[ warning for some perhaps-more-intense-than-usual talk of sexual pressure/coercion and guilt-tripping/victim-blaming ]
Remember when I wrote this post just a while ago? I’m revisiting that topic again in light of things such as this incident and this comment and this message, but mostly because of the thread beginning with this comment:
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.
To me, this comment raises a lot of red flags, but to avoid commenting on a specific situation which I don’t know all the details of — this is my general stance:
- I am all for minimizing the agony a non-ace partner can go through in a mixed relationship, primarily because I believe it doesn’t hold a candle to the agony of being pressured to sacrifice your needs in order to provide for someone else’s wants.
- I am unconvinced that not getting sex can really make someone “destroy” themselves.
- And what I do believe is that convincing someone “if you don’t obey my wishes, I will destroy myself” is, inherently, an act of emotional manipulation.
This comment actually hits on what I’ve been trying to get at, which is that our very individual-centric “you don’t have to have sex if you don’t want to” rhetoric is 1) correct but 2) insufficient to combat the guilt over the perceived-selfishness of not having sex with our partners — because we care about them and can be led to see pleasing them as a vital expression of that. That’s why I think stating “you’re not selfish for saying no” isn’t going to cut it, as revealed in the comment quoted above — because, through omission, we still speak of wanting to break someone’s boundaries as something morally valid.
Instead of assuring an individual ace that their “no” isn’t selfish, we need to turn this entire discussion around. If your partner grouses about your boundaries or tries to bend them to their liking, they are being selfish toward you. Why should they get to prioritize themselves ahead of you? How is it right of them to treat you like that? Sometimes, in these cases, it’s not just an absence of selfishness on your part, but a presence of selfishness on their part.
And the moment you start approaching the matter from that angle, you’ll see the real issue emerge, the individual-centric rhetoric reflected back at you in all its hollowness. You’ll hear, “yes, they should 100% respect their partner’s boundaries, desires, limits, etc. But.” “Laundry isn’t the favorite activity of many people – as sex is for my wife. But.” “I’m not saying that being in a healthy relationship means you have sex. But.” So in order to make further progress on this front, we need to address what comes after the “but.” All those exceptions and qualifications and unspoken assumptions and fine print, that’s what needs to go on the agenda. That’s the conversation that I think needs to happen. That, to me, is a vital ingredient in the dissolution of ace guilt — the shame begotten of the fear that sexual “deprivation” can harm someone, the contrition for our intrusion into others’ lives, and the internalized demand for penitence.