On “Creepy Asexual Guys,” Porn, and Misogyny

Occasionally, people will use search terms to find this blog that pique my curiosity. I had never heard of a gray fetish until today, but apparently someone else has. I also sometimes get search terms including words that I know I’ve said before in the same post, but not together, not as the topic of the post. Today, someone viewed my blog after searching for asexual guys, and I was curious to see what else was out there about asexual guys, so I looked, too.

Of course, there were the usual posts about people seeking to date asexual guys, and those with people wondering whether some male relation of theirs is asexual or gay or just socially awkward, but then there was this strange offering by Rabbi Schmuley Boteach. Confused by the title, “Asexual men and the creeps who live on campus”–since when are asexual men associated or equated with creeps?–I clicked the link. The Rabbi’s main argument seems to be a variant on the idea that rampant sexual debauchery leads men to become desensitized to the point that they are no longer attracted to most normal women, but rather only to a very specific type of woman (presumably strippers and porn stars), and to a very specific type of violently misogynistic situation. I have a few problems with this. Number one is the way he defines asexuality:

The male overexposure to women has even led to the death of the heterosexual man as we know him. If the definition of a heterosexual man is a male who is attracted to women, then most men today are barely heterosexual. Think about it. Nearly all the men I know are only attracted to about one in 10 women, that is, the 10 percent of women they consider “hot.” The other 90 percent leave them cold. Doesn’t that mean that they are 90 percent asexual? And I’m not trying to be funny. If a man is not attracted to a woman, then he is not heterosexual. Period. And if he only attracted to a small fraction of the women he meets, then he is fractionally heterosexual.

Although I can follow his logic, I find that logic flawed on the level that this makes no distinction between a person who is asexual, a person who is just extremely picky, and a person who has a fetish. Now, that word has several different meanings, including two that are non-sexual (an asexual might have “an irrational or abnormal fixation or preoccupation” with something that does not arouse them sexually, for instance). By fetish here, I mean an extreme sexual interest in something to the point that the person cannot get off at all without the presence of that thing. I think what the Rabbi is really meaning to refer to here is the development of such a fetish for the demeaning situations (allegedly, at least–as I have limited experience, I wouldn’t know) shown in porn, and the type of woman who looks like she belongs in one.

The problem is, the way this is worded indicates to me that this has not been thought through and articulated carefully and with a clear understanding of what he is literally saying. He talks of an overexposure to women, for one–how can men be overexposed to a group of people who comprise roughly half of the population? Is he suggesting that we should all be wearing burqas, here? On the contrary, I would infer that he is talking about an overexposure to fantasy women (and any women willing to cater to male fantasy), and an underexposure to real-life women (who are not willing to cater to male fantasy). But this is not made clear in that sentence, so it makes little sense taken on its own.

I think the fallacy with regard to asexuality and heterosexuality is that he is defining them based solely on the percentage of the time that a person is attracted or not attracted, without any regard for the intensity of that attraction when it is experienced, the feelings and attitudes that a person has towards sex, or the fact that these words are labels that refer to the way a person is categorized, rather than indicators of that person’s actual levels of eroticism towards any particular group of people.

For things like this, it usually helps to have a visual model, so let’s use the Storms model. According to this, heterosexuals are people who are high in hetero-eroticism but low in homo-eroticism, homosexuals are people who are high in homo-eroticism but low in hetero-eroticism, bisexuals are high in both, and asexuals are low in both. This seems similar enough to what the Rabbi is saying, but the problem here is in defining what constitutes “high” and what constitutes “low” levels of eroticism.

According to him, if you find 90% of the people around you sexually unattractive, then you are 90% asexual.

However, the people he is talking about devote an extraordinary amount of time thinking and fantasizing about, planning, and engaging in sexual activity. According to him, they have even gone to college expressly for the purpose of indulging in sexual debauchery. You could say that (at least) 90% of their lives are devoted to the pursual of sexual activity. Perhaps they have an extremely narrow idea of what constitutes a sexually attractive woman, and are unable to explore sexuality with the vast majority of the women around them, who do not indulge them in their misogynistic fantasies, but they are still absolutely obsessed with sex. To me, that indicates high levels of eroticism. It’s only a very specific kind of eroticism–as previously stated, a fetish.

