What is it to live, with few regrets?

This entry is for the April 2016 Carnival of Aces: “Be yourself (but stretch)”

note: Title is tentative, I’m finishing this right now, just needed to make sure it was still published before midnight. There’s also some talk of sexual peer pressure.

One of the things that frustrates me when I explained asexuality to some people is they thought asexuals were “missing out” on what is considered part of human nature. As if they thought desiring sex made someone human, and having sex as an indicator of a person’s worth and sense of humanity.

Some asexuals aren’t ever open to sex, while others may be willing to have it under some circumstances. There are a lot of different viewpoints in between, but even those who are open to sex, it can still be made to feel like they’re “not good enough” for not intrinsically desiring it, or not enjoying it the way other people are expected to.

If someone isn’t asexual, but doesn’t enjoy or want sex, they can also be made to feel like they’re “broken” and need to be “fixed”. They’re may be told that they’re repressed, and that the solution is to have sex and force themselves to enjoy it, instead of accepting the idea that can be happy to never have sex.

What helped me quickly resist the idea that I’m “missing out” on what are supposedly essential parts of human nature are two related things:
1. I think about what it means to truly live, and how trying to “fix oneself” can just end up making oneself feel  broken, or even more broken. It negatively impacts our self-image, our ability to be true to ourselves, and negatively impacts our relationships with others in general.
2. Not wanting to look back on my life with years full of regret and agony over forcing myself to change something that didn’t need to change, and it saddens me that others have gone through that.

We all do things we regret at some point in our lives, but who wants to look back on a sexual and/or romantic relationship that lasted much longer than it should have, or never should’ve started in the first place after realizing it was preventable? Who wants to look back on all the pain it caused, and how exhausting it was to try and hide it, and how much of your life was spent suffering through it?

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Dealing with writer’s block if it weren’t obvious

I’ve been struggling with writer’s block for the past few months, and I’m not trying to disguise this as anything other than an obligatory post this time. I feel compelled to still write something by the last hour on the last day of the month, because I’ve made at least one post every month since this blog started. It’d look weird in the archives to show at least one missing now. I missed when I was able to get a post up per week on average.

I ended up busier than I expected to be, so I wasn’t able to get my entry for this month’s Carnival of Aces finished in time. Because of the theme, I thought it’d be an ideal prompt to write a detailed post about ace-ace relationships and mixed-orientation relationships, and I was especially wanting to address the challenges associated with each type.

How does writer’s block feel to you? Is it a lack of ideas of what to write about, or having too many ideas at once? I usually feel like it’s too many ideas at once, trying to juggle several different ideas for posts, starting the drafts for them, but unable to finish any of them on time. That happens because when I get an idea, I want to write it down before I forget, but it can lead to this. There’ve been some other ambitious ideas for posts I’ve been working on this month but haven’t yet published.

EDIT: Oops. I didn’t correctly remember what the theme was for last month’s Carnival of Aces.

A brief rambling about platonic attraction and relationships

Happy Leap Day! That means an extra day for anyone participating in this month’s Carnival of Aces to finish their posts! I was in the process of writing an entry, but I decided against finishing it halfway.

This rambling doesn’t count as a proper entry, but this month’s theme is an interesting one, and I’d like to see others’ thoughts on it, but I’ve struggled to write about it myself because I’ve found the boundaries between a positive romantic relationship (i.e: one that isn’t possessive or all-consuming) and a platonic relationship to be unclear, or the boundaries between romantic attraction minus the obsessive aspects vs. platonic attraction (though that’s not to say that platonic relationships can’t be abusive or codependent, it’s just a lot more visible and condoned by societal norms for romantic relationships). Maybe it has to do with a skewed understanding of romance that is still widely perpetuated?

I’ve also struggled with knowing the boundaries between platonic attraction and platonic relationships vs. a very close friendship. It frustrates me that so many others can easily see and talk about these distinctions, but I can’t, and that I’m missing something. I feel like I can’t get that specific no matter how hard I try. I’ll look forward to seeing what others wrote, maybe it’ll help me understand these differences.

