Asexual Character Spotlight: Data

So, I’m a nerd. And I’ve been rewatching Star Trek TNG lately because the gf hasn’t seen it yet, which is just not acceptable for someone as space-nerdy as her. She seems to like it, while I am rediscovering my love for my favorite asexual character.

When I still browsed AVEN a lot, I saw a few people who had avatars or quotes of Data, and seemed to identify with him like I do. Data is very much a classic character, so I expected as much. I feel like, if anything, I’m just going to be rehashing things people already know. But after doing a quick google search, it doesn’t seem like it’s anything that’s been discussed a whole lot, so I thought I might as well talk about him a little.

Like most asexual characters currently out there in the media, Data is not human, though he desperately wants to be. The very fact that he is not human is one reason why asexuals, as well as other people who feel alienated or outside of society in some way, are more likely to identify with him. But the anatomically correct android takes it several steps further than a cute, appliance-like robot character like WALL-E could, for one because he is in a show that is much more adult and thus has the possibility of actually exploring sexual themes; and two, because his goal is to become as close a facsimile to humanity as he possibly can. He fervently explores humanity and tries very hard to understand “the human equation” as best he can.

I particularly identify with this attitude because that is exactly my attitude towards sexuality. Like Data (who engages in sexual activity with Lieutenant Yar, telling her that he is “programmed in multiple techniques”–and taking into account his performance at every other task, we can be sure that he functions more than adequately), I can and have engaged in (enjoyable, even) sexual activities, but I still fail to understand the human urge or “need” to have sex, because I do not experience it. I’ve had people go so far as to tell me that I cannot possibly be human and still feel this way, though obviously since I am human, those people are mistakenly twisting the facts to fit the theory, and not the other way around. Clearly human sexuality is in actuality more varied than most people would like to think, but my main question (unanswerable though it may be) is why do other people feel this way? How does it affect their perspective on love, the way they feel towards their crushes, and so on? I have a tendency to drive people crazy asking them endless questions about how they think about love, sex, intimacy, and other related topics, which I think is frustrating to them mainly because they’ve never thought about it before, or certainly not in such detail as I request.

Essentially, I want to know what other people feel. It’s not that I want to change myself to feel the same way they do, because I’m perfectly happy with my own lack of… not interest, because I am certainly interested in human sexuality. From a distant, analytical perspective. Sound familiar?

If I were denied the full range of human emotions, I would yearn to be human, too. But I already am human, and I have those emotions. Why should I want to feel a form of desire that would only continue to frustrate me?

One very intriguing thing that Star Trek implies about sexuality is that it is contingent on having emotions. Anyone who hasn’t seen First Contact and doesn’t want to be spoiled, please refrain from highlighting the following text: Remember that creepy scene with the Borg Queen? She turned on Data’s emotion chip and then tried to seduce him, and seemed to be succeeding. In effect, before the emotion chip is activated, Data is asexual. After? He may well become borderline sexual, and able to experience sexual attraction, although he would still have no particular need to have sex.

This implies that sexual attraction itself is an emotion. Is that an accurate presumption? I’m not sure. It could be. Or it could be that the emotion Data was experiencing was purely his intense desire to be human, channeled through a sexual circuit. Is this not similar to what many people do with regards to intimacy?

This is merely an observation, but it seems to me that many sexual people do channel their emotions through the act of sex, as a sort of release for them. I don’t really understand this behavior, (and again, I feel like Data because of it), but I do see that it happens. It seems I’m just not wired to experience sex from an emotional perspective. Would I be, if I were sexual? I wonder.

And so I continue to ponder the puzzle of human sexuality, seeking answers that I will likely never be able to attain. In a way, I think the search is more important than the ultimate conclusion.

Open Question: Let’s Discuss!

I want to know what you all think, A-migos.

Someone says they don’t (know if they) experience sexual attraction. They have a sex drive as well as a general interest in sex, and really enjoy it a lot. However, they just like (and get aroused by) the act, rather than the people involved. Even the people they consider attractive, they don’t look at and “think sex,” so to speak. So, they are quite comfortable having sex with people they don’t consider attractive.

Would you consider this person to be asexual?

So what is a sex drive, anyway? What does “libido” mean?

Both are questions considered so basic and well-understood that most people would scoff at hearing them asked, but actually, this concept is not so well defined as people would think.

It’s pretty clear that both refer to a desire for sex or sexual acts strong enough that it becomes a motivating force. The problem word in this definition is “sex.”

