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

On “Better Half” – Gregory House Is Not Infallible

…Or at least, that’s how it should be written.

I’ve been watching House for years now. When I first started watching, it was sometime between the end of season two and the beginning of season three, and I burned through the first two seasons very quickly and then showed it to my best friend and then-roommate, K, who eagerly awaited season 3 with me. We would stop all our other activities and watch it together when it came on. Sometimes other people would come over to watch it with us, and we’d have little “House parties” but more often, we’d just shut the door and get quite annoyed when other people would disturb us in the middle of the show. As the seasons have worn on the show has held my interest, but it’s been waning more and more. I no longer eagerly await each episode and watch it as soon as I am able. Now weeks or months will pass before I think about getting caught up again. But I’m still watching, even though I am losing confidence in the writers.

Last week, I happened to check the AVEN home page as I (too infrequently) do, and saw that an upcoming episode of House would feature an asexual couple. I watched the preview clip with a mix of hope and deep, cynical dread. I wasn’t surprised at all to see House opposing the existence of asexuality. I was glad that Wilson said it was a “valid sexual orientation,” although the preview (terrible as usual) proved to be misleading, because he was quoting a magazine article when he said that. The show’s formula includes House being nearly always right—could the writers really take the risk of showing House being wrong about this? (Spoilers below the cut.) Continue reading

Q&A IV: Advice for DrkChief

DrkChief on Formspring asks:

I hope im not out of bounds but im in a relationship and we both think that im asexual and I am at a loss as of what to do and just wonder if you know anything that could help?

He clarifies:

Hi again, okay well we are monogamous, and as of now she’s responded positively but would I guess rather it not be this way if it didn’t have to be and with sexual activities we have been dating for just over a year and it’s been the first relationship where either of us has done anything sexual with a person in a relationship and so Neither of us knew what to expect I guess but as we started trying to do more (I’m at college and she just finished her senior year so finding alone time was hard) it was like she wanted the sexual attentions more then I did and at first I didn’t know but she thought I just didn’t find her attractive and so then I started doing stuff just to try and make up for that and there were times where I think I genuinely wanted to do it but I’m the type of person who has always done what other people wanted or even didn’t want me to do to make them happy and I think I might just enjoy being able to experience some of these thing because of what I’ve been told that it’s supposed to be the the best thing ever (I have two older brothers who have been preaching this to me). One of the big things is I’ve never started any of the sexual things we have done it’s always been her and I have been anxious/scared to be alone with her in case she wants to do something and I’m not up to it or I’ll be able to please her but her not me and she takes it as being her fault. Sorry for rambling but just another piece of information is that about two years ago I was trying to find out if I was gay or bi or really anything and this was before I knew her but that was because I originally felt that the lack of sexual attraction I felt was equally low for both female and male I wanted to know If I was that, and about a year after I has started thinking about this I had my gay brother (drunk) holding down and telling me basically that I should not be gay (this was around when I told her for the first time that I had thought I was bi or gay and at that time (a bad choice) I had gotten myself to believe that I had figured out that I was straight) and this just made me think about it more and more. And sorry it is so long I’m just glad for any advice at all.

To summarize briefly, the basic situation as I understand it is this: you’re in the process of figuring yourself out, while in a monogamous relationship, and you and your girlfriend have both started to think that you’re asexual. Now, you don’t know what to do.

Well, first of all, I have to ask: you’re at a loss as of what to do about what, exactly? Presumably, this has to do with the sexual parts of your relationship. But what about it? I want you to really ask yourself what your goals are here, and be specific about it. Some people, upon realizing they are asexual, start to think that maybe they don’t want to be in a relationship at all, or only want to be in a relationship with either another asexual, or someone who is comfortable forgoing sex. From what I can glean, you seem to be looking for a way to maintain your current relationship while staying true to yourself. But what exactly does that mean? Does it mean not having sex at all? Having sex at a certain frequency, or in a certain way? It’s certainly possible for sexual/asexual couplings to work out well, though it depends on a number of factors. I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a moment.