This is another very rushed post, to make sure once again I made at least one this month. I do have multiple posts in progress right now, but have been struggling with finishing them, but I may also elaborate on this topic further.

One-sided relationships: in relationship limbo?

This entry is for the January 2016 Carnival of Aces: Relationship Stages.

(content note: brief mention of sexual harassment)

If there are any errors with proofreading or clunky sentences or anything I forgot to add in, it’s because I was in a hurry to post this before midnight.

This is a topic I almost didn’t write about, but decided to at the last minute. I used to think that committed relationships, romantic ones in particular, had a straightforward progression. Either a friendship built up and both people had romantic feelings for each other that progressed over time, or it was love at first sight.

I’m still not very sure whether I even experience romantic attraction at all, but I can say at least that I’m not a very romantic person, aromantic or not. This led me into a situation that doesn’t fit the expected relationship progression: One-sided relationships.

I’ve seen some people say one-sided relationships aren’t a problem if everyone involved agrees to it being one-sided, like if an aromantic person and alloromantic person are together and accept that the romantic attraction won’t be reciprocated.

However, back in college, I was in a romantic relationship I didn’t necessarily agree to. Whether it was romantic or not feels dubious, and whether it even counted as a committed relationship still feels dubious to me. Years ago, I knew I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, and felt repulsed by the idea with anyone, but one of my friends kept insisting that we were a couple, and his friends and family insisted it too. I cared for him as a person, but just didn’t feel that way towards anyone.

Other people I told about this told me it didn’t count because it was one-sided, but I couldn’t agree with that either. I understand why they said that, but it felt like they were ignoring what I had been going through, and I struggled with this feeling of being in “relationship limbo”. I couldn’t get a consensus from anyone, and I felt like I couldn’t trust my intuition.

He and I were never on the same wavelength about this “relationship”, through no fault of our own, but this issue led to a lot of arguments between us. I remember him saying that us becoming a couple happened gradually, when to me it felt so abrupt, since he one day declared I was his partner, when we hadn’t done anything noticeably different before, so I didn’t see any progression from a friendship to a romantic relationship, but he might have. Isn’t there supposed to be a clear transition from a friendship to a romantic relationship?

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Identifying asexuality in hindsight

This entry is for the November 2015 Carnival of Aces: “Reasons I should’ve known I was asexual”

(I was in a rush to get this published, so there may be proofreading errors)

Looking back, there can be many ways for an individual could’ve realized their asexuality, but didn’t. It may not have been obvious at the time, and only becomes obvious in hindsight. I’ve had my share of those experiences.

In middle school and my earlier years of high school, I was largely oblivious towards sexuality and romance, and was lucky that I didn’t have either pushed on me seriously during that time (though I did deal with teasing from immediate family who kept insisting I must be “in love” with one of my male friends). It was in the later years of high school that I started to feel negatively towards sex and romance as I became more aware of the suffering caused by both, which for me coincided with me becoming aware of my asexuality and that it likely wasn’t going to change. In my earlier years, I thought I’d grow out of it, but by my junior year of high school, I didn’t, and I didn’t want to.

It’s weird; in my earlier years I thought asexuality was the norm in a sense, but also thought I’d probably outgrow it to accept my future roles in life. I understood that many others wanted sex, but not that they had an intrinsic desire for it, so when I did overhear sex-obsessed peers or see them on TV, I thought they were exaggerating at first!

Maybe it was the aversion to sex and romance that I thought I’d outgrow specifically. With my awareness of asexuality, I became aware that the suffering related to sex and dating is much more common than I thought, if nearly everyone desires them.

Probably the biggest thing that should’ve made me realize I was asexual was my attitude towards sex and relationships, specifically that I couldn’t understand why others hyped up sex so much, and claimed to desire it so much that a relationship without it wasn’t seen as real. I also couldn’t understand why others were frustrated over not having sex, or not having it for weeks or months.

