As Enjoyable As A Colonoscopy
Being asexual and sex positive at the same time
Engaging the reproductive organs for me is as enjoyable as getting a colonoscopy. It is a chore and I don’t care for it. But I do respect people who find sex pleasing and I believe they should have the right to have sexual experiences safely without the fear of having an unwanted pregnancy or being ostracized.
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I received this story last week, and as it happens when anyone sends me a personal story for Submit Here, my first reaction was joy. Yes! The premise of this thing, this whole weird, funny thing that sprung from my imagination, is working. Thanks for playing, team.
My next reaction was relief, because asexuality. Asexuality. Fantastic. I get to explore a topic that is more or less self-contained, and I have little chance of accidentally wading into someone else’s trauma without their consent. Cool.
And my third reaction? The tone that’s going to dictate our discussion today?
A recognition of how laughably inept I am at explaining the topic. Because of course, I am not asexual, couldn’t remotely tell you what that’s like, from a lived experience point of view. I’ve got a better chance at explaining crypto through refrigerator magnet poetry. We’ll all be RICH when the BITS find their CHIPS. See?
But I did find two entry points, and lo and behold, they are a little personal.
As an identity marker existing out in the world, asexuality reminds me of why I was attracted to the whole project of sex positivity in the first place. So let’s start there.
You know how refreshing it is to be around a self-aware person? How you can feel your entire nervous system settle? Because they don’t need you to be anything other than exactly who you are, and as a result, you can both kind of relax?
This was the big selling point for me and Bedpost Confessions, a sex positive storytelling group started years ago in Austin. I began attending in 2015, when my aerial dance group teamed up with them for a joint show, and, well – that was it. A before and after of sorts, for my life trajectory.
Bedpost Confessions was a home I didn’t know I was searching for, and girl, I’ve been to youth group. I’ve gobbled up enough groupthink to know when it’ll eventually turn into an allergy. This wasn’t that: no unified message really, no thing you had to believe in. Because despite all the sex talk flying around, it wasn’t one singular, compelling message that sold me. It was just being around that much concentrated self-awareness in one space.
Self-awareness. What an absolute drug, when it’s emanating off other people. This is an essay about sex stuff, so let me say right now that no – being self-aware doesn’t automatically change anything about your sexuality. But when you have somehow developed the ability to look within, and ask yourself questions like:
What is fulfilling to me?
For real? What is it?
And you’ve come out on the other side knowing that there is a cultural script. Knowing that you were prescribed certain messages throughout your life. And that it’s up to you now, you messy ball of influence yarn, to figure out where your authentic joy comes from and how you want to drive this thing? This thing being your life?
Well. If you’ve done all that, there’s a good chance that I like you.
Anyway, that’s what I got at Bedpost Confessions. Whether I was radicalized or truly seen is anyone’s guess, but what I found there were people who were secure enough in themselves to say: this is me, take it or leave it. Queer, straight, fluid, asexual. And maybe you think that’s funny, asexual people hanging out at a sex positive storytelling event, but as our narrator reminds us, it’s the self-awareness thing. And as a category of existence, it’s kind of the ultimate in you do you.
We’ll unpack that pun shortly.
Maybe this would be a good time to back up, and define our terms. Over the weekend, I listened to an interview with Yasmin Benoit on “Girls Gotta Eat.” Yasmin is both a model and an asexuality activist, which scrambles the brain even as I’m writing it, because we’re so used to modeling or beauty inspo or anything “look at me” -oriented to be for the gaze of another. Maybe more specifically, the sexual gaze of another.
But what I appreciated about Yasmin’s interview is the way she explained her asexuality, as a sexuality that’s entirely independent of others. Does she have a sex drive? Yes. Does she masturbate? Yes. Does she want to feel those sensations with another person’s genitals? No.
