Continuing a Discussion on Asexuality and Rape Culture

My blog was linked by Britni today in a discussion on asexuality and rape culture, which you can read here (NSFW). I found the discussion very interesting. I was just going to leave a comment on her post, but first I exceeded the character limit and then even when I tried to split up my comment into different posts, after five attempts at posting the comment Blogger was STILL giving me some weird unspecified error message. So I gave up and decided just to post my thoughts here and hope the link to this post will make it into the discussion somehow. I figured you all wouldn’t mind having something else to read, anyway.

So here’s my comment:

Interesting discussion! I am glad this topic is being raised among people who are otherwise not likely to come across asexual discourse. :D

First, I want to explain something about asexuality, because it seems to me that some of the commenters here are getting the meaning of asexuality confused with the meaning of its individual morphemes (not + sexual), rather than understanding it in the way that asexual people typically understand it. Asexuality is about a lack of sexual attraction, not about lacking a sex drive or not being sexual in any other way (in fact, plenty of asexuals have sex drives). Asexuals aren’t sexually attracted to men in the same way that straight men aren’t attracted to other men. And they also aren’t attracted to women in the same way that gay men aren’t attracted to women. Thus it is parallel to the other three widely accepted sexual orientation labels, and I think it should be considered a fourth option (rather than dismissed as “category x” as Alfred Kinsey apparently thought it should be).

If the definition is still unclear to anyone, please read this post. It’s not really geared towards outsiders, but it does address some of the most frequent issues with miscommunications between asexuals and non-asexuals that I have encountered. For the record, I agree with ignorantarmies‘ point about labeling yourself whatever you want. Labels (and all words) are useful in social settings. If you just make one up without ever working towards its social acceptance, it’s doomed to be an empty word. There are a few people in the asexual community who think that asexuality should be defined intuitively based on however each person thinks it fits their life, but I don’t think that’s tenable as a definition. I think that asexuality should have an objective definition… however, due to the internal nature of sexual attraction, and the fact that there is currently no way of objectively measuring it (penile plethysmography and the like are flawed because they measure arousal, not attraction), you can’t really go around telling people they are or aren’t asexual with any real degree of accuracy (although admittedly, in the six-ish years I’ve been around, I have seen some people in the asexual community that I suspect may not actually be asexual).

With that said… Not being sexually attracted to other people in a world where it is expected that you should be to the point that it is not even considered POSSIBLE for a person to NOT experience sexual attraction is… alienating, to say the least. I think that asexuality really ought to be recognized as an option, because a person who is asexual can go their entire lives thinking something is deeply wrong with them, without ever being able to identify what the problem is. An asexual woman who thinks she’s heterosexual (because she doesn’t know that asexuality can exist) might get into a romantic relationship of some kind, even a marriage, and find that she is especially susceptible to coercive situations, or even outright rape. And that’s the issue I wanted to bring up.

Personally, I believe that NOBODY, asexual or not, should ever be expected to have sex against their will, even if they are married to the person who is coercing them. Ever. And if marriage (or any romantic relationship) is really meant to be an institution which allows a sexual free-for-all with absolutely no thought given to consent, well then that’s a pretty skeezy institution, in my book. It puzzles me why domestic violence does not apparently include marital rape, why beating up your wife can land you in jail but raping your wife (in far, far too many places) won’t (and yes, I get that rape is much harder to prove, but it should at least be considered a possibility). What is the difference? Why is one apparently condoned (and not even accepted as “real” rape), while the other is not?

What constitutes a “real” rape?

Did M rape me? No. Did he come close to it? At one point, yes. I don’t think he meant to at all, and if I had told him to stop, I think he would have. I didn’t give him that choice because I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to choose to ignore my rescinded consent, even though I was 95% certain that he wouldn’t. The 5% of doubts that I had came from his playfully pushy and mildly coercive behavior, which was largely behavior that is considered socially acceptable and even expected. I think that he was greatly affected by rape culture, had absorbed a lot of ideas from it without ever examining them or realizing that he SHOULD examine them. I doubt he had ever even heard of the term “rape culture” at all.

I kind of take issue with people saying that he was the “wrong” person for me, because in many ways he was the “right” person—and in fact, I think the ways in which he was “right” for me outnumber the ways in which he was “wrong” for me, and I would never have arrived at this level of personal growth had I not met him. I think the issue is way, way too complex to characterize him as “right” or “wrong” for me.

M ultimately arrived at the conclusion that asexuality is not a sexual orientation but rather a disability, and told me that he had to give me “special treatment” in order to properly deal with the situation. I disagree with this notion. I don’t think that asexual people deserve “special treatment” but rather, the same kind of consideration that you would (or should) give to anyone. I have no sexual disabilities or dysfunctions of any kind. Regular old patience, kindness, and respect go a long way.

I really don’t think that asexual people are necessarily all that different from non-asexual people. I think that EVERYONE should have their boundaries respected, wherever those boundaries may be. Of course, in a romantic relationship, compatibility becomes an issue, and some asexuals may not be compatible with some sexuals. But it depends on the people in question. My girlfriend thought that compatibility would be a huge issue between us when we first started dating, but as it turns out we have more problems deciding when to watch a movie than when (or how) we have sex. And for us, the relationship really isn’t based on sex at all. We work it in, but we could probably stop having sex completely and still be okay romantically… and in fact we do do that, on occasion.