Those things on their own don’t instantly point to being asexual, but it is a common experience among other asexuals that could’ve warranted me looking into the community to see if the label fit, but I didn’t originally think to seek out the asexual community, or why I felt the way I did about sex. To me, it felt like commonsense. Isn’t it commonsense to outgrow an obsession with sex after realizing it’s not the life-changing magical experience that it’s hyped up to be, or hear from others that it’s not? At other times, I dismissed my feelings as me being cynical and overly analytical, and just didn’t think about it further until I was out of high school.

I thought logically, how is sex love when people have it all the time without meaning? No one says that one-night stands are an act of love, after all. I also didn’t understand how sex, or the lack of, can get in the way of, or ruin relationships that are otherwise perfect.

Being averse to sex doesn’t always mean being asexual either, but can be linked, and someone can become aware of their asexuality because of it. That I found the idea of sex to be repulsive, and the way that affected me, could’ve clued me in to the possibility of being asexual. Because I don’t have any desire for sex, I can’t imagine it ever having any appeal; it just seems like something that would take a lot of effort on my part for little or no gain for me, with all of the risks to sex. What some people say feels like the greatest form of closeness just feels invasive. All the risks and none of the benefits. The only way to go through with it would be to repress those feelings, but I’d have to force myself to do it, to override those feelings of repulsion, but with no guarantee it’d actually work.

One of the earliest things that could’ve clued me in was that in middle school, and my earlier years of high school, I frequently read teen magazines, and the sections that interested me the most were the fashion tips, and the articles about unusual life experiences, though I still did read the sections about relationships. There were often articles about guys, and written by them, often with pictures prominently on the pages, I thought they looked good, but didn’t think that I was supposed to swoon over them, and didn’t realize some readers would be more interested in the pictures than the text!

Another thing that should’ve clued me is that while there wasn’t much of an emphasis on abstinence until marriage where I grew up, I was aware that many others were told that they needed to abstain until marriage. I thought “Ha! I could abstain for life, because I want to!”, and couldn’t comprehend that sexual abstinence can be a struggle for others. That is a way some asexuals realized their asexuality.

I don’t know if this counts, but when I read Nineteen Eighty-Four in my sophomore year of high school, I didn’t understand at first why the Junior Anti-Sex League was seen as a problem, since I couldn’t relate to the concept of sexual desire, nor what it’s like to have nearly all outlets for that desire denied. I understood the part about only procreation being permissible as a duty to The Party, because sex didn’t appeal to me, that it being work, a sacrifice or duty to another person made sense to me. I didn’t agree with it, but it made sense.

Perhaps one of the most clear giveaways to me being asexual is implicitly being told that everyone is either straight or gay (or maybe straight, gay or bi), and I felt like none of those applied to me. In this situation, some asexuals thought they were straight just because they knew they weren’t sexually attracted to the same gender, others thought they were gay or bi for not conforming to heteronormative expectations. Some thought they were gay because they knew they weren’t attracted to the other binary gender. I didn’t really think about it much, and for some time, I didn’t use a label for my orientation. I didn’t think there was one until later in high school when I thought if there are people attracted to the “opposite gender” (I didn’t know of non-binary genders until years later), the same gender or both, that there should also be people who aren’t attracted to anyone.

How can signs like these be missed? The topic of sex and sexuality didn’t come up much in middle school or high school, aside from sex ed. I didn’t think about it that much in middle school nor my earlier years of high school, but I sort of thought I would outgrow my aversion and lack of interest for sex or romance. I thought I’d go through the dating-obsessed phase that was expected, which would also make me open to sex and tolerate it (for the other person and their pleasure at least, if not for my own), if not actively want and enjoy it, but I didn’t, and I didn’t notice since most of the friends I had didn’t talk about sex nor romance that much. They didn’t seem to care, and I didn’t either, so my lack of interest didn’t stand out to them, so I didn’t think I was the odd one out, and I even thought those who were wanting sex were the odd ones out for a while! Years later, I found out one of those friends was asexual and aromantic!