But first of all, since you are just recently coming to identify as asexual, I want to talk about that. When I first realized I was asexual, having gone through a similar phase as you where I thought I was bisexual (and later pansexual), it was a comforting realization. It was like, “Oh, wow, this is a real thing. I’m not the only one.” I never really thought anything was wrong with me, so it wasn’t really anything like feeling that “I’m not broken after all!” like some asexuals describe. Other people describe their realization that they’re asexual as being to some degree upsetting, either because it’s a huge change in their world view or because they feel like nobody would ever want to date an asexual, and so on. So how do you feel about it?

This can’t just be about placating your girlfriend. Whatever solution you decide on, make sure it is what you genuinely want. It worries me that you say, “there were times where I think I genuinely wanted to do it but…” If you’re having sex you don’t want, that is not okay. It’s not your duty to have sex with your girlfriend. It should be a choice that you make, not because you feel you have to or because you’re pressured into it, but because you want to make it. There are plenty of reasons why you might want to do it that don’t have to do with sexual attraction. But here’s the thing: if you’re only trying to maintain the relationship, if you’re only trying to somehow “make up” for your lack of sexual attraction to your partner by having sex, you’re not going to fool her. It’s hard to feign interest, much less to feign interest for an extended period of time. If you don’t actually want to have sex at all, that will become obvious over time, and it will leave both of you unsatisfied. It could erode the relationship to the point that it would be much worse than where just not having sex would leave you. Even if she decides to break up with you because you don’t want to have sex, isn’t it better that to just have that out in the open and consider it now, rather than drawing it out doing something you don’t want to do, leaving you both unsatisfied and resentful?

Essentially, this is a compatibility issue. Nobody is ever perfectly compatible, and if they think they are, they’re deluding themselves. What the two of you need to determine is how great the incompatibility is, and whether you are compatible enough in other areas to make up for it. Where are your limits, with regard to sexual activities? Keep in mind that intercourse is not the only option when it comes to sex; some women, for example, are very happy to just have their nipples played with, and can orgasm easily that way. If you’re uncomfortable with having intercourse but you’re okay with doing that, and she likes it, that can be a way for you both to enjoy sexual activities together. You should have an open, honest discussion about what each of you wants, doesn’t want, and so on. You mentioned that you’ve never initiated anything sexual, and while I myself am not sure exactly how to go about initiating sex so I can’t help you on that one, what you can do is initiate a conversation about it, to show her that you care about this, that you care about her and want to find a solution that both of you can work with. In a way, you’ve already shown that; by writing to me, you’re already looking for a solution.

If she understands that you’re asexual, she should also understand that your lack of attraction to her is nothing personal. It’s not a rejection, and it’s not her fault if you don’t enjoy sex in the way that she does. It’s just your personal preference. Explain to her that you feel scared that she is taking it personally, and that she does think it’s her fault. Talk about whatever your anxieties are about sex, and how that’s making you feel scared to be alone with her. Explain to her the reasons why you’re scared of rejecting her, and listen to her point of view. Once you have had a good discussion (or more likely, multiple discussions) about this, you’ll be able to better assess the situation to find a possible solution.

Whatever you do, remember that sex is not your duty to provide, and it is not okay for her to pressure or otherwise coerce you into doing it. Only do it if you genuinely want to, because doing it when you don’t want to isn’t worth the pain and resentment it would breed.

I wish you the best, and hope my advice helps. If you want, feel free to comment here to update us on the situation. Anyone else who wants to provide advice, feel free to comment to this post. However, keep in mind that any comments saying that sexual/asexual relationships never work out or things similar to that will be deleted.

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If you have a question of your own to ask, you can ask me here or get in touch with me by email at grasexuality [at] gmail.com.

Willing Consent

[Potential trigger warning for extended but non-explicit discussion of consent.]

Enthusiastic consent is probably a concept you’ve heard about if you’ve been hanging around here for a while. It’s a term that was coined in an attempt to raise the standard of consent, in order to avoid allowing rapists to defend their actions by claiming that they were simply a “misunderstanding” as well as to remove any form of coercion as socially acceptable to use when pursuing sex. The idea is that all sex should be wanted sex, that a “yes” can never be assumed unless explicitly stated (unless perhaps you know your partner VERY well and have already discussed where each of your boundaries are), and that if anyone is being pressured to have sex, then the deal’s off. I think it’s a very good idea, and if it was expected that everyone follow this protocol when seeking consent, we’d all be much better off.