So to call them asexual, even while acknowledging that they are “10% sexual,” is highly inaccurate. They would likely not self-identify in that way, and would have very, very little in common with people who do, since usually those people do not miss the sex they are not having, and don’t feel the need to actively pursue sexual activity. Of course, there are people who identify as asexual who might experience sexual attraction a very low percentage of the time, and still consider themselves asexual. I have never heard an estimate of ten percent, and that’s probably quite high, but theoretically, such a person could exist. That’s because these words are labels that are meant to express how people are the vast majority of the time, without getting into very fine details like that one man a lesbian might fall in love with. The Storms model might more accurately look like this (image originally found in this thread)–a blur of different colors with no clear lines in between. There is no simple litmus test that people can take to determine their sexual orientation, and how much a person is attracted to x gender alone is not the only factor that goes into its determination. For those who exist in the borderlands, there may be many more things to take into consideration aside from attraction to people.  There are objectum sexuals, and people who are aroused by certain situations but not by the appearance of other people, to take into consideration as well.

In short, being a sexual person does not mean that you want to bone EVERYONE, or even everyone of a certain gender, and being asexual does not necessarily mean that you NEVER feel sexual attraction. Although the main factor for determining sexual orientation is the level of attraction one feels for other people, and which gender those other people are, it cannot be said that men who are only attracted to women 10% of the time are only 10% heterosexual, because that shows a lack of understanding of how self-identification and use of a label that describes sexual orientation works.

And, just for further clarification, I’ll repeat an example I used a long time ago about the availability of attractive women:  In a country with an extremely skewed gender ratio like China, where there are so many more boys than girls, a heterosexual male might only encounter a small percentage of women he is attracted to on a day-to-day basis, but does that mean he is not heterosexual? Not many people would answer yes to that question, but if you follow the Rabbi’s statement through to its logical conclusion, then he must.

I have many more thoughts about this, but I’ll have to cut it short for now. I may return to this topic in a future post, though.

Edited to add: I’ve made a second post about this: Dismantling Emotional Flatulence.

Less Relevant

Lately, I’ve encountered an odd problem. Every time I open up a new post and attempt to write, I find myself stumped on what to write about. Where once I had tons of things to say, now they all escape me.

In the past few months, a lot of things have happened. That’s such a bland statement, but I don’t really know where to start if I were to talk about everything, nor do I even really want to publicly catalog all the events that have occurred since October. Still, I feel an obligation to keep this blog going, if only at a very much stunted pace.

The truth is, asexuality no longer seems very relevant to my everyday life.

This is not to say that I no longer identify as asexual, just that my asexuality has faded into the background in such a way that I don’t really have much motivation to post about it—not to mention the lack of time! I am hardly ever even on my computer anymore, except on those rare occasions (like now) when Cupcake decides she would rather bond with her video games (which, if it gives any indication of how often this is, she complains that she’s been taking such long breaks from them to play with me that when she returns to them, she has to relearn how to play the games).

One of the things I was frustrated about with the dissolution of my relationship (non-specific to romance) with M was that, although I felt that, given the time and understanding, I could have gotten over my discomfort with sex and learned to enjoy it despite my lack of interest. Because he wouldn’t listen to me and try to work with me (nor could he even apparently understand what I was asking), I couldn’t. Either way, I viewed him as a “practice run” of sorts, which allowed me to get past a hurdle which otherwise most certainly would have impeded my current relationship.

I most certainly did not expect this relationship to start as soon as it did, or progress as quickly as it has, but nevertheless, I’m in a good position now to try the things I couldn’t with M. Every obstacle I encountered with him is gone. Asexuality was something that Cupcake and I dealt with early on in the relationship, and with her understading, I have gradually become more and more comfortable with sexual activity, to the point that it’s no longer an issue.

I’ve found—contrary, perhaps, to popular opinion of asexual women—that it’s pretty easy for me to have a orgasm. I can (and generally do) enjoy myself when having sex, but when I’m not having it, I don’t really crave it. I can take it or leave it. And I still don’t understand what sexual attraction is.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would say that, because I enjoy sex, I must not be asexual, but really? The key to my enjoyment is in the approach my partner takes towards asexuality. If they try to convince me I’m not asexual, I won’t be comfortable with it. If they try to understand asexuality, accept it and work around it, then it won’t be an issue. Of course, it helps that my partner’s attitude towards sex is similar to mine in various ways, and if it weren’t, she and I would probably have more difficulties, but I think they would still be resolvable, as long as she accepted my orientation.