I didn’t like the idea of having sex just to please another person, but that being the only way I could envision sex also could’ve been a clear sign of asexuality, but one I still overlooked, perhaps because the idea of sex as a duty they have to endure if they can’t enjoy it, is so normalized! Of course, I found that idea repulsive, which contributed to my later ideological reasons for rejecting sex, because I believed no one should have to suffer through that.

If my lack of interest did stand out among my friends, I likely would’ve it noticed sooner because it would’ve had a more significant impact on my life back then, but I also likely would’ve gone through a phase of feeling broken too, a phase I’ve been lucky I didn’t go through.

Happy Ace Day!

I wrote about the re-launching of Ace Day to help spread the word of it. There are a lot of great submissions under the #ace day tag on tumblr and the #aceday tag on twitter! I was looking forward to contributing something myself, but sadly I didn’t have the time to, since I’m back to working full-time and already had a backlog of posts I need to finish. Those were taking up my time so I couldn’t think about what to write or draw as my submission for Ace Day, but I’m glad for everyone who did post something!

A mystery that is the a-romantic community history

This overdue entry was going to be for the October 2015 Carnival of Aces: Aromanticism and the Aromantic spectrum.

Aromanticism as a concept was identified early on in the asexual community’s history, but not always under that name. Looking back at the early parts of the asexual community’s history, romantic attraction or the lack of, is described as one of the dimensions of the ABCD Types model, but the lack of romantic attraction wasn’t always named.

Many terms have also come and gone in popularity. Before aromanticism was named, asexuals who experienced romantic attracted identified as either straight/gay/bi asexual, or hetero/homo/bi-asexual. This AVEN poll from 2003 about romantic orientation, refers to the romantic orientations by these older terms that have now fallen out of favor, and aromantics were called “asexual asexuals”.

Some AVEN threads from 2004 are the first I’ve seen mention aromanticism under that name, and define it as the lack of romantic attraction. This thread from November 2004 described “romantic orientation” (“affectional orientation” was also used early on), and mentioning that asexuals whom don’t experience romantic attraction should be called “aromantic”.

The National Coalition for Aromantic Visibility (NCAV) states:

“Before the NCAV, the only information on aromanticism widely available was provided by AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Eduction Network, and as such, applied to only a portion of the world’s aromantics.

We threw this place together in hopes of providing a previously unavailable resource to everyone on the aro spectrum…” (NCAV home page)

This points to the possibility that aromanticism was first identified as a concept in the asexual community, but I feel like I can’t say for 100% certain. With as many parallels that the asexual and aromantic communities have, I’ve wondered if there are aromantic sites that are at least as old as AVEN, even though they might not have used the term aromantic? Surely there must have been at least some sites about and for people who felt alone in a world where romance was expected of everyone? I tried to find any, but I wasn’t successful. I don’t know if there just aren’t any aromantic sites that old, or if I just wasn’t searching for them the right way.

It seemed for a long time that aromanticism was something limited to asexuals. If there’s a turning point for when the aromantic community started to be recognized as its own, and start to branch off from the asexual community, it was in 2010 with NCAV’s launch, which was created to support aromantic asexuals and non-asexuals.

Interest in an aromantic sub-board on AVEN was sparked in 2011, shortly after the approval of a gray-asexual and demisexual sub-board. One of the reasons for interest in it was to find aromantic non-asexuals, since they are under-represented. Another popular reason was of aromantics feeling marginalized on AVEN, or in asexual spaces in general, since it seemed like there was too much emphasis on asexuals wanting to seek out relationships that aromantics felt erased.

