Does voluntary celibacy have its gray areas when it comes to asexuality?

On AVEN a year ago, I had discussions with some members over what ‘voluntary celibacy’ was. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll use that term in this post as a catch-all for anyone (whether they identify as celibate or not… more about that later) who by choice, isn’t sexually active, as opposed to involuntary celibacy. It started when I created the “voluntary celibacy support thread”, and asked some questions to get some conversations started.

I got quite a few responses, from asexual and non-asexual respondents, and the two questions that had the most intriguing responses were:

“Motivations for giving up all sex, and what factors in your life do you feel influenced this decision? (i.e: religious reasons or not? Are you sex-repulsed, had bad experiences, sex was just never on your priorities, no incentive to pursue it?…)” and “Have you always felt that way, and at what age did you make this decision?”

The main motivation for many of the asexual respondents was tied to not having any incentive to pursue sex, because of not having any desire for it due to their asexuality. Not all of the respondents who answered like this are sex-repulsed. Most didn’t pinpoint a time that they decided to never have sex. While they still chose to not have sex (hence the voluntary celibacy), it wasn’t a conscious or deliberate decision that needed to be made. Some respondents said that they never really thought about it, therefore they never felt any need to reject sex. I’ve seen similar responses in related threads. They’re not involuntarily celibate, but is it accurate to say that they’re voluntarily celibate?

To those who chose not to be sexually active primarily due to their asexuality, what do you think? Is ‘celibacy’ (with or without the ‘voluntary’ qualifier) a meaningful label to you?

I was surprised by those responses at first. I had thought that voluntary celibacy was always clear-cut, that it always entailed some conscious rejection of sex, even among asexuals. That happened to be the case for me personally, and it was the responses to my questions that made me realize that to consciously reject sex is unusual for an asexual person, making me some sort of outlier!

My understanding may have also been skewed, because most of the ‘voluntary celibate’ people I knew prior to getting involved in the asexual community were people who rejected sex for life, because they knew they didn’t want it, and are totally sure of that decision (though they identify as antisexual, and don’t see themselves as celibate… this further raises the questions of what is the celibate community, who is part of it, and if it even exists?), and my experiences were more like theirs; those who are ‘voluntary celibate’ in all but name! One of the non-asexual respondents was just like this, and another one pretty close.

How did I reconcile this with the more ambiguous answers I’ve gotten from some of the asexual respondents on AVEN? I tried to come up with a model, showing that there are degrees to which a voluntarily celibate person is confident that they can and will stay voluntarily celibate for the rest of their lives.

This is what I originally came up with, but it could use some re-working:
    •    Highest degree of confidence: Actively rejected sex, and completely ruled it out as a future possibility.
    •    High degree: Most likely actively rejected sex, considers their decision unlikely to change.
    •    Medium degree: Prefers never having sex, might have actively made that decision or sex just didn’t cross their mind, but doesn’t completely rule it out in the future.
    •    Low degree: Is fine with never having sex, but probably didn’t actively make that decision, and may expect that to change in the future (i.e: if they enter a relationship, might be willing to do it to please their partner)
    •    Lowest degree: Is ‘celibate’, but doesn’t want to be

Some respondents found it helpful, but I realize now I was conflating degree of confidence, with whether someone considers their celibacy voluntary or involuntary, which is a separate dimension. I’m more familiar with the high and highest degrees of confidence, so that’s why they seem the most accurate. The question of how freely-given of a choice the decision to not have sex is also a separate question.

Another thing I found interesting because of that proposed model, is that some of the asexual respondents said that while their voluntary celibacy is largely tied to their asexuality, and assumed that they might not be voluntarily celibate if they weren’t asexual, but still rated themselves as having a high degree of confidence.

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10 thoughts on “Does voluntary celibacy have its gray areas when it comes to asexuality?

  1. Laura (ace-muslim)

    This is very interesting. I’ve always been a bit surprised how strongly some asexuals reject the term celibate, because I’ve always felt it to be a very good label for myself. The way I think about it is, although I feel no innate desire or interest in sex, I could choose to have sex for other reasons, but I choose not to, therefore my celibacy is clearly a voluntary choice on my part. That apparently is not as common among asexuals as I would have assumed.

    The older I get, the more decisively I reject sex as a possibility for myself, but even when I was younger, and my understanding was more vague, I always knew that I was going to not only say no but to avoid any situations where I might be expected to say yes. So it’s more that my reasoning has become clearer to me than that I have become more certain. I was always certain.