A few weeks ago, I was playing Truth (we are too lazy to come up with dares) with a couple of friends of mine, and, not being able to think of anything else to ask, I fell back on the standard, “How many people have you had sex with, and how many were guys, and how many were girls?”

The friend I was asking shrugged his shoulders in honest confusion. “Well, what counts as sex?”

This highlights a problem with certain acts being categorizable as either sex or not sex, depending on who you ask. Intercourse, both vaginal and anal, is generally considered to be solidly within the “sex” category. Oral and manual sex (I had to clarify that because he didn’t know it meant fingering/handjob, so I suppose I should here too, to be on the safe side), on the other hand, despite being identified by the word “sex,” are considered sexual acts, but are not necessarily categorized as sex. The same is true of frottage, or dry-humping, which if I remember correctly, was interestingly enough the only kind of sex engaged in by (I believe) Greek homosexual males, because they considered the anus dirty. If these men had a desire only for this specific act, but not for any other sexual act of any kind, would people (according to our cultural mindset) consider that to be a sex drive? I’m not sure.

There is a clear heterocentric bias revealed by the way that people think about sex. It’s all about penetration, and because of this idea that sex is necessarily penetrative, many people think that lesbians can’t have sex with one another. The only reason that they think that gay men can have sex with one another is because anal sex mimics vaginal sex in that sense. When people think of “gay sex,” they automatically think of anal sex, rather than any other sexual act. In actuality, most of my gay friends tell me that they rarely (if ever) engage in anal sex, because they find it uncomfortable. Of course there are plenty of gay men who DO engage in it, but the idea of anal sex as the ultimate gay sex act is pretty overinflated, I think, by those with no experience to the contrary.

All these conflicting ideas come into play when it comes to the question of virginity status. Some people would consider anyone who has not had vaginal intercourse to be a virgin, others would consider anyone who has not had vaginal or anal intercourse to be a virgin, and still others would say that even if you’ve only had oral, you’re not a virgin. Some people try to avoid all this confusion by separating each act into different types of virginity, because focusing on people’s status as virgins or not virgins is not really worthwhile anyway.

I think the biggest definitional point of confusion about having or not having a sex drive, within the asexual community at least, is this: are we referring to a purely physiological drive for physical pleasure when we talk about sex drive and libido, or are we referring to the desire for sexual interaction, too? And if we are not referring to any desire to engage in sexual acts with another person, are we using terms that would make that clear? Are we using terms that would fit in with a typical sexual person’s understanding of those words, or are we causing extra confusion by contradicting their ideas?

Asexuals who masturbate typically say that they have a sex drive, or a libido. They feel physiological, sometimes accompanied by mental arousal, and this drives them to masturbate. The distinction is that they do not feel sexual attraction, so there is no motivation for them to act on it with another person, although they are motivated to (sometimes grudgingly) satisfy it by masturbation, and may be able to enjoy having sex with another person even if they are not attracted to them, depending on how comfortable they are with acting outside their orientation. This makes sense to me, but would it make any sense to someone who is not familiar with asexual discourse? That, I’m really not sure about.

I asked my sister, and she gave me something completely different. She said her definition of a sex drive is the “frequency and intensity of the need for sexual intimacy.” Whoa, intimacy? Now you’re talking about emotions. That’s totally different from what the asexual definition is. The way I see it, sex and intimacy are not necessarily connected at all. I can (and have, once, sort of) felt intimacy during sex, but much more often, I feel distanced from my partner, and I don’t feel intimate because of the sex itself anyway. According to my sister’s definition, then, I cannot possibly have a sex drive, because I don’t even know if I can even experience “sexual intimacy,” much less have a drive to seek it out.

I asked her also if she knew the difference between the terms “sex drive” and “libido,” and she started quoting the dictionary, admitting that she didn’t know. It seems that the terms are used almost interchangeably, but I’d be interested to see a run-down of what subtle differences there are between the two terms. It seems to me that “libido” carries a lot more connotations of weird Freudian “psychic energy,” whatever that means. Freud’s theories, though… interesting, all seem very vague and unprovable, anyway.

Oh, and at the end of my lovely little conversation with my sister, she argued with me about how she doesn’t think asexuality exists, and how I’m just a prude who is totally unqualified to talk about sex because I haven’t experienced it. *cough* Little does she know. Now you see why I post this blog anonymously!