Asexual Identification, Masochism, and Self-Harm

Apologies for the lack of a better title.  This post will not be about asexuality and kink (which you can read about here) nor will it be about how the social sigma around gsrm identities contributes to depression (which you can read about here) — and if you’re tempted to comment that aces don’t “have it as bad” as allo LGB folk, allow me to redirect you here and here and here.

This is not going to be a discussion of ace BDSM or aces’ physical self-harm.  This post is about the idea that asexual identification is itself a form of self-harm, as implied by the following comment on one of my posts:

“I think this cost benefit analysis does not take social science understandings of behaviors into account. People do do and say things for all kinds of reasons. One oerson’s [sic] benefit may appear to others as a cost. People use sabotage and self harm to cope and protect themselves. This is definitely not a thorough evaluation of the issue, and does not fully address the question posed. It is misleading.”

The commenter has not responded to my request for clarification, so I’ll have to take a few interpretive liberties here.  First, let’s take this sentence by sentence.

“I think this cost benefit analysis does not take social science understandings of behaviors into account.”

I study economics.  Economics is generally considered a social science.  Given the context, we can assume the commenter didn’t mean to include economics.  “Social science understandings” is incredibly unspecific, and phrases like this tend to give me the impression that you don’t really know what you’re talking about.

“People do do and say things for all kinds of reasons.”


“One [person’s] benefit may appear to others as a cost.”

Anton Ego arches an eyebrow

[ eyebrow raise ]

“People use sabotage and self harm to cope and protect themselves.”

That’s something that happens, yes.

“This is definitely not a thorough evaluation of the issue, and does not fully address the question posed. It is misleading.”


In other words, I left out or assigned the wrong value to some benefits and costs.  That might be true.

However, since the comment didn’t specify — and since I can think of no other reason to bring  up the fact that “people use sabotage and self harm to cope and protect themselves” — the implied argument seems to be that someone who is allosexual might identify as asexual as part of the aforementioned “sabotage”.

I’ll address that possibility in a moment, but the implicit point of Are Asexuals Lying? was to show why it doesn’t make sense to presume that “most” asexual-IDing people are lying, via taking an abstract approach to motivation and incentive structures.  If we take “actual” orientation out of the question, identifying as asexual is not a rewarding choice.  It makes more sense for an asexual to lie and call themselves heterosexual than it does for a heterosexual to lie and call themselves asexual.  I’ll entertain the possibility that some percentage of asexual-IDing folks out there might not “actually” be asexual, but I find any fixation on that percentage to be highly suspicious, since it comes off as an attempt to 1) discredit asexuality 2) encourage people to respond with disbelief and hostility to anyone who comes out as asexual.  I wanted readers of the post to come away with the conclusion that if someone describes themselves as asexual, then ceteris paribus, you should probably believe them.

One unspoken premise of the analysis was that people will want to avoid social punishment (such as disbelief and hostility).  Ostensibly, that premise is what the comment meant to challenge.  If so, it’s rather reminiscent of victim-blaming — arguing that if people are hurt, it’s because some part of them wanted to be hurt.  Does it not occur to people that victim-blaming is, itself, an abusive mindset?

For the sake of “a thorough evaluation of the issue”, though, I’ll keep examining this.  Could ace-identification be used as a form of masochism?  If we’re thinking masochism as in BDSM, then no.  I happen to know a couple of subs, and though I’m hesitant to google BDSM (for reasons you might understand), I’ve gleaned a few things about it over time — such as the fact that most BDSM practitioners make a point of pre-negotiation and ensuring that their activities are safe and consensual.  Ideally, if the sub is subjected to pain, it’s pain they’ve agreed to beforehand.  What’s more, it’s physical pain, which is a great deal different than emotional pain.  Liking to get hurt is not the same as liking to get your feelings hurt.  So we can rule that out as a possibility altogether.

The comment didn’t mention masochism by name, though.  Just self-harm.  But here’s the thing.  If self-harm is used to cope, it’s used to cope with something — stress, pain, powerlessness, depression, abuse…  It always goes back to the idea that sexual orientation is affected by mental illness and abuse, doesn’t it?

And here’s another thing about self harm: it’s usually done in secret.  We’re taught it’s something shameful.  It’s painted as a sign of weakness and positioned as the butt of jokes.  It’s not something people advertise.  People with mental health problems are highly discouraged from sharing them in public, and so they usually don’t.  Part of what motivates self-harm is exerting control when you feel like you have none — and telling people about it cedes that control to others and puts you at their mercy, entirely contrary to the point of self-harm.  The idea of proclaiming an identity label as a way to invite negative attention doesn’t even fall in line with what we know about self-harm and how it functions.

But, just to be thorough, should I look at some kind of third category?  “Enjoying” arguing with people, perhaps?

As someone who’s been in a lot of arguments before, I’d concede that it’s possible to derive some enjoyment from an argument, but that kind of enjoyment is entirely dependent on, if not sourced from, a feeling of control, which goes back to what I’ve been saying for most of this post.  People don’t want to be hurt or attacked unless they can control it in some way — and when you’re identifying as asexual, the only control you have over people’s reactions is whether or not to come out.

There’s only one other kind of strife-based pleasure I can think of, which is that there can be a kind of slight reward-feeling derived from continuing an argument even when you don’t feel like you’re in control, and based on my experience, it’s a lesser-of-two-evils kind of feeling, where you don’t want to get in a fight about this, but staying silent would be more painful than continuing to argue, and so you keep fighting not because you want to fight for fighting’s sake but because you’re motivated by the belief that you’re right.

In conclusion, I have no idea what kind of “social science understandings of behaviors” would explain why anyone would identify as asexual if they do not believe it to be true.

P. S.  Even allowing for the existence of allosexuals-identifying-as-asexual, the act of prioritizing the illegitimacy of some over the legitimacy of others, i.e. caring more about rooting out the liars than about anything else, indicates that you don’t think we should be believed — and consequently, that you think any problems we encounter as a result of our identity are nothing but our own fault.

3 responses to “Asexual Identification, Masochism, and Self-Harm

  • epochryphal

    A good post! I think the quote you’re rebutting also neglects to acknowledge that, hey, it’s not a strict asexual/allosexual system – it’s a spectrum with plenty of grey and demi folk.

    Excellent analysis of how this person is white-knighting for those poor repressed allosexual folk who’re hurting themselves, since clearly iding as ace could never be a benefit at all, could never be adapting to a situation.

    One piece of feedback: There are some (usually small, anonymous) blogs/tags/communities where people share about self-harming in a non-recovery way. They’re very stigmatized and sometimes get shut down by the service they’re using (eg tumblr’s new policy against the ‘glorification’ of self-harm, vague as that is), but they do exist.

  • Reworking Frameworks of Acceptance | The Ace Theist

    […] guard up trying to fend off the specter of fakers and liars (whose existence I have never been particularly worried about, by the way).  What I’m proposing instead is that we rework our frameworks of […]

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