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    1. Aqua Post author

      I wonder if it’s a matter of perspective. The main reason I’ve seen respondents to my voluntary celibacy thread say that they don’t really identify as celibate, is because they think ‘celibacy’ suggests some sort of deliberate effort that they feel doesn’t apply to them.

      You make a good point that you still made a choice nonetheless, and how you were already confident in your decision before having the understanding of sexuality that you have today.

      Before I knew of asexuality, I thought I didn’t want sex because of the harm that it can do; I thought why would I want to do something that does a lot of harm, and doesn’t appeal to me anyways (not knowing that most people find sex appealing)? My understanding of sexuality is a lot more refined than it used to be, but there have been times I’ve been less confident about my rejection of sex because of it, worrying that any holes in my personal reasons mean they’re invalid, and I’m just “making excuses”. When that happens, I have to remind myself that this is something that shouldn’t have to be justified for it to be valid.

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  3. queenieofaces

    So maybe part of the reason why you’re getting mixed responses is because there are a fair number of aces who don’t think of themselves as “celibate”; they think of celibacy as being more like “abstinence,” in that it’s an ACTION to abstain from sex (whereas abstaining from sex is their default STATE).

    Personally, if someone asked me for my identities, I doubt I would say “celibate”; I would be much more likely to say “not sexually active.” Part of that, though, is that I have a bit of a negative association between asexual celibacy and certain forms of asexual elitism. If someone asked me whether I was celibate, though, I would say yes, since I am, and plan to continue being so. So I guess I’m in a weird state where “voluntarily celibate” technically applies to me, but I’m not sure I would actually use it. (Also too much of an association with “involuntary celibacy” for me, specifically the way it’s used in MRA discourse.)

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    1. Aqua Post author

      That’s what I thought. I haven’t asked if they see themselves as just being asexual, and may use ‘celibate’ as a short-hand for “not sexually active”, but not see it as part of their identity, but that’s what it looks like to me.

      I understand why you wouldn’t want to identify as celibate. I’m afraid I wasn’t there when that kind of asexual elitism was going on, but I’ve heard accounts of it.

      I originally heard the term ‘voluntary celibacy’ from the involuntary celibacy community, but the sad part is, the involuntary celibacy community wasn’t always what it’s seen as now. I’ve seen some articles by the founders, or people who interacted with the founders of the original involuntary celibacy community, which was a support group for people of all genders and sexualities.

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  4. luvtheheaven

    Once I tried just enough sexual stuff to realize I was a little too sex-averse to want to have sex, ever, for the rest of my life, I made a decision to be true to my asexual self and avoid situations/relationships where sex would even be “on the table” as an option. I had always thought of “being celibate” as an almost always religious thing where you have to strongly resist your innate sexual temptations and desires and I thought of MY form of voluntary celibacy as “Embracing my true asexual self, and not forcing myself to do things I don’t want to do”, almost the opposite of celibacy. So I would never call myself celibate unless someone else brought up the word first. But I would agree that I fit a very simple definition of being celibate – I don’t have sex. I am fine with acknowledging that yes, I guess I am celibate… and yes, voluntarily so… it’s just not the first or best way I’d think to categorize my experiences.

    I think the whole concept of being “involuntarily celibate” is complicated and confusing too, though. I think there are such a range of experiences and very little is black and white.

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  6. Stephanie

    I consider myself celibate and asexual. I’m celibate mainly for religious & logical reasons (negating all risk of pregnancy or STDs). I’d still be celibate even if I weren’t asexual, but being asexual sure makes things easier.

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  8. ettinacat

    I’m asexual and plan on never having sex, so I consider myself celibate, but not voluntarily so. The main reason I don’t want sex is because I’m sex-repulsed, which is not a choice, and therefore I feel that my celibacy is not a choice either. To me, voluntary celibacy implies that you could choose to have sex, but decide not to, and personally I can’t imagine myself ever having sex unless I’m raped. I think even if I had “consensual” sex, it would feel like I’d been raped accidentally. (And yes, it sounds weird, but I do believe accidental rape can happen, if the ‘rapist’ and the victim had poor communication and the ‘rapist’ genuinely believed that the victim wanted sex. I also think most of the time when rapists claim this happened, they’re lying.)

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