incredibly good use of Pretzelboy’s rarely seen ‘Argument from Below’ * – basically, how do you know you’re asexual when you have no way of quantifying your level of desire compared to everyone else’s? Maybe you’re perfectly normal, or normal enough to not really be asexual, but you have this weird idea of how sexuality works, that it involves this sudden pheromone change like mating season on the discovery channel, when, for most people, it’s a whole ragbag of intimacy and romance and physical attraction and the physical desire for sex all mixed up together.
It was something I struggled with, from the opposite angle, before realising myself to be demisexual, trying to quantify all my feelings as “Well, that’s not sexual, because…” and then thinking “But there’s probably loads of people out there who have exactly the same emotions, who define themselves as straight or gay or bi, when the only differences between them and you are their ability to be satisfied by romantic relationships and not to wildly over-analyse everything”. I think it’s an argument worth looking at.

The other interesting thing about this idea is its relationship with the conventional asexual idea of demisexuality, which is often described as only being able to experience sexual attraction once you’re in a romantic relationship. I don’t know how this fits with my ‘ragbag’ theory of sexuality, presumably only in the presence of intimacy and trust can sexual attraction and desire develop. What’s interesting here is that Joy would define this as part of the normal range of sexual responses of straight women, while a lot of demisexuals prefer to label themselves as asexuals, because they feel it’s more representative of their normal state of being. It’s this whole idea of the Line between asexuality and sexuality, and that asexuals might actually draw the Line higher than sexuals would. People like me and the conventional demisexual mess it up completely by saying ‘Well, we feel sexual attraction, but the label of asexuality is still more useful for us to identify by’, and that gets confusing, because asexuality is based on not feeling sexual attraction. (more thoughts on the Line to follow at some point in the future, once I’ve thought them)

NOTE: If the only function of this series were to spark a conversation between myself and Joy, I would probably have written that last part very differently. It discusses things right in the deep end of asexual thought, things we haven’t really discussed ourselves yet, but it flowed so naturally on from the letter that I thought I might as well bring it up, in case there are still other asexuals reading this series.

*part of being asexual appears to be in having a birdwatcher-style ticklist of things people say when you come out to them, and I feel like I’ve just spotted a red kite.

Q + A with Joy Davidson- part 2

All the disclaimers from last time 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.

Also, a considerable amount has changed since last week. One of the main reasons I took this article and decided to look at it more closely was because I wanted something approaching a dialogue between the asexual community and Joy Davidson, and I thought a fair analysis of her words was the only way. Since then, she’s come forward and said that she is prepared to have that dialogue, which I completely wasn’t expecting. There are still a number of reasons to examine the article more closely, even though I think it’s best to measure Joy’s opinion by her current words, not what was reported 4 or 5 years ago.
Hopefully it’ll kickstart that discussion, and I think many of the views are those likely to be similar for many therapists. It’ll also produce some interesting ideas about or linked to asexuality that aren’t the ones asexuals necessarily think of. It may show how asexuality is represented in the media. If it fails to do any of those things, or have any current relevance whatsoever, it’ll at least be a history lesson, and those are always useful.

Having said that, I think this’ll be a disappointing part of the series. I’ve had a glance through the article, and decided to do letters 2 and 3 together, because they’re quite short and focused more around relationships with a low libido than around asexuality, and I don’t feel I can add much to Joy’s relationship guidance.

Part 2:

Cecelia in San Antonio, Texas, Writes:
We’ve been married for 13 years and haven’t had sex in over 11 years. Looking back at the first year of our marriage, I realized I had been the one to initiate anything physical. It was my second marriage, and I have one child; it was his first marriage and we met, got engaged, married and went on a weeklong honeymoon all in less than three months. Before we married he claimed to have too much respect for me to resort to sex before marriage. We have wonderful vacations in remote and romantic settings; we love to cuddle. We sleep late on the weekends and take afternoon naps together, but on his part there is absolutely not a hint of desire or passion much less sex, I’ve seen the uninterested look on his face and his less than willingness to touch me anywhere! I sometimes wake up in a panic, knowing I will never in the boundaries … of this marriage have the pleasure of sex again. I married at 39. I am now 52 and extremely frustrated!

