For 1% of us, apparently cake IS better than sex
January 27, 2014 5:11 PM   Subscribe

Netflix documentary explores asexuality... a topic that baffles even Dan Savage

Released in 2011, the documentary (A)sexual is now on Netflix. Delving into the 1% of the population who feel no sexual desire but nevertheless appreciate emotional intimacy, this documentary serves to explore this previously unmined corner of human experience. Asexuality differs from celibacy in that celibacy is a choice (for religious or other reasons, involuntary celibacy aside) whereas asexuality is considered by most to be "just the way they are."

But not everyone gets it. Mr. Savage Love himself, who is featured in the documentary, is surprisingly baffled by this (lack of) sexual expression and openly ponders whether these people are just plain old repressed and/or messing with their partners. His line for asexuality is by his own admission very high - if you still masturbate, you're not asexual.

The organization AVEN (whose founder David Jay is featured heavily in the documentary) exists to help educate and demystify asexuality and boasts approximately 60,000 members. David is currently in an asexual relationship with his asexual girlfriend.

As for asexuality having a biological component, research is split. Some researchers have found that the genitals respond normally in an asexual, and that asexuality is equally split among males & females. Other researchers say asexuality is skewed towards women. And a disproportionate amount of people with Aspergers report being asexual.

And yes even The Atlantic got in on the (asexual) action.

Finally if you find yourself asexual but still want someone to love, this UK dating site is for you.

(Previously.)
posted by St. Peepsburg (136 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
Something baffling Dan Savage isn't really a benchmark of anything.
posted by emptythought at 5:13 PM on January 27 [85 favorites]


Pretty much anything that isn't what Dan Savage personally likes is baffling to Dan Savage.
posted by elizardbits at 5:15 PM on January 27 [106 favorites]


Bisexuals, transgender folk, fat people, and women baffle Dan Savage. Ergo, the majority of the population.
posted by northernish at 5:15 PM on January 27 [51 favorites]


Dan Savage is just a newspaper columnist and an expert on nothing.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:19 PM on January 27 [8 favorites]


I would like to add my voice to the voices saying Dan Savage doesn't know much, this is an interesting post tho.
posted by Teakettle at 5:20 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Baffling Dan Savage sounds like a perfect addition to the collection of gerund+noun-phrase movies.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:20 PM on January 27 [32 favorites]


It is long past time for Dan Savage's national platform to be taken away. It's completely bizarre that people act like he's some kind of authority. He's just some guy with opinions on what other people's sexuality should be like. If I were in interested in that I would take a subway ride through NYC and listen to the things that get shouted at me.

Much of what Dan Savage propagates is incredibly destructive. If someone's sexuality doesn't line up with Dan Savage's arbitrary dogma, he has absolutely no compunction about outrightly shaming them and tearing them down.

Fuck him. He's talked enough.
posted by cairdeas at 5:21 PM on January 27 [30 favorites]


One thing being a trans woman has taught me is that you are what you say you are and I don't sit in my bafflement like the RCA dog, I listen and try to be curious despite my confusion and possible initial disbelief.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:21 PM on January 27 [32 favorites]


It's discouraging to see that a post containing so much information that has nothing to do with Dan Savage is well on its way to leading to a discussion of nothing but Dan Savage.
posted by The World Famous at 5:21 PM on January 27 [48 favorites]


Can we have this comments section actually be about the topic of the post, not Dan Savage?
posted by Ndwright at 5:22 PM on January 27 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure what we're going to discuss, though, given that I'm not interested in the obvious alternative, which is a referendum on asexuality. Perhaps someone who has watched the documentary can tell us precisely how cringeworthy it is. It's been on Hulu for quite a while, but I've been afraid to watch it.
posted by hoyland at 5:23 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I was baffled by Dan Savage behind the non-gendered bathrooms the other week, and my cloaca hurt like the dickens for days.
posted by lalochezia at 5:24 PM on January 27 [23 favorites]


which is a referendum on asexuality.

A referendum? Really?
posted by The World Famous at 5:24 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Sorry, didn't mean add to the derail starting right out the gate.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:25 PM on January 27


Can we have this comments section actually be about the topic of the post, not Dan Savage?


The fact that asexuals have to deal with mockery, condescension, and insinuations from a nationally-known "sex expert," who was asked to appear in the documentary under discussion, lending credence to his arbitrary opinions, and who was linked to thrice in this FPP, is very much a relevant part of this topic.
posted by cairdeas at 5:25 PM on January 27 [14 favorites]


That's honestly the other direction I see this thread going. So I'll take mocking Dan Savage.
posted by hoyland at 5:26 PM on January 27


I don't understand why people like Dan Savage so much. He's an advocate for lying to your significant other about being pregnant and also condones cheating. That's literally advice I'd expect to be given from redditors, not someone with a national platform like him.
posted by gucci mane at 5:29 PM on January 27 [10 favorites]


Regarding the documentary: I've heard it recommended before from people whose opinions I trust. But from clips I've seen, I also suspect that it's sort of an asexuality 101 level. I could be wrong, I haven't seen the entire thing. So, probably not horrible, but your mileage may vary.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:29 PM on January 27


And why do people feel the need to disbelieve a human being when they say they are asexual? Is that really so hard to believe? There are people with sex addiction and pedophiles, but people who are asexual is ridiculous?
posted by gucci mane at 5:30 PM on January 27 [22 favorites]


Wait, uh. Reading the FPP in full. I'm wary of any documentary on asexuality that thinks it's an awesome idea to interview Dan Savage.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:32 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


I don't understand why people like Dan Savage so much.

Decades ago, he seemed refreshing, he was giving frank explanations for things that other people didn't dare to go near, and his column also had like a Jerry Springer effect for all the totally crazy questions he would answer, many of which were truly funny.

Then I think at some point his head swelled up, I think he turned into just another guy who thinks his perspective is the only legitimate perspective and his desires are the only legitimate desires, and he has the right to tell other people what to think and do, and if someone tells him something that he doesn't understand, that person must be mistaken or confused or repressed. So in other words, he turned into something that's not that rare.
posted by cairdeas at 5:32 PM on January 27 [21 favorites]


This provokes me to wonder if sexuality is rightly regarded as a life constant. If someone says they are asexual and then finds themselves sexually attracted to people ten years later, were they just wrong before? Can it change? Does this happen? Is the same true of other orientations?

With nothing but observation of the beautiful complexity of humanity as my guide I say, I doubt they were wrong, yes I bet it changes for some, and that's probably true of all orientations.

But, that answer is probably disappointing to folks who want to put themselves and others into categories, or find their "own" and then be able to settle on that being a permanent truth that can't change later.

Is the only acceptable change that from asexual child to sexual pre-adult of some specific but perhaps unrecognized orientation on a fateful day in early adolescence? Is a person less if they never make that change?
posted by meinvt at 5:33 PM on January 27 [10 favorites]


I have no idea if I'm asexual or not, but I really really really like cake. I mean, some cake. Not all cake. Depends on the cake. And the sex.
posted by maryr at 5:33 PM on January 27 [12 favorites]


Asexuality, by Tiny Dinosaur (Does not contain Dan Savage)
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:33 PM on January 27 [17 favorites]


It really shouldn't be that baffling to him. Because plenty of homosexual men and women, who have no sexual DESIRE for the opposite sex, are still capable of having sex with the opposite sex. People marry, have kids, trudge along until they figure out that something's not right, or at least hit the point of being able to admit it to others. If you can be disinterested in men, or women, or nonbinary people, then it does not seem like it should be shocking that some people are disinterested in all three, and are no more fooling themselves than gay people.
posted by Sequence at 5:34 PM on January 27 [5 favorites]


[Folks, I would suggest not making this all about why you dislike Dan Savage. As he related to this topic, maybe, but just "he sucks" maybe needs to go elsewhere?]
posted by jessamyn at 5:34 PM on January 27 [12 favorites]


Something I've often wondered: if there were a drug or treatment that could completely neutralize your sex drive, with no other side effects to your affect or energy level or enthusiasm, would you try it? And what would motivate you to go off it again?

I can't speak for anyone else, but one thing about not being in the mood is that you don't particularly mind not being in the mood or wish you were. Imagine that as a normal state. I suspect a lot of people might choose it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:38 PM on January 27 [7 favorites]


And why do people feel the need to disbelieve a human being when they say they are asexual?

Well, partially because people are assholes, and partially because our culture is so wrapped up with the idea of being in a sexual relationship as evidence of adulthood, happiness, and achievement that the idea that people could take it or leave it sounds a little too much like 'I reject all your cultural markers for maturity and happiness' for some people.

(just to make clear: I do not agree with this sentiment)
posted by dinty_moore at 5:39 PM on January 27 [19 favorites]


but one thing about not being in the mood is that you don't particularly mind not being in the mood or wish you were.

It certainly would help me to get things done.
posted by shothotbot at 5:40 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I don't doubt the existence of asexuality. I wonder, though, if the "grey asexual" and "demisexual" business hasn't gotten traction just now because of the normalized media-driven assumption that any given person's sexuality, of whatever orientation, is necessarily this ravenous untamed monster that is either a) being voraciously satisfied or b) being repressed with bad consequences down the line. Time was that we honestly didn't expect every single person to be all that interested in rutting. Of course, those times were worse, on the whole, than now, so I won't go out of my way to defend them.

. . . if there were a drug or treatment that could completely neutralize your sex drive, with no other side effects to your affect or energy level or enthusiasm, would you try it?

I'd like to have my sexuality surgically removed. It's the normal factory-issue straight version, I just don't have any use for it. Where one does not desire, one does not suffer.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:42 PM on January 27 [8 favorites]


To sort of come to Dan Savage's defense here...
posted by Going To Maine at 5:42 PM on January 27 [23 favorites]


Ndwright: Can we have this comments section actually be about the topic of the post, not Dan Savage

You'd like that, wouldn't you, DAN SAVAGE?!?!

Seriously though, if people say that's what they are, can't quite figure out why that needs any more attention from me than a "Cool". I did know at least one or two people who identified as asexual who have later moved on and no longer identify that way (this was in college). I can imagine that this kind of thing might be a problem as asexuality grows more mainstream, much like the fabled "college lesbian". Buy if somewhere declares themselves and sticks to it, what more is there to explain? I'm sure there's a lot of folks out there in the mainstream who would have to think pretty hard if made to choose between ok-to-bad sex and a really good tree leches cake...

Mmmm. Tres leches...
posted by theweasel at 5:45 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I don't think that everybody doubts that there are people who don't feel sexual (of course some people do, right? With the whole diversity of human experience, the opposite would be stranger, no?). Gosh, some people thought (past?) that women couldn't actually feel sexual at all.

But asexuality as an identity is the new thing here I think. And that's why there's even talk about asexuals joining the queer movement. And is this identity being claimed as, among other things, a way to fight discrimination? What kinds of discrimination? And any sexologist may attest that asexuals can turn into sexuals with treatment, likely not all, but many, and only if they wish, obv. So the identity thing becomes super confusing.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 5:45 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


EDGE: You’re probably one of the best-known asexuals in the world... Could you talk a bit about that?

