The Theory of Dormant Sexuality

You see this sometimes in discussions of asexuality, as a subset of the “maybe you’re not really asexual” line of thought.  Sometimes it’s from the mouths of clueless busy-bodies who can’t seem to accept asexuality’s legitimacy, but sometime’s it’s also spawned from aces’ own doubts and concerns that they might be deluding themselves.  This particular flavor of ace invalidation comes in the form of hypothesizing that an individual’s sexual orientation is “just sleeping”, as it were — asking “what if” a real sexual orientation might be deep down in the subconscious, somewhere, waiting to be awakened.

Under this theory, “actual” sexuality is located somewhere apart from conscious experience.  It implicitly relies on a model wherein some “sexual attraction sender” sends attraction to a “sexual attraction receiver”, and for whatever reason, the attraction is being blocked off or being prevented from being sent before it can be received by the individual’s consciousness, so that somehow, the feeling is there, but they’re not feeling the feeling.

It doesn’t really make sense when you think about it.

As far as we know, there is no apparent “sexual attraction organ” to send signals to the brain (arousal is not attraction, so don’t even start).  While sexual attraction can indeed be triggered by information from other organs and senses (sight, sound), there’s also the fact that not all information from these senses produces the feeling of sexual attraction (ex. even non-aces who can see aren’t sexually attracted to everything they see), so that can’t be the only mechanism involved.  We don’t have enough data for me to be sure on this, but my guess is that sexual attraction is something that starts within the mind, as a purely psychological phenomenon in origin.  And although it may need information from other senses in order to activate, once sexual attraction occurs, it probably doesn’t need to travel some other pathway in order to get to your consciousness.  It’s already there.

What I’m getting at is this:

Your sexual orientation IS your experience.

By that, I mean that if you don’t feel it, if you don’t notice it, if you’re not aware of it being there at all, then it doesn’t count.  If it’s not included within the realm of your conscious experiences, then it doesn’t matter.  Sexual attraction, itself, has no tangible component, no existence outside your consciousness.  If you don’t feel it, then it’s not happening.  Your sexual orientation is whatever you experience it as.

And for that matter, even if there is some sexual attraction signal that’s being “sent” but not reaching your consciousness, I doubt that a theoretical hub of undiscovered sexual attraction should count as your “true” sexuality.  If you’re not experiencing (perceiving, feeling) the sexual attraction signal, then it’s not a part of your pattern of experiencing sexual attraction, i.e. your sexual orientation.

Make no mistake, the theory of dormant sexuality is a different scenario than the experience of reinterpreting or realizing you had mislabeled your feelings, which usually happens after the acquisition of new information (ex. learning more about the different types of attraction).  In that scenario, you were always aware of your feelings, and you later found better words for them or updated your understanding of them.  In the “dormant sexuality” scenario, you do not possess that awareness in the first place.  There can be some ambiguity about whether you really felt X feeling/whether you misinterpreted X feeling as Y feeling/whether you knew at the time that X feeling “counted” as X feeling, but the theory of dormant sexuality normally does not deal with these ambiguities of communication and recognition.  Rather, it deals in the idea that you have attractions that are present but dormant, attractions that are “there” but not yet conscious, like some kind of emotional Sleeping Beauty, awaiting the day they will wake.

I don’t believe in dormancy and reawakening.  I believe in shifts.  I believe in changes.  I believe that, for some individuals, that your orientation can fluctuate involuntarily — and that if it does, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your current one was “there all along”.  Asexual people do not have a “dormant” sexuality any more so than gay people and straight people have “dormant” sexual attractions to the genders they don’t experience sexual attraction toward.  I know our feelings may seem to have “minds of their own”, but that’s a metaphor that only goes so far.  It is nonsensical to suggest that sexual attraction can “sleep”.  If it’s not there — then it’s not there.  And that’s okay.

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