Putting aside questions of whether these are genuine or created to address an issue, this letter rings so true to a lot of things said on the Sexual Partners and Allies forum on AVEN. The romance and the cuddling (which I think are often signs of overcompensation in an unknowing asexual), the complete lack of desire which the asexual partner thinks is perfectly normal, the buying into conservative ideas of sex to normalise your lack of desire for it, the plea for understanding from the partner, which, unfortunately, not knowing her husband, is very hard for a stranger to give.
(side note: If a guy says he respects you too much to have sex with you before marriage, being a closeted gay or asexual is actually one of the better scenarios. The other is that he has a load of weird ideas about the purity of women and sex being evil that you, as his future sexual partner, should definitely address before you get to the altar)

Anyway, none of this means he’s asexual. Asexuality could very well be causing all of it, but there are a number of alternatives. You could argue that, in a pragmatic sense, that doesn’t matter. The problem is that he won’t have sex with her, and she can’t foresee a relationship without sex. I suppose it depends whether your advice is “Ditch him,” or “Talk it through. Try to work something out. Then, if he doesn’t pull his weight, or you decide you’re too different, ditch him.” If the latter, you’re going to need to at least touch on what it is he doesn’t like about sex.

Davidson Responds:
Unfortunately, you can’t “work out” a sexual problem with an unwilling partner. What you can do, however, is tell your husband that you love him dearly but don’t want to live a sexless existence forever. You need make no apologies for desiring a new level of intimacy in your relationship. Let him know you understand and respect the fact that he has blocks and resistances to sex with you , but that you’d like to explore them with him in counseling. If he is willing to consider couples therapy, don’t wait another day. If he is not, I urge you to get counseling for yourself. You deserve some help in considering all your options and making clear and responsible decisions about your future.
This is a good place to mention that I highly recommend that anyone who chooses to see a sex therapist select one who is certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. AASECT’s standards for education, training, and supervision are rigorous, and knowing that someone is AASECT certified is the only way to be certain that they have the qualifications you need in a sex therapist. Many general therapists call themselves sex therapists because they talk to clients about sexual matters, but the only gold standard for training and certification among sexuality professionals is AASECT. A therapist in your area can be found on its Web site at http://www.aasect.org.

Joy’s definitely in her element here, and all that is good advice. What they need is structured communication, to see what common ground they have, to explore the partner’s issues around sex, and to negotiate, and the best place to get that is with a qualified therapist.
One of the key issues that comes up again and again in the story of sexual/asexual relationships, those that failed and those that succeeded, are ideas of blame and naturalness. Undoubtedly, at least one partner will feel that they or the other person is to blame, that they or the other person should be ashamed of their unnatural interest, or lack of it. It seems to be one of the hardest things to get past.
In that case, and with so many asexuals out there looking for relationships with sexuals, I think making sexual people feel comfortable in their sexuality is just as fundamental to the wellbeing of asexuals as making asexual people comfortable in theirs. So I think the asexual community should be completely behind Joy when she starts by saying that the writer should be proud and confident in her identity and needs. It’s only when both partners accept that of themselves and the other person that they can start to negotiate.*
However, for the sake of balance, it would be nice to also have a little bit that says “While you’re not to blame, and you need to be respected, he deserves the same treatment.” The ‘make no apologies’ line on its own reads a little too close to a disregard for his consent and lack of desire for my liking.

*This is where the asexual community comes in useful. For asexual individuals, it does so much good to be able to say “There are people like me. There’s a name for what I am,” and it helps build confidence and the ability to really think about and have the words for what you want (and don’t).

Frederick in Pennsylvania Writes:
I am 56 years old. I have been married for 11 years. My wife and I have not had sex or any affectionate relations for many years. We have a 17-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. We rationalize and claim that we do not want to divorce for the children’s sake. Recently, we realized that we are not diplaying an accurate representation of the type of loving relationship we would want our children to experience in their lives. Any suggestions ?