Paula Poundstone: Well, it is hard to say a lot more about being asexual. I don’t like sex. Therefore, I don’t have sex. It frees up time, but that’s not by design, it’s just a bonus.

posted by mudpuppie at 5:53 PM on January 27 [5 favorites]


"He was asexual and was fine with it. "

"What makes a good man go neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?"
posted by klangklangston at 5:57 PM on January 27 [24 favorites]


I like cake just fine, thank you.
posted by briank at 5:57 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Dan Savage rode in on a wave of Santorum, which gave him some degree of credibility for awhile. They are both losing their relevance.
posted by Cookiebastard at 5:59 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I have not read all of the links yet, but: I think some people, including Savage are skeptical of asexuality, bisexuality and variances in gender identity (genderqueer but not transgender?) due to an essentialist monosexism: a deep sense of discomfort when confronted with someone who they perceive as having the ability to shape their sexuality via choice, and thus resent them. This is not a fully formed thought on my part. And probably not terribly original to say that people have trouble conceiving of orientations and impulses they themselves do not feel.

I wish I had a better vocabulary to talk about this.

He...also condones cheating.

Yeah but testosterone

Hot hot testosterone



Personally I say sex AND cake but that's just me
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:00 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


David Jay is a good spokesperson for this. He's well-spoken, thoughtful, handsome (you'd think that wouldn't have to matter, but it almost proves his point that it helps his cause) and doesn't have an us vs them mentality. The little bit at the end of the Atlantic piece is a really good point about this whole thing.

"It's not that we talk about sex too much," Jay says. "It's that we celebrate sex in a way that is inauthentic. If we were to have a widespread, accurate discussion of sexuality -- all the things that it means and doesn't mean to people -- that would include a discussion of the fact that sex is not interesting to everyone at some points, and that's okay, and sex is not interesting to some people all the time, and that's okay. Instead, I think what we have is a dialogue that fetishizes and celebrates sexuality, and equates it with the sum of our value and relationships."

Society has a tendency to talk about sex tropes and yet you don't really hear people personally talking much about their sex lives once they're out of ... their twenties maybe? -- unless they're really good, noteworthy or frustrating. I think just understanding the sheer range of what is normal in human sexual relations is an overall good thing.
posted by jessamyn at 6:03 PM on January 27 [29 favorites]


What would be really tricky is coming up with asexual perversions. Rubbing peanut butter on airport chair legs? Dressing cats up in railway engineer costumes? What floats your boat when there's no boat?
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:03 PM on January 27 [14 favorites]


I wonder, though, if the "grey asexual" and "demisexual" business hasn't gotten traction just now because of the normalized media-driven assumption that any given person's sexuality, of whatever orientation, is necessarily this ravenous untamed monster that is either a) being voraciously satisfied or b) being repressed with bad consequences down the line. Time was that we honestly didn't expect every single person to be all that interested in rutting.

As far as I can tell, this is exactly what the "grey ace" and "demisexual" people think- that non-asexuals want nothing but sex constantly, I don't, therefore I'm not really sexual, etc. I think a lot of it comes from being the sort of young introvert who spends a lot of time on Tumblr. The other part of it is that there's a certain subculture on Tumblr of young white straight people who've read about but not really understood privilege and oppression, and who want in on being oppressed because they think it makes you morally righteous. So they invent nonsense like demisexuality and transethnicity and post about how trans people are privileged because there's sexual reassignment surgery but not species reassignment surgery, and they post about "coming out demisexual" to their parents. As if "Mom, Dad... I only want to have sex with somebody I love" was some great courageous statement that they're taking a risk by saying. As if "demisexuality" was something people get thrown out of their homes for or beaten to death for or have their kids taken away for.

And the worst (or funniest, from a certain perspective) part is that in their efforts to seize the moral high ground by asserting their lack of privilege (because, again, they've heard of it but don't really understand it), they take a great huge shit all over people who are actually oppressed, who are actually mistreated, but because they're young and privileged and haven't got a whole lot of experience of the world, they can't see past that.

I fully acknowledge and affirm asexuality as a feature of some people and their lives and reject any effort to dismiss or deny it or maltreat people for it, same as with any other sexual preference. I wish jerks would stop appropriating it to make themselves feel special.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:04 PM on January 27 [47 favorites]


Seems pretty straightforward. Some people aren't into having sex, for whatever. Therefore, I shouldn't date them, because I'm into sex. That and I'm already in a monogamous relationship.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:06 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


Hi! I have actually watched the documentary that is the subject of the post.

It's worthwhile. Not mindblowing, but a competently done look at a sexual orientation that is rarely acknowledged, let alone discussed. Y'all should watch it.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:17 PM on January 27 [7 favorites]


[Some asexuality jokes removed. Really?]
posted by jessamyn at 6:20 PM on January 27 [14 favorites]


It's discouraging to see that a post containing so much information that has nothing to do with Dan Savage is well on its way to leading to a discussion of nothing but Dan Savage.

It's reminding me of my post about the OED, which literally got derailed!
posted by anothermug at 6:21 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


And why do people feel the need to disbelieve a human being when they say they are asexual?

Because people lie about their sexuality all the time. Republicans with a "wide stance," for example. And 17-year-olds (which a lot of self-described asexuals are) pretty frequently lie to themselves about their own sexuality. That's why Savage was dubious about asexuality: he knew so many gay men who swore up and down that they just weren't interested in sex at all, because that was easier than admitting that they wanted same-sex relations. So he suspects that some---not all---of the people describing themselves as "asexual" are actually closeted, and like all closeted people, inadvertently doing harm to themselves and others.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:23 PM on January 27 [12 favorites]


What would be really tricky is coming up with asexual perversions.

I realize you're trying to make a joke but nope. Think about some perversions that are not inherently sexual. Asexual people have those.
posted by clavicle at 6:30 PM on January 27


I don't understand why people like Dan Savage so much.

They remember the "Love Lines" radio call-in show with Adam Corolla and Dr. Drew. Dan Savage is the Marquis de Sade by comparison. (RU teh ghey? Did U were touched as a kid by a grownup? Problem solved! U don't need to be teh gay anymores!)

It's been widely speculated that Morrissey is somewhere on the asexual spectrum (because there are never any absolutes in this stuff) - it brings another level of interest to his songs, which on reflection, are about intimacy and strong emotions, but not romance.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:31 PM on January 27


I don't see why anyone would be surprised to find out that some people don't experience sexual desire. Overpowering as it is for most of us, it's a weird, largely heteronomous, desire... Not having it is no weirder than, I don't know, not liking music or something. *Having* sexual desire is the weird thing, when you think about it...

I also think that Jay is right, that a lot of stuff about contemporary attitudes about sex is inauthentic--people are pushed to be more sexual than they would naturally want to be (even as some forces still push them to be less sexual than they would naturally want to be). Previously, only religious and conservative types have pushed that message, so lots of people wouldn't listen to it. Perhaps if it comes from a different sector they will.

However, given the overpowering way most of us experience sexual desire, I think it's just inevitable that people who don't feel it are always going to feel a bit like outsiders in that respect. We can be as respectful and understanding as we want about it, but I don't know how much that's going to help. Imagine what an outsider you'd feel like if you (and a small percentage of others) didn't want or need food...

But the text of the link to Dan Savage (above) is completely inaccurate and unfair. On the other end of the link, he does not accuse the "minimally sexual" person of being repressed, nor of "messing with" their partners. He makes a reasonable suggestion, even if his tone is, as it often is, not terribly sympathetic.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:32 PM on January 27


They remember the "Love Lines" radio call-in show with Adam Corolla and Dr. Drew. Dan Savage is the Marquis de Sade by comparison. (RU teh ghey? Did U were touched as a kid by a grownup? Problem solved! U don't need to be teh gay anymores!)

This is a very confusing statement. I think I know what you're trying to say, but if so then it's coming across backwards. Could you maybe rephrase this?
posted by Going To Maine at 6:34 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Perhaps someone who has watched the documentary can tell us precisely how cringeworthy it is.

I have watched this movie. It's not cringeworthy.

It's quite low-key. What it's best at is letting people talk. The range of experiences is interesting: some people who feel no arousal, some who do, some who feel no need for partner-companionship, some who do. The movie also lets many non-asexuals speak, and I think that's wise; it gives us a sense of the broader culture one collides with when one comes out as asexual. The Dan Savage interview is part of that. He's a bit abrasive but what he has to say is not unreasonable. To his limited credit, he acknowledges that asexuals exist and belong alongside him in the same movement.

It's interesting to see so much ignorance on display. Genuine ignorance, the mildest form of bigotry. Late in the movie we see asexuals at a pride parade getting asked what the heck asexuality is. They talk about their lives as people of goodwill look on and listen, and as they listen you start to see dawning comprehension and smiles, quickly followed by hugs. It's heartwarming to see people go from confusion and suspicion to joyful acceptance in a minute or two.

SPOILER - near the end of the movie we hear from David Jay about his life a couple years after the movie was shot. It's hard to watch. At that moment in his life he is feeling terribly lonely, wanting a strong relationship with someone but feeling it might be impossible to get that without being willing to have sex, however disgusting that might be for him. It's all the more difficult for him because he's conscious of his role as spokesman and doesn't want to let the team down. It's heartbreaking.

It's a respectful, nuanced movie about what it's like to be asexual in America in the 21st century. I'd recommend it.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:35 PM on January 27 [22 favorites]


I've also watched the documentary, but I feel like it didn't really give a very deep look into the topic. Though for that, you'd probably need an Adam Curtis or Ken Burns length multi-part documentary looking into contemporary sexuality, mass media (sex sells!), homosexuality and monosexuality(?), repression (private, internal) and control (public) of people's sexuality, and lots of other related factors.

I think it's useful to tease apart the different strains of attraction, affection, and sexuality. There are people I adore, people I think are gorgeous, and people who make my pants fit funny. Sometimes, they overlap, but a lot more times than I was brought up to expect, they don't. There's people I enjoy getting physically intimate with, but not sexually. There are people I find physically attractive but have no interest in sexually. And yeah, there are people I've felt sexually attracted to but not physically (what Beth Grant calls "carnal energy"). And all sorts of layers inbetween. And sometimes it gets confusing, and muddled, but such is a lot of life.

And yeah, I tend to identify as demi-sexual. Thanks for projecting the victim complex on me, Pope Guilty! (not white/white-passing, but do spend a fair amount of time on tumblr! wheeeeee)
posted by Eideteker at 6:35 PM on January 27 [9 favorites]


Who's Dan Savage?

Taking this as a serious question... Dan Savage is a sex advice columnist. He has a column that is run in The Stranger in Seattle, and in alternative newspapers elsewhere in the country, and on the Internet. He also has a podcast. His job is as follows: people write or call in to ask for his opinion about situations they're in regarding sex or relationships, and he tells them what his opinion is.

Now and then, he reminds those writing in (and the readers) that his opinion is just that: his opinion. But, as noted before, his job is to provide his opinion (and to do so succinctly, leaving little room for nuance), and he does so.

If you ask me, he's quite good at it. He doesn't expect anyone to agree with him on everything—and I certainly don't—but his perspective is a good one to have access to, and he's provided some useful terms to the lexicon. It was certainly helpful in my last relationship. That your mileage may vary is inherent to the form, not a flaw.

Attacks here to the effect of "he... thinks his perspective is the only legitimate perspective and his desires are the only legitimate desires, and he has the right to tell other people what to think and do" seem wildly misplaced. It is as if somebody were attacking a film critic for daring to rate films without noting in every review that others might feel differently about them.
posted by Shmuel510 at 6:35 PM on January 27 [13 favorites]


his songs, which on reflection, are about intimacy and strong emotions, but not romance.

