Monthly Archives: December 2014

Don’t take touch for granted, part 2

This is part 2 of a 2-part entry for the December 2014 Carnival of Aces: Touch, Sensuality, and Non-sexual Physical Intimacy.

*warning: talk of sexual coercion*

In part 1, I wrote about the social norms that devalue nonsexual intimacy, because it’s often seen as just a lead-in to sexual intimacy in relationships. Consent in the context of nonsexual intimacy is hardly thought about, as nonsexual intimacy is taken for granted. Sara K, the host of this Carnival of Aces came to the same conclusion, noting that the ethics of nonsexual touch are much less developed than sexual ethics because of it.

I suspect that part of my repulsion towards sensual touch comes from the sexual expectations behind it, and that I’ve been in a relationship with someone who has sexual and romantic feelings for me, while not knowing what the line is between sensual and sexual.

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Don’t take touch for granted, part 1

This is part 1 of a 2-part entry for the December 2014 Carnival of Aces: Touch, Sensuality, and Non-sexual Physical Intimacy

*content warning: talk of sexual coercion, and sexual harassment*

I like the idea of nonsexual physical intimacy in theory, but oftentimes I’m repulsed by actually going through with it. . It seems like it’d be nice to have in a relationship, as an expression of emotional closeness, though I don’t believe that nonsexual touch should be limited to romantic and familial relationships.

There is cultural variation to this, as in some cultures, hugs or kisses are understood, and accepted as ways of greeting a friend. The Anglophone countries are very restrictive about touch outside romantic-sexual relationships (and outside of familial relationships to some extent too) though, with norms dictating that friends aren’t “supposed” to express much physical affection with each other.

Despite the social restrictions on expressions of it, it is devalued. Society has a lot of restrictions on what is socially acceptable sex too, but even among the hardcore “no sex before marriage” types, they value (marital) sex tremendously. A lot of nonsexual affection, including sensual intimacy, is assumed to be “reserved” for exclusive romantic-sexual relationships, which ties into the assumption that there must be sexual intent behind it. In a relationship, it is devalued by being erased, and is erased by assuming to be sexual. When acknowledged, it’s still devalued as being lesser than sexual intimacy. It may be seen as merely something that must lead to sexual intimacy. With devaluation comes being taken for granted.

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Talking about sex-repulsed and favorable sub-spaces

Earlier this year, there were a lot of blog posts about sex-repulsion/aversion, and the treatment of sex-repulsed/averse people within the asexual community.

There’ve been more posts speaking in favor of creating sub-spaces, and I strongly agree. The asexual community as it stands, is burdened with a difficult balancing act that still hasn’t been solved. AVEN is by far the largest, and most centralized asexual space, and needs to support all the asexual sub-groups. The tumblr community is decentralized, but still has this same issue. However, it seems like the needs of asexuals who like sex, and sex-repulsed/averse asexuals, are at odds with each other, and that focusing on one group must come at the expense of the other.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and creating sub-spaces for different groups would help ease that burden. I think it’d be great to have these sub-spaces created, and refer them to newbies who might need them, to show that their needs aren’t being forgotten.

If referring newbies to sub-spaces happens, it shouldn’t be done in a way to try and relegate them to the sub-spaces, and away from the larger community. That ends up being exclusionary, and gives off the message of “You’re too _______ for the main community, and risk making asexuality look confusing (if sex-favorable), or look bad (if sex-repulsed or averse), so go over here where you’ll be welcome instead”.

Sex-favorable asexuals may benefit from having their own sub-spaces, as an affirmation that they, and other people like them, exist. Sure, there are a lot of topics on AVEN and in the tumblr community about having sex, but numerically, there are few sex-favorable asexuals, and they may still be under-represented. I’ve asked about this before on AVEN:

I pointed someone to that thread [about asexuals who enjoy sex], who enjoyed sex but wasn’t sure if they were asexual because of that. On the second page, I told them that I didn’t know if there are simply few sex-favorable(?) asexuals or if there are more, but [they’re] under-represented.

Some doubt that they are asexual, because a lot of definitions of asexuality that unintentionally exclude them, or the possibility of being asexual never crossed their mind. A sub-space may help sex-favorable asexuals realize that they’re asexual sooner, and find each other, so they don’t feel isolated over feeling like they’re the only person who is both asexual and favorable towards the idea of having sex.