This is the point at which people tend to think of asexuality as the result of trauma. Or, the result of being female, vis-à-vis the annoying myth that women are less sexual. What Yasmin explained though, is that she’s both asexual and aromantic. Hell, I’ll let Yasmin take it from here:
“...our society puts relationship types on a hierarchy and prioritises romantic, monogamous, sexual, long-term relationships as being what should be a universally accepted goal, and also something that is innate and ingrained and the thing that completes you…we tend to use romantic love to validate orientations, as you can see in the mantra ‘love is love’.”
I find that idea so fascinating, that even in queer-friendly spaces (which Yasmin is referring to here), there’s a wholesomeness to romantic love that makes us uncomfortable in its absence. Still – it’s a helpful reminder that the things that compel us to someone sexually and the things that compel us to someone romantically are two different lists. Sometimes they overlap, but not always.
More to the point: Yasmin’s saying she doesn’t share the seemingly universally accepted goals of romance, monogamy, partnered sex and long-term relationships. She does have a sexuality, but it’s self-contained (“you do you” joke coming in 3, 2…), and for a lot of us, that’s an alien concept.
So how do we wrap our minds around it?
We’re afraid of things we don’t understand, and this leads me to my second entry point on this topic: asexual characters on TV.
When I was first getting acquainted with the whole idea of asexuality, what stood out to me was how funny and sweet the spokespeople tended to be. Their group symbol is cake! As in, for them, cake is better than sex. C’mon. That’s just cute and you know it.
Which is why I was surprised when I came across a visual essay of asexual characters on recent-ish television, including my erstwhile English major crush, Sherlock Holmes.
Folks, did you watch Sherlock? The one with Benedict Cumberbatch (dare to find a more fun set of syllables) and Martin Freeman? The one where every other episode, especially as the seasons progress, people around him become obsessed with marrying him off? Poor Sherlock is out here solving impossible crimes with his beautiful mind, saving London from absolute chaos, but his hand-wringing circle of associates is all: “when is the old boy going to settle down.”
They think he might be gay. They think he needs a dominatrix. They think his sexuality is dormant and must be awakened, otherwise, anyone that smart and that relationally detached must, of course, be a psychopath.
(…which is so weird, given his obvious friendship with Watson. Yes, the man is capable of deep bonds, he just doesn’t want to bang Watson. Everyone chill out.)
A darker, more direct link between the asexuality-psychopath stereotype comes in the form of actual serial killers. Dexter (damn, we were really trying to figure this out in the 2010s), and The End of the F-g World, a British dark comedy I wasn’t familiar with, but follows a teenage kid who’s a) possibly asexual and b) is convinced he’s an up-and-coming serial killer. Yo! That’s a leap. From not wanting sex, to wanting murder. What?
In pop culture and science alike, we’re still trying to understand asexuality. We’re still trying to parse what it means when your sexuality isn’t others-dependent, still trying to accept the fact that asexual people are not withholding, or cold, or secretly psychotic. On the contrary, I have a small handful of asexual people in my life, and while generalizations aren’t the move here, I gotta say – those people are wonderful. Warm. Affectionate. Incentives to relate to one another do exist beyond sex (a fancy way of saying “friendship”), and asexual individuals remind me of that.
When I got this story in my inbox, I experienced the series of reactions I told you about, and one more I haven’t yet. A chuckle.
“Engaging the reproductive organs for me is as enjoyable as getting a colonoscopy.” Funny, right? Same with the cake. Let them eat it in peace.
What I’m currently, voraciously, consuming:
That visual essay I was referring to, on asexuality in pop culture. Almost half an hour, but really interesting: in addition to the shows I talked about here, they also get into asexual characters on BoJack Horseman, House, Sirens and a few others.
Do you watch High Maintenance? The episode about an intimacy coordinator and an asexual magician is one of my favorites.
A primer on the cake thing.
Women like to have sex just as much as everyone else! But as Wednesday Martin says in her book Untrue, monogamy might interfere with their sex drive. Here’s a research-backed summary of her argument.
My post last week was about sex ed, and if you’re a parent looking for sex ed resources for your children, I can’t recommend Sex Positive Families enough. Online classes, educational blog posts and social media, and founder (/my friend) Melissa Pintor Carnagey also has a book on talking about sex with your children. Check it out.
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