Intimacy and strong emotions lead to romance, no? Romance is not sex. Sex is sex.
posted by explosion at 6:36 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


but not romance

On further reflection, yeah, there's romance. But it's of the type that yearns for or laments deeper emotional bonds, and sidelines, or ignores, or does a =terrible job= of intimating and incorporating physical desire. Really interesting stuff.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:37 PM on January 27


It's been widely speculated that Morrissey is somewhere on the asexual spectrum
He recently released an autobiography where he said he's "humansexual" and has been in a committed and sexual relationship with a guy for some long time. (link)
I don't see why anyone would be surprised to find out that some people don't experience sexual desire.
It's one of those things where intellectually I don't have a problem with it, but viscerally I can't keep myself from doubting it. Sexual attraction is something that's just been there for me since, what, 12 or 13? So I keep finding myself giving them the sideeye and going "realllllly...?" and then having to be stern with myself.

I've watched about half the doc, but need to go to bed now. It mostly just seems to be asexual people talking about themselves, with occasional person-on-the-street squibs to illustrate how little people know or think about the topic.
posted by kavasa at 6:39 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


Are we talking about a piece of cake or the whole cake?
posted by srboisvert at 6:41 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


"Not having it is no weirder than, I don't know, not liking music or something."

Honestly, having known asexuals and people who just didn't like music, asexuals are barely a ping but people who don't like music at all are fucking weird.
posted by klangklangston at 6:41 PM on January 27 [28 favorites]


Well I like Dan Savage in any case, but I do think it's strange for him to be the go-to leader for all non-standard sexuality. Thankfully it seems like the documentary doesn't actually use him in this role.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:43 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


SPOILER - near the end of the movie we hear from David Jay about his life a couple years after the movie was shot. It's hard to watch. At that moment in his life he is feeling terribly lonely, wanting a strong relationship with someone but feeling it might be impossible to get that without being willing to have sex, however disgusting that might be for him. It's all the more difficult for him because he's conscious of his role as spokesman and doesn't want to let the team down. It's heartbreaking.

HAPPY ENDING - "Jay himself is in a romantic relationship with an asexual girlfriend and they hope to adopt a child in future."
posted by Going To Maine at 6:43 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


Could you maybe rephrase this?

Love Lines was a radio call-in show in the 1999-2001 timeframe, starring a terrible frat-boy comedian and a psychologist who specialized in addiction. Two white, straight men, who had all the answers for those calling in about kinky sex and sex problems. But they were cooool, and alt, and understood everyone way deep! They were the anti-Dr. Lauras!

A favorite trick of theirs was to explore the past of homosexual callers who were upset or confused or questioning about their homosexuality. There would inevitably be sex abuse in their past, and Adam and Dr. Drew would pinpoint all of their sex troubles and insecurities to this moment (a-duhhhhh), call it case closed, and recommend therapy to get over being gay.

But, you know... they never asked any of the straight people calling in about their childhood, or what made them so eager to talk about sex on a nationally syndicated radio show. Once I made that connection, my evenings were filled with other things to do than listen to the radio.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:46 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


At the risk of being [X]-normative off-base, for some value of X, I will hazard that most of us are asexual, at least right up to the moment we're not. Ever been on a date with someone who simply didn't flip your desire swtich, even if you really liked them on every level including the aesthetic/physical? I have, not a few times. Maybe I'm weird, but I find it really easy to identify despite being gigaparsecs away from being asex.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:47 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Navelgazer: "Well I like Dan Savage in any case, but I do think it's strange for him to be the go-to leader for all non-standard sexuality."

I think there's probably a lot of ink to be spilled on that subject. Though the answer is probably just that he's super non-threatening to straight people.
posted by hoyland at 6:48 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I don't want to have sex all the time, so I guess turn my momentary indifference up to 11 and I can wrap my head around it, kind of. But a day without music? Blech.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:54 PM on January 27


What would be really tricky is coming up with asexual perversions.

mm, not really. I don't even see that fairly straightforward things like bondage need to be sexually inclined, let alone the weirder things like those obscuring suits or fantasizing about being a shapeshifter. Pick something,that doesn't involve genitalia or the sexual act and you're off to the races.

i myself probably do come under the aspie/asexual pair umbrella to a degree; kissing is great, sure, but while i hear good things about sex i can't imagine myself ever being sufficiently compelled to make the strange decisions people often make over it.
posted by solarion at 6:55 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Love Lines was a radio call-in show in the 1999-2001 timeframe

Somewhere The Poorman sheds a single tear.

Oh Jesus I was listening to Loveline 25 years ago.
posted by asterix at 6:56 PM on January 27 [6 favorites]


Society has a tendency to talk about sex tropes and yet you don't really hear people personally talking much about their sex lives once they're out of ... their twenties maybe? -- unless they're really good, noteworthy or frustrating. I think just understanding the sheer range of what is normal in human sexual relations is an overall good thing.

Yes, and that most of us move around over time on the various spectrums of sexuality, including more and less desire. Widening our definition of "normal" can only be for the good.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:00 PM on January 27


You know those subtle alluring bits at the start of a bout of depression that suck you deeper into the spiral if you don't catch them - like "staying in bed all day is fucking awesome and comfy, I'm not getting out of bed today!" and "screw socializing, finally some peace and quiet!" and "oh man what if I just don't think about that work I have to do?"? The decline in libido and just not giving a damn about sex was the best of all if I was depressed and single. Seriously the most effective of the tricks depression could play on me if I'd been single for a while. It's really, really freeing to just not even have sex on your radar. Not so great a problem to have if you're already in a relationship, but when you're not, A+ would not think about sex again.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:04 PM on January 27 [7 favorites]


I'm really open about sex, and really think that it is performative, and that anything between consenting adult goes, and it's a spectrum, and all good and all of that--but it takes so much work to present a pro pleasure, fairly free sexuality, and it is still punished so much. I know it is my fault, and i am really trying to understand what is going on, and being autistic, there is the assumption w/i the history of the condition that they are sexless (let me tell you about my grade 9 hospital year) and so it is extra hard work to sexualise autistic discourse, and i know this makes me a giant asshole, and i am genuinely working on it, but this is the bridge too far for me, this is the place where my understanding of sexuality, my own personal history, my internationalization of theory, and so much historical baggage, the discourse of asexuality imposed on a queer and autistic body has done some v. real damage...

it's really difficult and really complicated, and i can accept negation elsewhere, but the discourse of sexlessness is much too dicey to be chopped and screwed into the same biologically essentialalizng neo liberal understandings of the body's liberation.

and i know that is problematic.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:09 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


I'm not even sure fantasizing about being a shapeshifter is a perversion. Surely everybody does that.
posted by squinty at 7:25 PM on January 27 [7 favorites]


This is anecdata and also has nothing to do with Dan Savage so may be completely buried in this thread:

I have known several aspy friends who at one point or another identified as asexual back around age 19-20. To my knowledge, none of them has actually turned out to be asexual in the long run. Several turned out to be gay, and another is now married in a hetero relationship. I don't doubt that at that time they truly felt no significant sexual attraction for anyone. I mean, these were not the sort of guys who nervously clutched crucifixes in the gym locker-room. But they were certainly socially disengaged in a typically aspy way, which leads me to suspect asexuality may be a transient experience with a strong social component and not a permanent biological condition. It seems (from my admittedly distant vantage point) that most of these friends ended up figuring out personal issues that kept from from connecting and then, when they finally connected with someone they like, they found some sexual desire in there as well. I'm not saying this is true for everyone, but it was for the people I knew who identified as asexual.

But yeah, I don't get the total bafflement about asexuality. If you can accept that a person's interest in sex can increase and decrease, surely you must conclude it is possible for a person to have no interest in sex. There's gotta be a lower bound, right?
posted by deathpanels at 7:29 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


Celibacy just means single, doesn't mean you can't have sex ... at least in French.
posted by phoque at 7:33 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


A great resource on asexuality from a black female perspective can be found at Gradient Lair (tag: asexuality)


I really liked this post on saying no can also be sex positive:
And when you’ve had the right to say “NO” taken from you at least once, it becomes really important to be able to say “NO” and not out of fear but out of genuine knowledge of what you desire and what you do not...

Thinking about sexuality in a positive way, in an empowering way also means being able to say NO. Not having to prove anything. Not having to perform any stereotypes related to any sexual orientation or actual sexual behavior. Not having to accept the controlling images that make heterosexual Black women “Jezebels” and asexual Black women “mammies” while oppressing queer Black women for being neither one and oppressing all Black women via misogynoir.
posted by Danila at 7:35 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


I'm really open about sex, and really think that it is performative, and that anything between consenting adult goes, and it's a spectrum, and all good and all of that--but it takes so much work to present a pro pleasure, fairly free sexuality

See, my experience is quite the opposite - a tremendous pressure to present a generic "pro-pleasure" "free" sexuality. I find that absolutely exhausting and depressing and resentment provoking - mandatory fun, you know? Mandatory saying that sex is of course the best and blah blah blah. And we all know what a good, left/radical queer "pro-pleasure" sexuality is supposed to look like, the burlesque, the performative high heels, the "body positivity" as long as the body acts right, the keeping up with the latest kind of sex toy, the just nonconformist-enough yet not too nonconformist selection of tattoos, body hair, body modification, etc...I don't experience those things as fun options; I experience them as one more site where we all know but are not supposed to say that there is a socially correct way to be. (It's the one forbidden thing to say, because after all, we're free, no rules, etc.) I find it all the more of a head trip because I'm supposed to say that I experience sex as freeing - or otherwise I'm a prude, or not queer enough, or whatever - when in fact I find it one of the most confining aspects of life.

Is this situational? Yeah, of course, Frowner in 1500 would experience their sexuality differently; Frowner in the queer utopia of 2500 (or whenever) would experience their sexuality differently. But I don't live in 1500 or in utopia; my particular set of experiences that have constructed me, that make me into myself, make me experience most things about sexuality as one more site where neoliberalism intrudes with its spurious "individuality" and "choice" and real control.

I think most sexualities are far more cultural than we give them credit for being, and that's okay. Culture is real. Saying that something is "culturally constructed" doesn't mean you can just handwave and it vanishes.

I don't think of myself as asexual, but I do think both that my sexuality is the product of culture and that I am okay with liking sex a lot less than one is "supposed" to.

(I also think it's funny that at many times and places, someone who wasn't interested in sex would easily be pigeonholed as a bachelor (and not the wink-wink 'confirmed bachelor' kind either) or someone with a religious vocation or similar and that would be perfectly okay, it wouldn't be about how they were broken and repressed. This is just as cultural as our current variety of sexuality, but it does make me laugh when everyone is all like "ZOMG no one is asexual except because trauma".

Also, we are brought into being by trauma. There isn't a "healthy" sexuality. There are sexualities that are happy, comfortable, successful, etc; but that's not a "healthy" versus "sick" distinction.
posted by Frowner at 7:38 PM on January 27 [49 favorites]


To add - I could say about myself "clearly I am broken, I should undertake years of therapy so that I can learn to enjoy this thing that everyone says I should enjoy, and in exactly the way that they say I should enjoy it" or I could say "hey, I am a grown-ass adult, my life has shaped me this way, I'm not unhappy, I get to avoid something I find stressful and blah* and save on therapy bills!"