Sex-repulsed/averse asexuals make up at least half of the asexual community, yet many don’t feel welcome to talk about their experiences in most asexual spaces. Even when it’s explained that it’s okay to talk about how someone personally feels about sex, as long as it doesn’t mean attacking others, there’s still all of this doubt.

Does the fear of being labeled an asexual elitist still linger on? I’ve seen some say they feel like “bad” asexuals for not wanting sex, in fact, I’ve said that too! I’ve been involved in the asexual community for 2 years, and I still experience these doubts!

Spaces for repulsed asexuals (or repulsed people in general) would be useful so they can more easily talk about their experiences, without that fear looming over them.

These spaces may also be useful for repulsed newbies who have a lot of pent-up frustration about the sexual world, and could help newbies “detox” by being allowed to vent these frustrations. Sex-repulsed people don’t have a lot of spaces to go to to talk about this. This has been mentioned before on AVEN, but a lot of people seem uneasy towards the idea, fearing that a space for the sex-repulsed will easily turn elitist. Does this show some distrust towards the repulsed, by the non-repulsed?

If it’s not that, is it simply the fear of newbies thinking such a space means they can get away with disparaging other people? Or are they talking about the fear of any sub-space turning elitist, but it’s just that no one there mentioned sub-spaces for sex-favorable asexuals yet? A sub-space should obviously cater to the needs of which group they’re for, and affirm peoples’ experiences and feelings as valid, but they can’t adequately be supportive if they’re shut out to differing opinions that could give constructive advice.

Do you have any experience with sub-spaces for sex-repulsed or sex-favorable asexuals, or run one yourself?

Why is there still all of this doubt?

Why do many sex-repulsed/averse asexuals still doubt whether they’re welcome to talk about their experiences in many asexual spaces?

This is still a problem, even when it’s been clearly explained before that there’s no problem with someone discussing how they personally feel about sex, whether they find it delightful or disgusting, and that it’s only a problem if it involves attacking or shaming others in the process.

The line is drawn at expressing viewpoints in a way that attack other people, or being elitist.

To me, that sounds clear, but I wonder if some repulsed asexuals still don’t feel like they can express their viewpoints, because although they know what the line is, they’re still unsure if what they say isn’t on the wrong side of that line.

A recent thread on AVEN showed that some repulsed people don’t feel comfortable talking about their experiences, because of all of the threads that are about having sex. They fear that what they say will still be taken as an attack on those who have sex, even after making it clear that that’s not what they intend at all. Some said that they feared not being welcome, because they don’t believe that sex is good and beautiful for everyone, and feel that they can’t talk about the negatives about sex without getting attacked.

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What is it I’m on the Project Team for?

This is the 1-year anniversary of my election to AVEN’s Project Team. Full terms last for 2 years, and barring something like wanting or needing to step down, or winning a moderator election that was too tempting for me to not run in, I intend to serve a full term.

Specifically, my role that I was elected into is the Resources and Survey Director, a position created for an election in early 2013, as a way to restart the official AVEN census in English. The only official English AVEN census done was in 2008, and while later attempts to restart it had been made, they hadn’t been successful.

My history marks me as a very strange candidate for the Project Team. They’re a group of volunteers elected on AVEN to manage projects on asexual visibility and education, and are considered responsible for the AVEN brand name. Of all the Project Team members that AVEN ever had, I know that I’m one of the least representative, because of my history, and because of it, I feel like I can’t be trusted with handling their brand name. How did this weirdo win an election, and what am I in it for? I really did see myself as a darkhorse candidate.

Like anyone else who has ran in a PT election, I’m enthusiastic about raising asexual visibility and education. I spend much of my time on AVEN greeting newbies in the Welcome Lounge board, and answering questions in Q&A. When the Resources and Survey Director position became available again later in the year, I was eager to run for it, because I have a background in psychology, and from it, a background in statistics and research methods. I could put some of that knowledge to use for the survey. I’m also interested in the history of the asexual community, and how much it’s changed over the years.