However, I realize that a lot of asexual people have a problem with the way that enthusiastic consent is framed. There seems to be an expectation of a certain level of desire there, and the word “enthusiasm” throws people off. It seems to be interpreted as pressure to “be sexual” if you will, or in other words to not be asexual (and indeed some people probably do intentionally mean to pressure others to reject asexuality because they view it as some kind of unhealthy “repression” but many who embrace the concept have explicitly clarified that they are not), though personally I don’t interpret it that way because I think desire and sexual attraction are independent of one another. Tons of people, including my own partner, have sex with people they are not sexually attracted to, but desire nevertheless. You can be asexual (and for the inevitable confused googler who will eventually arrive here, I’ll say that asexuality only means not experiencing sexual attraction, not to be confused with anything else) and still have some desire for sex. So I think that yes, asexuals can very well enthusiastically consent.

Still, for those who don’t particularly desire sex, it may seem like too high a standard. Ironically, a standard designed to remove pressure may actually be causing some people to feel pressured, so it may be a good idea to start using a new term in addition to enthusiastic consent. A couple weeks ago, Emily Nagoski made a post on different types of consent, proposing a new category of willing consent:

Enthusiastic consent:
When I want you
When I don’t fear the consequences of saying yes OR saying no.
When saying no means missing out on something I want.

Willing consent:
When I care about you though I don’t desire you (right now).
When I’m pretty sure saying yes will have an okay result and I think maybe that I’d regret saying no. (edited from the OP, see comments)
When I believe that desire may begin after I say yes.

Unwilling consent:
When I fear the consequences of saying no more than I fear the consequences of saying yes
When I feel not just an absence of desire but an absence of desire for desire.
When I hope that by saying yes, you will stop bothering me, or think that if I say no you’ll only keep on trying to persuade me.

Coerced consent:
When you threaten me with harmful consequences if I say no.
When I feel I’ll be hurt if I say yes, but I’ll be hurt more if I say no.
When saying yes means experiencing something I actively dread.

I think this idea works pretty well. I wouldn’t classify my own consent as willing consent personally, even though I only have responsive desire, because I think it pretty much always meets the qualifications for enthusiastic consent. But if it works for anyone else? Sure, it’s a fine term, although I feel it’s a little redundant because consent means willingness in the first place. But since that has gotten muddied up by people not understanding what consent actually means, the redundancy is okay. I want to put quotes around “consent” for those last two though, because I think they describe compliance, not consent. Calling those things “consent” is harmful, in my opinion, because it may give people the wrong idea of what consent means, and make them think any of those behaviors are morally acceptable just because they think it still constitutes consent, and therefore “it’s not rape so it’s okay.”

I want to point out something else, though: sometimes people both desire and feel repulsed by the idea of having sex, at the same time. Sometimes people are not completely sure if they want to have sex, but do still make an unpressured decision to go ahead with it and see how it goes. I’d call that cautious consent. In that situation, as long as there is no pressure to have sex, no fear of what your partner would do if you said no, and as long as the initiating partner asks for consent explicitly and gives you time to decide, I’d say it still constitutes consent. But if the initiator doesn’t ask for permission and just starts touching before giving you time to make up your mind, if they try to persuade you into having sex, or if they do gain permission but ignore your reservations or limits, I wouldn’t call it consent. In that sort of situation I think it’s best to proceed slowly and carefully, like you’re at a yellow light. It may turn green or it may turn red, so you have to keep checking in to see if it’s still okay.

So, what do you all think? Do you like these terms? Can you think of any better ones?

[By the way, please be patient with me this time, because I’m not at home right now so it may take comments a while to go through.]

Seduction and Its Nasty Implications

[Trigger warning for sexual assault.]

When I posted How to Seduce an Asexual, I left out a lot of things about seduction that I have a problem with. Namely… well, the entire system of ideology that’s behind it.

I had an extended conversation with C about it after I made that post, and the conclusion we both came to is that ultimately, seduction comes down to placing blame. Or credit, as the case may be—boys patting themselves on the back for having “scored” with so-and-so, bragging about it to other boys.

Historically, it has probably been more about blame than credit. Here are the definitions of the verb “seduce” given by the OED:

1. trans. To persuade (a vassal, servant, soldier, etc.) to desert his allegiance or service.