There were several threads about an aromantic sub-board in 2012, making it a popular idea, but ultimately it was rejected, and its rejection was controversial. This controversy also spilled into tumblr, and it was one of the first things I found out about the asexual and aromantic communities. There was talk about there being an unwritten rule in most asexual spaces that a “good asexual” desires romance. These were primarily aromantic asexuals frustrated over feeling marginalized. I thought it was a problem that anyone is feeling marginalized within asexual spaces, but I didn’t partake in that discussion, because I didn’t know if I experienced romantic attraction or not, and didn’t strongly identify with any romantic orientation so I felt like it wouldn’t have been my place to unless I was sure that I didn’t.

It’s not like aromantics were never allowed in asexual spaces, but there is still a continuing problem, described as “just like everyone else, minus the sexual attraction” where desiring romantic relationships is seen as a way to “normalize” or humanize asexuals, but the implications make aromantics feel dehumanized. Though much less common than it used to be, are aromantic non-asexuals being stereotyped as only caring about sex, and I find it troubling to see one group that lacks one type of attraction perpetuate stereotypes about another group that lacks a different kind of attraction, and that isn’t even getting into the fact that not all non-asexuals even want sex.

As of the past year or two, an aromantic/aromantic spectrum community has grown a lot on tumblr. I expect a lot of discussion about aromanticism to still be in asexual spaces, because of the overlap, in people who are both asexual and aromantic, and the overlap in experiences between the two groups. That is important, but it’s also important that the aromantic community also has its own spaces to discuss aromanticism specifically, how it intersects with their sexual orientation, to discuss the issues they face as aromantics, in order to reach out to asexual and non-asexual aromantics alike.

I think it is to be expected that the aromantic community uses many of the same concepts that the asexual community does (In English at least; aromanticism may be identified differently and use different concepts in different languages, although I don’t yet know of any aromantic communities that aren’t in English); they’re useful concepts, but the aromantic community should also become a more distinct entity in its own right.

I don’t know if the aromantic community will ever have its own counterpart to AVEN, a very large, long-lasting forum with a lot of static content, although about aromanticism specifically. That might not be possible; AVEN was one of the earliest asexual sites that happened to outlive all of its few competitors to become the largest part of the asexual community. In contrast, the aromantic community started to separate itself rather late, and is still be in the process of branching out.

Looking forward, what direction would you want to see the aromantic community take? I think it’d be nice if the existing forums about aromanticism were more active, and if there were also blogs outside of tumblr about aromanticism. Tumblr’s format is effective at reaching out to others; it’s effective for advice blogs, but makes it very difficult to have any organized discussions.

About the making of the 2015 survey

The survey for 2014 was officially called “The 2014 AVEN Community Census”, while the 2015 survey is officially called “The 2015 Ace Community Census”.

The 2015 survey is online, and will be open to responses until November 15th. You can find more information about it here, from the asexual census blog ran by the AVEN Survey Team.

I’m part of the Survey Team this year, and I also was last year. The publication date ended up being later in the year than last year’s survey (which was published October 6, 2014, while this year’s was published October 22, 2015), but we worked hard to get it finished during AAW.

Several changes were made this year from last year, including:

  • Changing the citizenship question to primary residency.
  • Expanded on the “mental health” and “sexual attitudes” section.
  • Added “unsure” options to several questions that didn’t have it, but should have.
  • Expanded a lot on the “sexual history” section, and adding a separate section about sexual violence, including a screen that asks the respondent if they want to answer those sections, or skip them.
  • Replaced the “celibacy” section with the expanded “sexual history” section: I liked the celibacy section from last year’s survey. I thought it was interesting, but since any changes weren’t expected from last year, it didn’t seem necessary to include twice in a row, especially since other sections have been expanded. The survey would’ve been too long.
  • Cut the questions asking about strength and frequency of sexual attraction, how strongly someone identifies with their orientation, and whether asexuals consider themselves to have a sexuality or not. Some of these questions were confusing, or were asked for political reasons.
  • The questions asking about experiences with other asexual communities were cut. There was some potential with those questions, but it wasn’t used. I liked the idea of these questions being used to assess current ties between different parts of the asexual community have been, and how leaders of the different groups could improve their relations with the others, but nothing came of that.

