Glossary: Please note that I use terms like sex-repulsed, sex-averse, asexual, demisexual, allosexual, sex-positivity, AVEN, ace, and more in the post. Feel free to comment if you’re confused about any term, or search Google for a definition of it and hopefully you’ll find the answer you need. I may be bad about making this post fully accessible to a broader audience, because I’m mainly writing it with the ace-community in mind. However if you’re in the broader population and reading my post, thank you, and I hope you get something out of my asexual perspective and maybe even learn something in the process.
Content Note: I decide to talk in-depth about my (relatively limited) masturbation & sexual experiences here, so you may consider this NSFW and/or just uncomfortable to read if you’re sex-repulsed. I figure since it’s my own blog, I shouldn’t be too afraid to share, though. And I feel like details probably help explain my perspective in a way that vague terms probably couldn’t.
Another note: I link to quite a few Scarleteen pages throughout this post, and if you don’t want to get sucked into a Wikipedia-like or TV Tropes-like “death spiral”, proceed with caution. 😛 Most pages have links to other pages and… lol. This blog post of mine also has a ridiculous number of links, so don’t feel obligated to click them all.
Before I ended my first-and-only romantic relationship (over the fact that I felt me and my partner were sexually incompatible), I remember seeing posts on AVEN that asked, “How do you know you’re asexual if you’re a virgin?” and answers like, “people know they’re gay without having sex first, same thing”. I remember seeing people embracing “being virgins forever” and various things.
I knew not having sex was an option before I’d gotten naked with my boyfriend. But at the same time… I felt very compelled to try sex, or something closer to sex than “just kissing”.
I felt like I couldn’t be sure of my new suspected sexual orientation (asexual), because while it’s often supposedly “obvious” that you’re feeling gay feelings once you get your first crush, that sounded different than what my experience of being asexual was like. Nothing felt “obvious” to me.
I felt a lot of pressure (both internal and external pressure) to have sex, in order to make sure I was really asexual. Or at least really a sex-averse asexual. Because while I suspected sex was not and would never be “my thing”, if there was even a small chance I was wrong, I didn’t want to prematurely swear off sex forever.
I couldn’t help but keep thinking that I should maybe see if I could like sex enough with my boyfriend to “make him happy” even if I was asexual. This, in retrospect, is a pretty unhealthy mindset to be in. Too much “should”, too much disregarding my own feelings in favor of someone else’s, etc.
And it wasn’t my boyfriend doing this to me. He never said a single word about this stuff. He was taking it slow with me, he was happy to respect that I didn’t enjoy making out once we’d tried it even though he found the experience pleasurable. He was understanding and only wanted to do whatever I wanted to do. We had many “dates” where we’d cuddle and do nothing else that was physical. (And if I hadn’t wanted to cuddle, I’m sure he would have been fine with us not touching, too.)
For years and years before finally having a boyfriend at age 23, I’d thought that maybe I’d understand sexual attraction/sexual desire once I had a boyfriend. I had misconceptions about what other people felt and when, and kind of thought everyone was demisexual or something, by default. (Of course I didn’t know the term at the time, but the definition of it was what I may have been mistakenly assuming fit non-demisexuals as well.) Some of my misconceptions were quite sexist and involved me thinking that because I was female, it was “normal” to never think of anyone as “hot”, but I think a lot of it was just denial and wanting, so desperately, to be “like everyone else” that I let myself assume that whatever I was experiencing was what everyone else was experiencing too.
Even after I had a boyfriend, and after reading a lot about asexuality online around the beginning of my relationship with him, I began to hope I’d become demisexual after I spent enough time with him. After all, it was a possibility. But “hoping” for it? That’s not really healthy. I shouldn’t have been so afraid to accept that I was asexual.
I was internalizing a lot of ace-phobia and compulsory sexuality, and the fact that I’d immersed myself in the sex-positivity movement & atheism movement for years, without really ever having heard of asexuality, was certainly not helping. I had been convinced by all of Laci Green’s videos, by Dr. Darrel Ray and even Greta Christina… and so many other people that sex was healthy, natural, enjoyable, and so much more. That finding other people sexually attractive was nothing to be ashamed of because everyone does.
