I’ve been reading a couple of other asexy blogs, and one thing struck very close to home, for me. Venus of Willendork had this to say in her about section:
“Let me put it this way: It’s only in terms of other people that I am able to distinguish between consensual sex and rape. Obviously I understand that there’s a difference, and I recognize the importance of that difference, but in terms of myself, I literally cannot conceive of consensual sex. It’s not that I can’t conceive of having it, I can’t conceive of *wanting* to have it, and so – given that we live in a culture that teaches girls and women not to walk alone at night, not to dress provocatively for fear of asking for it, etc – my concept of having sex (myself) blurs into my concept of being raped.”
This was certainly very true for me, for a long time. It makes sense, doesn’t it? For a woman who has never wanted to have sex, who cannot even imagine herself ever wanting to have it, the idea of having it at all would become difficult to bear. And in this society, a very real fear of being raped is instilled in women’s minds, because it is up to women to be on the defensive. If she doesn’t take the proper precautions, if she is not constantly vigilant in case the vague specter of the invisible predator shapes itself into a flesh-and-blood man who thinks she is there for the taking, then she deserved it. It is her burden to carry, not his; men are often excused for their behavior because they “couldn’t help it.” And strangers are not the only ones women are taught to fear, either. Date rape is another possibility, so if she doesn’t want to have sex with the person she’s dating, she must keep questioning in the back her mind whether or not he’s trustworthy.
For an asexual woman, the fear of being raped can turn into an overwhelming anxiety, which can force her to keep others at bay even if she would otherwise want to be closer to them. For me, before I realized I was asexual, I simply could not imagine myself having sex, ever. I knew I wanted to have nothing to do with it, at least not until I was much older. I thought maybe someday in the future I would want it, and I told myself that even if that was the case, I would wait until I was in my twenties to try it. But eventually I realized, the day when I would want it would never come.
So I began to call myself asexual, and ironically, my becoming comfortable with asexuality was what allowed me to conceive of the idea of eventually having consensual sex myself. Not for my own benefit, but for my partner’s. The idea of sex itself didn’t really disgust me–it was only the idea of being forced into it by someone I never felt any sexual desire for that haunted me. Gradually, I got used to the idea that I could sacrifice my own body to keep a potential romantic partner satisfied, and in theory at least, as long as I was taken care of, I would be fine with that.
When I met M, I had that idea in the back of my mind. Before I met him, I guess you could say I was an extreme virgin, having never been anywhere near close to a man before–no physical contact at all, except for brief hugs (usually from gay friends). I didn’t have so much a fear of men, per se, but I knew that straight men wanted something I wasn’t interested in giving them, so I was uncomfortable around them. Had one of them taken the time to get to know me as a friend first before asking me out, I might have accepted, but none of them did. (Well, I suppose there was one, but he didn’t wait long enough for me to get comfortable with him, and I was very young at the time, so the idea of going out with someone at all freaked me out.) So I just stayed away from boys in general, since there weren’t any who showed interest in my personality rather than my body.
Meanwhile my idea of love and forming relationships changed as I got older. For a while, I had a very idealized notion of the “perfect romance”–that is, one that was monogamous and everlasting. After my first relationship failed, I realized that there doesn’t have to be just one “Mr. Right” (or Ms. Right), throughout my entire life. If I fall in love with someone else later, it doesn’t mean that first relationship was in any way false. It was right at the time, it ran its course, and it was time to move on. I realized also that in adopting that way of thinking, I didn’t have to search for the ultimate commitment in order to enjoy someone else’s romantic company. Nor did I have to form relationships in the traditional way–being asexual, I am kind of barred from that anyway, really. Even if my relationship were to look and seem just like a typical sexual one, since I value other forms of intimacy over sexuality, it wouldn’t really be a “normal” relationship. I started to wonder if I would really be happy with a traditional relationship, or if I couldn’t discover some way of forming relationships better suited to me.
That was about where I was, mentally speaking, when I met M. Shortly after I met him, I realized that the two of us would definitely be intimate–it was only a matter of time. Anticipating his interest, I made sure to mention, when the conversation turned to someone who looked like a porn star, that I wouldn’t know because I was asexual. He was clearly confused, as any sexual who’s never heard that term applied to humans before would be. I had no time then for more than a basic explanation, but of course later that night, just before he got obnoxiously drunk, he started asking the usual invasive questions about my sex life (he is certainly not well known for his tact). My annoyance probably showed on my face. The conversation ended with an implicit announcement of his intentions; his voice softened, and he said as sincerely as possible, “Well, I’d be inclined to think you just haven’t met the right person yet.” I bit back a sarcastic comment, and we rejoined the rest of our friends.
A while later, I ended up spending the night at his place. I had intended to go home that night, but I ended up missing my chance. I was a bit apprehensive about staying with him; even though I believed he was mostly harmless, I was uncomfortable because I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea. I knew I was taking a risk that he might rape me, that even though he appeared to have good intentions, he might be deceiving me, or he might turn on me later. How could I have known? I had no experience to rely on, and no instinct to guide me in any sexual situation either. Still, I judged him safe enough, which he proved to be. He did try to make a move on me, but he realized that I just wasn’t comfortable with it and backed off. He still didn’t understand asexuality, but he was obviously trying not to hurt me. He said, in that same sincere tone, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you. There’ll be no pressure.”