The biggest challenge on the survey itself was writing the updated “sexual history” section, and the sexual violence questions, particularly finding the way to word them, so for the latter, we sought outside help. I don’t know if the people who helped us want to be mentioned, but I thank them for taking the time to look over the questions we had, and helped us refine them.

The mental health questions were also very difficult to write. There have been quite a few responses about it already, which I’ve responded to, looking for input on how to further refine those questions if they’ll be kept next year.

I’m also open to feedback and questions about the survey, but it may take me some time to respond since I’ll soon be back to working 40+ hours per week.

About “sex-negativity”, sexual morality vs. ethics

It’s easier to ask a question about how someone personally feels about themselves having sex, but trying to ask about how someone feels about sex in general is a lot more difficult.

The 2011 AAW census had a question asking this, but it was flawed. Aside from actually asking about 3 different things at once, that question was biased. “Satisficing” is the pressure to pick the most “desirable” answer to please the researchers. How it was worded also erased the fact that there are people who identify as sex-negative and/or antisexual and don’t mean what they mean, reinforcing the assumption that whoever identifies with either of those labels must be an asexual elitist or conform to “puritanical” ideas about sexuality, which speaks over the people who actually identify with those labels.

The AVEN 2014 Census attempted to resolve this issue by asking whether one identifies as sex-positive, negative, or neither/both/unsure* and to ask if one agrees or disagrees with the following statements “I have absolutely no problem with sex between consenting adults”, and “Our society has too much sex in it, and it would be better if it were diminished”.

As shown in the discussion section of this analysis, the emphasis on self-identification with the sex-positive/negative question was because of the ambiguity of each label, so there was an attempt to infer what the respondent meant.

I’ve wanted to ask about morality vs. ethics in regards to sexual attitudes. From what I’ve seen, the reasoning among people who have a positive attitude towards sex in general seems consistent. On the other hand, people can have negative attitudes towards sex in general for various reasons, and I feel like it does a disservice to lump everyone together, which has happened due to biases in the questions. It’s a problem that the asexual community has assumed that having a negative attitude towards sex must mean believing in “puritanical” views on sex, which leads into one of the next points.

One of the things I wanted to find out is what percentage of the asexual community believe under which circumstances is sex in general morally acceptable, and a separate question about ethics. It’s a difficult set of questions to write though. However, some people I’ve talked with said that they don’t easily make the moral-ethical distinction I recognize, or don’t make it at all.

What I meant by morality distinction, is whether one agrees with the viewpoints of traditional sexual morality, often known as sexual puritanism (although as The Ace Theist explained, that’s a misnomer but the name stuck), is incorrectly believed as saying is sex is always evil. It’s actually usually believing sex is morally good or at least morally acceptable under a narrow range circumstances, and evil under the rest, with “acceptable” sex usually being defined as being: monogamous, between a man and woman in marriage, while open to the possibility of procreation.

By the ethics distinction, I meant under what circumstances does someone consider sex to be ethically acceptable, or rather, it asks questions such as:

  • Is it good for a person’s well-being, or is it harmful?
  • Does it overall have the potential to be good for a person’s well-being, or are they outweighed by the ways that sex can be harmful?
  • Given all the pressure to have sex, and how widespread sexual exploitation is, how feasible is consenting?
  • Is sex inherently “using” someone, and how?

Being “sex-negative” under the ethics distinction means believing that overall, believing that there are many ethical issues surrounding sex, and those issues, and the ways sex can harm outweigh any possible benefits. It’s a viewpoint rooted in concern for one’s own, and others’ well-being. “Sexual puritanism” in contrast, is rooted in whether one’s behavior follows a narrow set of pre-defined rules.

This is just a starting point, and I hope I can discuss these distinctions, and refine them.


Footnotes:

*The lack of “sex-neutral” option was a limitation of that question