March Carnival of Aces Roundup: Sexual Exploration

This month’s Carnival of Aces has been a blast, thanks everyone for participating! If you have a post that didn’t quite make the deadline, you can still post it here in the comments, and I’ll edit it into this post. I’m pretty sure I got everyone who commented or emailed me added in, but if I’ve somehow missed your post, I’m sorry! If you commented later than a certain point, it may be that I just didn’t get a chance to edit the post again between when you commented and when the post was scheduled to go up.

Also, if I got your pronouns wrong, please let me know. I did my best to check which pronouns people use, but sometimes that information is not obvious/clearly marked in a location that’s easy to find.

The topic was Sexual Exploration, which I chose intentionally to be a “double entendre” of sorts, so that we could have posts from both asexuals exploring sexuality (directly or intellectually), and posts from *sexual partners of asexuals exploring their relationships with their partners.

I think the topic was a big success—we’ve had many excellent posts on a wide variety of subjects. Here’s the full list:

From Ace-spectrum folk:

  • From VanillaAbsolute, a discussion of sexual attraction and sexual desire.
  • Isaac discusses one reason he was hesitant to identify as asexual, and learning about sexuality.
  • From henshin, a guest post on her process of self-discovery through sexual exploration.
  • Idealistic Ironist talks about the difficulties of navigating issues of sex as an asexual person.
  • Charles (from Sex, Drugs, and Dr. Who) talks about how sex ed is important for asexuals, too.
  • I wrote about “friends with benefits” and how even though asexuals might want to explore casual sex, the language typically used to describe such relationships is very exclusionary towards asexuals.
  • This post from sidneyia describes her frustrated attempts to explore sexuality in a way that didn’t come naturally to her, before she realized that she is asexual.
  • Norah talks about exploring sexuality before and after realizing that she is asexual, and a little bit about mixed relationships.

From *sexual partners of aces:

  • My own partner, C (she comments here as Cat Pajamas), kicked off the month with her post on Why Date an Asexual? Technically she posted this before I even knew I’d be doing the carnival this month, and then she helped me to hastily solidify my idea for a topic into a single phrase. When I put the call for submissions post up, she was a little upset that the post she’d worked on for the better part of a year fell so quickly from the top of the page, so I backdated the call post to bump it back up. Her post had a record-breaking number of views, with 676 people viewing my blog on Feb 4th, the day after it was added. For context, the previous high record was when the House post went up, at 403 views. Given that her post was so topical and popular, I felt like I couldn’t not include it, even though it wasn’t technically written for the carnival.
  • Laura brings the perspective of a sexual woman married to Tom, an asexual man, for 25 years. The story of how they make it work despite their conflicting orientations, and how they finally are able to move forward after Tom realizes that he is asexual is very powerful.
  • I’m excited to host a guest post by Olivier about how he and his wife explored sexuality before ultimately realizing that she is asexual. As usual, he expresses how they journeyed together with an excellent extended metaphor.

Thanks again for your participation, everyone! I hope those of you who didn’t submit have enjoyed reading along. The next Carnival will be hosted by Pip over at Hobbit Activism.

Sex With Friends: An Asexual Perspective

I planned to write my post for the Carnival of Aces quite a while ago, but something came up this month that made me reconsider what I had planned to write about. I’ve decided to go with the original idea, but make it more generalized than I had originally planned. My blog is receiving a lot more attention lately (by several orders of magnitude!) than it normally does, so I’m being more cautious about what I talk about here.

Today, I want to talk about having sex with friends, and how while it may not seem intuitive, it might be a choice that some asexual people do want to make, and they can come out of it just fine. But the language we use to describe relationships like that tends to exclude asexuals, so it can be an even more difficult minefield to navigate than engaging in sexual activity while in a romantic relationship.

Back when this blog post by Snowdrop Explodes* about the phrases “friends with benefits” vs. “fuck buddies” was written, I stuck a link to it in a draft and decided to come back to it later, but then forgot about it until now. In it, Snowdrop says that he prefers the term “fuck buddies” because it is more honest than the euphemistically named “benefits” that also imply that friendships don’t normally come with benefits. In his words:

So how come the only “benefits” that are worth mentioning, or making special mention of, are sexual favours? Why is the rest of it considered not to be benefits of friendship, such that the only friends who come with benefits are the ones who’ll let you fuck them? Do you think that it is too literal-minded of me to suggest that “friends with benefits” means that all other friends are “friends without benefits”?