There was, of course, but it was unintentional on his part. There is a fine line between pressuring someone to have sex, and gently pushing back their boundaries. He was trying to do the latter, but he was making the assumption that I was not truly asexual, just a virgin who wasn’t comfortable with her own desires. For a long time, because I would kiss him and he was able to physically arouse me, he did not realize that those desires he assumed I had truly were not present. Thus, it seems he thought he could awaken them by gently pushing, but to me, because I am asexual, this was pressure which I was not comfortable with. Still, I decided to have sex with him anyway, for a few reasons. One, I had never met anyone else I was so comfortable being physically close to, and I had no idea when the next time I would meet someone else I could be so comfortable with would be. Given the circumstances, I didn’t know whether I would ever see him again after the summer was over, and I didn’t want to miss my chance to try something I wasn’t sure I’d be comfortable with under any other circumstance. Two, I wanted to test myself. In theory, I believed I was an “indifferent” asexual (that is, one who feels neutral to sex, rather than disgusted by it), but in practice, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through it. And three, it just… felt right. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but it felt like it had to happen.
As it turned out, I was able to have sex with him without feeling so horrible that I had to ask him to stop. It wasn’t pleasant, by any means, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I confirmed my theory that I truly am an indifferent asexual, because I felt pretty much nothing (besides boredom) during or after the sex. Surprisingly, I wasn’t even particularly sore afterwards. I was fine.
But that was only the first time. Later on, I had to deal with a harrowing confrontation of the blurred lines between my concept of consensual sex and rape. I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind, but he started non-verbally pushing me to have sex with him, and I let him go ahead. I thought I would be fine, that I should just do it anyway so I could acclimate myself to it, because I wasn’t past the point that it hurt every time we had sex. I thought I would just be bored, but I realized partway through that I really, REALLY didn’t want to be having sex. I had consented, but it felt like rape. I felt violated, and it hurt, and he wasn’t watching me closely enough to notice. He was lost in his own pleasure, too far gone to see that I needed more consideration. Seeing that, I began to fear that he didn’t really care about my well-being, that even if I told him to stop, he wouldn’t listen. I knew this was stupid and irrational; he had never given me any reason to fear him, never once shown any real disregard for my wishes. Yet because of my internalized fears about rape, I feared him anyway.
I didn’t say anything. I wanted to, I told myself to do it, but I couldn’t. Whatever impulse I tried to send to my mouth, a stronger, involuntary impulse clamped down hard and quashed it. I believe it was a defense mechanism, because if I had told him to stop, and he HADN’T stopped, then I wouldn’t have been able to deal with it. At least this way, I could still believe he would have stopped, if only I had said something. It was a way for me to keep my power of choice. What was a few moments of unwanted but consensual sex, compared to the crushing blow to my psyche that would inevitably result from trusting him, and being betrayed?
It wouldn’t have happened, and I knew that, but I didn’t want to leave myself open even to the possibility that he could betray me. I couldn’t. But in a very real sense, I already had; I was completely at his mercy, because I was in his house. I had chosen to fly out to his territory, where help would be very far away, should I ever need it. I didn’t believe I would need it, because I trusted him. The only time my trust ever faltered was when I saw him losing himself to this animalistic urge, and suddenly realized exactly how vulnerable I was to him. My trust was restored shortly thereafter, because after a few minutes he did notice that I was in trouble, and stopped.
Of course, when I talked with him about it later, he was horrified. It was frightening to him, because in his mind, the situation had never grazed anywhere near rape. He was, again, making heteronormative assumptions about me, rather than realizing that for an asexual, it can be difficult to think about sex without thinking of rape. This is why I think he really should have been more willing to listen to me from the beginning, because if he had shown just a little bit of concern for me, tried to understand just a little bit more about me and my asexuality, it would have gone a long way towards making me comfortable enough with him that sex wouldn’t be a problem. He didn’t care to listen, though, because he didn’t realize that it would affect him, or apparently much care what detrimental effects his actions had on me.
Still, I don’t regret the experience. I understand better now some of the complexities in the interplay between consent, desire (or rather lack thereof), and fear of rape, with regard to my own situation. There is a clear line between consensual sex and non-consensual sex, which fortunately was never crossed. But at least for asexuals, there is a much less clear line between consensual sex, and consensual unwanted sex. I’m not sure whether many sexuals who are not victims of sexual abuse have ever had to deal with sex so completely unwanted as what I experienced. They do not seem to realize just how conflicted we can be about engaging in sexual activity. For me, even as a gray, I believe there will always be some part of me that doesn’t really want to have sex, but under the right circumstances, I can balance that out with other parts of me that do (whether this is out of a desire to make my partner happy, curiosity, or whatever else–maybe I will make a post about that later). In order to do that, though, I need to have complete confidence that my partner is looking out for me. M seemed to be trying, at least, but I don’t think he really realized what he needed to do.
Oh well. You live and learn, right?