*Reiterating that I am not asexual, but I'm a lot less sexual than most people. Parasexual or something, perhaps. Quasi-sexual.

I mean, if I decided that I really needed to learn to want to raise a child (for reasons! It's natural! It's human! It's selfish not to have a kid! It gives you meaning! And everyone else does it!), I could do all kinds of immersive child-care experiences and I would probably come to enjoy it if I really, really believed that I needed to learn to enjoy it, especially if I got a lot of positive social reinforcement for doing so. But the person I am right now, the person who has come into being, does not want to raise a child. A couple of generations ago, I would have faced a huge amount of pressure to learn to want to raise a child, and I probably would have been passably happy doing so. But I'm glad I don't have to, today.

This has nothing to do with other people's enjoyment of child-rearing, the meaning they derive from it, etc. It does not mean that people who have had to struggle to become parents did the wrong thing, or that it's okay to deny people the right to be parents. It just means that it's okay for me not to want to do this cultural thing that everyone else seems to like a lot.
posted by Frowner at 7:51 PM on January 27 [24 favorites]


He's an advocate for lying to your significant other about being pregnant and also condones cheating.

cite please.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:51 PM on January 27


Much of the time, I just don't think sex is all that interesting, and I've felt that way all my life. I have moments, but honest to god it's not often much on my mind. The funny thing was, I came across as obsessed with it when I was much younger, but most of that was trying to persuade myself into what I figured were appropriate feelings. And all the stuff people talk about in order to bring more zest into a love life, like toys, play-acting, extra partners, etc? That sounds way too much like work.
posted by Peach at 7:54 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


What prefix for .....sexual is for those of us who just really don't give a damn what someone else's prefix is?
posted by aryma at 8:17 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


He's an advocate for lying to your significant other about being pregnant and also condones cheating.

cite please.


Actually, as someone who generally likes Dan Savage's opinions, I'd say that both of these statements are pretty much givens. Indeed, when I google "dan savage permission to cheat" I get this Slog post where he supports Prudence (of Dear Prudence) for okaying a man cheating on his spouse and this article where he asks people who believe that adultery is always wrong to opine about what they would tell a particular "miserable, sexually-deprived, but faithful married man" who wrote to him for advice.

Savage is pretty consistent about endorsing that people be honest with their partners whenever possible, but that if someone is locked into some kind of situation where leaving the relationship is impossible and the only option for sexual satisfaction is cheating (& presumably lying about it) is just fine. His endorsement is contingent on other factors, but it's quite real.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:18 PM on January 27


Frowner:

Thank you so much for your eloquent response. I am working through it. Good pro sex isn't v. radical these days, I find, and I still think that we are being pushed into a much more normative quality than we have historically...and by historically i mean the 70s.

Also, I keep thinking, because I am a theologian, that celibacy was for a long time, in the european west, a performative set of choices that has not been allowed any more. i am not sure that asexuality is a return of that discipline.

Also mentally ill and queer bodies are often policed, and their sexuality is continually considered to be unruly, the fact that so many autistic folks claim an asexuality, i keep think overlaps with this tradition and history. I am not saying that autisitc asexuals do not exist, but i keep wondering if it is that we do not allow for a widening of what sex can be.

But then, widening could also be negation, negation can be a choice, but we have to be really careful to make sure that the negation is not as a result of pressure or control...but also, to make sure that you do not police other people's identity or construction on the other end...

it's a mess, but then what isn't
posted by PinkMoose at 8:28 PM on January 27


I wouldn't call myself asexual these days, but if I had to pick between never having sex again and never having cake again I would have a very hard time.
posted by town of cats at 8:38 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


"See, my experience is quite the opposite - a tremendous pressure to present a generic "pro-pleasure" "free" sexuality."

Yeah, it's almost like each person gets told a specific version of "The way that you feel about sex is wrong" (and also generally, "The way you do sex is wrong") tailored individually.
posted by klangklangston at 8:46 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


[One comment deleted. At this point, maybe we can set aside the question of Dan Savage's various other beliefs?]
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:52 PM on January 27


That UK dating site for asexuals would be a godsend for me if there was something similar stateside. I find myself feeling more and more isolated because of my asexuality, and would love to pursue a romantic partnership.

However, even if there was a stateside dating site for Aces, I live in such a backwater that I wonder if I'd find much nearby.
posted by samizdat at 9:02 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


As far as I can tell, this is exactly what the "grey ace" and "demisexual" people think- that non-asexuals want nothing but sex constantly, I don't, therefore I'm not really sexual, etc.

Well, if all you ever saw on TV was wall-to-wall cheese, every magazine was full of articles on how to get more cheese, and every Hollywood movie was based on cheese and violence, you might start to get the idea that most people were thinking about cheese an awful lot.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:13 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I think that everyone has someone in their life whose sexuality seems obscure or confusing, but asexual is rarely part of the conversation. You know that friend/family member who doesn't have a significant other or whose relationships don't seem to last, that everyone speculates might be secretly gay? If asexuality were more of "a thing" perhaps those people might feel more comfortable discussing it. Or maybe not, I don't know.

I also wonder if asexuality might explain some of the Hollywood stars whose sexuality is endlessly debated. There is almost more pressure to be sexual in any sort of way, than there is to be straight.
posted by cell divide at 9:28 PM on January 27 [7 favorites]


Interestingly enough, in Theodore Sturgeon's super-fantastic 1955 story, "The [Widget], The [Wadget], and Boff", there are multiple characters each with a problem to be solved, and one of the character's problem is that he's basically asexual.

His insight at the end is very much like The Underpants Monster's insight - if you had starving people on a desert island, would you really need to advertise food to them? - in other words, people's sexual drive is on a continuum, and he's off on one side of the scale, but that doesn't make him at all "abnormal" - quite the reverse.

I read that at an early age, so I've always been completely comfortable with the idea that some fraction of the world really doesn't care about sex and that there's nothing wrong with that at all.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:38 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


I think some people... are skeptical of asexuality, bisexuality and variances in gender identity (genderqueer but not transgender?) due to an essentialist monosexism: a deep sense of discomfort when confronted with someone who they perceive as having the ability to shape their sexuality via choice, and thus resent them.

I was going to suggest something similar, actually.

I know a couple of asexual people, and the shit they have to deal with is exactly like the shit that came out of Mike Krahulik (of Penny Arcade infamy) about trans people.

That it's not real, they're saying it to get attention, that they're just confused. Or that they are afraid of sex or were traumatized by abuse and they just don't want to deal with it. Or they're afraid they might be gay and don't want to face that. Or any number of bullshit things other than respecting them and taking them at face value (*).

While asexuals are not, thankfully, getting beaten to death in fast food restaurants, it does seem like understanding and accepting asexuality lags far behind understanding and accepting LGBT, and even lags behind nonbinary gender variance (which seems to me far more difficult to explain than "I'm not sexually attracted to anybody/anything").


(*): (Actually, this is how I see therians/otherkin treated as well, and that association kind of bothers me. Because I don't get that phenomenon, and especially when sliding over to "otakukin" and dragonkin and whatnot it just seems to invite dismissal and outright mocking.

But I don't want to be That Guy, simply because this is exactly how some people feel about sexuality and gender identity that they don't understand, including mine.)
posted by Foosnark at 9:47 PM on January 27


My experience and observation of the sex-positive community as someone who is also sex-positive, is that it's surprisingly prescriptive in this regard — it pathologizes anything less than frequent, orgasmic sex. Which, I suppose, makes sense for literal "sex-positivity", but I've always understood sex-positivity as being in opposition to sex-negativity and socially normative prescriptive sexuality. So, in my view, being less sexual or anorgasmic (by choice) or asexual are all perfectly acceptable ways of experiencing sexuality and being sex-positive means defending those choices.

But I've argued with Susie Bright (who I adore) about this and I've argued with a lot of people about this. And you can frequently see here on MeFi some intense value judgments coupled with ignorance about this topic — memorably, I argued with someone who asserted that anyone who lives without sex is necessarily psychologically damaged. Which was amazing to me because there really are many people in our culture and others who live without sex.

So, the things that Frowner and Foosnark wrote. There is something wrong and oppressive about how many people write and talk about this subject, they will unthinkingly make normative statements that basically call everyone "sick" who falls outside what they think is normal. In a time when our culture is far more tolerant of the wide variety of sexual expression and experience, it's ironically become acceptable to be intolerant and judgmental about people who don't have sex.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:38 PM on January 27 [11 favorites]


You know, some people have sex like teenagers.

Some people don't. Like, not teenagers. Not all not teenagers. But many. There's nothing wrong with not having the sex drive of a teenager.

There are some pretty miserable people in one sided asexual relationships, and I do think Dan Savage deserves some credit for talking about that (whether you agree with his remedies or not).
posted by effugas at 10:57 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


But, how is asexuality socially constructed, and what if this social construction is born out of trauma, i mean this is the case for all kinds of sex, but there has been a long tradition, of for example how instutional homophobia shapes queer sex, or how rape affects women's responses to desire...i am not sure it is fair just to plop down asexuality and say, here is a thing that exists now, without seriously working out how much of the negation comes from trauma? Or has this work been done?
posted by PinkMoose at 11:16 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


A favorite trick of theirs was to explore the past of homosexual callers who were upset or confused or questioning about their homosexuality. There would inevitably be sex abuse in their past, and Adam and Dr. Drew would pinpoint all of their sex troubles and insecurities to this moment (a-duhhhhh), call it case closed, and recommend therapy to get over being gay.

But, you know... they never asked any of the straight people calling in about their childhood, or what made them so eager to talk about sex on a nationally syndicated radio show. Once I made that connection, my evenings were filled with other things to do than listen to the radio.


I'm sorry, but this is seriously inaccurate.

At least half the callers who got the air were teenagers acting out sexually in various unhealthy ways (and not just 'being gay' in the case of gay callers). Just about every single one of these callers, straight or gay, was asked whether they had a history of abuse. The answer was almost always affirmative.

Dr. Drew's response was usually to suggest that they seek therapy. Not really an unreasonable response given the constraints of a two minute phone call.

I'm not trying to defend the show in all its aspects. Adam, in particular, could be very douchey (which is sort of his act). They may have come across as glib or insensitive, but they never would have suggested that a gay person seek reparative therapy to 'get over' being gay.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 12:10 AM on January 28 [5 favorites]


I don't think its controversial to suggest that different people have differing amount of sex drives. I think an acknowlegment of this is probably a good thing for avoiding pain in relationships. When two people who have vastly different sex drives are partnered together this can be a recipe for pain, especially if neither know that before they enter said relationship.

My first girlfriend was never terribly interest in sexual activity. I don't know if that was just a lack of chemistry between the two of us or inherent to her, but either way it meant some trouble for us. I had pretty low self esteem going into the relationship, and my failure to produce much of a response from her didn't really make me feel that much more confident. I don't blame her for this, because a lot of the problems were my own issues as well, but some of her issues definitely stemmed from a failure on both of our parts to talk about sex in an open, honest way.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:58 AM on January 28


i am not sure it is fair just to plop down asexuality and say, here is a thing that exists now, without seriously working out how much of the negation comes from trauma? Or has this work been done?
The doc has a bit at the start where a psych researcher describes some of their initial results when doing research looking for any sort of rate of any mental illness whatsoever higher in the asexual-identified population than the general population and not finding anything.
posted by kavasa at 4:21 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


At any rate the notion that a particular person's sexuality must be the result of trauma is pretty gross and has a long history of being used to hurt people.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:25 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


I think that everyone has someone in their life whose sexuality seems obscure or confusing, but asexual is rarely part of the conversation. You know that friend/family member who doesn't have a significant other or whose relationships don't seem to last, that everyone speculates might be secretly gay?