This person lives in a completely different world from me, and I’m seriously rather stumped as to his problem. I know from my parents that, if you’re willing to do absolutely anything for the sake of the children, a clean, friendly divorce is possible, and that’s going to teach your kids loads more stuff, about maturity and not just accepting what life gives you than being stuck in a bad relationship would. Also, 17 and 11 year olds are nowhere near so fragile that some major, mature life decision by their parents is going to mess up their ability to love (their parents being constantly aggressive or passive aggressive might, though).

So I have absolutely no idea where this letter is coming from (it’s the result of a time, place and value system that are largely alien to me), and can’t really comment on the big asexual issues. Sorry to disappoint.

Instead, I’m going to briefly mention the problems caused by most of the external representations of asexuality being in the form of problem pages (it’s either that or life-affirming curiosity of the week, which is probably only slightly better).
Asexuals, and asexual/sexual couples, need positive role-models as well as negative ones, they need to see asexuals who are confident in their sexuality doing their own thing, and examples of the great things that can happen when an asexual and a sexual get it right. There’s something about these articles that suggests relationships between asexuals and sexuals are one big seething mass of pain and heartbreak on all sides, mostly due to the quite obvious sampling bias, only people with problems write in, but it all builds up after a while and the situation looks rather hopeless.
True, they’re difficult relationships to pull off, but I’d like to see more acknowledgement (among asexuals, too) of their good sides. These relationships rely on communication and non-sexual activities (which are like the transferable skills of the social world, in that you can use them to deepen any relationship, not just a romantic one), the sexual ones have a pick-and-mix approach to sex that can work better than doing it in the ‘right’ way, they bring together two people with different viewpoints and force them to co-operate, they force issues of non-sexual adultery a long time before the tricky issue will be figured out for most people, and I expect a stable asexual/sexual relationship may well adapt better into middle age, a time when a formerly well-matched pair often get differing sex drives, amid some confusion.
Yes, these are often minor things, but they’re there, and I’m sure there’s a lot more that haven’t occurred to me, and the point is that these relationships shouldn’t be seen as just a problem, something to overcome. In an ideal world, they should also be celebrated for what they are.

Davidson Responds:
I applaud you for realizing that staying together for the sake of the children may not be doing them a real service. The absence of touching, kissing, and general physical affection — not to mention the void in romantic energy between you — offers your children no reliable template for intimacy. If you do plan to stay together, you need to get serious about rekindling the romantic and affectionate side of your relationship. If doing it for yourselves seems awkward and embarrassing after all these years, think of it as a hurdle you need to leap for the children. This may be where “for the sake of the kids” actually means something!
There are many books that can help you find direction, including David Schnarch’s “Passionate Marriage.” You will probably need some counseling as well, since change of this nature can be difficult even with help, and head-spinning without it.
If you’re unable to re-ignite intimacy within your marriage, counseling can help you separate in a way that supports your ongoing relationship as co-parents and generates the least amount of disruption or insecurity for your children.

It’s reasonable that Joy doesn’t mention asexuality here. The original letter doesn’t mention it, and it’d be wrong to presume. But the answer also seems to deny the possibility that this woman really doesn’t want sex, has no intimacy left to ignite.

Joy’s answer assumes that a marriage without ‘intimacy’ should be separated in a way that’s as harmless as possible. I don’t know if I agree with this. It depends on the definition of intimacy. It could mean ‘any form of human connection’, in which case I completely agree. It could mean ‘hugging, kissing, dating, the more corny aspects of romance and sex’, in which case the decision is far less clear. It is true that there are relationships which don’t have those elements and can still thrive for what they are. I personally believe that relationships without any of these elements can still be strong enough to base a marriage on, and I’d like to see that represented more. However, these relationships are difficult to manufacture, and starting from a basis of a relationship that never questioned all this before, with two partners who are having to question all their basic conceptions about how everything goes, and with the risk that, if you get it wrong, things could get nasty and not good for the children, I can completely see where a new asexual and their partner would decide to respectfully cut the ties and build up from scratch.

One final after-thought: An awful lot of asexual culture directly relates to the gay culture of decades before. Back when homosexuality first became a common word, there were lots of people who realised, in a marriage, that this new label applied to them, causing heartbreak all round. The spread of asexuality could result in a powerful new set of tools for people deciding and communicating just how much sexual interest/attraction they have, and, in a generation’s time, the asexual (or similar) who discovers themselves too late could also become greatly reduced.