All things considered, I don’t see myself as being limited by my orientation in any real way. Outside of the bedroom, it doesn’t affect my life, and even its effect on my sex life is negligible, now that I have found someone willing to work with me rather than against me. For being such a weird couple, Cupcake and I have a surprisingly “normal” sex life, to whatever extent at least that a cis/trans lesbian couple can have. I might as well be sexual, for all the effect that has on the way we interact sexually. In the long run, though, it will likely make things easier for us that I am asexual. I realize this probably isn’t something that most asexual people in relationships with sexual people can say—there certainly is a lot of angst among the romantic asexuals about the possiblity that they might never find a comfortable relationship. Some might not be able to handle sexual activity at all, and so I don’t expect my own “solution” to be workable for everyone. Still, I think it’s important for me to make my story available to the rest of the community, so that it may provide some hope, and perhaps even help to disspell some myths about asexual people.

In Flux: A Gray Manifesto

It occurs to me that although I started this blog specifically to talk about issues that affect gray-asexuals, I haven’t actually addressed the issue directly, except on my about page.

So to rectify this, I want to go into more detail about my personal identity, my political identity, and my reasons for choosing to present myself to the public the way I do, even though that public identity is too stark to match up with my true identity.

I am out as an asexual to everybody I associate with for long enough that the subject comes up (which is usually fairly quickly, though not in the case of professional associates and extended family members). I am out as gray-asexual to only a select few. This is because most people do not have enough of a conceptual background in asexual discourse to understand what I’m talking about, and do not care to acquire it. Which is just as well, because most of the time I am not willing to spend so much time educating others on the particulars of my existence, especially when they would like as not reject it anyway. I only trust those details to those few who are either asexual themselves, show a keen interest in asexuality, or those I would be intimate with. In that latter case, I will quite patiently and persistently attempt to build understanding, but it’s an absolute deal-breaker if I ever determine that it’s impossible to create. No exceptions.
Continue reading

Positive Metaphors: Chandelier Culture

This post has been a long time coming. I first thought of this, oh, maybe last February? Possibly late January. At the time, though, I was much too busy with school to pursue the idea further, but I’ve been turning it over in my mind since then. Now, I’m finally ready to share.

I believe the asexual community, as a community that has sprung up around a negatively-defined orientation that is considered unthinkable by the larger community, suffers from a negative conceptualization. In plainer English, because we spend so much time trying to explain ourselves (and hopefully legitimize ourselves) to the rest of the world, and because in doing so we focus so much on what we lack compared with them, we are often put in a precariously defensive position. We have to keep saying, over and over again, “No, there is nothing wrong with us. We’re fine the way we are.”

Yet a lot of the metaphors that we use to explain asexuality would seem to contradict that, which weakens our position. Actually, I don’t think I have ever even heard of a positive metaphor for asexuality (granted, I haven’t lurked on AVEN or Apositive in quite a while, so I may have missed something, but…). They all focus on something that we lack, and of course, there is really no way around that because after all, it is a negatively defined orientation. But what I want to point out is, in grasping for an easy way to explain asexuality to sexual people, I think a lot of times we come up with overly simplistic, somewhat inaccurate figurative speech that, rather than making things clearer, actually obscures the meaning we intend to convey. Continue reading

What Does It Mean to Have a Sexual Identity?

For all its ancient, primal beginnings, sexual orientation is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Perhaps “phenomenon” isn’t the right word. What I mean is, the concept of sexual orientation, as we understand it today, is relatively recent. The word “sex” was coined sometime in the sixteenth century, at which time the word was specific to male/female interactions, which were of course the norm. It wasn’t until 1868 that the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” were invented, by a group of Germans speaking out against a proposed “unnatural fornication” law which would prohibit any non-reproductive sexual act. If you’d like to read more about this, check out The Invention of Heterosexuality by Jonathan Ned Katz. Or, for those of you with short attention spans, you can find a much briefer history here.

