Response to An Objection

Recently, the lovely Queenie quoted an excerpt of a post of mine on tumblr (!), and I happened to discover that someone has reblogged it to voice some disagreement.  See their post here.  Although that particular user might never see this response, I want to address it as best I know how, as well as open the floor for y’all to comment and tell me if/how I’ve hosed up.  For full disclosure: Lee/maizegeek is a survivor of sexual abuse.  I am not.

What follows is their commentary and my response:

I really wasn’t sure at first how to respond to this. It bothered me quite a bit, and I really didn’t know how to articulate it.

There’s an inappropriate blending of two very different things in this quote. Asexuality and sex repulsion are not the same thing. However you personally choose to identify is your own business because everyone’s identity is their own, but DO NOT fall into the trap of mixing these two.

I’m not sure if what they meant here was to put out a general warning/reminder not to conflate them, or if this was specifically meant to address what I wrote.  In case of the latter: I agree that asexuality doesn’t require sex-repulsion and that sex-repulsion doesn’t require asexuality, and I wasn’t aware that that excerpt could be read as implying otherwise.  And as cliche as it might be to say “you’re taking this out of context”… I’d still like people to consider the context.

That excerpt comes from this post of the church email project, at the point where I was reacting to the section of the pastor’s email that cautioned, “It should be noted that none of what I’ve said takes the psychological into account. I would hope people who may not be asexual by nature, but merely feel that way because of some underlying trauma or reservation would be open to working through those issues toward a fuller life.”

I wrote that excerpt as an angry reaction to those statements.  As someone who’s not a survivor, I don’t have much place to make statements on the subject, but in the context of analyzing his email, I didn’t want to leave those statements unchallenged.  My reaction then got quoted and reblogged by rape survivors — and while that doesn’t necessarily prove anything but the fact that people can have different opinions, I think it’s worth noting at least to clarify that this isn’t just a case of Me vs. Everyone Who’s Actually Had This Experience.  Still, I will retract and apologize for anything I’ve said if I’ve overstepped my bounds.

What I meant to convey — and what I may have perhaps failed to convey, despite my intentions, but what represents my actual beliefs — is that a background of abuse and trauma should not be leveraged to deny the validity of anyone’s orientation, and if a survivor* never wants to have sex ever, it would be unethical to try to cajole them into changing their mind.  Period.

*This also goes for anyone, but the discussion arose in the context of making exceptions for survivors.

My reaction was mostly a paraphrasing of an amalgamation of things I’ve seen articulated by survivors themselves, and if anyone recommends I replace or edit that section of my original post with links to the same ideas in survivor’s own words, I’d welcome any link recs for that.

Asexuality is a sexual orientation. Sexual orientations are generally static and quite difficult to change if they can even be changed at all.

[ edit: “if they can even be changed at all” implies the idea is dubious, but as salmelo points out, sexual orientations can change — that’s some people’s actual experience. ]

Sex repulsion is an acquired problem that actually impacts people’s lives in a negative way.

I’m not sure that it’s strictly an acquired trait, in all cases — meaning, I presume it’s possible for someone to be sex-repulsed regardless of their life experiences (as there are plenty of asexual people who dislike sex and are not survivors of sexual trauma or abuse).  That said, I definitely agree that sex-repulsion can be acquired.

I struggle with sex repulsion personally. Much of the time, I can’t even masturbate without experiencing a crying fit for several hours afterwards. I am not sexually active with other people AT ALL and I only sporadically masturbate. I am not asexual in even the slightest way.

If you cannot perform a natural, normal bodily function without having a meltdown afterwards, then it’s a problem.

Characterizing it a problem for yourself, if you view it that way, is something that it wouldn’t be my place to argue with.

However, if the intent here was to say that all sex-repulsed people should view their sex-repulsion as a problem (and that, by extension, they should try to Fix It if possible), then: sorry, no.  I won’t let you do that.  Sex-repulsed people are not obligated to hate that aspect of themselves.  Sexual stimulation is not something that anybody owes the world.

Do not conflate asexuality with sex repulsion, people. :I

Yes, don’t.  And don’t stigmatize either one.

Upon rereading the quoted excerpt from my post, I’ve been unable to find anything that implies being asexual and being sex-repulsed mean the same thing.  The quote does deal with the idea of asexual people who dislike sex, but that’s only because I presumed the pastor wouldn’t recommend therapy for asexuals who were sex-favorable, and the quote was written as a reaction to the implicit ideas behind the pastor’s words.

Still, if I’ve messed up or said anything wrong on this topic or within this response post, I’d like to know.  It’s important to me to be able to face criticism, and I want to do right by my fellow aces.