I don’t think it’s too literal-minded at all. At the very least, it shows that everything else in a friendship is being taken for granted. I think it’s very much worth considering the implications of the language we use to describe relationships like this on a literal level, because it says something about how we value certain things and devalue others. If on a cultural level we truly valued friendships as highly as sexual relationships, the phrase “friends with benefits” wouldn’t sit right with most people, and it would fall out of use.

I disagree with Snowdrop’s use of the term “fuck buddies” as basically a synonym for FWB, since I think (and he does note that this is how he sees others using the terms) they do indeed refer to different kinds of relationships, or at least, the same relationship viewed with very different emphases. If you say you have a “fuck buddy,” then you are saying that the primary activity that you do with that person is fuck them, just like if you say you have a “drinking buddy” or a “knitting buddy,” you’re saying you primarily drink or knit with that person, respectively. The activity is the focus, not the friendship itself. If anyone describes a friend as a “_____ buddy” to me, I will assume that they do hardly anything else but [fill in the blank] together. With the phrase “friend with benefits,” however, you indicate that the friendship comes first, and the “benefits” are an added bonus, although the fact that this particular thing is the only thing that gets to be called a “benefit” still devalues friendship.

The other term that I think really needs mentioning is “casual sex,” which wikipedia informs me has no set, commonly agreed-upon meaning. The way I tend to view it is as a wide umbrella term for different kinds of sex outside the context of a romantic relationship, including both one-time encounters with strangers and, on the other side of the spectrum, habitual encounters with friends. So both fuck buddies and FWBs are engaging in a type of casual sex, and while the relationships may be similar, the two phrases have a different emotional tenor.

To demonstrate… if I were in a relationship that I considered basically a FWB-type arrangement (for lack of a better term), I would be hurt if I found out I was being described as a “fuck buddy” to others by my FWB. Because to me, that means they consider the rest of our friendship to be shallow, nearly meaningless. It strongly implies to me that should the sex ever stop, so would our friendship.

I personally can’t imagine a situation in which I would be okay with having a relationship that focuses solely on sex. I always want to be friends first and foremost, and that includes in romantic relationships. I’m not the type of person who would be comfortable having sex with strangers, since there are so many considerations that I need my sexual partners to keep in mind about me in order to have a truly positive sexual encounter.

But with a friend? Maybe that’s possible.

Continue reading

Carnival of Aces: Call for Submissions

Apparently we didn’t have anyone doing the March carnival, so I volunteered! To that end, sorry that the call is a little bit late this month. I know that February is a short month, so it’s a little bit extra annoying because it leaves people with even less time to write. I think I will post the roundup on the 3rd of March to make up for it a little, although that’s quickly becoming standard practice for these anyway.

What is the Carnival of Aces?

A blog carnival is an event in which various people write posts around a single topic. These posts are then collected at the end of the carnival and linked together by the carnival’s host. The Carnival of Aces is a blog carnival about asexuality, hosted on asexual blogs, and it’s a fantastic way to get people talking about asexuality. If you’re an asexual blogger having writer’s block, it’s a great way to keep ideas flowing. The carnival needs volunteers to host the next several rounds, so if you have a blog and you’re interested in doing it, please go visit the master post to volunteer!

Theme: Sexual Exploration

This is sort of meant to have a double meaning. First and foremost, I want to hear from asexuals, but I also want to hear from their sexual romantic partners, because it’s kind of difficult to find perspectives from them. This may sound like a topic that’s too narrow to include a lot of asexuals, but I actually intend it to be fairly broad. Consider these questions to get you started:

