To be clear: I’m not complaining. This is not a problem, but it is an interesting question given that, in the English-speaking part of the asexual community, the portion of the population that calls themselves Christian seems disproportionally lower than the prevalence of Christianity among English-speakers in general. The ace community is very US-centric, even, and the US in particular is known for having a lot of Christians.
So what’s the deal?
I can only speculate, but I think some particular aspects of ace culture and its norms, alongside the norms of the Church, play a part in discouraging Christians who don’t experience sexual attraction from thinking of that (lack of) experience as an orientation, from seeking out people with similar experiences, and from feeling comfortable engaging with the ace community once they find it.
There’s been a little written on this subject here in this post on Asexual Explorations — and apparently there are some conflicting accounts of how many asexual people are religious, but I’m going to ignore the Bogaert stats for now because they’re from the UK ten years ago and do not appear to reflect the online spaces that I’m familiar with and which I’m placing under discussion in this post. In contrast, 2008 AVEN stats suggest that although the majority of religious AVENites are Christian, religious aces in general are slightly outnumbered there. The explanation that AE offers is this:
My hypothesis: religious people who experience little or no sexual attraction are less likely than nonreligious people to go to AVEN or, if they find it, to actively participate.
Sounds about right.
First, I suspect that, though they will likely feel strange on account of their asexuality, if they grow up in a context where they are expected not to have sex rather than in a context where they are expected to have sex, religious asexuals will, on average, feel less strange on account of their asexuality than their sexual counterparts. As a second prediction of this hypothesis, religious asexuals will, on average, identify as asexual later in life than nonreligious asexuals, if they ever identify as asexual.
…As an explanation of low participation in ace communities (or just AVEN, specifically), the “if they grow in a context where they are expected not to have sex” angle appears to be treated as applicable to all religious people in general, or as a characteristic more common to religious backgrounds than to nonreligious backgrounds, which: yes, but also no, no, no. I’m guilty of making mistakes like this too, but if “religious” is the word you’re using it, you need to treat it like the extremely broad category that it is. Saying “religion” is not the same thing as saying “a very specific subset of Western Christianity” — so don’t say one when you mean the other.
The thing is, even if we presume that this hypothesis is just talking about abstinence-until-marriage Christianity, a description like “a context where they are expected not to have sex” needs some qualification, because the thing about abstinence until marriage is… it’s until marriage. And then, once you’re married, you’re gonna have sex. Why wouldn’t you? Of course you will! There’s an unquestioned cultural mandate that marriages are sexual and that if you date for long enough you’re going to get married and that if you get married you’re going to have sex and of course you’re going to get married; the Church is something of an amatonormativity hotbed at times with its fixation on the heteronormative family unit and its Jay-Gatsby-like faith in the idea that marriage is part of the inevitable normal life path. “Won’t ever get married? Of course you will! Of course you will! You just haven’t met the right person yet.”
It’s rarely so blatant (except when it is), but I would not characterize this as “a context where they are expected not to have sex”. It’s definitely a context where people are expected to have sex — eventually. It’s a context where the unmarried, though, are expected not to have sex yet.
And I am incredibly grateful for that.
But no, it’s not the same as sex not being on the radar or being free from compulsory sexuality. It’s not not insidious, just an insidiousness of a different kind.
Where the hypothesis is probably right is in guessing that this “not yet” variant of compulsory sexuality allows young aces some breathing room before they’re expected to perform, meaning that the expectation of expressing sexual interest and being pressured into unwanted sex is (at least in the teenage years) a little less likely, and that comes with a side effect of young aces being relatively less aware of other people’s sexualities and thus, taking longer to figure out that they might be asexual. I don’t know how disproportionately common that narrative is among Christian aces because 1) delayed realization of asexuality is pretty common anyway, and 2) there aren’t many talkative aces in the community speaking up about these kinds of experiences with Christianity, which brings me back to my original question.
What is it about the Church and the asexual community that makes the funnel from one to the other so narrow? Presuming that asexuality occurs at the same rate among Christians as among anyone else, why don’t I see more of them around here?
I think it has to do with a set of expectations that Siggy referenced here, the expectation that acceptance of certain things (like gayness) will come first before people can get to asexuality. It may not make sense in the abstract, but it does make sense culturally and numerically. Continuing with the gay example — there are more gay people than asexual people (as far as we know), and the gay and lesbian community in America has been around a lot longer and gained (relatively) more cultural force than the ace community has had time to do. You can generally count on people to be aware of gay people’s existence, is the point here. So it’s a little strange in this culture for people to start learning about other marginalized sexual orientations if they aren’t already on board with letting gay people get on with their lives.
But this is also not just a Church vs. Gay People issue. I don’t think any Christian starts to question their sexuality, starts exploring the asexual community, and then just gives up because “Aw man! This is a community that would accept sides of me that I didn’t know were acceptable, but if I joined them then I’d have to stop spewing heterosexist BS, and I can’t give that up.”