13 responses to “Response to An Objection

  • salmelo

    The only thing I would add is in response to the line “Asexuality is a sexual orientation. Sexual orientations are generally static and quite difficult to change if they can even be changed at all.
    The idea of orientation as a static, unchanging thing that is set from the moment of birth onward, while potentially very useful in discouraging certain brands of invalidation often leveled at non-straight individuals, is probably not actually correct. At least, not for everyone (perhaps even not for a majority of people, but that’s harder to say for sure.)
    It is entirely possible for a person to ‘become’ asexual, or any other orientation, while not having been previously. Whether in response to specific events, or simply as part of the ever present process of changing and evolving as an individual that we all go through every day. And having become asexual while not having been before does not, in any way, invalidate one’s asexuality.

  • Calum P Cameron

    I tend not to refer to myself as “sex-repulsed”, because I know someone who sometimes actually gets full-blown PTSD triggered by the subject of sexual stuff, and compared to them calling myself “repulsed” seems overdramatic. I self-identify as “externally sex-neutral, internally sex-averse” in order to make the distinction that I have no major emotions or opinions either way when it comes to the subject of sex; I just really would rather not do it myself (the thought of engaging in any sexual act myself is met with a slight mental “eugh”, nothing more, but that’s enough to discourage me). Whatever I have, repulsion or minor aversion, it wasn’t acquired. I’ve thought that way since I first learned what sex WAS (which I did by reading a dictionary, by the way).

    I am also an asexual, but my sexuality is fluid. Usually only by the tiniest of degrees, these days, but I have in the past had the occasional bout of near-heterosexuality (I guess you could say I was a full-blown ace who occasionally dipped into grey-ace territory). I know people who’ve moved further. I know one guy who has been literally everything EXCEPT asexual in his lifetime.

    I suspect I would have a meltdown if I were to masturbate, if only because I cannot envision any reason why I would ever really WANT to masturbate other than mind control, and I suspect I would probably have a meltdown if forced to endure mind control. I very strongly suspect that my sex-repulsed friend would have a meltdown, because it is absolutely the kind of thing that would trigger them. And I won’t pretend I haven’t occasionally wanted to systematically kick in the head of everyone who ever told me that masturbation being “normal” and “natural” meant not being properly equipped to do it meant I had “a problem”. If you made the same comment about partnered sex, you’d get hit with a dozen accusations of rape culture before you could finish the sentence.

    All of which means I basically disagree with this individual on everything except for the note that sex-repulsion and asexuality are two different things. I recognise that their words come from a place of pain – by the sounds of it, they personally really WANT to do the thing they cannot easily do, and THAT does sound like a bit of a problem to me. But I think we need to emphasise the importance of wanting it (or not). Just as sex is only “normal and natural” if you consent to it, so masturbation is only “normal and natural” if you want it. To those like me, masturbation is a curious subject at best, a messy-sounding oddity forced onto people by a dunderheaded society at worst. And of course – as mentioned before on this very blog – not being asexual does not AUTOMATICALLY mean you want to masturbate, and being asexual does not automatically mean you don’t. One’s libido and sense of sexual desire are not so intimately linked to one’s sexual orientation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a sex-repulsed or nonlibidoist heterosexual.

    With the obvious exceptions of cases where the person is seriously endangering themselves or others – drug abuse, say, or an addiction to fighting – it is never your place (regardless of how you personally feel about the subject) to tell another person that what they have is “a problem”. It is – and always will be – up to THEM to decide if it’s a problem or not. Freedom of Opinion, man. It’s pretty great.

    So, yeah, nice piece, S. Had I been the one responding directly, I probably would have been considerably less gracious and therefore more unhelpful. Kudos.

    • acetheist

      Yeah, I’m generally suspicious of the use of “natural/normal” as code for “this is something everyone should want, do, and enjoy, or else”. Even if you could get a firm consensus on what “natural” strictly means — there are lots of natural things in the world that I’d prefer to stay far away from. I’m not as optimistic that “If you made the same comment about partnered sex, you’d get hit with a dozen accusations of rape culture before you could finish the sentence,” (as people say that about sex all the time and aren’t called out near as often as they should be) but it does seem to me to be in the spirit of the same.

      There are some instances where I’d be fine with telling someone they had a problem, but I sure don’t see how this is one. So somebody finds an activity unpleasant or painful or difficult or not worth it — so what? What makes that a problem, in and of itself?

      I wanted to tread carefully here, since I wasn’t the one approaching the subject from personal experience, but thank you all the same.

  • queenieofaces

    Guess who totally wrote several thousand words on this topic yesterday. (Hint: It was me. Words will probably be released to the public in…about three weeks.)

    There wasn’t anything in the original quote that suggested that asexuality and sex-repulsion are the same thing. There have been a number of…odd responses to that quote, and I think a lot of people aren’t…actually reading what’s there and are instead responding to what they think is there.