  • Are you sexually active? Have you ever considered becoming sexually active? If so, why did you make the decision to become sexually active or not to become sexually active?
  • How informed are you about sex? Have you made efforts to educate yourself about sexual health even though you may never plan to have sex? If so, talk a little bit about why you value sex education even if you aren’t interested in sex yourself. If not, I challenge you to look into it some more, and report your findings. Try to discover something you didn’t know before.
  • Are you gray-asexual or demisexual? What are your experiences with sexual attraction, and how do they inform your overall identity? How do you relate to and explore your more sexual side?
  • Are you fascinated by sexuality on an intellectual level? What sort of things fascinate you about it?
  • What are some of the positive/interesting things you’ve learned about sexuality just by being part of a culture where the majority of people are sexual? What do you understand about it? What don’t you understand about it and would like to know more about? (Try to do this without any angry ranting! Don’t focus on the negative stuff, that’s not the point.)
  • Have you ever made any earnest attempts to explore sexuality (on an intellectual level, on a level of physical intimacy, whatever) and been shut down because you’re asexual, and the others involved thought that you couldn’t understand, wouldn’t be able to handle it, or for some other reason related to your asexuality?
  • Do you ever make sexual jokes? How do others respond to an asexual making such jokes? If there are any other similar situations where you’ve said or explored something considered sexual? How did others who know that you’re asexual respond to that?
  • Have you ever had casual sex or sex with a person who was a friend, but not a romantic partner? If so, how did that go? Was it successful, or just a big mess? If it was a messy situation, do you think there is anything that could’ve made it positive and safe for both of you? If you haven’t but would consider it, why?
  • Have you ever explored any kinky/BDSM activities, even if they were not sexual to you? How did it work out for you, and how did the other people involved respond?
  • Are you in or have you ever been in any sort of happy, successful relationship involving sex? How did you make it work? Are there any specific tips you have for other asexuals in similar situations? If you are happily partnered to an asexual person but not asexual yourself, how do you make it work? What challenges do you face, and how do you overcome them? What advice would you have for any other sexual people wanting to date an asexual person, or for an asexual person trying to relate to a sexual partner? If you’re low on ideas, you might try reading this post by my own partner to get some thoughts going.

Obviously not all of these will apply to everyone. These are just some potential ideas. By all means feel free to supply your own!

How do I submit a post?

You can leave a comment here with a link to your post or email the link to grasexuality [at] gmail.com. The soft deadline for this month is March 1st, although since it’s a short month and the call was posted late, you have until March 3rd to make sure your post is included when the round-up first goes up. If you submit a link to me after the round-up post goes up, I will still edit the post to include it, but your post may not get quite as much visibility as it would if it were included from the start. Please do not link me to any posts written before February 1st! Posts must be new and written sometime this month. You can link to older posts you’ve already written in your submission, but the point of the carnival is to generate new ideas and discussions, so the submissions themselves must be new.

I don’t have my own blog, can I still submit something?

Absolutely! I host guest posts here on my own blog, so if you’d like to submit one, please email me at grasexuality [at] gmail.com and I’ll be happy to put it up for you. Even if you do have a blog, maybe you don’t want to host it on yours because it’s private, or maybe asexuality is not something you want to discuss there for whatever reason. If you would, please provide a short bio for me to include at the top of your post. If you are not comfortable doing that, however, you can submit anonymously as well. If you would, please provide a short bio for me to include at the top of your post. Please review my guest posting guidelines before submitting.

By all means, please feel free to link this call post around so that more people are aware of it. The more submissions we get, the better!

Achieving a Wide Variety of Representations

Well, now that I’ve discussed how I DON’T want asexuals/asexuality to be represented in the media, it’s time to talk about how I DO want us to be represented. This is the post that I originally intended to make for this month’s Carnival of Aces,  the topic of which is Re/presentation, and which I’d encourage you to submit a post for if you haven’t done so yet. The deadline is the 31st (tomorrow) but they can be submitted a day or two late.

First, though, a couple of updates.

The Asexual Awareness Week group has started a petition to get the executive producer’s attention about the damaging portrayal of asexuality on House. Please sign it and pass it on!

If you scroll down you’ll see that the Twitter feed is back on my blog with a new account linked, so if you were following my old one you’ll want to switch to following @Lunacinzenta. I am also going to start using Publicize to automatically post links to new blog posts on Twitter, so if you prefer to follow me that way you can. I’m going to make an effort to actually continue using Twitter this time, as well.

About the ongoing House Saga: I tweeted a link to my post to Kath Lingenfelter, the writer of the episode, asking her to read it so she might better understand what’s wrong with the portrayal of asexuality in the episode. She tweeted back:

@Lunacinzenta V. well written & clearly stated. Personal anecdote about M especially upsetting. Appreciate your continuing the conversation.

