I want to be brief, which means leaving out a lot of important factors in this case, but nonetheless — I want take a moment to talk about how Christians talk about sex, and how other people talk about how Christians talk about sex.
There seems to be this idea that there’s some version of Christianity out there that categorically hates sex (and I get where that’s coming from and all, given that most Christianities are very particular about what kind of sex is acceptable, but last I checked, the Shakers were dying out). The thing is — I see people responding to this presupposition more often than I see the thing itself.
This is an old, old, conversation as old as the Gospels — this is literally what Paul was responding to with 1 Corinthians 7, which is basically the words of a clueless asexual man responding to a discourse of sex-shaming by saying, “Y’all need to knock it off. Having sex isn’t inherently a bad thing. I may not do it myself, but seriously, just get married if celibacy is that hard for you.” Since then, however, I think the kind of attitude he was responding to there has become far less prevalent now than it was then.
Among most modern-day Christians, there’s this tendency to bend over backward to insist that they don’t hate sex, they don’t see sex as a bad thing, sex is great, actually! Actually talking about it is still (more or less) taboo, though, which is how I think a lot of non-Christians (especially atheists) get the idea that the Church would welcome asexual people with open arms. Is that true? Well, sort of. It depends on which church. But, as a result of low exposure, I’ve seen a lot of folks outside the Church acting unaware of how sex gets talked about when it does get talked about, and I’ve seen a lot of Christians overemphasizing the greatness of sex as a way to distance themselves from the prudish stereotype, clearly nursing a wound without realizing how it got there.
I’m not really qualified to talk about how we got to this place, but I am qualified to talk about how some attempts to fix it are causing further harm.
When Christians talk about sex — not about sexual purity or sexual immorality, but about sex itself — many of them talk as if to desperately reassure themselves and everyone listening that sex is not always sinful, which usually (always) ends up with them glorifying and sanctifying it and calling it a “gift from God” (a phrase my own mother has used in casual conversation with me, despite the fact that I’ve come out to her). In contrast to the anti-sexual rhetoric I’ve seen hypothesized by others, actual Christian rhetoric (that is, the rhetoric from actual people who self-describe as Christian) extols the holiness of sex and asserts that having sex is part of God’s design, even framing a refusal to have it as selfish.
There are many takes on Christianity, this being only one of them, and not necessarily the most common at that, but it’s also important to recognize that this attitude within the Church is far from unique. By trying to clarify that they don’t hate all sex — something Christians are more concerned about than I think most people realize — they tend to wind up going too far in the other direction and throwing a lot of people under the bus.
Question: What do you call a person who is asexual? Answer: Not a person. Asexual people do not exist. Sexuality is a gift from God and thus a fundamental part of our human identity. Those who repress their sexuality are not living as God created them to be: fully alive and well.
According some Christians, I either don’t exist, am not a person, or am not living as God created me to be. Experiencing sexual attraction, in addition to wanting and pursuing sex, is presumed to be something that all mature adults do, unless they’re “confused” or possibly have “underlying trauma” that should be overcome by therapy. In other words, the same cultural crap has infiltrated the Church as can be found anywhere else.
By praising the goodness of sex and encouraging people to embrace their sexuality, sex-positive feminists often seem to think they’re reacting to the discourses of conservative Christianity, among other things, and in a way, they are — but in another way, they’re doing the exact same thing: running from the “mean, ugly sex-hater” stereotype that has been foisted on Christians and feminists both.
Well, I’m the mean, ugly sex-hater here to tell everyone to knock it off.
People of all ideological stripes aren’t doing us any favors by acting as if throwing this kind of “sex is good!” rhetoric at the problem is actually going to heal the damage we’ve done to each other in the ways we talk about sex, because insisting on the unequivocal goodness and holiness of sex only serves to undermine the validity of refusing it, something harmful to everyone, but especially to those who go their entire lives refusing it. The Christian Church needs new strategies for reckoning with its legacy of shame, and people outside of it need to acknowledge that it’s not necessarily the neutral haven for asexual people that they presume it is.
In reaction to learning about the existence of anti-asexual prejudice, a lot of folks protest that at least the Church wouldn’t condemn or prevent (cisgender, heteroromantic) asexual people from marrying who they love — which is true, sort of, kinda, not really. In most parts of the Church, marriage is still viewed as something inherently sexual, as some of the CEP responses indicated. Even if they accepted asexuality, some pastors still upheld the expectation that married people should be having sex and that people who don’t want sex shouldn’t get married. [1, 2, 3, 4]
And I get that, from other vantage points, what I deal with from Christians must look like a cakewalk — which I will grant you, just so long as you recognize what that cakewalk actually looks like in reality.