And at first I embraced every word at face value. After all, I agreed that people shouldn’t be ashamed for natural desires (and I still agree!), and I felt sure I’d feel the same things one day as simply a “late-bloomer” and as someone who misunderstood what sexual attraction even was. But eventually, once I began to realize asexuality might be my truth… I started feeling ashamed, because apparently I was not healthy or natural. (Yes I just linked to the same post The Ace Theist wrote twice, because I feel it applies to both instances.) These sex-positive spokespeople were not trying to make me feel broken, but regardless of intention, that was their result. They didn’t realize and/or had forgotten asexual people existed, and this ace-erasure is one of the most insidious and hurtful things allosexuals commonly do to asexuals.
The Ace Theist recently posted a new blog post, entitled Your Sex-Normative Views Ain’t News, and I appreciate this post a lot, because I’d missed the whole tumblr thing mentioned at the top and the links were very useful, hehe… but also the post itself is wonderful.
The time when it’s appropriate to suggest that aces “try sex” is literally never. The pressure to have sex, especially within established romantic relationships, is monumental and in-your-face, not some neglected, oft-forgotten possibility buried under dust in the attic.
That post reminded me of just how much pressure I did feel to “try sex”, probably especially because of learning that even asexuals “often” would have sex to “compromise” with a romantic partner. Sex-normative views influenced me more than I ever consciously realized, and aces within the community were not immune from perpetuating this “if you can possibly find a way to have sex, you really should” idea.
Back a whole year ago, in June 2013, Queenie wrote a post entitled Sex isn’t always good, and this post is also quite relevant to this discussion, I believe.
It seems as though some asexual communities, in an attempt to seem friendly and sex-positive, are loath to discuss sex-averse aces—think of all the 101 resources that emphasize that some aces have and enjoy having sex or that asexuals “don’t hate sex” or “aren’t afraid of sex.” Since several major asexual communities actively ally themselves with LGBTQ communities–which tend to be sex-positive–it makes sense for ace communities to be sex-positive, firstly in a show of solidarity and secondly (whether intentionally or not) to dissuade anyone who might be tempted to be blatantly antisexual (thereby potentially reflecting badly upon the asexual community as a whole).
The whole post is worth reading, but more parts I’d like to highlight right now are:
However, unconditionally accepting sex-positivity–especially the premise that sex = good–is problematic.
I am saying that someone who truly believes that sex is unconditionally good may pressure a partner, acquaintance, friend, or total stranger into sex they don’t want. For that matter, following this line of thought, sex-aversion is wrong, because sex is inherently pleasurable and morally good. This leads to the silencing of sex-averse voices in sex-positive spaces, which is a major issue…
…and she goes on to make many good points but these are the parts that are relevant to me.
I was somewhat sex-averse, not really wanting to even try sex… feeling uncomfortable with the idea of trying it… or even with trying masturbation, but I had somehow internalized a lot of sex-positive sentiments over the years. I felt “silly” for not agreeing that orgasm = super amazing without even giving said orgasm experience a chance.
I personally struggled with the fact that I was a sex-positive 20-something young woman, yet I had never masturbated. And I intellectually wanted to give masturbation a chance, because I didn’t see any logical reason not to, and I saw tons of aces saying things along the lines of, “well of course I have a healthy sex drive and masturbate/get aroused by physical stimulation” (emphasis mine), and I said to myself, “maybe I really am ‘unhealthy’ if I don’t even orgasm ever/get aroused“. I read pages on Scarleteen like this one, and this one, but it didn’t really help me. I couldn’t get aroused and touching myself basically started to feel uncomfortable or even begin to hurt if I tried to do much of anything. However, mentioning this is almost misleading, as I truly never ended up putting much effort into trying masturbate. I’ve literally spent less than 2 minutes of my life with a set out goal of “successfully masturbating”. My lack of emotional desire to do it, combined with the fact that I was able to fully be happy with all of my other hobbies and things in my life, led to me not really wanting to waste time on something that was not enjoyable for me. All that being said, I still sometimes feel bad that I didn’t give it too much of a chance, and still sometimes think I should try it again.
I reasoned to myself that wasn’t afraid of touching myself or even causing myself a little pain in the process, as I already had a lot of experience with trying to figure out menstrual cups! (I also already had bought a water-based lubricant because of needing a less painful way to use the menstrual cup I own.) I was not dysphoric about my own body, I was not a survivor of any type of sexual trauma… I had no way to explain, even to myself, why I didn’t feel the need to masturbate that so many other people feel.