I am glad that she read the post and replied. Given the limited format of this medium, it’s difficult to know exactly what she’s thinking, and I know that many people are very skeptical that she’s genuinely apologetic. I agree that she has made several troublesome statements since the whole thing started blowing up in her face. However, for a person who has never actually given much thought to the rhetoric of apologizing, on the surface of it, “I’m sorry if I offended you,” and the like seem like perfectly fine ways to apologize. That’s kind of the whole point, isn’t it? They’re crafted to seem like an apology, so that some people will accept them as one. If someone has never had much experience with weaselly abusive people, maybe doesn’t follow politics all that closely, doesn’t read a lot of social justice blogs and so on, it’s possible that they’ve just never encountered analysis of what statements like that are actually saying, so they take not-pologies at face value and even use them themselves. It’s a lack of critical thinking about that topic, certainly, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t have genuine intentions. So I’ll cut her some slack. I’m not saying that I’ve decided for sure one way or another on whether her apologies are genuine, but I don’t have enough evidence to conclusively rule out the possibility that she is sincere, so she gets the benefit of the doubt for now.

The reason I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt is because a large part of what it means to be an ally is learning from your mistakes. The damage has already been done, and because it’s a popular show on international television, it is very widespread. It can’t be reversed, but maybe it can be mitigated somewhat. The asexual community by itself is marginalized enough that we don’t have the power to do that alone. Hence the petition. I don’t want to write off potential allies for making mistakes, but rather I want to provide them with an opportunity to learn how to do better. I’m offering myself up as a consultant, for Lingenfelter or anyone else who wants to write about asexuality—if you do, get in touch! I’m trying to provide resources here on this blog by answering questions that people may have through my series of Q&A posts; if anyone has questions, you can ask them completely anonymously on Formspring.

Dealing with stereotypes

With that out of the way, I want to talk about the problematic notion of a stereotype-free portrayal of asexuality.

I think at this point we’ve reached the stage where there is a certain “stereotypical asexual” that a lot of sexual people have in mind when they think of asexuals. I don’t think they imagine that all of these traits apply to all of us. There’s room for people to break stereotypes, but there are certain things that people just automatically assume about asexuals unless they have evidence to contradict their assumptions. Like:

  1. Asexuals are unattractive.
  2. Asexuals are socially awkward and/or are on the autistic spectrum.
  3. Asexuals spend too much time on the Internet. Make up too many new words.
  4. Asexuals are cold, analytical, robot-like. Not passionate.
  5. Asexuals are either very sexually inexperienced, or have experienced sexual trauma. This causes us to have a lot of anxiety about sex.
  6. Asexuals are all celibate or would all rather be celibate.
  7. Asexuals are white. Maybe sometimes Asian.
  8. Asexuals are gender non-conforming.
  9. Asexuals are isolated, alone.
  10. Asexuals are deceptive, hide their asexuality to get dates. Or are hiding that they are NOT asexual, delusional/self-deceptive.
  11. Asexuals are aspiring cat ladies.
  12. Asexuals are all huge nerds.
  13. Asexuals have something physically wrong with them (e.g. hormone problems, hypothyroidism, brain tumors, erectile dysfunction, etc.)
  14. Asexuals think they are better than people who have sex.

This may not be a complete list of stereotypes, but it’s what I can think of off the top of my head. I fit into maybe about half of these stereotypes, and break the rest. The tricky thing is that stereotypes don’t come from nowhere. A lot of us DO fit many of them. There’s a little grain of truth hidden behind most of them, although it’s distorted because people don’t understand what’s really going on and therefore interpret what they see in a much more negative way.

Take number ten. Asexual people who are married to non-asexual people get a LOT of flack, with many people just automatically assuming that they must have led their spouse on before the marriage (I’d provide links to back this up, but mostly I see this going on in comments sections of various articles dealing with asexuality, and I forget where exactly I’ve seen it, so if anyone has any examples, feel free to provide them in the comments). They take for granted that asexuals know their orientation before getting married, which in a lot of cases is not true. A lot of asexuals spend years not understanding what’s wrong with them, and only start coming to the realization that they are asexual after they’re in a marriage that isn’t working out well for them because of the issue of sex. This is only aggravated in religious circles where abstinence before marriage is considered the only moral alternative. So the little grain of truth to the stereotype is that sometimes people find out their partners are asexual after they’re already invested in a relationship. The problem is that then they assume more understanding and control over the situation than the asexual person actually had in reality, and from that assumption they conclude that the asexual person intentionally deceived them… because they’re evil or something, I guess. The second part of this stereotype of the “deceptive asexual” was reinforced during the recent episode of House. It’s true that sometimes people identify as asexual and then later realize that they are sexual after all, but people tend to look for any instance of that happening and then interpret that as evidence that all of us are lying, or lying to ourselves. Either way, it’s hugely exaggerated and distorted from what’s really going on.

