My asexual perspective on the interaction between “Sex-Positive” views, Compulsory Sexuality, & AVEN

I read Siggy’s new post, Sex-aversion, for sex-positive audiences, and then I was reading Aqua’s comment, and it made me want to share some of my own thoughts and experiences.


Trigger Warnings for rape, discussions of loss-of-virginity, etc. Please tell me if I should word this differently or add something else to this list.


I found out about the sex-positive movement before I found out about asexuality’s existence.

I watched pretty much every one of Laci Green’s videos and I also heard Dr. Darrel Ray speak in various atheist podcasts I listened to, and there were probably a few other places that sex-positivity seeped into my world.

At first, when it was a distant possibility for me, when I wasn’t close to dating anyone, when I knew I’d be single for the forseeable future (so the next few months), I loved learning about sex. And the sex-positive movement felt like a great place to do it.

At a basic level, I’ve always thought that “Sex-positive” was a reactionary term to the idea that sex is inherently a negative, sinful thing (or at least certain kinds of sex – premarital, homosexual, “sodomy”, etc). Sex-positive people are people that recognize that there is nothing morally wrong with fully consensual sexual acts of any kind, and sex-positive people on the whole believe that shaming people for things that aren’t hurting anyone – being gay, their specific fantasies and kinks, etc – is wrong. (Yes, the sex-positivity movement is a lot more complicated than that, but that is how I viewed it and… and how I mainly still do, when looking at it on its most basic level.)

So when I first was actually dating and realized I felt no chemistry when I experienced my first kiss, and I got to the point of considering “Is there a chance that I am asexual?”, I finally went on to the AVEN forums, which was the only place, at the time, that I knew to look for any asexuality discussion.

I really LIKED the “it’s great if people who enjoy it have sex” rhetoric being something around there on that site, and I agreed with it, and if I had posted more than lurked, I might’ve ended up repeating the sentiment myself. I’m fairly certain I myself never said anything along those lines over there, but I read what other people wrote. I read a rape-survivor’s experience on that site where she wanted to have surgery to repair her torn hymen because she wanted her virginity back, and never wanted to lose her virginity (she was ace and sex-repulsed) and I appreciated what people said in response to her about virginity being a sexist and antiquated concept and I don’t remember if the issue of her being raped was handled properly or sensitively enough, but my impression at the time was that people were generally kind, understanding, and wanting to make the world as a whole a better place by encouraging people to adopt sex-positive views. I think people handled her rape as a serious thing that is very different than just “losing your virginity”. I felt immediately comfortable in the sex-positive environment I saw on AVEN.

If everyone had been super negative sex and shamed allosexuals for things that allosexuals didn’t deserve to be shamed for, I would have felt uncomfortable in the community. For all of the people who say that AVEN made them feel uncomfortable because of their sex-positivity, I just wanted to express the alternate viewpoint that I, myself, actually felt more comfortable there because of it. I was already a sex-positive person. And I needed a sex-positive place or else I wouldn’t have felt I belonged.

I think one main reason why this sex-positive sentiment was important to me at the time, even though it turns out I am somewhere between sex-indifferent and sex-averse myself, is because I legitimately wanted to understand myself, and I knew that a relatively common societal belief is that losing your virginity makes you “dirty” and that sex is shameful and sinful, or that enjoying porn is “Wrong”, etc… and so I spent a lot of time trying to make sure I wasn’t repressing any true desires. I didn’t want “sex-negativity” to be the only reason I didn’t feel anything positive toward the prospect of sex, so I made sure that yes, I was thoroughly on board with the prospect of sex-positivity and agreed with that philosophy. I became sure that I didn’t think less of other people for giving in to temptations that were not hurting anyone. And I got to the point where I knew I wouldn’t think less of myself for doing such a thing either. I wouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to give in to my own temptations, if I had any. It was only then that I could fully realize and accept that I didn’t have any sexual temptations, and in fact had some small aversion to sex/sexual things – the opposite of a sexual temptation, really. I had a temptation to avoid it.

