Sex is Not a Vitamin

So we kick around all these phrases like “sex is not a universal need” and “sex can’t be something you owe someone” and “nobody’s entitled to sex with you” and all that, and although I agree wholeheartedly, I think I’ve noticed a blindspot — or at least, an angle that could use more emphasis.  Regardless, it’s good to practice saying it more, and I think more people need to hear this.

*takes a deep breath*

Sex is not necessary healthcare.  Sex is not inherently “healthy” the way vitamins and omega-3s are.  Your partner does not need sex the way a plant needs water.  They’re not going to wilt and die on you for lack of sex.

Sex is not a drug.  Your partner is not going to experience life-threatening withdrawals if they go without it for too long.  It’s not necessity to protect their immune system.  It’s not vital medication.  It’s not like food and shelter.

It’s not a way for them to “show that they love you” or vice versa.  It’s not something that they need from you mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, whatever.

Your refusal or withdrawal of consent at any point is more valid than their moping.  If having partnered sex were a matter of such dire importance to them, they could go and find it elsewhere rather than sacrificing you on the altar of their own pleasure.

A partner who likes sex is a partner who likes sex.  A partner who likes sex more than they like making you feel safe is exhibiting selfishness.

Your “no,” even an implied, temporary, or interrupting one, is not that big of a deal.  Insufficient respect for it is.

And if they’re going to punish you for knowing that — whether in words or in looks or in anything you’d rather avoid —

even if you’re not ready to leave them, I support you.

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21 responses to “Sex is Not a Vitamin

  • onlyfragments

    [ cw for apologia, added by the blogger ]

    While I agree in theory, it’s far more complicated than this in practice. You’re right; they don’t NEED sex. And yes, they should 100% respect their partner’s boundaries, desires, limits, etc. But we can’t forget that for many people, sex is intricately (and irrevocably) tangled up in so much more than bodily pleasure; it’s about confirmation of self-worth, of physical and/or emotional and/or romantic desirability, even proof for some that they can move past the darknesses in their own past and the uglinesses they see in their own bodies or souls. For some people, they don’t just “like sex”. Just like for some asexuals, we don’t just “not like sex”. It’s so much more complicated than that for everyone involved.

    I’m not saying you should have sex with your partner to give them an ego boost if your’e sex-repulsed – I’m just saying that until you’ve had a partner begin to literally physically, mentally, and emotionally destroy themselves trying to deny their own sexuality for your sake, you can’t act like asexuality is more important in a relationship than allosexuality. They are both equally important, and each partner should compromise to (and only to) the extent to which they are comfortable. So please don’t minimize the agony a partner can go through in a mixed relationship – leaving isn’t an option when you know the person you’re with is the one you should spend the rest of your life with.

    • Coyote

      “And yes, they should 100% respect their partner’s boundaries, desires, limits, etc. But”

      I would like to address that seeing that sentence with a “but” after it feels weird.

      “we can’t forget that for many people, sex is intricately (and irrevocably) tangled up in so much more than bodily pleasure; it’s about confirmation of self-worth, of physical and/or emotional and/or romantic desirability,”

      Certainly. And those sound every bit like things to unlearn.

      “even proof for some that they can move past the darknesses in their own past and the uglinesses they see in their own bodies or souls.”

      Wait, what? You lost me.

      “I’m just saying that until you’ve had a partner begin to literally physically, mentally, and emotionally destroy themselves trying to deny their own sexuality for your sake,”

      If you could explain, please.

      • onlyfragments

        Whoops, I never replied to this. Sorry!

        “Certainly. And those sound every bit like things to unlearn.”

        That comment could be considered slightly ableist. While those ARE things that could/should be unlearned, for some people that’s a very difficult or impossible process due to mental health issues (or even physical ones). I’m not saying those should be used as an excuse, but it’s much more complicated than “stop feeling so bad about yourself” or “stop equating sex to self-worth”.

        “Wait, what? You lost me.”

        Sorry, I was being vague – I was referring, more or less, to victims of physical violence who use sexual intercourse or intimacy as proof that what happened to them didn’t damage them or make them undesirable.

        “If you could explain, please.”

        I’ve watched my girlfriend literally emotionally shut down on me and herself in order to try to become asexual for my benefit, and it was clearly destroying who she is. If she can’t ask me to become allosexual, I can’t ask her to become asexual.