2. In wider sense: To lead (a person) astray in conduct or belief; to draw away from the right or intended course of action to or into a wrong one; to tempt, entice, or beguile to do something wrong, foolish, or unintended.

3. trans. To induce (a woman) to surrender her chastity. Now said only of the man with whom the act of unchastity is committed (not, e.g., of a pander). Cf. DEBAUCH v.

4. To decoy (from or to a place), to lead astray (into). Obs. exc. with notion of sense

5. To win by charm or attractiveness. Obs. rare

Inherent in most, if not absolutely all, of these is a value judgment: sex is bad, it is the wrong course. For the seduced, having sex is foolish or at the very least unintended. According to C’s way of thinking, you cannot be seduced if you set out originally to have sex with whomever you happened to have sex with. You might say that you were seduced, but I think most people would agree that if you intended to do it from the outset, you weren’t actually seduced. So that means that at least in some sense, having sex would be something negative. Maybe that means you have “chastity”—some kind of innocence or purity which can be given away. A virginity, whatever the heck that means, that you are protecting by not having sex. You’re trying to hold to these principles, and you wouldn’t normally do it, but someone came along who was just so amazingly tempting that you had to give in. He seduced you. Notice who is both the subject and the agent of that sentence. It’s not you, it’s him.

Or maybe you’re not a virgin. Maybe you’re married. If you’re committed to a monogamous relationship, then it’s wrong to have sex outside of that relationship. You do it anyway, and when your partner finds out, you say, “She seduced me.” Whether or not that’s true, if you can get your partner to believe it, it may shift some of the blame onto the “seductress.” While you may not be absolved of blame in the public eye, the focus shifts. Google Michelle McGee, for instance, and you’re likely to find blog posts about her where people have had to use a disclaimer: “Of course Jesse James is also in the wrong, but…”

Seduction is inherently about manipulation, even if the result is framed as something which is liberating. It is about strategizing, cajoling, overcoming resistance—even if that resistance comes from “unfounded fears” or negative ideas about sex, and results in a welcome removal of such fears. It is a choice made under pressure deliberately calculated by the seducer, if it does constitute a choice at all. It’s not really even framed as a choice; it’s framed as something that was done to someone.

And it’s scary, because a person in “seduction mode” will likely not recognize very obvious signs of non-consent and back off. M laughed at me once for pulling his hand out of my underwear, and then put it back. He thought of my actions as if they were a move in a game, apparently, when really I wanted him to stop, and it would be hedging to say I was merely “uncomfortable” with what he was doing. I was scared. I could tell he would be able to overpower me, and most likely nobody would take my side. He didn’t respect me or the knowledge I had about my sexual orientation—not that he even listened to me when I tried to explain and make my boundaries clear. I thought that if I could just communicate to him what asexuality really means, he would stop violating them, and start to take me seriously. That never happened. He was convinced that I was “not really asexual” and apparently thought that he was sweeping me off my feet, getting rid of my “unfounded” fears, and so on.

Why is it that consent is allowed to be implicit—indicated by anything from the clothes a victim is wearing to his/her previous history and character—but there is no room for implicit non-consent? Why does a lack of a no apparently mean yes? Why does Cathy Young say that requiring initiators to seek explicit consent for sexual activity:

“infantilizes women (while the policies may be gender-neutral on their face, they generally presume men to be the initiators in heterosexual encounters). Are women so weak that they can’t even say ”no,” or otherwise indicate their lack of consent, unless the man takes the initiative of asking?”

Hey, I tried to indicate my lack of consent. It didn’t work. And having heard from 90 people so far (and still counting) about their experiences with rape and sexual assault, I realize that it is a common phenomenon to have one’s boundaries treated like they are a joke, even in cases where the victim very explicitly said no.

Actually, up to 88% of those who have been sexually assaulted experience some degree of involuntary temporary paralysis during the assault. It doesn’t make them weak or infantilize anyone, male or female; that’s just the way that most people (and other animals) instinctively respond to such a threat. In fact, it is probably adaptive and helpful, since resistance may only make an attacker more violent, and do more damage.

