Monday, August 17, 2009

How does asexuality feel


So I have several ideas what I want to blog about here, but I never get around to it. It's much easier for me to produce text if I'm responding to something or dialoguing, rather than creating content from scratch. So I'm plugging my answers to the survey here, to fill this blog. But don't read them until you've completed the survey yourself, okay?

1. How would you define/describe asexuality?
This is a tricky question. It assumes that there is an "asexuality" out there in the objective world in the same way a "table" is out there in the objective world, and can be grabbed and defined. But the word only means what anyone uses it to mean. So when I use the word, I don't want to imply that I am referring to something objective out there.
People use the word to mean various similar things, the one thing there seems to be some consensus on is that it is a "lack of sexual attraction". That of course brings up the question "what the hell is sexual attraction", and people who ostensibly don't experience any, are poorly qualified to describe it.
So while this definition may make sense to people who experience sexual attraction and know for sure what that feels like, I feel a sore lack of a definition that would describe the asexual experience "from the inside". We are forced to define ourselves by the absence of something we don't understand to begin with.
If I try to approach a definition, I would have to say something like "asexuality is a way of relating to the world that does not refer to sexual relationships or to oneself in a sexual context, as a means of seeing or defining oneself".

2. How would you define/describe sexual attraction?
Good one. I don't know. I've wondered that myself. I used to take it for granted that I knew what sexual attraction meant. It took me several decades to figure out that what other people mean when they say this, may actually not refer to anything in my experience. I used to think I was sexually attracted to pretty much everyone I felt friendly towards, because I wanted to touch them. That was embarrassing and I unconsciously believed there was something wrong with me. After some intense soul-searching and frank conversations, it turns out that people referring to sexual attraction mean a kind of magical pull towards someone that overcomes them, they have no power over it, and they begin to fantasize about how pleasurable it would be to engage in sexual activity with that person. I started to consider the strange possibility that maybe I don't know what that means.

3. How would you define/describe sexual desire?
It seems to be a clear wish that you want to have sex with someone. Which seems strange and arbitrary, from this perspective - how can it be so clear to you that you want to engage in that particular activity with someone? Having the need for a term for "sexual desire" seems like having a need for a term for "desire to make peanut butter jelly sandwiches with someone on Tuesday afternoons". Like, how do you know that's exactly what you want? I mean, it might be fun or interesting if you did that, but how often does it come up as such a clear expression?

4. How would you define/describe romantic attraction?
That's more an emotional thing. It's happened to me a few times, to various degrees of intensity. It's when someone is very very important to you and you want to be equally important to them, in its extreme stages wanting to be the most important people in the world to each other. You are especially elated to spend time with that person and love everything about them, and are in heaven if they show affection or attraction to you. It's a kind of extreme form of attachment. You think about them all the time and you are totally dependent on their attention. You put all your energy and hopes in life into this person. It's tiring and distracting and addictive. This person is your euphoria drug.

5. What are some factors that initially lead you to consider yourself as an asexual?
I was considering whether I was bisexual, because I was suffering an identity crisis I guess and a failing relationship, I was trying to be absolutely truthful to myself and had to admit that I had been attracted to people regardless of their gender. I was browsing some bisexual forums and came upon the word "asexual". I linked to Aven and felt relieved to discover that it was actually possible, valid and legitimate to not have the feelings I had always been telling myself I am supposed to have, and very healing to consider the possibility that maybe I'm not just horribly repressed.

6. How would you distinguish asexuality from a sexual dysfunction such as sexual desire disorder?
Simple. If you used to have sexual desire, and now you don't, but you want to have it - then you have a problem. If you never had sexual desire and don't miss it, then you're asexual. As for distress, yeah distress can be experienced, but the distress is not inherent to being asexual, it's caused by the social stigma and feeling different and unacceptable.

7. How might you have described your sexuality BEFORE you came across the term 'asexual'?
I guess I always checked the "heterosexual" box, though I always kind of felt like a fraud. Like I'm misrepresenting something I myself wasn't exactly sure of. It's like being asked about your religion and then given three choices, none of which you really identify with in your heart, but you don't realize that it's possible to not be part of any of these religions because everyone in your country belongs to a church, and it's unthinkable that you wouldn't too. Just before discovering asexuality, I started to seriously consider "admitting" that I was bisexual.

8. What questions would you use (without describing or using the term 'asexual') to identify an individual who might be asexual but has not yet come across the term?
What a great question! This touches directly on my need I expressed above to have a definition "from the inside". Because I didn't immediately identify with "asexual", it took me a little while to overcome the brainwashing that says "everyone is sexual, you should be sexual, those [asexual] people are just broken". I would ask questions such as:
- Was there ever a time in your life from which point on it was clear to you what sexual attraction means?
- If it was okay to never have sex, would you feel deprived to never have sex again?
- Is there anyone that you consider "hot", and how would you describe what that means?
- If you have a relationship to the word "hot", what happens in your body when you see someone that is "hot"?
- Has sex ever seemed like a chore, and have you ever wondered why people get so excited about it?
- Did you often feel out of place as a teenager when other kids hooked up with each other, and you didn't know how to or what it was all about?
- Did you ever invent crushes in order to not be different from your friends and have something exciting to talk about?
- Did you ever fail to relate to all the fuss about makeup and hair and scents and making yourself look attractive to the preferred gender?
- Have you felt confused about what sexual messages you might be sending, and have felt shy about being free with your body because you never knew how it was going to be interpreted?
- Have you thought that surely, people cannot think about sex every day, or been stunned to discover that most people actually masturbate regularly?
- Have you been embarrassed by sexual jokes because you couldn't relate or didn't get the reference and suddenly everyone was laughing hysterically and you felt left out?
- Have you had the opportunity to have sex with someone you really loved, and often felt like this is something you should want to do, though if you could have it your way, you'd be perfectly happy to just snuggle?
- Have you always felt like there was something strange with you in the area of sexuality, that you felt different, though you could never quite explain what was wrong?
- Have you felt pressured to talk about your sexuality and felt like a fraud for describing how you thought you should feel, not how you actually felt?


I’d love to hear if people can come up with more questions to ask someone who might potentially identify with “asexual” but hasn’t yet heard that asexuality was possible!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cuddle world

I recently had the privilege of spending a week with a group of (non-asexual) people where the social norm was that cuddling was allowed. Where emotional and physical intimacy and openness were welcome. Where hugs were freely given and received. Where it was okay to gaze at each other and even spoon with each other and it did not mean "I want sex". It meant "I feel affectionate and want to share it with you, if you want it too." And because that was the understood norm, and well, also because the people involved in this were pretty awesome and having-their-shit-together specimens, there was a lot of freedom and very little neurosis around touching. I felt so at home. Yes, it is possible. I even came to a point where I had my fill of group cuddling and wanted to step away. I'd always suspected that I would be the cuddle-craziest in a situation like that, but turns out I wasn't. I discovered it was possible to feel "I've had enough". And I feel fulfilled and encouraged by the whole experience. That humans can be that loving with each other without the manipulation of sexual and predatory and possessive games. What joy.