Guest Post: Interview with K on Female Sexual Dysfunction

This past June, as some of you will remember, I posted a link to a petition to stop the FDA from approving Flibanserin, a drug the media repeatedly called a “Viagra for women.” I did so with the assumption that my readers would follow the link and read what the advocates who created this campaign had to say about it, rather than taking my short comments as a full explanation of my concerns. It seems that many misunderstood my position. Andrew Hinderliter of Asexual Explorations then made a series of posts all over the asexual communities explaining in more detail the reasons why we should be concerned, which sparked an unexpected explosion of controversy. My own view on the subject boiled down to this: given the lack of proof that the drug actually worked as advertised, and given the great potential for harm that would come from an advertising campaign not just to asexuals who would be falsely targeted by it, but also to women who might be offered this drug as a cure for their genuinely unwanted condition only to find that it doesn’t work, I felt it was appropriate to support such a petition. I had little faith in the FDA to make the correct choice without a strong case against it, as they have been known to screw up on occasion, and so I felt it would be helpful to bolster the cause by showing the FDA how many people were concerned what effect Flibanserin’s approval would have. Had the drug been proven to have a more significant effect, I would have supported it, and focused instead only on the advertising campaign and spreading asexual awareness, but all the evidence I encountered suggested otherwise.

What I did not realize at the time was that the New View Campaign, the force behind this petition, has had a history of alienating women with sexual dysfunctions. As I was shocked to discover, some of us in the asexual community (as well as the feminist community) also have tendencies not only to alienate, but to outright marginalize women with sexual dysfunctions in our attempts to advance our own goals (not that we all share the same goals; we’re too diverse for anything remotely resembling an “agenda” but the point still stands). This was never my intention, and I want this blog to be a safe space for women with sexual dysfunction as well, and so I asked K of the Feminists with FSD blog to make a guest post here to highlight these issues. Due to my unexpected hiatus, this post was long delayed. It was originally written shortly after the Flibanserin fiasco, and has subsequently been edited by K.

Some ground rules for comments: this should be obvious by now, but I will tolerate absolutely no disparaging, insulting, or ablist comments. I would also like this not to get derailed by arguments about Flibanserin itself—that’s old news and we don’t need to rehash it here. (If you really want to talk about it, I guess you could dig up the dead threads on some forum, but I wouldn’t recommend that either, honestly.) What I’d like to see addressed here is how our communities can become aware of and accepting of one another, so that we can work together without any nastiness coming from either side. Whether deliberate or otherwise. So please, by all means, check your privilege before posting a comment.

(By the way, I’d also like to mention that if you are a person who is both asexual and also has a sexual dysfunction, I’d like to hear from you, too!  Please contact me at grasexuality [at] gmail.com if you would be interested in making a guest post.)

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I am a feminist blogger living with female sexual dysfunction, specifically the pain category of FSD. I have vulvodynia, specifically vulvar vestibulitis, (though at the current moment it is fairly well managed,) and some residual pelvic floor dysfunction/vaginismus. I have been blogging about feminism and sexual dysfunction for two years, in part motivated by frustration with mainstream depictions of sexual dysfunction (or the complete lack thereof.) I approach these topics from the perspective of a white, cis het woman. I am not a doctor or therapist in any way shape or form, so most of what I know comes from personal experience (mine and that of others) & what I’ve read. While I feel I have made good faith efforts to do my homework, what I say should still be taken with a grain of salt, and I do not claim to speak for anyone save myself. Today I am here to try to answer some questions about sexual dysfunction that were raised on a+, regarding sexual dysfunction and flibanserin.

In my spare time, I enjoy video games and cartoons.
Some basics:
What is Female Sexual Dysfunction? What kinds of FSD are there?

Female sexual dysfunction is a broad term encompassing several types of sexual problems with a common denominator of personal distress. A good overview of sexual dysfunction can be found at harvard.edu. When discussing FSD in general terms it is important to remember there it is not limited to one specific manifestation. In addition to sexual medicine, there’s a lot to talk about with regard to female sexual dysfunction.

There are a few different ways of looking at FSD. The two ways I’m most familiar with looking at FSD are through the medical model and the social construction model.

The medical model is probably the most widely recognized way of looking at FSD. The medical model of FSD looks at sexual difficulties as problems to be addressed medically. It is derived from Masters & Johnson’s work on the Human Sexual Response Cycle. To refresh your memory, the cycle goes arousal, plateau, orgasm, resolution. Deviations from this cycle may be viewed as problems.

Continue reading

Petition to stop FDA approval of “female Viagra” Flibanserin

Everyone sign this.

Because you know, you just KNOW, that if this gets approved, people are going to start offering it up to female asexuals as some kind of magical “cure” for asexuality!