And for those of us who are that person, feeling pressure to conform to the expectation that every second of the day should be spent in seeking out someone to fuck is really exhausting and anxiety-inducing. It was excruciating as a teenager, and even now I sort of hate meeting new people in some ways because one of the very first things they will try to do is to figure out what kind of person I like to fuck, if I'm fucking someone at the moment, and if I want to be fucking someone. And it never stops as long as you know someone, so you're forever fending off intrusive faux-coy questions without having any effective response because 'that is seriously none of your business' only makes them even more eager to speculate, they just do it behind your back.

It would be nice if the idea of asexuality becoming more common meant that people would stop the speculation about other people' s bedroom habits, but in reality it will just give them another label to afix to people who don't conform to their expectations.

So I am not really interested in labeling myself and my lifelong tepid interest in physical relations with other humans as for me it seems more of a convenience for other people instead of being useful for me. If other people find it useful I am glad for them. Incidentally, I don't find cake better than sex, but the acquisition of sex is so fraught with annoying complications it's simpler to go without it, whereas cake is pretty easy to get.
posted by winna at 4:33 AM on January 28 [20 favorites]


But, how is asexuality socially constructed, and what if this social construction is born out of trauma, i mean this is the case for all kinds of sex, but there has been a long tradition, of for example how instutional homophobia shapes queer sex, or how rape affects women's responses to desire...i am not sure it is fair just to plop down asexuality and say, here is a thing that exists now, without seriously working out how much of the negation comes from trauma? Or has this work been done?

I think that a problem is that folks want to see the realm of sexuality (and the body) as a place to access pure, foundational truth - sex is really like this but modernity/culture/trauma have perverted it; gender is really like that; bodies are really like the other thing. And if we look at sexuality carefully enough, we can discern a transhistorical kind of human sexuality that is true, original and as real as numbers. Then we can build all our other theories off that one "real" idea.

So there's a great deal of pressure to say that sexuality is transhistorical, not cultural, and that sexuality which is not a problem for its possessor should be a problem because it is not in line with a "transhistorical" model.

Unfortunately, politics has dictated that a lot of GLBTQ organizing has been run on the lines of "I can't help what I am, it is natural, I am truly and authentically [thing that is eternally and cross-culturally true]". This is a matter of political necessity when people are being abused and endangered, but it does just play into the bio-scientific idea that we all need to prove our sexuality, classify it according to the Rules and live accordingly.

I think that virtually all sexual practice is shaped by patriarchy, capitalism, homphobia, racism, and the idea that sex is dirty/transgressive. Even "sex positive" stuff is a reactive idea. We can't get outside of that. The question is whether people are able to have a decent time in bed and treat each other okay, or whether their sexuality is painful and horrible to them.

Now, this idea itself does rest on a "foundational" belief - the belief that people should be able to do what they want, more or less, as long as it doesn't hurt others. That's just as much a leap of faith as anything else, but it's a leap that I consciously choose to make - I don't pin it on "nature" or "eternity".
posted by Frowner at 5:03 AM on January 28 [10 favorites]


The Huffington Post also had a informative, positive series of articles on asexuality last summer.

This documentary gives a broad overview, and I didn't learn anything that I hadn't already read on the internet when I watched it a couple of years ago, but I imagine it would be helpful for an audience not already familiar with asexuality.

I understand other commenters' resistance to labels, but I do want to have a label for myself, regardless of whether I choose to share it with other people. In my own quest to determine my sexual identity, I mostly knew that I did not exactly fit with any of the sexualities I knew, nor could I imagine my life would be like the lives of adults I knew. Eventually finding out that yes, there were people older than me who rarely or never experienced sexual attraction was liberating. Not quite liberating enough for me to go around advertising myself as asexual, on the off-chance that I'm wrong and later introduce a sexual partner to the same people, but enough that I get caught in loops like, "You're broken and defective and doing it all wrong," a lot less frequently.
posted by casualinference at 5:42 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Dan Savage has brought all the dislike and mistrust people feel for him on himself, but for all his flaws, I'm glad to have him around. I rarely read his column, in which he's at his coldest and glibbest. But I love his podcast. And, contrary to what many of his detractors suggest -- that his fans are either privileged, unenlightened straight people or somehow duped into liking him -- I've very much disagreed with his little assortment of awful ideas, assumptions, and attitudes over the years, had to take some of his comments personally, and been left feeling righteously pissed off after more than a few episodes. Then again, I've had similar experiences with everyone I know. So I don't necessarily mind listening to somebody who's really fucking wrong on occasion, especially when they're willing to change their mind. It's true that, like many professional bloviators, Dan Savage is in actual fact just some guy, and not especially qualified to comment on many of the matters he's invited to address. Unlike many PBs, though, he's blessed with the rare ability to slowly see sense.

In any case, as he's become more well-known, he's become more responsible and aware of his own limitations; these days, he's constantly bringing in expert callers to weigh in on issues he lacks the necessary insight into. Which I obviously appreciate, but also kind of feel kind of disappointed about, because I just want to hear him talk. He's a magnificent, passionate, quick-witted (& long-winded), sometimes deeply sensitive and thoughtful speaker, and when I do agree with him, it's a thrill and a joy to hear him blather on.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:52 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I also think that maybe fetishes and BDSM/etc sexual practices might be a good model for understanding asexuality - most people don't seem to have trouble with the idea that sexual fetishes (or identities such as submissiveness) are both highly cultural and real. No one is asserting that cultures where people don't wear shoes are repressing people with shoe fetishes, or that people who write anime porn existed (but repressed!) in 1500. More seriously, people generally seem to get that the more heavy-duty kinds of things (rape fantasies, race play, etc) are cultural, are growing from oppression, but can also often be people's ways of working through oppression. And I feel like there's a popular consensus that fetishes and BDSM identities are not things that are lightweight choices, the equivalent of deciding one evening to blindfold one's partner or something. There seems to be a consensus that if someone needs a [fur suit, high heels, particular fantasy] to get off at all, that's just something that we can say "oh, grow up"*.

My own sexuality is - like everyone's, really - a way that I negotiate our cultural expectations around sex. That's what individual sexuality is - the way we manage sexual pleasure and social constraint/expectations. The degree to which a given sexuality is "changeable" seems to me to be on a continuum - it's pretty easy to say "I want to stop focusing on [minor fantasy]" or "I want to learn to enjoy [minor practice]"; it's much more difficult to stop being into more major fetishes/fantasies; and it seems virtually impossible to decide not to be GLBT*Q.

But I surmise that if we lived in...well, let's call it "queertopia", it might be a lot easier to slip between identities**, because the kinds of deep socialization that we all undergo from our first breath would be absent. We can't easily slip between identities now, though, precisely because we are who we've become, and it would be pretty horrible to try to push people to change their identities because of some random theorizing about utopia. I mean, that's the key part - we are who we become, we can modify that to a certain extent, but the really deep stuff changes only very slowly, over years or generations. (People might usefully read a Joanna Russ story called "Bodies" on this point.)

Basically, it's really tiring to me that people who fundamentally don't give a rat's ass about my actual life, the things I actually negotiate in terms of sexuality...those people get all pearl-clutching and insist that I am missing something or broken or whatever because it disturbs them that I don't like what they like. Seriously, internet pearl clutchers, unless you can give me a different past, you should just step off. And moreover, your sexuality is just as cultural and contingent as mine - it's just that yours gets a lot of social validation and mine does not.


*Even though there are plenty of people who do say that stuff, I think that a lot of researchers and the metafilter-esque portion of society pretty much don't think that way.

**Also consider Maynard Keynes. Or I mean, I often do. A very enthusiastically gay guy who fell totally, deeply and apparently sexually in love with a woman late in life, totally out of the blue.
posted by Frowner at 6:09 AM on January 28 [7 favorites]


I understand other commenters' resistance to labels, but I do want to have a label for myself, regardless of whether I choose to share it with other people. In my own quest to determine my sexual identity, I mostly knew that I did not exactly fit with any of the sexualities I knew, nor could I imagine my life would be like the lives of adults I knew.

I understand that completely. I had my own search for labels that helped me understand I was okay. It seems kind of backwards, but that's how it worked.
posted by Foosnark at 6:41 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


My ace friend may not speak for everyone, but she's said that asexuality is not necessarily a lack of sex drive. It doesn't mean never being horny or never enjoying sex.

Rather, it's like what gay people feel about the opposite sex, or straight people feel about their own, except that they feel it towards everyone. An "I don't swing that way" and a "sorry, you're not my type" that applies to the whole world.

Maybe it's a subtle distinction, but an important one. To think that asexuals simply have trouble getting aroused or are traumatized by the idea of sex is to miss the point.
posted by Foosnark at 6:43 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


It would be nice if the idea of asexuality becoming more common meant that people would stop the speculation about other people' s bedroom habits, but in reality it will just give them another label to afix to people who don't conform to their expectations.
How about we all just try to be nice to one another and leave it at that? I'm sure some people enjoy having strangers coyly pry into the sexual lives (I know I have at various times, to be honest), but if someone says, "I'd rather not discuss that" then don't discuss it. I'm not sure we need to suss out the nuanced psychological experience of asexuality to solve this problem.
posted by deathpanels at 6:50 AM on January 28


cake fucking sucks! what the heck
posted by MangyCarface at 7:07 AM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I think the main value of discussing asexuality as openly as we do other flavors of sexuality doesn't lie in the convenience of labels, but in the benefit to young people discovering themselves, trying to figure themselves out, and being able to say, "I'm not a freak; there are other people out there like me and we're just as valid as everyone else."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:16 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I know for years, I believed Dan Savage, and thought because I was dating men most of the time I had to round myself up to straight or I was being deceptive. I bought into the whole "bisexual women are just attention whores who want to make out at parties to tantalize straight boys" myth. I felt I had to quantify my attraction to women in percentages, for god's sake.

And then "queer" came along, along with the technology and community to allow me to learn about it even if I didn't have access to an education in academic theory. And suddenly a lot of things about myself that I knew were true (that I am attracted to people outside the gender binary, that it's not as simple as "I'm attracted to boys half of the time and girls the other half of the time", that my gender identity isn't clearcut and that my gender expression is superfluid) were validated.

If the growing movement of asexuality helps other people find that community and validation, that feeling of "no, you're not making it up," and releases them from a need to deny parts of themselves or pretend to be something they're not, I think it's a good thing. It's hard for me to understand a little bit, though to be honest heterosexuality/monosexuality is kind of hard for me to understand. I don't need to be able to apply it to my personal experience in order to see that it's a positive thing for people to have words to describe themselves and find other like-minded people.

I think a lot of asexuals (and people of all sexualities) feel the need to "round up" or "round down" their desire to justify their inclusion in an identity, or to portray it as biologically essential and stagnant in order to demand respect. But if their identity is fluid, if it changes over time, then who does it hurt? Maybe they were confused, maybe they matured, more likely they changed and developed over time like every human. Who cares.