A plausible scenario, sure, but one I don’t figure will account for much, for three reasons:
1) Heterosexism already exists in the secular parts of the ace community, just like racism does, just like cissexism does. There are a fair number of us who have a commitment to stamping them out, but if we were doing such a good job at this that heterosexist Christians didn’t feel welcome to talk, then heterosexist atheist aces wouldn’t be making bizarro posts drenched in scientism with overt anti-gay sentiment and then putting those posts in the asexual tag (*cough*).
2) Heterosexist Christians who are dedicated to being vocally anti-gay tend to be the kind of Christians who reject the entire model of “sexual orientation” altogether and would probably either reject ace community discourse on that basis or never discover it in the first place, instead pursuing other avenues to explain themselves, such as conceptualizing their lack of sexual attraction as purely a matter of sex drive (and thinking of themselves heterosexual people with issues, essentially).
3) If a devout asexual Christian thinks to investigate asexuality, and accepts asexuality, and begins to think of their own sexuality as asexuality, then it’s not just the community’s general acceptance of gay folks* that challenges the Churched background they likely come from. It’s the aromantic acceptance, and the bi/pan acceptance, and the trans acceptance, and all the references to non-binary genders and the community’s track record with distancing itself from “repression” and the pervasive background noise of feminism and the different models of consent and the boundless sex-positivity — there’s just so much, so much, so much that ace discourse will presume you’re already on the same page about before you get to the community, because asexuality is treated as this advanced niche of mogai literacy that you get to by passing through other things first, and that’s jarring enough for your garden-variety muggle even if they haven’t grown up in an environment of not just men and women’s bathrooms but men and women’s Bible studies and Adam and Eve and an all-male clergy and Church’s version of the heteronormative timeline and an entirely different set of discourse on sexual morality — especially if they still reside in that world, pay respect to that world and hold to it still. To the “conservative Christian”, the conceptual categories and the moral compass we use here are ones that are thoroughly foreign.
*This does not hold true across the board, and it’s important to acknowledge that. I’m making this generalization because it’s something I see commonly taken for granted in ace discourse.
Acknowledging the tighter grip of Churched cisheteronormativity and how it can make Christian aces feel alienated from the community does not suggest that we should have to compromise for them. What it does suggest is that there is more educational work to do, that the very dedicated corners of Western Christianity present more communal stakes that would inhibit ace participation, and that the work to dismantle those barriers is primarily the responsibility of Christians to clean up the Church in general (another reason I’d like to gain more of a Christian following on this blog, argh). It’s not so much that the ace community needs to tone down the radical stuff as it is that the Church needs to turn it up.
So while I take issues with the way we discuss “religion” sometimes, I’ve reached very different conclusions than the ones discussed by Aqua here. We need to do more to affirm the validity of fear of sex, yes, but besides the fact that I’m not particularly worried about Christians feeling silenced here (my ace atheist followers are unnecessarily tolerant of me, in fact), I’m skeptical of all claims made about Purity Culture turning someone asexual or making them mistakenly think they’re asexual, which is why I asked Aqua for links on that. The article I got in response (tw for rape) was too hard on my stomach for me to dare wade into the comment section. That piece is rough for me to read, for several reasons, in part because what it frames as a happy ending is for me more bittersweet.
I’m glad everything worked out in her marriage, and I’m glad she’s happier now. That’s good.
Both the original letter-writer and the post’s author conceptualize not-wanting-sex (what we here might refer to as sex aversion) as “sexual dysfunction” that made them feel “broken”.
The asexual community tries to emphasize that sex-averse people are not broken, that it doesn’t matter what “caused” it, and that romantic relationships without a sexual component can still be whole and meaningful. In criticizing Purity Culture as the sole cause of their sex aversion (which it may well have been), these two women appear to be in opposition to those ideas, and rather than challenge them on that, it appears some parts of the ace community are taking them at their word and agreeing that, yes, certain kinds of personal sex aversion are bad, even though in secular contexts we do not hesitate to argue that calling sex-averse people broken is wrong.
Are we still “not broken” if we’re the ones who broke ourselves?
I, personally, do not know what percentage of my disgust toward naked bodies has to do with lust being categorized as a sin — and I kind of don’t care, but those women do. Does it make sense to respond to their anguish by agreeing that sex-aversion is a deplorable sexual dysfunction depending on the cause? What happened to the “support sex-averse people, no matter what, no matter if it’s ‘natural’ or not” that I thought we stood for? Can we even be sure that these people wouldn’t be sex-averse if not for their upraising? Especially given that other sex-averse people’s deliberate efforts to desensitize themselves and make themselves feel as zealously enthusiastic about sex as they thought they were supposed to can still fail, even in spite of powerful social pressure to have sex and sexual feelings?
Why am I the only one raising these questions? Did I miss something? Am I misinterpreting something here?
Honestly, y’all have me second-guessing myself.
From my perspective, the question isn’t a matter of how to make conservative Christian aces feel more welcome or how to be considerate of Christians who “thought they were asexual”, but instead, “How do we balance an acknowledgement of the problems with Purity Culture with equal efforts to reach even Christians with the message that sex-aversion isn’t anything to be ashamed of?”
That’s our problem, if there is one. We say “asexuals aren’t repressed”, but we don’t do anything to interrogate or analyze what “repression” would actually look like.