Treating sex like it is a game to be played out, especially a game wherein one party is expected to be the gatekeeper, and show resistance that is supposed to be overcome… well, I think it’s awful. Especially so for those who are assumed to be consenting when they are not. And even when the sex IS consensual, framing it as seduction removes the implication of free choice from the “seduced” and places the blame/credit on the “seducer.” And I wonder why, if you really made a fully informed and free choice to have sex, you wouldn’t want to give yourself credit for making that choice.

I just wish that we could get away from a manipulative model of how sex works and put everything out in the open. There is nothing wrong with having sex if you want to, and there is nothing wrong with not wanting to, either. I mean seriously, what is with all this sneaking around? Why is it such a huge problem to just outright ask if someone wants to do it or not, and then honor their wishes?

The Vaginal Corona

I don’t have much time to blog lately because I’ve got a bunch of mid-term essays to write, but I wanted to at least pass on this link.

Last year I read Virgin by Hanne Blank (which I highly recommend) and had been trying to collect my thoughts to make a post on virginity, but that never really materialized. Basically, I am convinced that the concept of virginity, or at the very least all the emphasis on the supposed “purity” of virgins, is an archaic concept that no longer makes sense in a society with DNA testing and birth control—and especially not in a world where women are no longer considered property passed on from fathers to husbands. I should hope that we are moving towards a society where women’s choices about their bodies are valued and respected (though we are not there yet), where neither a woman’s choice to have sex NOR her choice not to have sex are something for which she is shamed.

The idea of this membrane that has two possible states—intact/unbroken or damaged/torn—and that first-time penetration inflicts a wound to the woman which can be measured in blood, is extremely problematic, and has been used as a way to sentence countless women (some of whom were undoubtedly still virgins despite the lack of blood) to slavery, imprisonment, rape, mutilation, or murder. We may want to believe that we are more civilized than to kill, maim, or torture a girl because she has lost her virginity, that this just doesn’t happen in our society and that the most that we have to contend with is slut-shaming, but here’s a news flash: in 2004, a twelve-year-old girl was forced to drink bleach by her own mother because the mother believed she had lost her virginity.

So I am all for the idea of changing the terminology we use to describe this highly misunderstood part of a woman’s anatomy. The more education there is about this, the better. And changing the name to something more accurate is bound to catch people’s attention, and allow for more widespread education about what women’s bodies are really like.

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!

Things I Have Learned About Sex and Sexuality

I know I am posting a lot lately, but it just so happens that I’ve got a lot of nearly finished drafts lying around, so all I am doing is putting the finishing touches on them and scheduling them. Enjoy it while it lasts! But just to warn you, this post is definitely not work-safe, and if you’re kinda squeamish about sex talk you probably won’t care to read it.

Anyway. A little while ago, I was interviewed for this article [Edit: link stripped because of this] (I’m identified as Elizabeth Collins there, which is sort of a half pseudonym). The interview was much longer than one might otherwise assume from reading the article, and the interviewer asked some very interesting questions. One of those questions in particular I was at a loss to answer on the spot, but I thought it was certainly worth exploring further.

She asked, “What have you learned about sex/sexuality, from your experiences with it?” (paraphrasing, of course)

“There are so many things,” I said, “I really don’t even know where to start!”

My perspective on sex of course changed gradually. My parents tried to raise me conservatively, and for a while I kind of held on to those values not so much because I believed they were right (in fact, I thought my parents had gone insane), but because there was no adolescent stirring within me to contradict them. I didn’t necessarily think it was wrong for other people to have sex in their teens, but me? I was going to wait. Because I didn’t want to do it, so it seemed right to wait. I always thought I would end up wanting to have sex someday… and I was right. Sort of. Because I don’t want it the same way that other people do. I chose to do it for many different reasons, none of them involving attraction (at least not sexual attraction) or desire. In part, I did it because I wanted to challenge myself, find out where my limits are, see whether I was really so indifferent about sex as I thought I would be. And as it turns out, I can hold out just fine in a sexual relationship, as long as the other person is supportive. And I’ve learned a great deal in the process.