I hadn’t realized yet how much the sex-positive movement had hurt me, though, because I’d entrenched myself in it for years and the compulsory sexuality there is insanely strong. Being in a sex-positive environment means surrounding yourself with the FALSE rhetoric that we are all “sexual beings” (meaning allosexual) and we all feel sexual attraction and we all enjoy sex or will someday when we finally become sexually active, and everyone will be sexually active eventually, and the idea that anyone who doesn’t masturbate or doesn’t feel sexual attraction is LYING. I didn’t realize how wrong these messages were at first. I internalized them as true, and then felt very confused when I myself didn’t line up with any of them. When my experiences & feelings contradicted all of them.

I also remember seeing the sentiment over on AVEN that it was OKAY to be a virgin for life. To never want to have sex, not even “just to try it”. The compulsory sexuality that I had been so entrenched in in the sex-positive movement was being challenged, and it was jarring for me. It was that feeling of “Wow, wait, I maybe won’t ever be “Ready” for sex, because it’s not a matter of “not being ready yet” for me, it’s something else, it’s my sexual orientation” and combined with that, it was “Wait, is it really okay? Don’t I have to have sex?” Because I had internalized so much about compulsory sexuality, I couldn’t really believe that it was acceptable to never have sex. I felt like it still was compulsory for me to try sex, but my personal experiences on just a few threads on AVEN’s forums I don’t think were making that feeling worse. I think they actually said some good things that combated the compulsory sexuality mentality.

I think heteronormativity and compulsory sexuality both hurt me, growing up and into my adult life, and they made me take longer than it should’ve to accept my true asexual self and my true sex-averse feelings. I think AVEN and the sex-positive movement have both broken free, almost entirely, from heteronormativity, but that they both are entrenched in compulsory sexuality. I think it is possible to be a sex-positive asexual posting good comments on AVEN forums that combat the compulsory sexuality narratives, just like it is possible to try to combat compulsory sexuality even if you’re a sex-positive allosexual… but it is also possible to be a sex-positive asexual posting comments on AVEN that perpetuate compulsory sexuality. I was lucky to not run into people telling aces to try sex, and I am aware that I was lucky.

I just wanted to share my point of view and what I experienced.

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17 thoughts on “My asexual perspective on the interaction between “Sex-Positive” views, Compulsory Sexuality, & AVEN

  1. *obligatory “ew lacigreen” comment*

    “and so I spent a lot of time trying to make sure I wasn’t repressing any true desires”

    This stuck out to me because, while making sure of that is a good thing, it might also be beneficial, I think, if people put just as much effort into encouraging people to consider whether or not they’re doing the opposite — projecting desires onto themselves that they’re told and expected to have, but might not really originate with them.

    A tricky thing to sort out, but also, as you will attest, something that can happen.

    “Wow, wait, I maybe won’t ever be ‘Ready’ for sex, because it’s not a matter of ‘not being ready yet’ for me, it’s something else, it’s my sexual orientation”

    It seems like there could be a lot to say in the process of deconstructing the rhetoric of being “ready” (for sex), and it’s a euphemism that’s bothered me a long time, but unfortunately I still don’t know how I would tackle it.

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  2. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating for shaming people who want sex, and I’d feel alienated even if AVEN had been super sex-negative instead. I don’t want sex, but I equally oppose demonizing or glorifying it, because of the harm that either of those viewpoints do. I also didn’t mean that all asexuals who are sex-repulsed/averse yet sex-positive (in whatever sense) are all self-defeating, if I need to clarify that. But did what I say, and my concerns about repulsed/averse asexuals apologizing for who they are, and censoring themselves due to pressure within the community, make sense?

    That’s good that you didn’t have the terrible experiences that I did. I first got exposed to sex-positivity through the extremists I knew in person, but I don’t think it was until AVEN that I first saw that term. And maybe when I did find AVEN, I took that term the wrong way. I thought it meant wanting sex (being personally positive towards sex) at first, so I thought that because I’m averse to sex, and unwilling to compromise, that I’m an asexual elitist. Even when I realized that wasn’t the case, I still clashed with people on AVEN over this, because I couldn’t understand why someone would want to identify as sex-positive if they’re averse to sex and are against compulsory sexuality.