Damage control update:
I don’t have much time to post on the internet tonight, but I’m just going to copy and paste my response to the debate that’s going on since this went up. I’ll link to where it’s happening later, but first… for context, on livejournal, Jianna posted:

I have to disagree. I don’t think this is going to be used to “cure” asexuality in a big way. Many women are distressed about their lack of sexual interest. This drug is for those women who want to increase their sex drive, often because they used to have a bigger one and it’s since dwindled.

I know it’s a touchy subject for the asexual community, but we really are a very small minority. Many people with low sex drives do see it as a problem and would be glad to have it fixed. This drug is for them, not for us who are content with our states.

Emphasis hers. To which I responded:

Yes, except that this drug does nothing to help those people. It’s being offered as a very much false cure. For everyone, not just asexuals. It will help no one except pharmaceutical companies if this drug gets approved.

I got this link from Emily Nagoski’s blog—she is a sex researcher (who is also coincidentally a faculty sponsor for her university’s asexuality group, if that lends her some favor). I haven’t had much time online tonight, so I just wanted to forward the link very quickly, and in my haste I didn’t point out any of the things she did in her original post. Check it out first before deciding to support this because some people are distressed about having a lower sex drive.

Everyone be sure to check out Andrew’s post about this for more info on the research about the drug, which is, as Emily says, certainly no cause for optimism. And for those of us who care about promoting a change in cultural norms around sexuality to create a healthier, happier world for people of ALL sexual orientations, it is good cause for worry, because all it will do is provide a “shortcut” option that doesn’t really do what it promises to do.

UPDATE #2: I said I’d come back and post links to the discussions when I had time, so here I am. The discussion on the asexuality LJ community is going on here. The AVEN thread, which is much more active, is here. There is also a thread on Apositive here. And because this post has made it way to Google’s top search results about Flibanserin and the FDA, I’m going to keep updating it periodically so that new people coming into the discussion with no previous context or possibly even knowledge that asexuality exists (and is a legitimate sexual orientation—check the FAQs on asexuality.org if you’re confused) can read it and come away with something that’s not just complete and total confusion.

There’s another post up at Asexual Explorations about this now. Go check it out.

UPDATE #3: There’s more discussion of this up now in the comments at Asexy Beast. I also think I should clarify my stance as it’s coming across harsher than I intended it to: I would have absolutely no problem with people who are genuinely distressed about having low sexual desire being treated with a pill for it… but based on the evidence I have seen, it seems that this one is not it. I do also have concerns that the marketing campaign for such a pill would attack asexuals, as well as anyone who is in a circumstance where they legitimately do not want sex because of pressure, coercion, and abuse. However, if this was proven to be very clearly effective for what it is being marketed for, I would support its FDA approval and instead attack the marketing campaign. Because it’s not, though, and because I feel that there is SO MUCH RISK involved with getting this wrong, I’m not comfortable supporting this drug until it has been much more clearly proven to work for what they are saying it does.

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Final Update: The drug was not approved. However, this topic has sparked some interesting communication between asexuals and K of the Feminists with FSD blog, and she has agreed to make a guest post here, which I will post shortly. It is my hope that our two communities can reach out to one another to collaborate, and each community will become safer for the other as a result.

The Primary Function of Marriage?

This is sort of like a part two to my previous post, but it is actually more like a part three or four, or even five (who knows? I’ve lost count) in an ongoing discussion about asexuality and rape culture. Originally I proposed the idea that sexual coercion and marital rape might be a fundamental human rights issue for asexual discourse to focus on in a comment directed towards the A Life podcast team, who seemed to misunderstand my point and were quite dismissive of the idea. I believe Henrik said something like “Well if you’re going to get raped, then don’t get married.” (I’m not going to go through the podcast to find the actual quote, but if you want to do it, you can find it here. Keep in mind I am also not up-to-date on the more recent podcasts, including the one about asexuality and marriage.) I was kinda pissed off that he would say something like that, because it ignores the reality of the situation that many asexuals are in, and implies a callous attitude towards my own mother’s situation (and mine by proxy). (Why should she have been expected to predict that my father would spiral into alcoholic depression and choose to take it out on the whole family? How could she have known? I think this is called “blaming the victim.”) I’m pointing Henrik’s comment out because it provides context for what I am about to say, and you will see the reason why in a moment.

I posted a clarification here, which recently Britni the Vagina Wig linked to and commented on here. Her post refueled the discussion, and in one of the comments, ignorantarmies said:

For one, this is not so because “marriage is for procreation”. We have long since decoupled sexuality from procreation, thanks to reliable contraceptives. Some Christian groups might promote this, but the reality is different. Relationships involve sex, because one of their functions is to produce spaces where we can have legitimate sex. There are other matters of bonding, belonging, emotional and economic connections, but almost all of those are related to sex in some way. And, I would argue, its good, even necessary to have some kind of institution that does this. Most people want sex and they need some way to satisfy this desire in a socially acceptable way, that is without suffering social sanctions. They do this be having an institution (or several) in place that produces legitimate space for sex. This institution in modern, western society is called the (romantic) relationship. It’s vital for its functioning, that it implies sex (at some point, in some way, details are open to debate).