At least a third of these stereotypes, if not more, are connected to stereotypes about other groups of people, like nerds and non-NT people, which are themselves interconnected. And the asexual community does appear to have a higher-than-average proportion of nerdy people and people on the autistic spectrum. Most likely this has to do with the visible community being based on the internet—there are local meet-up groups but they aren’t seen as much as AVEN, and due to the rarity and invisibility of asexuality they’re hard to plan without the aid of the internet. Nerds tend to be more likely to actually post and stay connected to the internet communities. I’m sure there are asexuals out there who aren’t terribly well-connected to asexual communities because they aren’t online that often.

Obviously, some of these stereotypes, like 10, are so damaging that they should never be reinforced. It’d be fine to explore a character who discovers that they’re asexual after being married, but not one who lies about being asexual in order to get married, because that wouldn’t be a fair representation of reality. But when it comes to stereotypes like “asexuals have Asperger’s” and the like, there’s a point where refusing to portray an asexual with Asperger’s becomes an act of erasure. It is even more an act of erasure when it comes to non-fictional media representations. Are asexuals with Asperger’s unfit to represent the rest of us in news pieces and documentaries because they aren’t NT, because they don’t “prove” that asexuals are perfectly normal? Of course not.

But if the ONLY representations of asexuals out there are asexuals who have Asperger’s, then we have a problem. Because there are a lot of asexuals who don’t fit that stereotype, and then they are erased.

So the key thing is not to try to avoid all the stereotypes, but rather to portray a wide variety of asexual characters who are fully developed, and break stereotypes in different ways. Pay attention to the balance of how asexual characters are being portrayed, and if there are already too many portrayals of one type and not enough of others, don’t contribute to it by making yet another character fit stereotype x. At the same time, we have to be mindful that we don’t slip into tokenism, including an asexual character who ___ just because we want to fill a quota, without being mindful of whether we can write that character well or not. Certain things, like characters with traumatic pasts, are sometimes used as a cheap way to give depth to a character without fully exploring their trauma in a thoughtful way. Asexual characters with trauma, especially sexual trauma, need to be extra-thoughtfully explored because there’s a lot of room for unintended “debunking” of their asexuality. Perhaps until we are more well established as a legitimate sexual orientation, it’s best to only explore asexual characters whose sexual traumas happened because of and were not the cause of, their asexuality. I’d trust an asexual writer infinitely more than I would a non-asexual writer trying to tackle topics like this. At this stage in our visibility efforts, though, fictional characters who are asexual are quite likely to be regarded as unreliable even when they aren’t meant to be read as such at all.

But as far as non-fictional media representation goes, we should all feel free to tell our own stories, whether they make asexuality’s legitimacy seem “unassailable” or not. We do have to be careful about where and to whom we try to tell our stories, because some journalists will be unscrupulous about attacking asexuality if they can find a “flaw” that they think they can use to “disprove” asexuality. I think a lot of journalists take the idea of being “fair and balanced” too far, and insist on providing a dissenting point of view even when the dissenter is clearly making things up. And some people, like Tyra Banks, who canceled her planned segment on asexuality because she couldn’t find an asexual married couple in the United States who were willing to volunteer, are only looking for one specific kind of asexual story to tell. So there’s a lot of erasure coming from both outsiders and people within the community who are so anxious about presenting an image of asexuality that can’t be attacked that they reflexively erase people who have aspects of their past or personality that people typically latch on to in order to claim that asexuality can’t be real. Those people often have a lot of anxiety about talking about those aspects of their stories, because they are so frequently attacked or erased. It’s very understandable that someone wouldn’t want to come forward and open themselves up to that kind of hostility. It’s much easier to just omit those parts of the story. But because these parts of our stories get omitted so frequently, they’re extremely difficult for non-asexual writers to research, and since the issues aren’t well understood, asexual writers are likely to find their fiction attacked as “unrealistic.” Thus, I tend to feel quite strongly that we need to explore these trickier topics in works of non-fiction first.

Good portrayals of asexual characters and good, balanced representations of asexuality in media require a lot of research and careful thought. Many non-asexual people who have not been involved with the community really underestimate the amount of research that they need to do in order to create a fair and thoughtful representation of asexuality. Above all else, we need stories about asexuals where those characters are NOT “debunked” by the facts presented in the story. My hope is that we can get people who want to write about asexual characters to actually run their stories by real-life asexuals for critique BEFORE they are published. Maybe we need to create some sort of organized group of asexual beta readers for that purpose. I would join that group in a heartbeat if it existed.