I hated feeling “broken” for not even masturbating like most “healthy” people, and worried I needed to see a doctor (or even a sex-therapist!) about the issue. However, I saw other posts like “if this isn’t a ‘change’ to no sex drive, if you never experienced arousal before and it’s just ‘now’ that you’re not feeling it, if you have no other symptoms making you seek out medical advice other than lack of sexual desire/drive/attraction, you probably don’t need to see a doctor”. And so I believed them, hoping they were right, and didn’t go to the doctor.
One of the main reasons I did not seek out a medical opinion, however, was not that I was sure nothing was wrong with me – I was still not really 100% convinced about that. The thing was… I was afraid of a doctor potentially telling me I was a freak for being 23 and just now realizing I had never had a sex drive. I was afraid of doctors not accepting asexuality as valid, which I’m sure is a very valid concern…and I was even a little afraid of suddenly being turned allosexual through medication or something, because I was just beginning to feel comfortable in an asexual identity, and I felt like my whole world would be changed if such a thing happened. As has been expressed wonderfully, in a few other blog posts recently, we aces see the world through a different lens than allos. The prospect of suddenly experiencing a sex-drive and maybe sexual attraction coming along with it probably scared me because of my sex-averse tendencies.
I told my boyfriend about my lack of masturbation history, and my boyfriend asked me if it was just because I might be “repressed”, perhaps because of my Catholic upbringing. He was trying to be understanding; I don’t think his question was insensitive or dismissive – I think he was genuinely curious. I told him no, I really did not think I was repressed. I… I had no desire to masturbate at all, and the only reason I’d even considered trying it was because people said orgasms feel amazing and I’d be missing out to not experience it. But… I had no innate desire to try it. Repression would be stopping myself despite a strong innate desire, which was totally not what I was experiencing.
I dated my boyfriend and quickly found I didn’t like kissing him. I didn’t feel fully comfortable with him telling me he masturbated to the fantasy of me, but I tried to be flattered by the thought. Because I am overweight, I don’t usually consider the idea that anyone might find me sexually attractive, so it surprised me and it was nice, in one way, to know he didn’t think I was “too ugly” for that kind of a thing. However, I really just never have liked being thought of as a “sexual being”, probably because I never wanted to be put in that kind of a situation in real life. The thought only made me a tiny bit uncomfortable, so I never bothered to tell my boyfriend. I didn’t want to shame him for having or for expressing perfectly natural desires.
I didn’t blame him for getting an erection when we’d cuddle while watching TV, and the first time I’d reassured him that I didn’t even notice it, and even if I had I wouldn’t have minded, because he’d gotten all embarrassed about it. I really enjoyed spending time with my boyfriend, and again, knowing that he found me sexually arousing only made me a little bit uncomfortable, so I tried to ignore those feelings and focus on the positives. And there were a lot of positive feelings I got from talking to/being around my boyfriend. They did outweigh any negatives.
But I worried about sex, a lot. I knew my boyfriend was a 22-year-old allosexual virgin who was excited at the prospect of hopefully, someday relatively “soon”, trying sex for the first time, and here I was, a 23-year-old asexual virgin wishing I could get excited about this prospect.
I read over countless Scarleteen pages. (Yes, this site was like Wikipedia and TV tropes for me in terms of both the death spiraling/never-ending-interesting content, but also I trusted it as sort of a seemingly amazingly good resource for all-things-sexuality-related.)
One of the ones I found was about how to know if you’re ready to have sex, which of course included gems like:
When we’re figuring out if we’re ready for sex with a partner, if we want to ask ourselves the most basic questions possible, those are:
Do I want to have this kind/these kinds of sex for myself, physically, emotionally and intellectually?
Why do I want to do this?
Do either of you feel you must or should, feel pressured in any way from your partner or friend, or think sex will fix troubles in your relationship? Then hit the pause button. Sex between people should only happen when it is what both people enthusiastically and actively want and not just because they think it’ll make the other person happy (or get them to stop nagging).
