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?
Is the societal idea of sex being required for fulfillment implying that someone who hates sex, but still forces themselves into it because they feel like they have to, more fulfilled than someone who happily isn’t sexually active? Or are they only considered “fulfilled” if they also force themselves to change and enjoy it?
The “Lie back and think of England” trope is largely discredited at this point. However, it can still seem like it’s more acceptable for someone to endure sex just to please a partner, no matter how much they dislike it, than to not be in a sexual relationship at all.
Those ideas aren’t always consistent though. At some times, or by some people, someone is expected to just grit their teeth and bear it if they can’t enjoy it as much as their partner, and that may be considered “acceptable” on its own. At others, someone is shamed for not being able to enjoy sex as much as their partner does, so just having sex isn’t seen as “good enough” on its own. Even if their partner isn’t shaming them for it, nor if their peers are, a lot of guilt or a sense of inadequacy can still weigh down on them for not enjoying sex as much as they think they should, or not having it as much as they think they should.
Societal ideals about committed relationships expect them to be both romantic and sexual, and that they can’t be fulfilling without sex, so having to have it may feel like the only option. Because of this, looking for a compromise that could allow both of them can be happy, instead of one person being miserable for the other, or being mutually miserable may not be considered a possibility by either person.
That is a common experience for many asexuals who had been unhappy in sexual relationships for years before finding out, usually from the asexual community, that they don’t have to have sex, and they don’t have to feel guilty or selfish not desiring it the way their partner does, or did. Sometimes it’s their partners who are seeking support from the asexual community, for help understanding asexuality, and help with what to do in their relationship.
Each relationship is different. Sometimes a form of compromise is possible between two people with very different sex drives, levels of sexual attraction, or personal attitudes towards sex, by finding an arrangement that is within each person’s limits. It needs to feel like something each person can happily do, without pressure, and without it feeling like a sacrifice of their boundaries or happiness.
It isn’t always possible though, meaning there’s no arrangement between two people that will make them both happy together. For example, if one person finds sex in the relationship at all to be a deal-breaker, while lack of sex, or less than a certain frequency is a deal-breaker to the other, and both of them aren’t okay with opening up the relationship. In that case, it’d definitely be better for the relationship to end than one or both bitterly endure something that is a deal-breaker to them.
Enduring a deal-breaker, sacrificing one’s own happiness and sense of boundaries for the sake of the other person can eat away at oneself, growing feelings of resentment towards themselves and the other person. This could happen no matter how much someone may care about their partner. It is a painful and toxic feeling that can get worse the longer it drags on, and can also negatively affect other relationships or aspects of life. Is that situation still living, or merely surviving?
I’ve less than willingly compromised before, but this “compromise” was still past my limits, and dealing with it was a huge struggle each time. It felt like I had to repress how I felt, and like I wasn’t living. I felt like I was merely in survival mode trying to endure, especially the longer it went on. It made me want to distance myself from everyone, let alone my ex, which strained things between us.
Trying to repress boredom or repulsion may only work for so long, but the facade eventually collapses.
It makes me sad how many times I’ve heard from newcomers in the asexual community talking about how they had to fake desiring sex, and tried to fake enjoying it for so long, or tried to force themselves to desire sex. It’s sad they felt those were the only options simply because of the lack of asexual visibility, and lack of any affirmation of lifelong abstinence.
That visibility, and affirmation are so important, because a lack of them have caused this issue to be so common. As visibility for both improves, then people who haven’t been in this kind of situation, going through all of that pain and regret can avoid it, while people who were in it can find what they need to break free of it. What’s done is done, the past can’t be changed, but many of the people who had been unhappy in a sexual relationship for years say it’s better late than never that they were able to find out about asexuality, and being affirmed that it’s okay to not have sex.
I’ve felt a lot of regret over that past relationship and the less than willing compromises I did. So much time and energy spent upholding a relationship that was bound to fail, but I felt like I had to, because I cared about the other person. But the relationship, the unsatisfying compromises, how long this went on for, and how much energy was spent trying to keep it up, all hurt us both. That time and energy could’ve been spent for my ex finding a compatible partner, and that time and energy could’ve been spent for me doing other things I want or need to do.
I’ve talked about the past because my past personal experiences are related to a lot of topics this blog is about, and as a cautionary tale for others, whom I hope haven’t been through this, but I don’t want to get completely bogged down with regret.