Yes, social institutions do have coercive force. But this is just a matter of being social beings. Requirements of social spaces like reducing of complexity, producing reliability and stability and encouraging cooperation cannot be had unless we somehow make each other conform to some regular forms of behavior. And to some degree, this is always coercive.
This was a central point in my article on seduction.

The easy answer would be to say that if you don’t want sex, don’t have romantic relationships. If you want other things that romantic relationships produce, find someone who will do that with you without wanting sex. If you do want to participate in a full blown romantic relationship, find a way to communicate with your partner, and find a partner with whom you can communicate your problems on the matter, maybe you will find a solution, maybe you won’t.
Queer people (in the widest sense) have solved the problem of heterosexual monogamous vanilla relationships being unfit for their desires by creating queer interaction spaces where they have set up their own institutions regarding sex. A good solution if there ever was one. I’m not sure if there are enough asexual people for this to be workable, but it makes sense to me at least.

So, I think that attacking that the institution of romantic relationships involves sex is not a good move. Alternative institutions would be better. But any institution requires a semi-stable group of regularly interacting people in order to bring it forth. Then, the requirements of sociality as well as the desires of the individuals can be satisfied.

I posted a response here, and then ignorantarmies posted a reply here. To which I posted the following comment:

I see where you are coming from and I understand that people have different reasons for getting into romantic relationships/marriages. I didn’t mean to imply that people DON’T get into them as a way to have legitimate sex. I also know that people get into romantic relationships without being in love with their partners, in many cases. Usually, I believe this is a temporary thing; either people intend to get into such relationships for sex, or to solve the problem of loneliness. Or, they may see the person as being compatible and give it a try even though they’re not crazy about the person, to see if love grows over time (this I have done myself, with the effect that I did end up falling for the person). Some may just settle.

Of course people have different reasons for getting into romantic relationships: that was actually my point. I probably should have drawn my it out, made the effort to articulate it to a more definite conclusion, instead of leaving it mostly unstated. Sorry for the confusion.

My issue with your original comment was that it seemed far too dismissive of other reasons that people may get into relationships, and seemed to imply support for the idea that upon getting married, a person is automatically assumed to be giving consent to sex with their spouse under every circumstance (i.e. that there is or should be no such thing as marital rape).

People get married for lots and lots of reasons. The fact of it is, not all married couples have sex or ever intend to have sex. Marriage legitimizes a relationship in the eyes of society, and gives a number of legal benefits. That’s why people fight so hard for gay marriage. And that’s why some asexual couples also get married.

I’ve been in a romantic relationship with a fellow asexual before, and it kinda sucks, because the vast majority of people are not willing to acknowledge it as a “real relationship” just because there is no sex involved. My sister was the worst about it; she would belittle me for it constantly, saying that I was too stupid to realize that what my ex and I had was “just friendship.” Few people would just accept it and be happy for me. I almost always had to try to prove that it’s possible first.

Now, you say that marriage “does not work” for asexuals, but are you aware that asexuals DO get married and that it CAN work for them? Getting married would FORCE society to recognize that there really IS a strong bond between two asexuals beyond “just friendship” (although I would contend that friendship is and should be a huge part of a romantic relationship, there is also usually a different kind of feeling to it), at least on some level.

So should asexuals not get married then, just because ONE of marriage’s functions is to provide a space for “legitimate” sex (in the eyes of Christians)? Should asexual couples just avoid that social institution altogether even though it would certainly be beneficial both legally and socially? That seemed to be what your comment was implying. It also seemed to lack awareness of the actual situation that many asexuals are in, with regard to marriage.

My discomfort was never with the idea that some people get into relationships just so they can have legitimate sex, although of course that doesn’t appeal to me. It’s deeper than that. It was because the way you phrased your comment reduced my experience of romance to something that apparently does not count as a “real” romantic relationship. It seemed to imply support for a system that would discount my experiences and enforce my subjugation, should I ever get into a situation where I might be raped by the person I had married. Although this is not likely to happen to me, because I have an unfortunately deep understanding of domestic violence and how to avoid it, as well as a good understanding of my sexual orientation and how to deal with sex in a positive way, there are lots of asexuals out there who did not realize they were asexual until AFTER they had gotten married, because they were waiting until after marriage to deal with sex. They just operated under the assumption that they were heterosexual and would enjoy sex when they had it, but then found out that was not the case. Should they be legally obligated to provide sex for their spouse, in the event that they discover that it is detrimental to their well-being? Should their pain be ignored? Should they be silenced just because one of the functions of marriage is to provide a space for legitimate sex?