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    1. Yeah, what you said made sense, and I get it. It’s a very complicated matter and I completely understand how your experiences and the people you knew in real life would’ve shaped your reaction and all of that. I get it. I just wanted to share my own point of view. Your comment inspired me to write this but I do understand where you’re coming from.

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      1. Okay, I just wanted to be sure that what I was saying was clear. It is a very complicated matter, but I’m glad that you shared your point of view too. It shows how complicated the concept of sex-positivity can be in asexual spaces, and how our first impressions shape our understanding of it.

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  3. For me the cornerstones of the sex-positive circles I became familiar with have always been:
    1)bodily autonomy, and 2)consent
    Seeing as both those things would be inclusive of sex-averse aces (in the form of “Your body your choice!”, “Your consent is necessary for anything that happens to you.”, and “You don’t owe sex to anyone, ever.”), it initially confused me to see aces be wary of sex-positivity.
    I’ve since seen a few linked examples of people identifying as sex-positives throwing those away in favour of compulsory sexuality, and even encountered it on sex-positive blogs. It’s disheartening to me especially because in my opinion it ignores what I see sex-positivity to be: That all our choices about our body are fine good, and OURS.

    While I’m glad I have had the exposure to sex-positivity which is capable of being inclusive first, it leaves me in the awkward position of identifying as sex-positive and feeling as though it is *because of my sex-positivity* that I immediately wanted to supported sex-averse and sex-repulsed aces having safe spaces and not having to have any sort of contact they don’t want, as soon as I came into contact with the concepts of sex-aversion and sex-repulsion.

    Buuut, given what I’ve been seeing in use of the term, if I were to say that is caused by sex-positivity, that might be taken totally the wrong way… Possibly the really wrong way. I don’t want to be associated with compulsory sexuality (which I wouldn’t support under any circumstances) but I also don’t see that as being essential to sex-positivity, as far as I can tell compulsory sexuality is antithetical to upholding consent and bodily autonomy… However, the association is there for a reason, and aces are right to see it as profoundly negative because compulsory sexuality is utter bullshit, and I don’t know how to reconcile the shitty behaviour of some (I don’t know how many) who identify as sex-positive with what I see as essential to sex-positivism. :\

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    1. ((I wanted to add that I’m sorry for the ramble, maybe I should put it into a post on my own blog instead. :\ — and also that I really strong agree with everything you’ve said which is why my mind wandered. I definitely feel you on the discomfort if AVEN had been super sex-negative.))

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    2. Thanks for the comment!! 😉 I totally see your point of view too. I know what you mean, where something feels like it’s “because” of your sex-positivity, but then other aces see sex-positivity as the antithesis of everything we stand for, lol… I think if people often come into the sex-positive movement with their own biases and latch onto the parts of it that mean something to them. “Sex positivity includes enthusiastic consent” might be something you and I notice right away, where other people who want to identify as sex-positive do so because it is the first space where they see sex being treated as the amazingly pleasurable thing it is, where it’s okay to openly admit that porn is really fun or other things like that, and they forget the part where shoving porn in other people’s faces is WRONG and violating. Etc.

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      1. Ah, I’m glad I wasn’t too unclear. ^_^
        That’s a good point about the biases; it’s true for me too. I came into sex-positivity as someone feeling very unfortunate about my strong aversions to things other people liked, and saw tons of the afore mentioned stuff about consent (and yes especially enthusiastic consent), I asked questions and got answers that affirmed that “Your body, your choice!” consent-essentialist standard, which made me feel better about my aversion to things other people liked because I knew that my choice didn’t have to be everyone elses choice.
        Maybe this is something we need to separate out the niches for? Like happens with trans-exclusionary feminists, maybe consent-ignorant “sex-positives” who want to ignore the bodily autonomy of both aces and survivors, need to be told to go sit in a corner with their own special acronym or initialism so we can call them out.