Q + A with Joy Davidson (part 1)

This series is designed to give me things about the small world of asexuality to talk about, other than the slightly insular view of things running round other blogs, and the very insular view of things running round my head. Each time I update it, I’ll pull another question/answer from this article, and analyse them. I’ll try to be relatively fair about it, giving an asexual perspective, but also considering Joy’s perspective.

I have no idea what the copyright situation is with quoting things. I’d like to point out that the copyright on this article belongs entirely to ABC News, and I’m quoting directly from it for the purpose of analysis.

Part One:
I am 19 years old, and I’ve been having a lot of trouble convincing my parents that I do not experience sexual attraction. After watching the asexuality story on “20/20,” my father looked at me during your comments and gave me a very snide “See?” as if he feels that I should force myself to do something that I have absolutely no interest in. Is there anything I can say to my parents that will make them understand that sex just is not for me?

This seems to be the relatively confident asexual to start off, so no-one can accuse the article of bias. However, notice that they don’t use the term asexual in relation to themselves. Also notice that (if these letters are indeed genuine), Davidson’s own comments have caused increased friction in at least one family with an asexual in, and are used by the father as an authoritative justification of his doubts.

This is also the comment that should be easiest enough to answer. Even someone who doesn’t believe in asexuality should see that someone who doesn’t want sex at the moment should be given space by their parents, and just needs to adress how to get everyone communicating properly.

Davidson Responds:

I hope you can see the weird humor in having a dad who says, “Be more sexual!” while most of your friends’ folks are probably saying, “Wait!”

A humor that a lot of asexuals have pointed out. Some have said there’s a magic age of about 16, after which they suddenly get a bit more involved in Project Grandchild.

But I would hate to think you’re rebelling against your father’s pressure. Rebellion may be part of growing up, but knowing when someone has a good point, (even if it IS your dad!) is part of being a grown-up. In this instance, your dad is picking up on the idea that lack of interest in sex can be based on something other than an irreversible condition called asexuality.

I suppose the crucial difference here between Joy and I is what we’ve read into the letter. She says ‘picking up on’, while I think ‘refusing to let go of’ is probably more accurate.

I don’t feel it’s worth mentioning that the unsubtle way in which she immediately says “You’re rebelling” is quite insulting. It seems people often use whatever’s there to justify it not being proper asexuality. In this case, the girl may very well be rebelling. However, the only information in the letter is that she has a dad who’s annoyed with her. QED- she must be in a rebellious phase!

Also- irreversible condition. Why don’t we have more asexuals who ponder language bias? It’s struck me that it’s an interesting aspect of the asexual movement.

I totally believe that you’re not inclined toward having sex right now. But do I know for sure that you will never be interested? Not without a crystal ball. We all develop sexually at different paces. Some of us are sexually precocious, and some of us are late bloomers. Just because someone is in her late teens or early 20s doesn’t mean she is necessarily in full bloom. What you feel now may not be who you are so much as where you are in your own unique cycle of development. By labeling yourself too soon, you run a serious risk of mislabeling yourself, then feeling duty-bound to live up to it.

“I believe you. But I don’t.” At this point, she’s stopped answering the question and just started listing her own views. I hope she gets back to the problem with the father soon, because it seems to me that the girl is pretty mature about knowing what she wants and turning her identity into the problem is just going to make her relationship with her dad, and those of thousands like her, more difficult.

There’s no doubt that when you feel like an outsider, when all your friends seem boy crazy or girl crazy and you’re not, you’ll want to gravitate to a group that better reflects where you stand. I’d be down with that 100 percent if the group in question stood for accepting how you feel right now but also supported the possibilities for change. I’d be more comfortable, too, if the group offered education instead of an “if you think you are, you are” approach to the matter of asexuality. Lay psychology is sometimes intuitive and smart, and sometimes more about inclusion than pure wisdom.