I legally changed my middle name to Cupcake, so I think y'all know how I feel about cake.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:36 AM on January 28 [24 favorites]


Sexuality rejects taxonomy, taxonomy rejects the rejection.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:39 AM on January 28


Something I've often wondered: if there were a drug or treatment that could completely neutralize your sex drive, with no other side effects to your affect or energy level or enthusiasm, would you try it? And what would motivate you to go off it again?

Well, try being middle aged, with two teenagers, 5 houses to take care of, 5 cars to maintain, 3 dogs, 3 cats and a full time job. That'lll put you off sex faster than any pill.
posted by Kokopuff at 10:17 AM on January 28


but while i hear good things about sex i can't imagine myself ever being sufficiently compelled to make the strange decisions people often make over it.

Doug Stanhope advises draining an erection like a cyst on that basis. Comedically, but fairly convincingly given the serious errors in judgement he's claimed it's led to.

Either way, cake is better than death.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:42 AM on January 28


Wait, the choice is between cake OR sex??

Then what the heck is Rihanna talking about??
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:24 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I watched the documentary, and while it wasn't gripping by any means, afterwards I just couldn't put it out of my head. First off all, I don't know Dan Savage that well aside from the "campground rule" and the "price of admission" concept in relationships (and the ubiquitous DTMFA phrase) so I was totally shocked to hear him say such blatantly thoughtless and snarky things as soon as he was faced with a sexuality that he didn't understand. I thought he was a "all sexualities are valid, man" type of guy so his interview in the documentary really opened my eyes.

But really I just am trying to fathom life as an asexual, and I'm at a loss. I can't find a link to it from something I've experienced myself; I can only understand it intellectually. As a more or less straight woman, I can completely understand finding women sexy, finding men sexy, finding gay porn sexy or feeling transgendered / transexual from my own fleeing thoughts & feelings, like meeting an especially attractive individual or when I feel frustrated and constrained by the gender performance expectations thrust upon me; resenting how I get rewarded for the 'right' performance and a little isolated for the 'wrong' one even though "me" is somewhere in between.

But asexuality I still can't wrap my head around, and I just have more questions. And I found David Jay an interesting character. Some people interviewed clearly seemed asexual in that they gave off Zero sexy/charismatic energy. But David seemed flirty (a guy totally hits on him in the pride parade and he returns the flirt but when the guy asks for his number David dodges away; the guy immediately asks "oh so are you Christian?" and David goes back and gives him a quick kiss). Or at one point David is living in this asexual friendly group environment, and it totally reminded me of the Christian kids in high school, too afraid to "go there" but still needing physical intimacy via hugs and cheek kisses. David totally has visible chemistry with this one girl but again won't go there, he won't commit to exploring something deeper (she ends up realizing he can't give her what she needs and leaves the group). At that point I started wondering if Dan Savage had a point, is asexuality a cover for fear of intimacy, control issues, or discomfort with sexual orientation, or of just not being comfortable with one's emotions or in one's own body. I don't doubt that some people are genuinely asexual, and of course not everyone wants sex all. the. time. but towards the end I was left with the sense that David Jay himself wasn't really asexual. He guiltily mentioned wanting a partner (and rationalized it by saying something to the tune of 'society expects a pairing off') and that sent 'repressed' signals. But so what? So what if they're never sexual. Maybe that's just their honest selves. Who am I to say "well they do/don't seem sexual/charismatic therefore they do/don't want sex." But I found myself wondering all those things that I thought bigots only wondered: hey asexuals are cute people! why aren't they flirting at the party? maybe they just haven't found the right person to feel comfortable with. Shit what DO you do at a party if there's no flirting? Maybe they're just afraid, that's it! Derp derp derp.... I felt like an ignorant idiot for wondering these things. Intellectually I get it, some people don't want sex just like I'm mildly disinterested in celery, but emotionally I was having a hard time matching it up with my own experiences. I know just cus I don't feel it doesn't mean it isn't real, but I'm at a total loss for a frame of reference. It's like a mobius strip. Isn't adulthood marked by sexual maturity? Isn't intimacy with another a sign of comfort with self? Why wouldn't you want it? Whyyyyyyyy? derp derp derp.... it was weird to watch an 'alternative lifestyle' documentary and feel like a bigot idiot.

So I guess the documentary did exactly what it set out to do, educate & inform and get people thinking about asexuality and their own sexuality in ways they hadn't before. And all these comments here on metafilter got me thinking about how much of sexuality is a taught performance etc etc., enlightening for sure.

Finally.... no one likes cake like Picard... nobody...
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:06 PM on January 28


Some people don't like chocolate. That seems totally at odds with the human experience to me, but it doesn't mean that they secretly love chocolate or haven't found the right candy bar yet. Just because we've evolved to crave fat and sugar doesn't mean that everyone enjoys the experience the same way. We don't need to consume at every opportunity to survive any more. There are plentiful diets that will allow us to avoid chocolate, even if it becomes awkward are birthday parties when we aren't interested in the cake.
posted by maryr at 12:55 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Cake is definitely better than some sex...
posted by Oyéah at 1:06 PM on January 28


David totally has visible chemistry with this one girl but again won't go there, he won't commit to exploring something deeper (she ends up realizing he can't give her what she needs and leaves the group).

You might want to interrogate what you mean by "visible chemistry". I have "visible chemistry" with several friends whose sexual orientation does not at all match mine, but anyone would think we were flirting like crazy. I have "visible chemistry" with people who in theory I could sleep with, orientation-wise, but I have no particular interest in sleeping with them.

I think it might be helpful to get away from the "I can tell that someone else really wants to be doing something that I like, even though they say they don't want to". I'm sure you can see why this line of reasoning is a problem.

Also, you know, wanting to sleep with people can be composed of a lot of elements - you might want to sleep with someone for a mixture of being flattered, a sense of achievement (proving you can attract them), emotional warmth toward them, jealousy, insecurity...I mean, people don't always have sex out of pure animal lust, but no one says "hey, you're picking up strangers at the bar mostly because you want to prove that you are attractive, so you must not actually be sexual". No one says "you're clearly with your boyfriend because you're terrified of being alone, so you're not really sexual". No one says "You weren't touched enough as a child so you like to have a lot of sex because of the touching, you're not really sexual." We accept unquestioningly that people's motives for having sex are multiple, complex and not entirely about the uncontrollable physical responses.

People can have a lot of reasons for feeling that "asexual" describes themselves.

I reiterate that I don't think of myself as asexual - just maybe quasi-sexual, para-sexual, substantially out of line with most people's feelings about this stuff- and yeah, it's definitely both cultural and personal history related. Back in the dawn of my personal history, some bad things (some medical, some kind of abuse-y) happened to me, and I surmise that those things shaped me in a direction where, you know, I'm just not that into it. This isn't because I'm broken. I mean, early experiences also made me a super fluent reader with a large vocabulary and a relatively adroit noticer of the unspoken - that's just how I am. Other people don't need therapy because their early experiences didn't make them super fluent readers - they're not failed versions of me - and I don't need therapy because I've become what I am. I also don't need to point to some kind of Straight From Mother Nature/Mother Neuroscience "proof" that my sexuality is "authentic". My sexuality is authentic by virtue of me saying it is and being happy with it (when I'm left alone about it, anyway.)

Basically, you're saying that because you enjoy something, you think that anyone who doesn't enjoy it is lying, self-deluding or broken. You're also saying that your enjoyment is pure, original and uncomplicated - not cultural, not influenced by your upbringing, but just the real, raw straight-from-Mother-Nature stuff. My habits, of course, are unnatural, pathological, in need of medication, etc.
posted by Frowner at 1:14 PM on January 28 [8 favorites]


Basically, you're saying that because you enjoy something, you think that anyone who doesn't enjoy it is lying, self-deluding or broken. You're also saying that your enjoyment is pure, original and uncomplicated - not cultural, not influenced by your upbringing, but just the real, raw straight-from-Mother-Nature stuff. My habits, of course, are unnatural, pathological, in need of medication, etc.

I don't think St. Peepsburg was saying that at all - she was saying that it's hard for her to grok the concept even though she gets it intellectually, not denying that it was true or valid.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:24 PM on January 28


You know, if you're going to believe that some people are more sexual than others, it makes sense that some people are far less sexual than others. Whatever works and keeps people consensually happy.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:28 PM on January 28


St. Peepsburg - who I'm sure is a perfectly lovely person! - is saying that because she feels that someone's motives for calling themselves asexual are mixed, this calls their asexuality into question. That line of reasoning only makes sense if there's "sexuality", which is authentic and uncomplicated (ie, you never have mixed reasons for calling yourself sexual or for sleeping with someone) and this contrasts with "asexuality", where mixed motives or complexity disprove it altogether. I'm saying that "sexuality" is just as cultural and mixed up as anything else, and that trying to establish a "pure" way to experience sex isn't useful.

There's also this perpetual question about origin - like, we have to get back to some root cause, some seed of a seed, from which correct sexuality naturally flows. And when we have established that, then we can say that everyone "naturally" does X, and if you don't do X, that's because you need treatment. (To become happier! Indeed. ) And anything subsequent to this seed of a seed (which is still purely theoretical - we surmise that an authentic sexuality exists, but we don't know what it is) is necessarily bad in its effect.

This is why I like the fetish/BDSM model more and more - it's perfectly acceptable to say "this experience shaped my sexuality like this, and it's done, I need [to be submissive/dominant/etc] to have a good time" and no one says "oh, clearly because your experience shaped your sexuality (away from its pure authentic form that you were born with) your sexual practices are a form of self-delusion that you'd be happier without. There's a built in acceptance that culture and experience shape this kind of sexuality, and that's okay and does not need to be justified in terms of the eternal or the original.
posted by Frowner at 1:34 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I think it might be helpful to get away from the "I can tell that someone else really wants to be doing something that I like, even though they say they don't want to". I'm sure you can see why this line of reasoning is a problem.

I really don't think I said that, so that is an extrapolation and an incorrect connection you're drawing here. They don't want to have sex, clearly, and I wonder whether their aversion/disinterest stems from a germane "who they are" vs. other fear-based stuff. Please no rape-y insinuations or otherwise.

You might want to interrogate what you mean by "visible chemistry". I have "visible chemistry" with several friends whose sexual orientation does not at all match mine, but anyone would think we were flirting like crazy. I have "visible chemistry" with people who in theory I could sleep with, orientation-wise, but I have no particular interest in sleeping with them.

Yeah good point, while watching the documentary I found myself questioning my own judgments i.e. just because a person doesn't give off sex energy (in my opinion) doesn't mean they are asexual. When I was in Germany briefly I was stunned by how flat and unsexy the culture was (compared to Italy Spain or even France) and I wondered: how do Germans flirt? There are NO signals coming off these people! But clearly they're having sex. So it's shortsighted of me to be so judgmental by my own standards of a) what chemistry can/cannot be seen b) what it means for the people involved.

Also, you know, wanting to sleep with people can be composed of a lot of elements - you might want to sleep with someone for a mixture of being flattered, a sense of achievement (proving you can attract them), emotional warmth toward them, jealousy, insecurity...I mean, people don't always have sex out of pure animal lust, but no one says "hey, you're picking up strangers at the bar mostly because you want to prove that you are attractive, so you must not actually be sexual". No one says "you're clearly with your boyfriend because you're terrified of being alone, so you're not really sexual". No one says "You weren't touched enough as a child so you like to have a lot of sex because of the touching, you're not really sexual." We accept unquestioningly that people's motives for having sex are multiple, complex and not entirely about the uncontrollable physical responses.