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  4. So a comment on sexual violence and asexuality (which, by the way, trigger warnings, generally appreciated):
    If a survivor tells you that they’re upset over losing their virginity to rape, “but virginity is a misogynistic social construct” is really not the correct response. Maybe there were other, more sensitive bits of the response that you’re forgetting, but the fact that you brought that up as anecdotal proof of the good things about sex-positivity kind of worries me. Sexual violence can be traumatic because someone has violated your body in an intimate way, and having someone else standing behind you going, “Yeah, but, like, the violation didn’t really mean what you think it did,” when you are trying to express how upset you are really isn’t appropriate.

    Here’s one (very small) reason why someone who has experienced sexual violence may “want their virginity back”: At multiple points in my life, I have had to full out medical forms and surveys that have had two questions back to back. 1. Are you sexually active? “Sexually active” is defined as any type of partnered sexual contact such as [list]. 2. If yes, how old were you when you had your first consensual sexual experience? Do you see the issue here? If your only sexual experience has been nonconsensual, you have no place on this form. Don’t you think that someone who had been raped and was sex-repulsed and never wanted to have sex again would sincerely wish that they could get back that “no” to that first question? Yes, the way “virginity” is constructed is often sexist and oppressive and medically inaccurate. But you don’t know what “virginity” means to someone. Wanting their virginity back may be their way of trying to heal themselves from trauma.

    I’m wondering why seeing people respond to a rape survivor made you feel “immediately comfortable,” especially since you don’t remember whether they responded appropriately or sensitively (and you are not, to the best of my knowledge, a rape survivor, and so your being comfortable because of this response would be like my being comfortable seeing people respond to a trans woman’s narrative). What was it about that experience that made you feel comfortable? Was it that someone, who had experienced trauma expressed discomfort with her body and a desire to fix (in her mind) the results of that trauma, was told by people in the community that what she perceived as a fix was not real? Because that is all I am seeing in your account that could possibly put you at ease, and that…honestly, really concerns me.

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    1. It’s been a long time and I probably shouldn’t have brought up the example at all for a variety of reasons, but it stuck out in my mind as the most extreme example of when sex-positivity seemed relevant during my brief time AVEN’s forums.

      What I saw were sex-positive people who felt like maybe, just maybe, they could help this rape survivor in at least some small way if they introduced some concepts to her from the sex-positive movement. I remember she’d seemed 100% unfamiliar with them when they brought up the concepts, too.

      I think there is a good chance none of what they did was a sensitive or understanding enough response to her rape. You’re right, they very well might have made her feel worse, not helped at all, just hurt her even more… and maybe I could’ve done something to help her feel like whatever she was feeling was valid by leaving a new comment to contradict them. Maybe if this had happened now, today, I would’ve noticed more in the details of how people replied and maybe I could’ve been a better ally and realized more of the nuance of the situation. But I came in from an outside, ignorant, naive perspective without the knowledge that I do now – which still isn’t enough, but I know it’s a lot more knowledge that I had then, as now that I have read many many more things written about what rape is actually like for survivors and stuff like that – and all I know, looking back on this particular experience now, was that at the time it seemed like people only wanted to help and they said nothing that even now in retrospect I can remember was “exactly the wrong thing” to say to someone like her.

      I have actually never had to fill out a form like that in my life, but again as I have gotten older I have realized that many forms don’t take into account all of our experiences, and that when it comes to if rape has been your only experience, yes, that would be something where you would wish you could “Get your virginity back”, and I definitely get it. I get all of it. I totally understand why virginity matters to all sorts of people. I can empathize, I can.

      I can’t be sure, because it’s been too long, but I think I remember that the way this girl worded it implied that she thought a lot of things about the hymen that weren’t even true and I just thought people were trying to help her heal in a way that wouldn’t be dependent on her unrealistic expectations about what a surgery might be able to do for her.