I don’t think we should see marriage as primarily a way to provide a space for legitimate sex precisely for that reason. That is one function, sure. But to reduce it to that one single function, when there are plenty of others, is very dangerous, especially if it is used to support laws that discount the possibility of marital rape. I don’t know if that is what you meant to say in your comment or not, but that is what it seemed to imply. I think we ought to acknowledge ALL the reasons why people get married, and make laws based on every possibility, rather than reducing it to one “primary” function. Because all that really does is serve to enforce sexual-normativity, and silence the minority of people who DON’T want to have sexual marriages.

Another thing I want to point out is that what is culturally considered the “primary” reason for marriage changes as culture does, and enforces dominant cultural attitudes. At one time the “main functions” of marriages WERE considered to be procreation and economic union. Now they are not, but those are still functions of marriage, and for some people they are even the PRIMARY function. I know a couple who have been together for years without getting married, but plan to do so when they get pregnant. Lots and lots of people get together just so their kids will be legitimate, and lots and lots of people stay together just for the kids. It’s not accurate to say that the primary function of their marriages is to provide a space for legitimate expression of sexuality.

That is why I do not think your position is justified.

I realized after I posted that comment that I mainly refer to marriages throughout, but the original comment actually said that asexuals should stay out of romantic relationships, not just “don’t get married.” Which is even more offensive, because it does imply that asexual romances don’t count as romances, just like my sister used to explicitly tell me over and over and over again. There’s not really a serious adjective yet to describe what kind of comment this is (“asexophobic” sounds pretty silly), but it is definitely a product of sexual privilege and seeks to enforce sexual-normativity. Asexual romance is being erased from possibility, at least in the minds of the majority. That has got to change.

Asexuals really don’t face much discrimination, if by that you mean outright hostility (although I have heard there has already been a case of a hate crime committed against a woman specifically because she is asexual). But people Other the hell out of us, and refuse to acknowledge our existence even when they have been made aware that such a thing exists. Why should we be barred from having “romantic” relationships (in quotes because I think that what’s really being referred to is just a synonym for sexual relationships) or from having our relationships called romantic and honored as such even though they would fit that description perfectly, just because we aren’t having sex? There’s a word for that, you know: it’s called marginalization.

I don’t want to be too harsh, now. This person probably did not realize why the comment was so offensive, and did not mean for it to be. But it comes from a place of privilege and that should be pointed out. I point it out to the asexual community instead of just leaving it as a comment because of attitudes like Henrik’s which parallel this to some extent (and I think are also indicative of another kind of privilege: that of not being affected by domestic violence). It is certainly an option to create a new kind of alternative relationship space for asexuals to exist in, and I absolutely applaud efforts to do that. (David Jay is doing a great job of exploring these options over at Love From the Asexual Underground, for anyone interested.) But not all asexuals want to do that. Some of us want to get married, and some of us already are married before we know that asexuality actually exists. Creating a new relationship style is fine, but creating a whole new social institution with the same legal and social benefits of marriage would be extremely difficult or (more likely) completely impossible, and would also fail to address the issues of those who are already married and stuck in a painful situation. Therefore, instead of dismissing the possibility of a violent marriage because it is “not relevant” or “does not apply” to most of us who have already connected to the asexual community, I firmly believe we ought to fight to make marriage a friendlier space for our fellow asexuals (and everyone else) to inhabit.

I’m going to finish this post off with a link: via Womanist Musings, here is a call for submissions for an anthology of personal essays dealing with queerness and sexual violence. If you have had any kind of experience with sexual violence and asexuality, I would urge you to submit something for this. I think it is very important that we bring these issues to light!

Wanting It (Indifferently)

There’s a new article out that addresses hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) and the DSM-V: Women Who Want to Want.

There have been comments already about the article’s odd non-mention of asexuality and the strange mantra that Lori Brotto tells her patients to repeat (“my body is alive and sexual”) whether they believe it or not. There’s concern about the possibility of pushing people too strongly to be sexual, and I share those concerns.

Somewhat related, I was also amused at the article’s mention of something that (via my close associations with transitioning people and the trans community) is already well-known to me: the placebo effect of taking hormones. You start taking hormones, and suddenly every zit is a sign that it’s working. You get comments like, “My skin feels softer already!” and “I think my hair is growing slower!” from people who started taking hormones only a few days ago. Which is of course nonsense. Those things do happen, sure, but not THAT fast! Of course people are going to think T is giving them zits when they’re not even on it!