This is a good explanation that helps me understand it better. Honestly this documentary & the whole thread has me seeing sexuality in a new light, and how un-isolatable it is from the rest of one's person, one's history and the society they were raised in.

St. Peepsburg - who I'm sure is a perfectly lovely person! - is saying that because she feels that someone's motives for calling themselves asexual are mixed, this calls their asexuality into question.

Yeah I guess I kind of am, I don't mean to but maybe that's the problem with labels since once a person says they are asexual then any future interest in sexuality negates the earlier asexuality "see see! you just didn't find the right person!" when really it's just a lack of sexual... uh... motivation in that current moment I guess. Maybe because I can understand bisexuality, I can understand homosexuality, but to say "no never again" seems foreign.

Also (and I hate it when my parents do this, so I'm surprised to feel it myself for once) I just find myself thinking: but whyyyyy? you'd be so much happier with a partner! whyyyyyy? when that is clearly such a limited "how I see it is how it should be" pov.

and no one says "oh, clearly because your experience shaped your sexuality (away from its pure authentic form that you were born with) your sexual practices are a form of self-delusion that you'd be happier without. There's a built in acceptance that culture and experience shape this kind of sexuality, and that's okay and does not need to be justified in terms of the eternal or the original.

that's a good point. I wonder if that's the theraputic mindset "undo low self esteem and past trauma, restore you to your true self' instead of the impressionable & malleable people that we are. But at the same time there ARE distinct traumas that happen (like rape, or severe pro-abstinence fear mongering or anti-homosexuality attitudes) which can interfere with a person expressing their sexuality in a way that feels good to them. Like I said, I don't doubt there are bonafide asexuals out there. And for some it's a part of sorting one's self out. I think in the documentary (or in my later readings) it said something like the majority of asexuals are in their 20s/30s which implied its a phase but they did interview people in their later years who still identified as asexual. So your comment about sexuality being all over the map in terms of feelings and motivations, asexuality can be too I guess.

I guess what I hear you & others riling against is the pitied view of being broken somehow when you're just like "christ almighty this is just how I feel ok?"

I don't think St. Peepsburg was saying that at all - she was saying that it's hard for her to grok the concept even though she gets it intellectually, not denying that it was true or valid.

It is really really hard to grok it, yes, thanks for that word. And it is a grey spectrum, I don't mean to deny validity to people who truly lack this desire. I'm just trying to understand how things would feel, to lack sexual desire to such a degree. Sexuality is such an every day part of being alive, we're animals, we want to feel warm, safe, good; we want food and a place to shit, we want sex. Sex is so mixed into our every day subconscious processes, so when there's someone who just doesn't want sex, I wonder what it would be like to just lack that motivation completely, how that changes how you interact with the world because you're not subconsciously trying to get your genes out there.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:36 PM on January 28


What is sexual desire, what is sexual attraction? This is the question I've been trying to figure out since I first heard of asexuality and it's driving me crazy. Due to my life choices sexual intimacy is abstract. I'm 32, never had sex or any kind of sexual intimacy (e.g kissing, hand holding, romantic hugging whatever) and I feel very confused about the whole topic. Because I have never felt any drive to do any of those things with any particular person. Every now and then, every few years or so I develop a crush but from what I'm reading this is romantic attraction, not necessarily sexual.

It's hard for me to imagine seeing a person and wanting to have sex with them but I'm not sure that's what sexual attraction is. It seems to be this thing no one ever has to describe. How do asexual people who do want romance know they don't experience sexual attraction?

I don't need or want any kind of label for myself other than inexperienced, but I would love to know exactly what it is people like St. Peepsburg can't understand living without.
posted by Danila at 3:09 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


"Isn't intimacy with another a sign of comfort with self?"

I don't know about that (maybe it is, I don't have an opinion), but I don't think it's correct to equate intimacy with sex. That's really a basic error that many people make in a lot of contexts! We can be emotionally and/or physically intimate with a lot of different kinds of people, many of whom we don't, and sometimes shouldn't, have sex with.

And that's okay because sex and intimacy are not equivalent. They often go together, but they often don't. Intimacy without sex is okay, and also sex without intimacy is also okay.

Some people who are asexual are no doubt also disinclined toward physical intimacy. Some of them may also be disinclined toward emotional intimacy. But other people who are asexual may enjoy both emotional and physical intimacy, but not sex. And that's because sex is a very particular kind of physical intimacy, right? Both in its mechanics, which I can imagine someone just not liking, and in its unique physical sensations, which I can also imagine someone not liking.

Someone could be asexual, by one definition, while still masturabating. Someone else could have no interest in their own sexuality at all.

As Frowner says, sexuality is very complicated, there's a lot of things involved in it and therefore any individual person's sexuality is a contingent expression of all these different things. Some people find sexuality more important and more essential to their sense of self and experience of life, and some people find it less so. In both directions, how that manifests can be quite varied.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:19 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


^^ That was very helpful, good distinctions thank you Ivan F.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:30 PM on January 28


is saying that because she feels that someone's motives for calling themselves asexual are mixed, this calls their asexuality into question.

And then finishes by saying she knows it's a stupid construct and is curious about watching her mind do that thing it does. I'm pretty sure the majority of the comment was saying "My mind was doing this and thinking that...." and then wrapping it up with "...and I know that's sort of bullshit. Aren't minds funny? I have learned a thing today about how other people must view some things that I probably take for granted." Maybe I was reading too far into it but that's how I read it.
posted by jessamyn at 3:37 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Someone made a comparison to not liking chocolate, so I will admit it: I hate chocolate.

I've disliked chocolate for my entire life. This was especially othering as a child, but I've since learned to be cautious in admitting my dislike to people, who often are shocked or disbelieving or horrified when I reveal this to them. I try to decline without giving a reason, but it's always a delicate dance. I'm jealous of people who can be served a dessert and simply eat it, rather than inadvertently becoming the center of attention.

When people found out, I used to do a joking bit. "Oh, it's so terrible to hate chocolate. Chocolate is held up as the epitome of indulgence and deliciousness, and I feel so alone in my inability to relate." When I realized I was ace, I also realized that I wasn't kidding about how weird and isolating it can feel to hate chocolate.
posted by casualinference at 3:51 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


I think there's another, sort of sociological (I am not a sociologist) element that comes into play in some (I repeat SOME) people's asexuality, which also comes into play in feminism/womanism, homosexuality (esp. non-'lipstick' lesbians), transfeminism, and other stuff I probably can't even think of. There's the sense in which "I am not here for you." "I (and by extension, my sexuality) am not here for your consumption." [Note, for example, the case of Islan Nettles, who was beaten to death when the men street harassing her realized she was a transwoman; i.e., not there for their macho heterocis consumption]. I'm not saying people falsely claim asexuality or hide behind it spuriously, but it can be useful to find a label for oneself that incorporates your discomfort with the constant, relentless objectification (regardless of appearance; when your 'value' is pinned to how attractive or un- you are...) society subjects you to in everyday life.

And even as a mostly-cis, entirely-hetero, albeit demisexual male, I resonate with the idea that We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes off (a song recorded, I note, by a guy).
posted by Eideteker at 7:10 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Well, I'm ace and I love chocolate! I just don't love sex. By that I mean sexual physical intimacy. By that I mean I am so very not in love with sexual physical intimacy that the thought of sexual contact with another person makes me nauseous. I guess I could wank somebody if I had like five layers of gloves on and I didn't have to look and if the lights were off and if we still had all our clothes on. I guess. Maybe. I'd probably have to go hide in the bathroom and feel sick for a while halfway through. I could like ... hold a vibrator to somebody? Through their clothes? For like a minute? If I didn't have to see their reaction? A really long vibrator? Yeah.

Sometimes I think this reaction is what some people automatically assume when they hear about asexuality -- "Oh, they think I'm gross!" -- and it is not always true. I'm a bit of an outlier that way, actually, in the level of my aversion to sexual contact with others. I own sex toys, and I masturbate, and it's worthwhile in that my body can do a thing that leads to some kind of generally pleasing lassitude, and I like the lassitude. With toys it doesn't take me long or much effort to get that lassitude, so sometimes in lieu of a nap I wank. Sometimes I do it in lieu of exercise because I'm lazy and it gives a similar physical effect for much less effort. Does that make me less ace? Less repulsed? Nope. (In fact, until about six months ago, I masturbated through plastic because I found my physical responses so very gross. Let's not even talk about the attempts at self-mutilation when I was a child because the whole thing of sexual arousal against my will without any mental involvement was extremely extremely upsetting. But like I said, pleasant lassitude, AND way faster than napping!)

And because it's been mentioned upthread -- yes, I have an extensive background of sexual trauma. Has it necessarily made me be asexual? No, I don't think so. In fact, my sexual trauma response tends to be the exact opposite, all sex, all the time, offering and offering and hating myself more with each desperate flash of my cleavage (and that's a lot of self-hate). It's when I regain the ability to actually say to myself "no, this isn't something I like, trying to consent to shit I don't want doesn't make any of it any better" that I know I'm recovering and not just in survival mode.

If anything, the sexual trauma has made me averse to romantic involvement. Not sex, romance, because of betrayal by people I trusted romantically. The wariness despite the wanting, that is the trauma response. I have never had a 'wariness despite wanting' when it comes to sex, because there hasn't been any wanting to be wary in spite of! I'm not much conflicted about my asexuality at all because for me it's just how I've always been (tiny E: "people are gross". adult E: "people are really gross"). I have no idea if this makes sense to other people, but that's the way it feels to me.

I'm fine with answering questions, by the by.
posted by E. Whitehall at 7:45 PM on January 28


Sometimes the people who talk about this kind of thing are those who find it alien, prurient, or surprising, while many others may simply not be participating in the conversation because since they are asexual, they don't really find the topic all that interesting. (Or, of course, because of the social cost of admitting their asexuality).

Maybe I'm making this "silent" cohort up out of thin air, but there are clues that the conversation about desire is sometimes more one-sided than it appears. For instance, humans seek out aphrodisiacs (that is, things that will promote desire in those who lack it) to the point where they are willing to exterminate entire species of rare animals. Also, there is an endless search for medical cures to the disease of "lack of libido" in both men and women. Some of those medicines, of course, are not for increasing desire but for increasing the capacity to act on the desire that is assumed to exist already, but testosterone, for example, seems to be marketed largely as a way of increasing libido. It seems to me there must be more people out there who just don't feel like it most of the time, and who feel as if they're missing out on something because everybody says they are.

Intimacy, even physical intimacy, is not the same thing as sex. I'd argue that sex is often the opposite of intimate.
posted by Peach at 7:56 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Danila, I am hesitant to answer you, just because I am afraid I might be overgeneralizing, but even when I was inexperienced, as a teenager, I definitely had specific if vague sexual urges towards other people. I felt physical stirrings in my genitals and related organs, in response to their bodies and the way they moved. Even though I hadn't done anything yet, I wanted to Do Sex Stuff to particular people. It was definitely not the same thing as wanting to cherish someone or be in a relationship - I have had sexual impulses towards people whose personalities I find loathsome, with whom I do not enjoy spending time. That doesn't mean I follow through, because I prefer the package bundled, but sexual urges are distinct from the urge to romance. Does that help at all?