So many people I’ve seen on AVEN’s Welcome Lounge board, and tumblr’s #asexuality and #asexual tags, wrote about how they felt “broken” or lost before they found the asexual label. It’s also sad that many have dealt with a lot of sexual peer pressure, and thought they were “broken”, or something was wrong with them that had to be fixed. Some wrote about how they went to far as to try to “cure” themselves. It was all because they didn’t know that asexuality is real, and there’s nothing wrong with it.

However, my focus isn’t just on asexuality, and I’m concerned about possible conflict of interest because of it. It’s been nagging at me ever since I ran in my first election. That’s why I said I feel like I can’t be trusted with the AVEN brand name. As you might know, I identify with the rejection of sex firstĀ  (your terminology may vary!) and asexuality second. There are parts of AVEN’s terminology and framework that I disagree with, and there have been times I’ve been discontent with how “celibacy” as a concept gets taken for granted, leading to the assumption it’s simply not having sex, and not something that needs to be elaborated on.

With the survey, I took matters into my own hands. This is not to say that I singlehandedly wrote the survey. Certainly not. Writing the survey was a team effort. Each of us were mainly involved with different sections. The preliminary results supported what I’ve observed in the asexual community about celibacy/sexual inactivity: Most don’t actually identify as celibate as part of their sexual identity despite all the talk about “celibacy”, mainly because of the connotations of that term. Most would just say they’re sexually inactive, or don’t use a label for it, and that many of them don’t have a set length for their sexual inactivity.

It’s important that there are now statistics behind these observations. Talking about “celibacy” is actually pretty confusing in asexual spaces, and the results from the survey may give a better idea of what a lot of people in asexual spaces mean by that term, and show that even for asexuals, it can still be more than just not having sex.

There’s nearly no visibility for celibacy/long-term sexual abstinence that’s voluntary, and for non-religious reasons. I believe that’s detrimental to the voluntarily celibate*, including those within the asexual community.

The stereotypes that asexual and voluntarily celibate people face, are many of the same ones. A lot of great efforts have been made to fight against those misconceptions towards asexuality, and asexual visibility has grown a lot just this year, and great job to everyone who contributed!

However, that understanding of how asexuality doesn’t mean sexual repression, or that it doesn’t mean shaming others just for having sex, may not extend to the voluntarily celibate. Asexuality isn’t any kind of celibacy, and distancing asexuality from it, because they aren’t the same thing, is necessary. However, not acknowledging celibacy, other than “asexuality isn’t it”, may undermine one of the intended ideas the asexual community fights for, and that is to not have sex is a valid option.

People aren’t likely to connect the dots and think “Oh, I get it! Many of the stereotypes surrounding asexuality also apply, and people who don’t want sex, regardless of sexual orientation, are also erased by society, and may feel like something is wrong with them too!” I don’t want them to be left behind, because of the harm of not knowing that not having sex is a valid option. Not everyone who doesn’t want sex is asexual. I’m afraid that there’s this unintended message of “It’s okay to be asexual, but not okay to not want sex”, or “It’s okay to not have sex, but only if you’re asexual”.

I’m advocating for asexual visibility efforts that save people from falling through the cracks. This includes positive acknowledgement of related groups that have a considerable overlap with asexuality, whether individuals in that group are asexual or not. Within the asexual community, there are ways sex-repulsed asexuals fall through the cracks, and ways that aromantic asexuals do too, making it difficult for either group to talk about their experiences. The understanding of alloromantic asexuals and sex-indifferent asexuals, who are considered more “familiar” to mainstream society, won’t extend to aromantic and repulsed asexuals respectively, unless those groups are outright included, in a way that doesn’t try to gloss over them. Right now, I’m trying to do my part with creating 101-level resources.

Sometimes I’m surprised I made it this far on the PT, but I did make it to my goal: To be on the PT for at least 1 year, and finish the 2014 survey.


Footnotes:
*I know I’ve flip-flopped between multiple different terms here, but I often use “voluntary celibacy” as an umbrella term for anyone choosing to not have sex, regardless of what label they actually use for themselves, because this terminology issue is a minefield to navigate. It sounds contradictory, knowing that there are people who’d rather identify as other labels (myself included!), but it’s easier than saying “people who choose to not have sex”.