Brotto’s mantra seems to me to be working with that same effect. And maybe for some people it can be useful… but for others, it might seem like something that is working for a while, but then end in disappointment when they realize that there is not really all that much of a difference, and their problem is still there. And is it really a good idea to continue to conflate the concept of life with sexuality? Because even if we use the broadest possible definition of “sexual,” there are plenty of living things which are not sexual in any sense of the word. It’s stupid, of course, to say “my body is alive” if the state of aliveness is actually what is being referred to, because that’s bleeding obvious! So of course I think she should change that word. But it’s also possible to be vigorous and effervescent, if that’s what’s meant by “alive,” without being sexual at all. I realize it is aimed at helping patients harness a certain “sexual energy” or whatever, but I still think it’s an ill-conceived and inappropriate metaphor all around. Do we really need any more of a push in the direction of “nonsexual = dead”?

Really, though, I wasn’t all that bothered by or interested in that part of it. I was too distracted by the ideas presented by Basson to pay much attention to Brotto:

A different manifestation of desire — not initial hunger—– appears about two-thirds of the way around Basson’s circle. There, in the diagrams she began publishing in obstetrics and sexuality journals 10 years ago, come the words “responsive/triggered desire.” For Basson, this is necessary to satisfaction. But it comes after arousal starts. So a typical successful experience might proceed something like this: first a decision, rather than a drive, to have sex; next, as Basson puts it, a “willingness to be receptive”; then, say, the sensations of a partner’s touch; next, the awareness of being aroused; then the “responsive desire” along with increasingly intense arousal; and at last the range of physical and emotional payoffs that sex can provide and that offer positive reinforcement leading back to the top of the diagram, to the reasons for setting off on the circle to begin with.

I have sometimes wondered if I might consider myself sexual if I had been presented with a different model of sexuality than the one that society adopts. And under this model, I might be considered so.

This describes pretty much exactly the way that I myself navigate sexual activity. It was never about desire to begin with; it has always been a conscious decision to go ahead with it, for me. Of course, it isn’t true that I decide I’m going to have sex before I find myself in the middle of foreplay every time. But it is true that I made the decision to have sex with my partner, and gave her my implicit consent to initiate if she wants to, told her that it is generally okay for her to touch me in ways meant to arouse me, and I’ll stop her if I don’t want her to do it right then. Almost always, I end up aroused and able to enthusiastically consent. Of course, it helps that C is good at reading my signals (which are subtle and probably difficult for most people to read), and that she knows what I will respond to. She doesn’t push beyond my limits, is careful to stop whenever I say it’s getting painful, and also checks in with me whenever my facial expression is so ambivalent that she is not sure how I am doing. Over time, we’ve built up a safety net that allows me to be receptive to her as a general rule. And because that safety net is in place, I’m able to relax and follow my body’s cues to experience this sort of arousal-desire that Basson is talking about.

And so I think she is onto something, here. Society’s model of sexuality really is very attraction-focused, but the truth of it is that attraction often has very little if anything to do with enjoyable sex. Lots of people, probably women more so than men, find it pretty easy to have sex with people they are not attracted to. Of course there are people who say that they can’t imagine having a sexual relationship with someone they don’t find sexually attractive, but a lot of them settle anyway. Sometimes it takes a bottle of alcohol and a sense of desperation to get them to do so, but other times? I know a guy who met a girl a while back that he kept saying he wasn’t attracted to because according to him she is a “hambeast,” and now they’ve been together for six months or so, and live together as well. And I wonder how many married couples there are who don’t find each other sexually attractive anymore, but are still perfectly able to enjoy having sex with one another? Maybe some of them stop having sex for that very reason, but I suspect a lot of them keep on going at it–a little less like bunny rabbits, maybe, but still!

However, as much value as I see in Basson’s approach as described here, I don’t think it covers everything. There’s still the idea of lust–a concept I feel greatly removed from. I don’t really get it. At all. I never find guys hot in a “check the oil” sort of way. Or girls, for that matter. The attraction part of it is just missing for me, and even if it is an overblown cultural ideal more often than it is a reality, I still feel pretty alienated when I’m the only one in the room who doesn’t get it, which happens pretty frequently.

So I call myself asexual. And although my moniker hints at me being in the gray area between sexual and asexual, and I guess since I find sex enjoyable then according to some people I would be considered sexual, I’m really not feeling particularly “gray” lately. I don’t think that having sexual desire pretty much only when it is sparked by physical arousal is very strong evidence of being sexually attracted to people, and that missing attraction is (for me) what asexuality is all about. That’s the only definition that makes sense to me, and during the years that I have identified as asexual, despite my frequent reevaluations and openness to new experiences, my own asexuality has only become increasingly clear to me.

Baseball is Creepy!

The baseball metaphor, that is.

While messing around on the intarwebs tonight, I came across this article about finding a positive sexual metaphor. I’d highly recommend that everyone go take a look! In the first part of the article, the author examines baseball as a metaphor for sex in American culture, and just how insidious this metaphor really is:

Baseball is fundamentally oppositional. Both teams can’t win. One team wins and the other loses. As sex, that’s about one partner “gaining” something, and the other partner “losing” something. In our culture, women tend to lose status when they have sex, and there’s a lot of hubbub about women “losing” their “precious virginity.” Men, on the other hand, gain status and respect from sexual experience. This aspect of the model also serves to reinforce gender stereotypes, which are rarely conducive to safe, empowered and satisfying sexual encounters.