On the other hand, if you’ve been with your partner long enough (whatever that means to you) to feel good about the idea of sex with them, feel a strong desire for sex yourself, and have a solid level of other sexual experience (including kissing, petting, masturbation); you feel you can trust yourself and your partner with limits; if you’re looking to explore your sexual relationship responsibly and sensitively, and for some greater intimacy and sexual exploration with no notion any certain result — positive or negative — is guaranteed, and you’ve got a firm grip on reality, read on.
and there is so much more. Check out the full article at this link: Ready or Not? The Scarleteen Sex Readiness Checklist if you’re curious.
That page gave me a lot of mixed feelings. I wanted to do it, but not physically, and not “enthusiastically”, and they said wanting to do it physically and enthusiastically was important.
Did I “feel pressured in any way”?
Of course I did; are they kidding? How could I not? My boyfriend was respectful and willing to be as patient as he needed to be, to follow whatever my lead was… he was in no rush, but he wanted sex, eventually, in his life, and as long as we were in a monogamous relationship, I was the person stopping him from experiencing it! Plus, I felt like I should try it, and make sure it wasn’t for me, before openly declaring myself asexual.
Scarleteen told me I needed to masturbate before I could ever try sex. I needed to have sexual desire. But I didn’t have these experiences.
I read their post What if I never want or feel ready for sex? and while they don’t mention asexuality in the text, I guess I should probably give them kudos for at least linking to AVEN and saying:
Some folks really don’t ever want to have some kinds of sex or even all kinds, because they just don’t feel those desires or don’t feel the desire to enact them.
But… that wasn’t really enough for me. I knew I probably was asexual, I’d already been on AVEN’s forums extensively at that point, and yet I was reading that Scarleteen post and I felt like they were basically telling me “Don’t worry, there is a 99% chance you’ll find yourself feeling ready for sex eventually”, and it just made me doubt everything. This is even despite the fact that they did say some wonderful, non-compulsory-sexuality things in that post.
So, let’s go ahead and say that you do find you never really feel ready, or that you never want to have one kind of sex or any kind of sex with a partner at all. Let’s just say that is what winds up being the case for your whole life, and envision what that could mean or be like and see if it helps you any.
If it was your lifelong reality, you’d probably find other ways to get in touch with, feel connected to and enjoy your body and self. Sex is not the only physical, emotional, sensory and creative thing we can do to explore and express who we are and to connect our minds, hearts and bodies. There are about a gazillion ways we can do that, like various kinds of exercise, dance, other movement or bodywork, like meditation practices, like cooking or creating all kinds of art, like singing along with the radio loudly and passionately, like gardening, painting our bedroom or other practical, but sensory, parts of living we can choose to really, fully engage in. Even for people who do choose to have sex, having sex be the only way to connect and express all the pieces of who we are doesn’t tend to be a satisfying way of living or a very rich way of experiencing life.
But I had gotten myself into a state of mind where I was not gonna be able to feel confident enough in my asexuality and feel reasonable enough in my refusal to have sex until I had actually tried something close to sex, and now I was simply trying to figure out how and when I should and could try it. Society had already done that to me, regardless of any “You don’t have to have sex” sentiment I’d now come across. I’d been planning for my whole life to “one day” have sex. I didn’t feel comfortable deciding, at age 23, that in my case sex was not actually a necessary part of “experiencing life”.
Scarleteen had a wonderful checklist for enthusiastic consent, and I felt like I fit into far too many of the “this is not consent” options- I was hesitant and unsure, I wanted to try sexual things but with caveats, I felt worried about how much I probably wouldn’t like it, and I felt like my insides were screaming “I’m scared”, rather than “I’m excited”. Reading that actually convinced me to not have sex with my boyfriend on the day we’d planned to finally try it. (And by “have sex” I don’t mean intercourse. I meant… some kind of naked interaction including the touching of our bodies. As all we had tried up until that point was fully-clothed kissing.) I spent a week preparing myself for the Friday when we were going to try “going further” than we had before, and ended up working myself into a tearful frenzy and emailing my boyfriend before he came over to my house to tell him “Actually, I don’t think I’m quite ready” and explain why, with links to these actual Scarleteen pages and these explanations of my reactions, lol. Completely open and honest communication was something very key in our relationship (which is part of why I was glad he told me his specific sexual fantasies). We just watched TV that day instead.