So here are some of the things I’ve learned:

  1. There is no such thing as an “innate understanding” about sexuality, even though asexuals may be tempted to think that sexual people have this. Attraction or no attraction, nobody knows what sex is or how to do it innately. You have to learn to get good at it. And nobody really knows why they like whatever it is that they like, they just do.
  2. There is an extraordinary amount of things to be learned about sexuality, and some people must apparently be spending hours and hours going through google search results looking for sex tips, because my piddling little blog post compiling some sex tips for asexuals is certainly not listed in the first few pages, with the search terms they are using!
  3. Unfortunately a lot of people who write guides for certain sexual techniques (like cunnilingus) like to (annoyingly) assert that anyone you try them on will love it, without taking into consideration that different people have different preferences. According to them, people who don’t love it are just repressed.
  4. There’s definitely more than just two types of orgasms for women, although some of the ones that are mentioned here leave me scratching my head. I find it kinda weird that she goes off into talking about “energy orgasms” and such but completely fails to mention something like a “nipple-gasm” (orgasm reached purely from stimulating the nipples, with no other stimulation of any kind) which I would imagine would be somewhat more common? I dunno, but it seems like it would be at least worth making a broad category for something like that, wouldn’t it? It doesn’t fit any of the ones she’s described. Anyway, I find the mysticism about orgasms to be really over-the-top, to the point that it’s confusing. They’re nice, sure, but are they really THAT special???
  5. The hymen does not just break and stay open at the same width as your last partner. If you don’t have any penetrative sex for a while, the vagina will gradually tighten up again. Some women even have hymens that will completely regenerate. So for women especially, that kind of sex tends to be easier/less painful if you do it relatively frequently.
  6. But we should also keep in mind that penis-in-vagina sex can hurt for men, too.
  7. Communicating about sex is especially important. Don’t allow anyone who says, “It’s your problem, not mine” to be (or continue to be) a sex partner.
  8. There’s more to sex than just PIV, anal, or oral. It’s not even all about penetration. Going outside the traditional box can be very helpful for an asexual/sexual couple. Or perhaps just for any couple, because intercourse can be used as a sort of standard formula, a way of avoiding discovering what each person likes and how sex might be better… and, for asexuals in particular, it could be used as a way of avoiding dealing with sexuality as much as possible instead of taking it as an active learning experience.
  9. There are some sexual people who are not so much visually (or sonically) attracted to people, but just attracted to certain body parts or (imagined or real) situations. This makes the question of what constitutes sexual attraction a little more complicated.
  10. Male and female genitals are really not all that different. Given the appropriate hormone balance, male genitals will become similar to female ones and vice versa. There’s a limit to that, of course (which is why bottom surgery is common among trans people), but it is way beyond what most people would expect. I won’t go into the details of it unless people ask, but really, it’s impressive.
  11. Yes, sex CAN be intimate! The phrase “making love,” stupid and corny as I still think it is, does exist for a reason. Most people use it to refer to a specific kind of sex.
  12. Dwindling interest in sex can indeed be caused by relationship problems. And sometimes having more sex is a way to facilitate re-bonding, although it certainly can’t be used as a replacement for intimacy or as an excuse not to engage in other, non-sexual forms of bonding.
  13. If something exists, there’s probably someone out there who has a fetish for it. Did you know there’s such a thing as a sneezing fetish? Tickling? Farting?
  14. Power dynamics are very important to consider. Make sure you find a balance (or imbalance) that you’re comfortable with.
  15. Sex is gross. And that shouldn’t be a big deal. There is also a learning curve, so it’s best to have a sense of humor about it.
  16. Different types of lube and condoms most certainly make a difference.
  17. Because C is a sex toy enthusiast, I have learned more about sex toys than I ever wanted to know. Now, I certainly don’t disapprove of sex toys. But you know, every time I walk into a porn store I am still completely overcome by confusion and the desire to laugh.
  18. Totally unrelated to C: did you know there is a Twilight dildo? Creepy! (Check out the comments, they’re hilarious.)
  19. Some people have been so badly educated about sex that a 20-year-old (American) woman will freak out about getting pregnant after only having slept over at a guy’s place. Nothing sexual happened at all, not even clothes coming off. True story! She also believed that guys could die from getting blue balls, and I have a very special story about that, but it will have to wait for another time. She’s a special person.
  20. In that light, I thought I’d link you all here: Stuff Everyone Should Know.

Edit: I totally forgot that I had scheduled this post to go up last night, so I was a little confused at first when I saw the comments, haha. Just to round it out and make it even, and because I thought they were important to include, I added two more points.

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.