Thursday, March 25, 2010

What DO you mean by sex?

And finally, we get to the actual title of this blog: What DO you mean by 'sex'? I’ve found myself slightly irritated and offended when I hear the word ‘intimacy' used as a synonym for ‘sex’. It sounds as though that negates and cheapens so many other things that are intimate, and very meaningful, to me. As if ‘sex’ were the pinnacle of human relationship. So, what is ‘sex’, actually?
As traditional mainstream thinking would have it, the most narrow definition of ‘sex’ would be 1) sticking a penis into a vagina. This, for some reason, is believed to be an act of great significance with long-ranging relational ramifications. It is the ultimate test of so-called fidelity in a relationship and sometimes used as a trump card (“Okay, so we may have done A and B and C, but we never ‘had sex’”. Voila.) The narrow definition can then sometimes be expanded to 2) sticking penises into other human orifices and/or penetrating vaginas with other objects (in a non-medical context) - still the focus is on penetration and penis/vagina. All of this can still land you in jail if done without consensus. A definition broader than this would then be 3) rubbing naked genitals in some way, genitals including vulva, penis, anus, testicles, I suppose, the infamous “Down There” region (somehow this brings up images of “He Who Shall Not Be Named”). There’s something about this obsession with genitals, I don’t know. I’ve sometimes described myself as “lacking a genital fetish”, as opposed to most of the population. But even if I expand the definition further and say oh, you know, touching other naked parts of the body, or French kissing, that’s also a form of sex. And I could come up with a list of behaviors and actions which could be considered sexual. But for me, that just doesn’t cut it.
Sex, the way I relate to it, is so not about body parts. All of this can be done with me and I still don’t experience it as 'sexual’. I don’t begin to desire that genital involvement when ANY part of my body is touched, in any way, by anyone. Nor is it about physical arousal. I’ve found that I can be quite physically aroused (increased sensitivity through the body, alertness, wetness) as a symptom of feeling close and connected, and I’m still pretty indifferent to all the above concrete actions. I know even sexual men can become physically aroused simply through stimulation – without any desire to engage in the above acts. Nor is what I call sex about wanting orgasm. That is something that just doesn’t compute for my body, no matter how much sensual stimulation it experiences, there’s never this sense that there is too much tension and it needs to be released. For other people, those who masturbate and consider themselves asexual, masturbation is not seen as an inherently sexual act only because it involves the genitals. It is seen simply as a function of the body, an itch that needs scratching.
When a person loses their head over me or gets all passionately hotly sexual over my body, I don’t actually experience their desire as pleasant – I experience it as disconnecting. Like, they are having their own trip, but I’m not really involved, they are not really seeing me, they’re not really there with me. I’ve heard of mutual masturbation, and that's kind of what regular sex seems like: a solitary experience in the company of another body. It can be interesting to watch, as long as I’m not required to be turned on by it. I don’t really desire to stimulate anyone in a way that makes them need to orgasm. Feels kind of distasteful, like I’m using them, manipulating them. Like I have power over them. And it feels slightly repugnant to me to be invited to use that power imbalance to make their body do tricks.
So, in my world, it’s not about climax, it’s not about physical arousal, it’s not about body parts – and yet there is still something that I experience that I will dare to call sexual. That I will be able to relate to myself next time someone says that humans are inherently sexual beings. Rather than deny that statement, I will simply take the liberty of defining how I experience my sexuality, and what that word means to me.