Now, obviously, for as long as there have been people, they’ve been populating the earth by having sex. But in different cultures and time periods, ideas about sex have varied wildly. Even within a single culture, there are plenty of groups of people with differing ideas—today, we have throwbacks to a more religious era believing that sex is wrong outside of marriage, as well as people who celebrate their freedom to have unattached sex. But the concept of sexuality, this idea that all one’s sexual deeds and desires and whatever else create a definable whole, some basic instinct to have sex with x kind of people from which so many other things sprout, has only been around for a little more than a century. Continue reading

Asexual Masturbation

NOTE: I see that this post has become quite popular among the wider community, which is not the audience for which it was intended. If you are unfamiliar with asexuality or want to know more about asexuality and masturbation, please check the FAQ. I’ve answered several more questions about masturbation there.

I briefly mentioned masturbation in my previous post, but I wanted to talk a little bit more about it, because it’s a pretty hot topic.

I HATE that when I tell people I’m asexual, one of the very first things they ask me is whether I masturbate. Because first of all, hello, that’s kind of rude, isn’t it? It might be okay if you and I have been friends for a while, and you ask discreetly. But most of the time I’ve known these people for all of a few weeks, if that, and they ask right out in public. If I were doing visibility work, I’m sure I’d get asked all the time by reporters and talk show hosts. And I do think it’s a good question to ask, in order to educate people, which is why I’m talking about it here, but really? I just don’t want to show that much of myself to the public. It’s a very private thing, for me. It’s the one thing I would really rather stay in the closet about, especially because answering that question honestly would lead to a whole host of challenges to prove myself to other people.

Which leads me to my second–and most important–point: it doesn’t matter.

Whether I masturbate or not has no bearing whatsoever on my asexuality. It is not a contradiction, as most ignorant sexual people perceive it to be. Because like I said in the previous post, I learned to masturbate as a child, before I even had any concept of what sexuality was. I don’t connect it with other people. I don’t have any desire to do so. It is something to be done alone, not shared with anyone else. That’s not to say I think it should be something shameful, that everyone should do alone. If other people enjoy mutual masturbation, then hey, whatever floats your boat, man. But for me? No thanks.

I think one of the main problems that sexuals have with understanding how asexuals can masturbate and still call themselves asexual is, they think about masturbation so much in terms of frustrated desire that they don’t realize that for other people, it’s not. Several weeks ago, I watched an internet argument develop between a fellow asexual and a skeptical sexual about masturbation. The incredulous sexual, when informed that people who masturbate can still be asexual, said, “Then what are they masturbating to?”

Okay, stop right there. What? Since when do we all have to fantasize in order to masturbate? I’ve never done it–in fact I’ve tried to, and it doesn’t work for me. Not all of us keep a mental image in mind while we’re doing it, and even for those of us who do, would that indicate an actual desire to do whatever-it-is in real life? No, not necessarily. A mental image can just be a mental image. For many asexuals, it may even be an unpleasant mental image. But maybe it gets the job done, I wouldn’t know. I imagine it’s a little like reading a book about a murderer. If I do that, would it mean that I want to become a murderer myself? It could, sure. But in the case of the common reader, it wouldn’t (or so I would certainly hope).

But on to my third point: why do I have to prove myself to you?

Most people, you know, I really don’t care whether they believe I’m asexual or not. Most of them, I’m not even out to. But with the people I AM out to, it gets tiring, having to deal with constant challenges to my sexual identity. It’s not even really the challenges that get tiring, it’s the ignorance. It’s the sheer unwillingness to learn something new, and accept something which may be just a little bit outside the scope of their world view. That’s an attitude that bugs me in any aspect of life, really. If I’m ignorant about something (and there are a lot of areas where I am), then I want to learn about it, even if it challenges my ideas about the world. But they don’t want to learn, and they don’t want to actually listen to me. They just want to prove me wrong.

Why would I open myself to that hostility? Why would I waste my time?

I do tell people I’m asexual, because sometimes I do reach people. And even if I only enlightened one other person in my entire life, that would make it worth it. I’m talking about this here so that maybe I will reach a willing audience. But in real life? I will not brush this particular subject, and I have no qualms about lying about it, if I have to. It’s none of their business. And I hate that I have to prove myself to other people, but I know from personal experience that sometimes that’s exactly what I have to do. This is one challenge that I might be willing to take on after knowing someone for a long time, but after just having met them? Until they’ve reached a certain level of acceptance of asexuality, it would be pointless anyway. I don’t want to overwhelm them with seemingly contradictory information, and I don’t want to subject myself to the inevitable frustration that comes with dealing with people who are trying to prove me wrong.
EDIT FROM THE FUTURE: You will find further discussion of asexuality and masturbation here.