    I think it’s worth noting that the OP is NOT asexual, and thus is generalizing their experiences and feelings to all sex-repulsed people. I know a number of sex-repulsed aces whose sex-aversion causes them no distress. I know a number of sex-repulsed ace survivors who are similarly lacking in distress (I am one of them). I think sex-aversion that causes distress should be addressed, but if it’s not causing a problem (an actual problem, not a “ooh, she doesn’t want to have sex with me and that’s a problem” problem) it should not be stigmatized. And I really, really wish that we’d stop having people concern trolling sex-averse aces, because it doesn’t help anyone and just winds up pushing people who don’t have any other space out of the community.

    • acetheist

      Then I look forward to reading your post, in about three weeks!

      Out of curiosity: can you link me to said odd responses? I’ve gone through a few of the notes (obviously), but at a certain point hunting for reactions that way becomes too unwieldy.

      You’re right, the fact that the OP’s not asexual probably deserves to be given more weight than I gave it. Hadn’t discussed this in the post above, but their response felt kind of… “Asexuality’s not a problem, of course. But sex-repulsion IS a problem. *transfers all the stigma that would’ve been against asexuality onto sex-repulsion, apparently presuming that only a minority of aces are sex-repulsed*” But aside from that, all I have to say is — agreed.

      • queenieofaces

        Here’s another one of the weird responses: Basically, every time anyone derails a discussion about ace survivors to talk about how ace survivors are in the same boat as any other survivors, I am going to side-eye them really, really hard. I should probably write a post on that at some point, but…I just get tired of always being the one talking about asexuality and sexual violence. *sigh sigh*

        Yeah, the rejection of sex-repulsion (even within the ace community! There was a blow-up on tumblr yesterday, if you didn’t see) is especially weird when you consider that sex-repulsed folks are actually the majority of the community. ace-muslim has a nice breakdown (with statistics!) here:

        • acetheist

          Wow, that… there are a lot of things in that response I disagree with, although I won’t take the time to list them all out. Heaven forbid we ever talk about asexual people specifically, right?

          “There was a blow-up on tumblr yesterday, if you didn’t see”

          I did see, in fact. Thought about writing a brief post inspired by it, too, but at this point it wouldn’t be timely. Still, I’m glad people didn’t let that post slide.

          And thanks for linking that ace-muslim post; that could be a good reference in the future.

  • Paragrin

    [the blogger is adding tw: rape onto this comment to be safe]

    Okay, I’ve seen this for awhile, and… I think I tend to see people as less actively/knowingly/intentionally hateful than other people, and… I think the preacher in the email was worried about the survivors themselves, like if they’re actually repressing something, it could be harmful to them. At least that’s what I would’ve meant if I’d said that. Like if they’re forcing down a desire, not if it actually goes away for awhile, that’s less likely to do Bad Things to their psyche… And I’m sex-repulsed, and it was in no way acquired, and I’m trying to get rid of it because I feel like it might be a liability (mostly in the “what use will I be in the zombie apocalypse if I freeze up every time I see a dick” or “but then who would seduce the superspy” or “when I’m a huge actor I might need to act an allo/do a sex scene” way) …where was I going with this? And, um, pleasedonthatemethisisonlytheproductofaquickthinkaboutit but wouldn’t ace survivors have it slightly easier being traumatized by something they didn’t like in the first place and therefore don’t have to sort out conflicting feelings on the subject pleasedontyellatme?
    Okay…that was…disjointed.

    • acetheist

      “I think the preacher in the email was worried about the survivors themselves”

      Did you click the link, go to the original post, and read the pastor’s full email/the full context of my commentary? I’m asking since you submitted a comment on this post instead of that one.

      “wouldn’t ace survivors have it slightly easier”

      Go sit in the corner.

    • acetheist

      Incidentally, Queenie has already addressed that idea in Part 2 of the challenges faced by ace survivors series, so 1) your idea is unoriginal and rude, and 2) you can read an explanation of why in that post. Please don’t ever put forth any theories about which survivors “have it easier” than others ever again.

  • rimonim

    Hi there! I recently came across your blog and I have been greatly enjoying the thoughtful posts and conversations.

    Regarding sexual orientation and change, my take is that sexuality is sometimes fluid but almost never malleable. People can and often do experiences changes in their sexuality across the lifespan, in a wide variety of ways (desire, attraction, gender, relationship structure, etc). However, for the vast majority of people, this change is not volitional. It simply happens. Person A can’t up and choose to change from x to y, while Person B can’t choose to not shift from x to y to z. So it is true both that sexual orientations change and that they generally cannot be changed by any act of will.

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