So, since I wrote the above about a month or two ago, I’ve been reframing the idea of sexuality for myself, away from genitally-oriented pleasure and release, the cultural default, and expanding the concept to an exchange of energies, a play and turning of yin and yang, a dance of delight in each other’s existence, going nowhere and serving no purpose other than being present with each other and feeling each other’s most intimate direct physical expression in a given moment, and responding to it in a cooperative way. Now I’m sure many sexuals can read that and say, yes, that's all part of good sex, of course it’s not just about genital pleasure and release, that’s way too crude. But from what I understand, apparently for most people, sexuality as they first begin to experience it in their youth, manifests itself through these genital drives, the need to “get off”, and the overwhelming desire to be sexual with particular people who they find “hot” and who cause them to have some kind of mysterious reaction in their pants. As they age and mature, they (sometimes) learn more about sex as an expression of love and sensitivity to their partner, and don’t necessarily just go for the release – although it still seems to be the norm to think that genitals must be involved or it’s just not sexual (as, I assume, in Lori Brotto’s recent survey). With me, I never followed that pattern, and so I thought something was malfunctioning and that I could ultimately not claim sexuality as part of my humanness.
I never experienced primary sexual attraction, any sex in the past was always mostly emotional for me, mostly trying to be an expression of love, the physical part was incidental, and seemed formulaic and stilted that genital stimulation would always be considered the culmination of intimacy and love. I now get the exchange and blending of energy part – it’s a very physical experience – and yet even when feeling arousal in my body, it’s still not about sticking body parts in each other and getting off. I still don’t relate to the “release” part – I’m just enjoying feeling myself with the other person, but not needing it to go anywhere, not even needing to get naked necessarily. There’s an intensified, energized feeling and a joy of communion and directness of contact and openness to each other. Which doesn’t need to reach any culmination and resolution, as far as I’m concerned. It can just continue. There’s a prevalent belief it seems that when one experiences arousal, this is always something that needs to be “taken care of”, through sex or masturbation. Not true. Not for me. I enjoy experiencing a sense of heightened arousal in the body all for its own sake. It has never occurred to me that I should mess with the genitals in order to get rid of it.
Or another experience. The first one in a series, since then. I had this meeting with someone I trust deeply. We had both agreed that we would meet and speak from complete honesty and transparency and truth, holding nothing back. I found myself so excited going to meet them, I was thinking – “this is an invitation to sex – this is sex – this is better than sex”. It was. :) To be able to be completely, completely open and available with another human being, to be entirely present with our whole minds, emotions, and bodies, to each other as we are. No barriers. Speaking from immediacy of direct experience. Then just looking in each other’s eyes. Touching not even needed. Feeling totally united and complete. Touching only becomes needed when the feeling that we are apart, and need to connect, returns.
Now I’m letting myself tentatively propose that the difference between "normal" sexuality and my sexuality is this: "normal" sexuality is driven by urges, desires to mate with specific people based on their physical attractiveness and sometimes also emotional closeness. As a person ages and gains experience, these desires can become more refined with expressions of love and less urgency to simply mate for mating sake. Many people have said to me, "I can no longer just have sex, now I only respond to making love." The same people have also expressed to me that they feel different from the average because of this. (Correct me, sexual people, if you feel this is a misrepresentation.) That is, the sexual act is viewed as having gained a spiritual significance for them.
Whereas in my world, there is no "sexual act" per se, because all authentic and deep relating with another person is viewed as equally (a)sexual, just varied in intensity: all are an opportunity to bare ourselves to each other and embrace one another, in whatever form that takes. The fact that sometimes this involves physical nakedness and arousal and touching genitals, is circumstantial.
I'm saying that maybe my sexuality has just always been more subtle than is the cultural norm. And as I say this, I mentally contract and brace, ready to be clobbered by society saying “what, you want to be better than everyone else, how dare you?” There’s this need in our conditioning, whenever something is different than the default, to immediately see it as either “devil” or “angel”, so if I assert a different sexuality, I know that many people, even well-meaning ones, will instantly go to explaining it as either “repressed, immature, undeveloped, pre-orgasmic, unwilling to let go” or “beyond the desires of the flesh, better, more evolved”. So, I consciously step out of that paradigm of linear progression towards a superior version of human, and simply say, I am a natural variation in a mosaic of possible expressions. I claim the right to be as I am.


  1. So it's kind of like... extreme cuddling?

    (sorry if that seems reductionist, I'm just trying to relate the emotions you're describing to something familiar)

  2. Sure, thanks for asking! :)
    So my understanding of your question is that you're wondering what physical intimacy looks like for me, externally?
    It CAN be extreme cuddling, it can be kissing, it can be caressing, it can be just touching and feeling energy move, it can be just gazing, it can be holding, it can be speaking, it can be listening, it can be holding hands, it can be massaging, it can be rough and tumble play, it can be classical intercourse if that's what feels appropriate (I don't have a problem with it, I just don't feel it as having special significance).
    The point is, the external form of how intimacy is being expressed takes a backseat to listening to each other attentively and moving with whatever interaction wants to happen.

  3. I love your definition... sounds like you've been reading my mind... the hard part is finding someone with whom to share this experience.. who is not going to push for sex.. who doesn't treat that kind of 'intimacy' as a pathway to 'sex', but rather as a complete and meaningful experience in its own right..

  4. you have no idea how much this post means to me. i feel the exact same way. thank you so much, i feel so much less alone in this thinking.

  5. Hey.
    My name is Hanna E. Fjeld.
    I am a bachelor student at the psychology department at NTNU (Norwegian University of science and technology).
    This spring I am working on my bachelor theses about sensuality and sexuality, with a focus on ”how love relationships and intimacy is experienced by asexual individuals”.
    I really like how you describe your experiences in your blog, and especially how you write about your view of sex, and intimacy in this piece.
    Could I use it in my research?
    And if you are interesting in answering a few question about how it is to be asexual, please contact me at my email:
    You will be 100% anonymous, and I would be extremely grateful for your help, on either answering questions, or just letting me use this piece.

  6. Hi Hanna, wonderful - yes, please use anything I said, and I would love to read your research when it's completed.