Could this have had anything to do with my own fairly intense fear of rape? I was born into the losing team, after all. And the message that I will lose out if I have sex is everywhere, as is the message that the “opposite team” is out to get me–to force or coerce me into having sex without regard for my own feelings about it. In a lot of cases, that really does happen to people, and when it does, doesn’t the baseball metaphor for sex provide the perfect excuse for the assailant? After all, it’s just how you win the game. No wonder there are so many rape apologists!

In its literal sense, baseball can be a fun game, but unlike its literal counterpart, when we’re talking about sex as baseball, there is almost never a switch-up between which team is batting and which is on the field–there is not supposed to be; you are born as either a batter or an outfielder, and that’s where, at least in theory, you stay.  That takes all the fun out of it, doesn’t it? Because if sex happens, somebody loses, and that loser is determined before the game even starts. It’s a predictable, rigid social role. To win the game says nothing about whether the sex was enjoyable for either party. It’s just about whether or not it happens.

This underlying way of thinking has shaped my experiences with heterosexual men, and that’s not to say that they all thought that way themselves, but that this unhealthy power dynamic exists at all has made me extra wary of dealing with “the opposite team”–to the point that I, for the most part, choose to simply opt out of dealing with them entirely, and instead I generally only play with the queer team. It just removes that whole level of uncertainty, that vague sense of wondering whether this person is playing against me, that sense of always having to be vigilant, just in case. Queer people can’t play the game like everyone else anyway; they aren’t allowed to be included in it in the first place.

The article goes into a lot more detail about that, and also proposes an alternative metaphor for sexuality: eating pizza. It’s definitely a much more ace-positive model, since nobody assumes that everybody must eat pizza; while they may be rare, there are just some people who don’t, and that’s fine.

I do think, however, that the metaphor starts to break down a little here:

Eating pizza with a partner is also not a radically different experience from eating pizza alone. The pizza model deflates the myth that masturbation is a lesser sexual experience than partnered sex. Eating pizza alone encompasses the complete pizza-eating experience, just as masturbation is a complete sexual experience. When we do it it with someone else, the fullness of the experience doesn’t change, we simply add communion with our partner(s) to the experience. What’s different is the companionship, intimacy, variety, and possibly the fun of having someone feed you for a change.

I am not sure whether we should classify masturbation as a purely sexual experience. After all, there are plenty of asexuals who masturbate but do not necessarily consider the experience sexual. To some, it may be. To others… the very reason it might be considered okay is because it seems to be a lesser sexual experience (though even then, many find it bothersome). It really isn’t all that involved, when compared to partnered sex, whereas when eating pizza, aside from the initial negotiation of toppings, the actual act of eating the pizza is not different when doing it alone or with a partner. More is required of the person who is having sex with a partner, as opposed to the person who is masturbating. In many cases, a lot more is required. I just don’t think the difference translates well, when we use this metaphor as a vehicle for expression.

I guess the question is really about whether we consider something to be sexual based on sexual appetite, or whether we consider it to be sexual based on which body parts are involved. It seems that people define things as sexual using both of these determinants in different situations. For example, some people think that kissing is sexual–for them, perhaps, it arouses a sexual appetite. But then, to continue the metaphor, people can still eat something even if they have no appetite. Is it the physical act of sex that defines it? If so, which physical act(s) are we talking about, here? Or is it more about the mental aspect of it, the desire/appetite? In some cases, it’s clear how to define it, but in other cases, like this one, it really isn’t.

I also usually have a problem with food-based metaphors for sex because of the idea that having sex is a need, in the same sense that it is a need for humans to eat. I will admit that there is a need for people to procreate, but it is not an individual need, it is only a collective need. Every individual member of a species does not need to procreate in order for the species to survive. However, every individual must eat in order for the individual to survive. So you really have to be careful not to take a comparison of sexual desire with hunger too far. In this case, though, I think the metaphor of sex as eating pizza works okay, on that level, because it refers only to a specific kind of food, and not to food in general. People who don’t eat pizza can thoroughly enjoy other foods, and that’s not weird at all. Likewise, people who don’t enjoy or engage in sexual activities can get plenty of fulfillment from other activities in life!

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Edit from the future: For further reading, check out this post by figleaf.

What We Search For

And by “we,” I mean my readers.

Since I started blogging, I have been consistently amused by the search engine terms that people use to find this blog. I thought I would share some of the standouts with you all, so you can share in my amusement.

This past week, someone wanted to know, “are asexuals stupid”? I was a little confused, as I don’t see a correlation between intelligence and not experiencing sexual attraction (if anything, the stereotype suggests the reverse), but you know, whatever. On the other side of the coin, someone else searched for “intellectual asexuals.”