On the analogy we're bandying around: my husband is allergic to chocolate and dislikes it strongly. He finds it much socially easier to admit the allergy than the dislike - people often frankly can't imagine hating chocolate, even though chocolate's got a fairly intense flavor profile - very earthy, very fatty mouthfeel, bitter enough to require a lot of sweetening.

I kind of think there must be either a failure of imagination or of communication? Sex is intense stuff, and culturally we accept that some people want it without the trouble of romance or even friendship - one-night stands happen all the time. So why is it so hard to imagine that someone might want a romance or a partnership without sex? And why do people have such trouble imagining that someone else might have very different desires?
posted by gingerest at 11:44 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


One of the things that bothers me in discussions of asexuality is how, even among asexuals, it seems that having sexual feelings and masturbating is considered "normal." I don't disbelieve these asexuals at all; I just wish there was more awareness, openness, discussion, etc about those people who have no sexual feelings at all. I always see asexual 101-type explanations as framed as something like, "being asexual doesn't mean that you don't ever feel horny or can't have sex." Sometimes there is a "necessarily" thrown in that makes it a little better.

It just seems like the expectation that people have sexual feelings is so ubiquitous that even among asexuals, not having sexual feelings at all still has some stigma. It shows in how quickly people must establish that they do have them in order to be relateable. (This is on society; not on the asexuals.) The question still hangs in the air: Is it trauma? A hormonal imbalance? Repression?

It's unfortunate, and I wonder how much of the lack of discussion is due to people without sexual feelings feeling uncomfortable admitting it, and how much is because they really are that rare.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:40 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


It has just occurred to me that asexuality is very much a product of modernity - you don't need to say that you are asexual unless
1. there's a very strong norm that everyone (married or not, seeking to have sex or not, religious or not, old or young, etc) is expected to have some form of sexual life;

2. everyone is expected to talk openly about their sexuality and sex lives - it's no longer private and there's something suspect about not wanting to talk about your sex life;

3. an attitude towards science which says that it's important to fit everyone into an abstract biological category and explain their experiences this way;

4. less stigma on homosexuality, so that there's no 'I must not ask this person about their sex life because it would be traumatic/disruptive if it turns out that they're gay';

5. Sexual affinities (whether hook-ups, dating, internet communities, lifestyle communities) are both respectable to talk about and partially replace family and friend groups, so sexual preferences become a public way of organizing social relations

6. Sex becomes a much bigger economic thing - it's not just that there's porn, there's lots of porn and it's far more respectable to consume it, but more than that it's much more respectable to consume sex toys and accessories, viagra, etc.

7. Mass culture generates an obsession with classifying - the trainspotting of the erotic world

In the normal course of things, I would prefer not to have to have a big ol' identity conversation because I would like to just, you know, do what I want to do, harming none. But because of mass culture norming of sexuality - because you must have an "official" identity in order to justify what you prefer to do, whether that is wearing a fur suit, having sex in the missionary position, using a flogger, etc.
posted by Frowner at 10:06 AM on January 29 [9 favorites]


Yeah, you're saying something very like what I wanted to say, but differently.

I'm sex-positive, but I don't really understand — in the intuitive, "my own sensibilities" meaning of "understand" — why so many people make their sexuality an essential and even the primary aspect of their identities, self and social. Sex is, to me, like eating. It's a bodily function, it's enjoyable, and can be a big part of how one experiences one's life, or not, but seems to me to be a kind of impoverished thing around which to organize one's sense of self and one's values. That's my intuitive, emotional reaction and I hasten to make clear that I don't accept as necessarily valid the implicit value judgment in that — I am suspicious and self-critical of this intuition of mine.

Anyway, in contrast, intellectually, I understand it pretty well. Because as a straight, cisgendered person who pretty much doesn't have any aspect of my sexuality falling outside of our society's norms, and therefore no aspect of it stigmatized, it's easy for me to not be in a position where I'm forced to see it as part of my identity by exclusion.

When a personal aspect of your life — whether it's who with and how you like to have sex or what you like to eat, or how, or similar — is stigmatized, then by virtue of being excluded from acceptable cultural norms, you really can't avoid that being part of your self-identity. And making it part of your social-identity is an important part of the process for reclaiming that aspect of self from society's stigmatization.

It's also worth considering the possibility that while contemporary American culture is highly sexualized in the way that Frowner describes, it's also not very long ago that the situation was inverted and those who were asexual were the most admired, this was seen as a virtue because sex was seen as inherently a vice (Christianity, according to Paul).

But also what Peach wrote. The irony is that our culture is pathologizing something that is not only an acceptable way of being human, it's also much more common than is usually supposed. By "common" I mean looking at everything that is outside of "regularly sexually active" that is the supposed norm. People go long periods without sex. People don't have sex because of illness. People choose not to have sex. People don't want to have sex. People want to have sex but value other things more highly that interfere with sex and therefore don't have sex. People have sex, but only infrequently. If you include everything that isn't "having sex with someone at least once a month", I think you end up with a huge number of people. And "once a month" will seem to many people to be very infrequent.

A while back I was looking at surveys of people regarding the total number of sex partners they've had (in North America). And the really interesting thing about this is that it's not the kind of curve you'd expect, and it's not very different between men and women. Instead, for both men and women, it's basically a bimodal distribution — a hump around about 10 partners, and another hump around about 50. And the thing about this is that these two groups of people are going to probably think that their particular part of the distribution is the "normal" one. People with 10 partners will think that people with 50 is excessive, and people with 50 will think that people with 10 is impoverished. Both will wrongly pathologize the other.

I think it's very likely that this is happening with regard to libido in general, with frequency of sex and all the stuff related to this. And it's very likely the the people in the higher libido / more partners / more sex cluster are the ones who make up a large part of the cultural discussion about sex in our society. They're wrongly making their own experience, an experience that's more limited than they realize it is, to be normative for everyone.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:48 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


All I know for sure is I'm sick of hearing about how revolutionary it is to be gay. Living in non-US parts of the world means I get to watch this revolution in sexual thinking that we had in the West with generations and identifiable leaders and comparatively cohesive movements centered around social justice, this thing where we can say, "ok, this is what the norms were, this is where and how they changed", I get to watch this thing break in uneven waves at condensed speeds over groups of people who were raised in a strict patriarchy. The results are confusing, fragmented, and disconnected with anything other than the realization that "hey, those guys are kissing, does that mean I get to try out this whip now?"

That's how the sexual revolution is breaking in the rest of the world, and there are issues of violence, victimization, prostitution, disease, family obligation, nationality and race, and so many other entangled causes that it just makes me...I want the asexual movement to take off, because one more label that people can use to feel good and normal about themselves is going to do good. It needs to be ok to not be cisnormal, it needs to be ok to explore that, it needs to be ok to settle into something that isn't cisnormal, and that knowledge needs to spread across the world as quickly as humanly possible, because there are people out here who are suffering.
posted by saysthis at 10:01 PM on January 29


Even though I hadn't done anything yet, I wanted to Do Sex Stuff to particular people. It was definitely not the same thing as wanting to cherish someone or be in a relationship - I have had sexual impulses towards people whose personalities I find loathsome, with whom I do not enjoy spending time. That doesn't mean I follow through, because I prefer the package bundled, but sexual urges are distinct from the urge to romance. Does that help at all?

It helps but it's not something I experience. This is a solid description. This makes me feel quizzical. The thought of "do sex stuff" with most people makes me literally shudder. This includes people I find viscerally attractive. Those times when I become emotionally attracted to someone because of their personality, the thought of "do sex stuff" is not repellent.

Actually, I always have that exact thought: "I would not be disgusted if this person was on top of me". That's the extent of it, I've never gone beyond that feeling for anyone no matter how emotionally attached we became but I have always felt very confident that should we get to the bedroom or wherever, those feelings would come because I have a libido. It just hasn't happened because I've never gone that far.

So I don't personally know what you're describing but your description does make sense. I tried reading about sexual attraction and what it is on asexual sites but that was confusing. I couldn't figure out how they know they don't experience something without a clear description of what they're not experiencing. If asexual means "does not feel sexual attraction" I was unable to grok "asexual".
posted by Danila at 1:11 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


My gut instinct is that there's a spectrum at work, rather than a binary or even threshold effect, just because it seems like there usually is, with matters psychosociobiological. So maybe some people are farther out on the spectrum than you are, that is, in the circumstance when you wouldn't be disgusted, they would, and/or they wouldn't feel confident those feelings would come. (At the very least, I think there's a spectrum because I know there are people who are more libidinous than I am, who have a broader range of people with whom and circumstances under which they'd happily have sex - so it makes sense to me that there are people who are less so than I am, and that there's a distribution of externally-pointed libido.)(And possibly internally-pointed libido - I have known people who said their sexual expression flatly required the presence of another person, and who am I to contradict them?)

And I think, possibly, the way some people who are asexual understand their lack of libido (or lack of libido with others?) without direct experience is that the assumption of externally directed sexuality is culturally ubiquitous, and they know that doesn't fit them at all. As Frowner says, there's no particular need to define one's asexuality except in a context where the strong norm is open expression of sexuality.
posted by gingerest at 5:50 PM on January 30 [1 favorite]


It has just occurred to me that asexuality is very much a product of modernity - you don't need to say that you are asexual unless
1. there's a very strong norm that everyone (married or not, seeking to have sex or not, religious or not, old or young, etc) is expected to have some form of sexual life…


It's also worth considering the possibility that while contemporary American culture is highly sexualized in the way that Frowner describes, it's also not very long ago that the situation was inverted…


Which explains modern adapters’ obsession with casting Sherlock Holmes as a sexual and romantic character, even though Conan Doyle put down in black and white,
” He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer.”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:23 PM on January 30


The RDJ Holmes character still fits with Conan Doyle's mythos, though.
posted by misha at 9:01 PM on January 30


Imagine what an outsider you'd feel like if you (and a small percentage of others) didn't want or need food...

I've met people who've said, at least off-handedly, that if they could take a pill and never have to eat a meal again, they'd happily do it. I think that would be harder for me than giving up sex, although I would rather not have to give up either (cake by itself, eh, I could just turn to pie and ice cream... but that's like giving up one position, isn't it?)

But I don't find it impossible to understand the idea that someone could just go without. I've had dry spells in my life where I haven't thought much about sex, and slumps in relationships where sex has taken a back seat, and have never thought of myself as being notably different for not needing to masturbate constantly to survive. Reading or hearing about some people's experiences, it does seem like I probably have a low-level sex drive, but things fluctuate, and I've fit plenty of the stereotypes like being more active at the start of relationships or when I'm uninhibited by special occasions or environments.

I'm disinclined to think asexuality is an ideal long term approach, but on the other hand, there are many paths to happiness. It doesn't seem so much alien as potentially frustrating/isolating if not interpreted pretty broadly. But if asexuality includes people who have cuddle partners and then take care of business without too much fanfare less often (whether separately or together) - well, I just wouldn't think of that as asexual. Just happens sometimes.

For me, giving up food [while somehow getting medical nutrition] or sex would be possible but not something I'd identify with or want to proclaim a lifelong absolute. But periods where they're not that interesting are understandable to me. What I could never give up would be laughter / humor. I'm pretty sure that being able to laugh on a regular basis is more important than having sex for me, and I would say it fulfills a physical need of some kind.
posted by mdn at 9:03 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]


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