I don’t really see how romantic relationships are supposed to be meant solely to provide a space for legitimate sex. (In fact, I’m rather confused about what counts as “illegitimate” sex as I don’t see how such a judgment can be legitimately made. Sex is sex. You don’t have to be in a romantic relationship to have sex, and I think it’s fairly common and reasonably acceptable to have a fuck-buddy these days. Plus, I think most people will tend to say that “love” is the primary reason why they get into romantic relationships, not sex.) I don’t see how emotional bonding is intrinsically connected with sex. I don’t think it is, and for me, it’s even somewhat counter-intuitive to suggest that sex creates emotional bonds. Sex really doesn’t do that for me. It took me a couple of years to finally see how sex can even be considered intimate on more than just a physical level, but I don’t so much think it’s the sex itself that is intimate, but rather that intimacy already created through other (non-sexual) means is being expressed through sex.

What really bugs me about the idea that romantic relationships are all about sex is that… it seems so… shallow. Do people really see romantic relationships that way? How could that be fulfilling? It seems like the relationship is just an excuse, just a structure that you use to make it socially acceptable to have sex. It doesn’t seem like a deep connection with another person is necessary or even desired… and in that case, why get into a relationship? You could just have sex without worrying about it, and it would be a lot less trouble. Who cares about the stigma? That will probably go away gradually as more people actually do it… and you don’t really have to let people know that you’re having sex with someone you’re not in a relationship with, do you?

I see romantic relationships as enjoyable and desirable because of love, not sex. Forming a deep emotional connection is what matters to me. Economic connections follow because on a practical level, it makes sense to facilitate the emotional connection. Sex can be part of forming a deep emotional connection… or not. It doesn’t have to be. I do it because I’m okay with it and it’s enjoyable on some level, but it’s not something I crave or something that makes me feel particularly connected to my partner, any more so than just talking and laughing and sharing my life with her does. I don’t see how my relationship with her would be any less of a romantic relationship if we stopped having sex, and it bothers me that most people wouldn’t consider it a “real” or “full blown” romantic relationship. Actually, a lot of people think for some reason that I must be incapable of experiencing love after I come out to them as asexual… including M, up until almost a year after I met him. I don’t want to go on too long about this, but I think that point is important to consider, and I hope that people will keep it in mind.

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6 thoughts on “Continuing a Discussion on Asexuality and Rape Culture

  1. Thanks so much for posting this! I’ve just discovered the asexual blogs, and as someone that tries to understand all different aspects of orientation, sex, and gender, I’m truly fascinated by them. I’m reading and learning, but of course, I still don’t know much, which is why I’ve been letting the posts speak for themselves.

    Your perspective is enlightening, and very much along the lines of what I was trying to say in my post, but that kind of failed to materialize.

    I’ve reposted your comment here and hopefully the interesting discussion will continue. At the very least, your perspective and comment have been shared with a wider audience, one that doesn’t really have the same understanding of asexuality that yours does.

    :)

    Like

  2. Thank you for this long and informative post. Since I am mentioned in it, I wanted to comment on it, too. It took me a bit longer to write a reply and it got a bit longer, therefore I posted it on my blog: http://wp.me/syDhp-139

    I find this to be a very interesting and challenging topic.
    Best,
    Eisnacht

    Like

  3. Pingback: Pushy

  4. Thank you so much for all of your amazing articulation of love, romance, sex, attraction, and the distinctions between. I mean in all of your writing, not just this particular post. It has been mind-blowing for me, in a very good way. (FWIW, I am a bisexual cisgender middle-aged woman. But I have, maybe, some kinda asexual aspects …. um …. except that’s probably wrong Wording …. Um….I haven’t sorted this out yet…… More about this some other time…). Anyway, the distinctions you make in these complex areas of life are just amazing …. I suspect you have “had to” think about a lot deails of things that life has not put in front of me quite as forcefully…..and I’m deeply grateful that you have chosen to share the insights you’ve gained.

    Okay, so um, that was just kind of “hello” and now as to the post above, what I wanted to comment on is this: “I don’t see how emotional bonding is intrinsically connected with sex. I don’t think it is, and for me, it’s even somewhat counter-intuitive to suggest that sex creates emotional bonds.”

    This is an area I’ve been quite troubled by. For me, sex seems to create deep romantic connection. This is so at a level that makes sex seem very dangerous to me. For example, I can’t have sex in a “casual” way and not get emotionally involved. At least, I think that’s the case, and I’m very reluctant to experiment, since sex appears to be so uncontrollably connected to romance and all kinds of bonding and emotional dependence even.

    I don’t think my experience is general though. I know that lots of *sexual people are able to have sex with a lot less emotional involvement. Intellectually I can understand how this seemes possible, but it doesn’t seem to be possible for me at all. (I can’t imagine going to a sex party, for example, or to a prostitute.)

    So, I guess I’m wondering whether there’s any correlation between sex-creating-feelings-of-bonding (or not) and being asexual/sexual.

    In trying to understand what you said (the part I quoted), I wonder if sex “feels romantic” to you. I know you enjoy cuddling etc – I guess I see cuddling/kissing/sex as both an outgrowth (expression) of connection as well as activities that (can) increase connection. But not necessarily. Sex can also easily be totally alienating and can ruin romantic feelings! So easily in so any ways, sex can be alienating, distancing, and isolating, rather than bonding. Yet I think when done “well” there’s bonding (at least for me and some people)

    Do you think sex (or cuddling) ever increase emotional bonds, for you?

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    • For me… it can, but it’s definitely not guaranteed. I think it’s more the closeness/cuddling that happens during it (if there is any) that determines the level of romantic bonding involved for me. The level of care that my partner shows for me during it… the way it’s performed rather than the actual act, in other words. Having sex with someone who is selfish about it definitely doesn’t create a bonding experience, and instead just degrades the bond. I’ve also had some experienced that were pretty much neutral–neither increased nor decreased the romantic bond.

      I totally understand your feeling that sex seems very dangerous to you in that sense, though. These days, I don’t think I could do it in a context that isn’t one of an already established caring relationship.

      Like

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