So far, the number one search term of all time is “positive metaphors,” followed by (I suppose predictably?) “sex”–but my question is, how many pages of search results did these people have to wade through to find MY blog? That’s some real dedication, there. Asexuality is only the third most searched-for term that people use to find my blog.

Of course, the sad fact is, I get TONS of variations on a cure or treatment for asexuality, denial, whether or not asexuals exist, and so on. (For those people who will inevitably make it to this post that very same way, I suggest you go to AVEN and read the faqs.) I also get a lot of people searching for stuff about sexual frustration and fear of intimacy, though I don’t think they’ll find what they want here.

Oh, and masturbation. Lots of people searching for masturbation, whether specifically asexual masturbation, or just plain old masturbation. How many times can I say “masturbation” in a single paragraph? Apparently five.

There are some that I’m a little confused about how they led to my blog–I mean I can sort of see it, but it’s a bit of a stretch. One such is “polyamory bullshit.”

My favorites, though, are these two: “vagina of asexy girl” and “vagian asex.” I had another asexy moment there, because it took me several weeks to realize (only after my girlfriend pointed it out) that those were probably typos made by people who were looking for something to jack off to. I hope they didn’t find what they were looking for, because otherwise, that’s a little bit creepy. Incidentally, the fetish post has been by far the most popular.

Overall, one rule holds true: the “racier” the words used in the post, the more likely it is to pique others’ curiosity, even if the post actually has very little to do with whatever they were searching for originally. The general public still sees us as some weird, unbelievable novelty. On the up side, I suppose at least I am helping to raise awareness!

Edited to add: Today’s winner! And oh, it is a gross one: “vagina has grey around it” …I’m not even going to comment on that one.

Yes, I have a vagina.

And yes, it works.

This weekend, my local QSA had a meet-up, and then we all went out to a popular gay club for a fun night of dancing and drinking (for some). It was supposed to be straight night, but not many straight people showed up. So we had the run of the place, while the few people there who were not from our group mostly just sat around and watched us.

My friends, of course, alcoholics that they are, had me buy them drinks. While I was at the bar with an officer of the group offering an extra set of hands, an older lesbian lady started asking us about our group, where we were from, and whether we were all gay. She pointed at the officer and said, “You’re straight, aren’t you?” He laughed, and said, “How did you know?” (She had probably been watching him dance with his sort-of girlfriend.) Then she pointed at me.

“So what are you?”

“I’m asexual.”

“What!? Are you kidding me!? What’s wrong with you? Do you have a vagina?”

I laughed. It was a reaction I’d come to expect, but it’s not something I can respond to, especially when faced with such a bold, baldfaced, honest reaction. She was quite loud about it, too; I wondered briefly exactly how much more tact she would have shown if she had been sober. There was really no other appropriate response BUT to laugh. She went on about it for a little while longer, and then offered a stuttering apology.

“I’m sorry, that was mean. I’m the last person who should be saying something like that.”

The QSA officer chimed in, “Yeah, we’re all about acceptance here, man.”

Still laughing, I told her it was okay, and then the drinks were ready, so we took them back to the group. I told the other asexual girl (oh yes, there was another one!) what had happened, and we had a good laugh; she wondered if that lady would even remember what asexuality is in the morning. If so, hey, at least one more person knows we exist. If not… oh well.

Anyway, it was really nice to meet a fellow asexual in person, finally. We had a good, long talk about cats, college life, and not having sex. Hopefully later on in the semester, we can co-ordinate an effort to raise visibility from within the QSA. Now that there are at least three of us (there’s another girl around here I’ve been chatting with via email, though she hasn’t been to the QSA), they will probably take us more seriously this year. I’m thinking perhaps I’ll join a panel, and do some tabling on Coming Out Day… However, the group is pretty unorganized, so I’ll probably have to do most of what I want to do by myself. Any suggestions for how to raise awareness, as well as ideas for meet-ups, are quite welcome.

“Asexual” as a Pejorative

A little while ago, I was googling aimlessly and stumbled upon this little gem of a blog post, wherein the author tries to insult Barack Obama by calling him asexual. I laughed. It’s almost precious, isn’t it? The feeble attempt to smear him using a word that she doesn’t even know the definition of… I can hardly imagine that a grown woman wrote this. I feel like I’m reading something written by a catty fourteen-year-old girl, except about politicians instead of her classmates. If that’s all the McCain camp can come up with, well. That’s pretty sad.

I don’t know about you guys, but if Obama really were asexual, that’d make me more likely to vote for him, not less. After all, if he’s not distracted by scandalous sexual affairs, then theoretically he’d be more likely to actually get some work done.