Now, these are interesting criticisms of the asexual movement, and I’m not just going to brush them aside (although it’s obvious at this point that the original letter mentioned asexuality, and that it’s been whitewashed out).

The question of whether asexuals are ‘allowed’ by the movement to change their ways is a long one. In my recent change from asexual to who-knows (which is now approximately back to demisexual), I found that asexuals were all entirely enthusiastic about me questioning myself, but I did feel constrained by the asexual label, and there is a certain fear of leaving it that has to be adressed, if we’re sure that eager asexuals aren’t just denying their partly sexual natures. I’m aware that both Joy and I are rambling horribly, so for now, I’ll just ask that you read this post by the formerly asexual-identifying Venus of Willendork, written with Joy’s objections in mind.

I personally love the self-definition of asexuality. I’m not sure Joy quite grasps the consequences of denying people the right to define themselves. One reason asexuals don’t offer an education is because there is none to offer. Not just asexuality, but sexuality too, is indefinable. There is very little concrete knowledge out there about sexuality, and only the possession of concrete knowledge that someone else doesn’t have can possibly raise someone to the level of a Teacher, rather than a Wise Friend.
There is also absolutely no way of deciding any sexuality other than self-identification. Without self-identification, there would be no sexual orientation in the world.

However, the idea of the asexual community offering an education is an interesting one. Maybe, rather than leaving the vulnerable minds of new asexuals in the care of whoever stays in AVEN (and that place, especially the repeated threads, does get a bit too dull after a while), and the occasional awesome but jokey flow chart, it would be better if some form of asexual authority eventually arises to put together some sort of e-guidebook for those questioning if they’re asexual. A serious flowchart, perhaps. The FAQ of AVEN is a good example of one or a few asexuals committing what’s often thought of as the horrific crime of speaking for all, and maybe it’s something that has to be done occasionally, as little as possible, to gain respect. Maybe there should be some sort of protocol for ‘am I asexual’ and ‘I am (or varient). What next?’. Maybe Joy’s right, and it’s too important a thing to leave to chance, as the term becomes better known, and we get more and more asexuals who aren’t neccesarily keenly introspective and able to navigate their own way round finding out if they’re asexual.

In addition to the timing of sexual development, there are plenty of other legitimate reasons that someone could feel asexual without being in a permanent or irreversible state. The short list includes endocrine imbalances, history of trauma or abuse, subconscious negative attitudes about sex, fear of being swept up or losing control, depression, anxiety, and the effects of undiagnosed medical conditions. Some people might even just like feeling “special” or “unusual.” In fact, there are so many convoluted possibilities that only a trained person can help you sort them out.

More of the same.

Is it scary to dig around in your emotional and physical recesses? Good grief, yes! But when you have another 70 or 80 years of life ahead of you, don’t you owe it to yourself to spend a few of them doing that kind of excavating?

I completely agree with her here. And we do need to encourage this kind of thought. But, at the same time, it’s already being encouraged more than she realises, and there’s no need to police the first few years of everyone’s asexuality to make sure they doubt themself all the time.

Also, I did spend years and years not just questioning, but actively trying to invent sexual attraction. And a lot of questioning, of course. This girl’s older than me, and Joy’s completely dismissed the idea that she could have already spent years trying to figure things out.

Even if, in the end, you are more convinced than ever that you’re incapable of being attracted to anyone, male or female, at least you will have come to that conclusion after educated and responsible consideration. I’d really like to see you give yourself the advantage of time, and, ideally, have at least a few sessions with a qualified sex therapist so that you can talk about all your feelings beyond the pressure imposed by either your family or your peer group.

*goes back and looks at the question*
*looks back through the answer again*
*looks at the question again*

You know what, this is what really harms asexuality. Joy Davidson here admits that not wanting to have sex, not feeling sexual attraction, can be a valid way to live your life. However, when an asexual reaches out to her for help, trying to find out how to live this life, all Joy does is melt into a flurry of reasons she might not be asexual. Yes, doubting yourself is important. But I would love, just for once, to see some professional advice about asexuality from the other side of the coming out line. It’s like the only asexual issue is whether we exist or not, and we’re too busy with that issue that we have no time to actually exist.

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