      Thank you for sharing your very real concerns about my perspective. I may be completely, horrifically wrong to have viewed any of this interaction on the forum as positive or helpful. It is good to realize that my memory of this as a thing that made me feel comfortable there doesn’t mean it was actually as good of a thing as I remember it as.

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    2. Also I could’ve sworn I put a content note/trigger warning thing at the top. I’ll edit my post now. I had actually intended to include it. I think I may have typed it and it got deleted. I also noticed the end of one of my paragraphs was awkwardly cut off and I had to re-type it. I don’t know what happened. I’m so sorry that I didn’t have a trigger warning and there is no excuse.

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    3. Queenie, I was thinking of this as well. If the rape survivor in question had been asking about getting breast implants, I doubt anyone would have went “but beauty is an antiquated concept, beauty standards aren’t real, they’re just socially constructed, don’t pay them any mind.”

      It’s sad that some liberal-minded people are more accepting of a woman’s right to modify the appearance of her body, while being unable to understand why a rape survivor would want to undo a body change that was forced on her by her rapist. That latter aspect alone makes me understand why someone would want that. It’s not because of the holyness of the hymen, but because it was a bodily change that was put on a survivor without their consent.

      But even if they believed wholly in “the antiquated concept of virginity” it’s still their change to decide to make, without their reasons being dismissed as sexist or old-fashioned. Unless someone is really harming or endangering themselves, their decisions about what to do with their body aren’t really up for criticism on sociological grounds.

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      1. I mean, to clarify, I think a lot of sex-positive people, especially those who don’t see sexiness as an amazing thing because they are asexual themselves, might think a person desiring any type of cosmetic surgery related to making you more sexually appealing (like what breast implants often have the potential to do) or more sexually “whole” (like the hymen surgery) is a desire rooted in (to borrow your terms) sexist/old-fashioned values. The sex-positive “helpers” might worry that this girl who seemed to be asking for advice was going to cause herself physical pain and spend a ton of money on something that probably wouldn’t actually succeed in making her feel what she wanted to feel after whatever the surgery is, including if it was breast implants. Especially if the person explained that her want for breast-implants was somehow tied to her rape, because then it would feel like the reasons she wanted the breast implants were not the “Right” reasons to want them. Sex-positive people often have the view that there are a limited amount of “okay” reasons to want things. Like it’s not okay to “want” to avoid masturbating because it’s a sin. Sex-positive people are usually anti-religious to the extreme and the “Sin” excuse would not be accepted. “Repressing” your true desires in that way is not an “okay” thing to do, from a sex-positive perspective. I’m not saying that’s a good thing. I think these are criticisms of the movement, actually. I just am explaining my point of view. And again, since I was anti-religious at the time when I discovered sex-positivity (and still largely am), sex-positivity seemed positively amazing to me for all of these details. Now, looking back, I realize it’s more nuanced than that and that all of these little types of things can be hurtful to people.

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      2. Honestly, I find the “you go girl! Don’t let anyone tell you what to do with your body!” a lot more common than anyone advising looking at the overall deeper undertones of things like plastic surgery and make-up, women’s fashion, etc. Maybe old-skool sex positive advocates criticized those things, but most modern ones don’t. It’s seen as passe and old-fashioned to complain about those beauty-modifiers or try to “guilt trip” people on them.

        It’s more of a hedonistic, “do what feels good, pleasure or happiness = good” type philosophy, and I don’t even disagree with it. The Ethical Slut for instance, advocates that exact philosophy iirc.

        What it comes down to is people with a “pleasure = good” mindset can understand the pleasure/happiness to be found in making yourself look “better” with an “improving” surgery or make-up, but a body change that’s not about looking better for yourself or a partner, and is instead reparative or personal and complex, like the survivor’s in question, is much less likely to elicit understanding and empathy.

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        1. I can see that too. For sure. 😉 Thanks for the comment and the perspective.

          Honestly I think it really depends on which people you run into and it can vary but I haven’t seen much of a sex-positive movement’s stance on actual cosmetic surgery one way or the other so I could see it going either way.

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