        I guess I just feel like when we discuss allosexual romantic partners to asexuals, we seem to treat them as though they’re all able-bodied, neuronormative, etc. and therefore their wants/needs/issues aren’t as important. But in a relationship, in any relationship, the people involved have to be treated equally. I can’t say my asexuality must be respected more than my girlfriend’s need for sexual intimacy, because that would be putting my needs above hers. Being partners is about finding a middle ground in which we both feel happy, safe, and fulfilled.

        • Coyote

          “That comment could be considered slightly ableist. While those ARE things that could/should be unlearned, for some people that’s a very difficult or impossible process due to mental health issues (or even physical ones). I’m not saying those should be used as an excuse, but it’s much more complicated than ‘stop feeling so bad about yourself’ or ‘stop equating sex to self-worth’.”

          Uh. I’m not convinced that “well, you’re disabled, so you can’t help but need sex” is the less ableist path here.

          “Sorry, I was being vague – I was referring, more or less, to victims of physical violence who use sexual intercourse or intimacy as proof that what happened to them didn’t damage them or make them undesirable.”

          That’s really not the only way to provide for that.

          “I’ve watched my girlfriend literally emotionally shut down on me and herself in order to try to become asexual for my benefit, and it was clearly destroying who she is.”

          That doesn’t make sense, and while I understand your concern, it sounds like you’re unnecessarily blaming yourself.

          “I guess I just feel like when we discuss allosexual romantic partners to asexuals, we seem to treat them as though they’re all able-bodied, neuronormative, etc. and therefore their wants/needs/issues aren’t as important.”

          The first part, yes. The second part, no. If anything, their “needs” are overstated and catered to.

          “my girlfriend’s need for sexual intimacy,”

          There we go with that “need” language again. That’s essentially what I wrote this post about and what I’m arguing against.

  • epochryphal

    Sex can be self-destructive and self-harming too (selfcareafterrape on tumblr had a post on this recently that was quite good).

    Of course, sure, sex can also be healing. My healing is more kink than sex, but I process way more with kink than with therapy, and I know plenty of folks with trauma histories who agree.

    It’s a tool. It’s (in and of itself) pretty neutral. Not a vitamin indeed. And the ways it can be poison do need to be made clear, especially given compulsory sexuality and rape culture. Warning labels.

    And we have no more (I’d argue Less) responsibility to constantly and always “paint the whole picture” with a million disclaimers about how sex can be positive, than the sex-positivity movement has to constantly and always disclaimer that sex can be negative.

    • Coyote

      Unfortunately, that post is the one that prompted this. It was… jarring, to encounter that even in that context.

      “And we have no more (I’d argue Less) responsibility to constantly and always ‘paint the whole picture’ with a million disclaimers about how sex can be positive, than the sex-positivity movement has to constantly and always disclaimer that sex can be negative.”

      I’d like to metaphorically pounce on this sentence and make a quilt out of it.

  • madcap86

    Nothing makes me angrier than to see marriage counselors, supposed “experts,” say things like “a healthy sex life is essential for a strong marriage” (I’m looking at you, Marriage Boot Camp).

    I feel like sex should be seen as an extra to a relationship. Something customizable–it’s not one size fits all, or we wouldn’t have porn. If a relationship wants it, great. Find what works for you and your partner, and have at it. Play “You Can Be As Loud As the Hell You Want” from Avenue Q. But if you don’t want it, fine. You can have a perfectly healthy relationship without it.

    It seems like in the interest of devilifying sex, society has swung to the opposite extreme. Maybe one day we can find a balance.

  • Hezekiah the (meta)pianycist

    Thank you for this post. Very often the extolling of the health benefits of sex comes across as “Why aren’t you having more sex? It’s healthy!” That idea is part of a lot of what contributes to aces feeling internal pressure to agree to have sex when they don’t actually want to. The health angle also can be related to your healthism post.

    • Coyote

      (this is that healthism post, in case anyone else is reading the comment section)

      Yeah. I mean, even if it were inherently “healthy,” who cares? The same can be said of a jogging routine, and I’m not doing that either. It’s okay not to pursue every single thing that’s said to have health benefits.

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