The very next day, though, as I was cuddling with him (and watching more TV, because we were now addicted to Breaking Bad on Netflix lol and watching it on Friday had made us want to do the same thing again on Saturday), I realized it would not be that big of a deal to try taking off my shirt with my boyfriend… and then my bra. To try to see if him playing with/kissing my breasts or nipples might arouse me even though nothing else I/we/he had tried so far had. He took off his shirt too so that we could be more “even”, and we both tried kissing each other’s upper-bodies (necks, stomachs, etc). I was sensitive on my breasts/nipples and it felt… a little different, and I probably liked it more than making out or any of the other things we’d tried so far… but I mainly felt indifferent to it. I felt like “this is interesting” and “I’m pretty sensitive here, so this feels like something“, but I didn’t feel aroused by it, or that this was something I’d want to spend much time experiencing. I didn’t really feel much, if any, pleasure at the experience.
We decided to get completely undressed. My boyfriend tried to gently finger me. Even the most gentle touching, like what I’d already experienced when trying to masturbate, felt pretty uncomfortable or even borderline-painful. He was not overly surprised yet still disappointed that I wasn’t enjoying any of it, and to be honest, while I was also not surprised, I too felt some disappointment. I also felt a little uncomfortable when I looked at his erect penis. He asked me if I wanted to try touching it, doing something with it, being the active person and him the receiver of sexual pleasure… and theoretically it made sense that this wouldn’t be as physically uncomfortable for me, it couldn’t possibly “hurt”, this might be something I could do… but emotionally I just couldn’t. I said I “didn’t really” want to, and he accepted that, then suggested maybe he try masturbating while we were both naked together. I nodded, telling him I liked this idea more than me having to actually touch him.
We somehow ended up making out while he masturbated. I’d tried making out with him multiple times in the past and had never liked it but it was mainly just boring and pointless to me, there was more indifference on my end than actual aversion, so I was fine with making out with him as he masturbated. The experience was interesting, fascinating for me at first. He moaned a bit, his whole body vibrated so much, his eyes were closed. I kept kissing him, kept trying to push my tongue around inside his mouth, feeling very tired of kissing before long and wanting to stop, as I had never made out for this much time in a row before… but I didn’t want to interrupt his masturbating process. So I forced myself to keep kissing him until he was done. It was something I realized I probably would never want to do again. The more time we sat there with me uncomfortably trying to make him happy by using my mouth and by being naked in his presence, the more time I realized this wasn’t making me happy in any way, and I would much rather be watching more TV or doing pretty much anything else rather than doing this.
My boyfriend was understanding, and I felt like I’d tried enough in terms of “sex” to now feel sure I was really asexual and nothing would probably ever get me aroused or feeling sexual attraction/desire. I hesitated for a few more weeks before breaking up with him, though. I considered suggesting polyamory or other ways we could “compromise” and stay together with me never wanting to try sex and him of course really wanting to. I waited to see if maybe he’d break up with me first. But eventually I could tell that we both were getting more and more unhappy in our relationship with each other, and I mentioned to my boyfriend that I thought we might have to break up, and why. He said he’d been thinking the same thing, and we parted ways pretty amicably.
I hesitate to call myself a sex-averse asexual sometimes, as I was able and willing to try something that in my head will always be very close to “sex”. That in some ways I’m happy to have had that experience, and that confirmation that I really truly didn’t like it. I don’t usually feel repulsed by sexuality, although I do avoid most pornographic images and prefer fanfiction to not need to be rated M/Explicit. That being said, if I stumble across a pornographic image online, it’s not the end of the world. I’ll just calmly close the page. If I’m reading a wonderfully written fanfic and a little M-rated sex is involved, I can deal with that, I can read it, I can even use it as a learning opportunity.
However, in many practical contexts, I do feel fairly “averse” to sex. I would prefer to never have to think or talk about sex, and I feel pretty strongly that even if I do get in a romantic relationship with another allosexual one day, I won’t feel comfortable trying to “compromise” sexually in order to make them happy. I want to avoid sexual experiences for the rest of my life, and I think that does make sex-aversion a part of my identity.
I took a long and complicated road to get to this point. I was influenced by the asexual community, the sex-positive community, and general society at large into wanting to try sex, but also into feeling bad for not wanting to try sex – and I somehow felt both things at the same time.