But still. It got me thinking about non-asexuals using the word “asexual” as an insult—a pretty rare phenomena, but one that may gradually become more common as awareness of asexuality spreads. Obviously, it’s not something we want to happen, but to some extent it’s inevitable. Rather than getting upset about it, we should take advantage at least of the fact that people are now starting to mention asexuality, by listening to what they say and learning what they think it means, and why they think it’s bad.

With this particular example, the closest approximation I can come up with for what this person thinks asexuality is, is some form of emasculation, possibly an intersex condition or the state of being a eunuch, or maybe just impotence in general. Maybe she thought she was coining a term herself, or maybe she’s heard of asexuality before and is just severely misguided about its definition. Either way, asexuality here is conflated with gender. Why?

Well, apparently for men, gender identity is closely connected with virility. Because if you’re not interested in sex, guys, then you must be a woman. (Right, cause that makes so much sense… and WHY EXACTLY is it an insult to call a man woman-like anyway, hmmm???) There’s something wrong with you, you’re not fulfilling your proper societal role, which I guess is to be horny all the time. (Whereas women are supposed to be… what, exactly? She can’t be implying that women are asexual, can she? Maybe they are supposed to be gossipy and shallow.)

Here we see a very definite sexual-normative prejudice as well as a distinct anti-homosexual bias. She may be too batty to make much of an impact, but that’s basically the kind of attitude we’re up against. Coming from someone more mainstream, it could very well hurt the community.

So I’m trying to think, now, of any other time I’ve heard “asexual” used as an insult. The only thing I can come up with is an episode of House from season four, during the survivor arc, wherein one of the contestants complains about Ridiculously Old Fraud’s favor with House. I remember it because after it aired, M (obnoxiously) pointed out that “they bashed asexuals!” With a little help from the saved convo and ctrl + find, I was able to find the exact quote (the episode, btw, is “Guardian Angels”):

“Why does he get to be Bosley?”
“You want to be Bosley? Bosley’s like the asexual messenger boy.”

But other than that… I can’t think of any other times I’ve heard “asexual” used as a pejorative. Of course I’ve heard people imply that it’s bad, but not specifically use it as an insult. If any of you guys can think of any other times when you’ve heard it used that way, please do comment, because I’d love to get a better idea of why these people think it’s insulting! Plus it’s always amusing to see people try to make an insult out of a label we wear proudly. ;)

Confessions

I was reading PostSecret today, as I do every Sunday, and this secret caught my eye.

There will be people, I’m sure, who will think that the person who wrote that postcard is probably asexual, but I’m not one of them. I mean sure, they could be, but I think it more likely that this person is sexual, and just for whatever reason is more interested in playing Rock Band than having sex under whatever circumstances, simply because it seems to be a much more common scenario among sexuals than they like to admit (and of course, there are many more sexuals out there than asexuals).

I have a friend whose designation in our little social circle is to be the token horndog. She is infamous for her wild sexual behavior (and, well, wild behavior in general) and the group makes a point of prodding her stories about her sexual experiences out of her. She is quite vocal about her sexual desires, fantasies, and experiences, but although she gives the impression that she thinks sex is fun and she wants to have a lot of it, she recently admitted to me privately that she actually has never even once had a positive sexual experience, in all the years since she lost her virginity (and she lost it early). She thinks the reason is because she was never in love with any of the people she’s had sex with, and that one day, with the right person, she’ll be able to have a lot of great sex. But in the meantime she pretends that it’s been a lot more fun for her than it really has been.

She’s not the only person who has admitted something like this to me (I guess it’s safe for people to tell me because I won’t tell them they have a problem for not liking it all the time). I’ve had three other friends (who identify as sexual) confess that they just don’t like sex as much as they think they should, and a few of them have even considered whether they might really be asexual. Sex now, as it’s defined by our culture, has become this great big concept that eats away at reality because of how hyped up it is. I’m sure there are people out there who really do think sex is just the greatest thing in the world, but there are a lot of people who are just going along with it. Maybe they are going along with it in order to combat negative attitudes about sex, but in that case I don’t think they’re really being sex-positive, because how can lying about how great sex is be a positive thing? It’s only going to put more pressure on people to exaggerate their own experiences, and set up false expectations that will eventually lead to disappointment.

Really, I’m shocked by how much pressure there already is on people to have more and better sex. A little while ago I read this rant on Heartless Bitches International, and… wow. Are you kidding me??? There are actually women who are willing to stick a needle in their G-spots to pump it up with collagen??? OUCH. And I thought visits to the gynecologist were bad.

I’m not sure I agree with the feminist slant of that article, though, if only because the pressure to be sexual is equally bad for men. Although there is certainly a double standard in place in that women who (are perceived to) have a lot of sex are seen as sluts, while promiscuity for males is something that builds confidence and social status. I do think that, although “orgasmo grrl” may be the new cultural ideal, the old feminine ideals are not dead yet, and so female asexuals may still find it a little easier to admit to being asexual than their male counterparts.