How Not to Do 101 on Asexuality, Sex Repulsion, and Sexual Activity

Are you an ace activist, educator, or content-creator?  Are you in the process of making (or have you already made) asexuality visibility and education materials?  If so, you’re this post’s target audience.  Keep reading for a brief overview of common mistakes to avoid in ace vis/ed with regard to the topics of sex and sex-repulsion, with explanations and links to further information on what to keep in mind as you create or edit your project.

[Note: if you’re arriving at this post soon after this post is published, or at any point really, your input and constructive criticism is welcome; I’ll make edits as needed.  And if you’re arriving at this post much later, be aware of the timestamp and take everything here with a grain of salt — different issues and mistakes may be more pertinent to your time.]

Quick links to specific sections: sex-repulsed and sex-averse aces / sex-indifferent aces / non-repulsed, non-indifferent aces / sexually-active aces / sex-repulsed, sex-averse, and sex-indifferent non-aces

sex-repulsed and sex-averse aces
  • If you take the time to clarify that asexuality is not the same thing as hating sex, you should also take the time to clarify that lots of aces do dislike sex as well.
    • While it’s appropriate to recognize that sex aversion or a disinterest in sex isn’t a requirement for being ace, for some aces it is their reason for personally identifying as ace.  “A lack of sexual attraction” isn’t the only way to come to an asexual identity.  Further reading here.
  • Survey data suggests sex-averse and repulsed aces are far from a minority in the community. (see here, here, and here)
    • It’s important to use language that does not diminish this fact or make their numbers sound insignificant (“some,” “a few,” etc.), as this kind of dismissive minimization can be alienating.
    • It’s important to make space for sex-repulsed experiences under the umbrella of asexual experiences, as discussed by beranyth here.
  • You should affirm that there is nothing wrong with hating sex just as strongly as you affirm that there is nothing wrong with asexuality.  There’s a serious community problem to be corrected in this area, as discussed by queenieofaces here.
  • Repulsion isn’t all-or-nothing.  Some sex-repulsed folks are only grossed out by the thought of sex involving themselves, some are grossed out by anything sexual, some are fine with reading about sex but are disturbed by visuals, and so on.  There are infinite variations, and it varies by the individual.
sex-indifferent aces
  • Not all asexual people have strong feelings one way or the other about sex.  Avoid a love/hate binary in the way you talk about how aces feel about sex.
  • Just because an ace isn’t sex-repulsed doesn’t mean they’re sexually active or that they’d consent to sex if asked.
  • Don’t make the mistake of assuming that sex-indifferent aces are necessarily open to sex, as discussed by Sara here.
non-repulsed, non-indifferent aces
  • There are some aces who like sex or have enjoyed it in the past, so don’t describe aces in a way that rules out this possibility altogether.
  • As of right now, there isn’t a widely-accepted term for aces who are neither repulsed nor indifferent and who do like sex in some situations.
  • Although most of the asexual community doesn’t care for sex, it’s important not to define all asexual experiences as mutually inclusive with sex-averse experiences, as discussed by Danny here.
  • Just because an ace isn’t repulsed or indifferent to sex doesn’t mean they’re sexually active or that they’d consent to sex if asked, so be careful not to lump these aces in with categories that don’t necessarily include them all.
  • There are plenty of aces whose personal regard of sex defies any tidy categorization, so don’t assume that all aces can be sorted (or that you can make a list that covers all the possibilities).  There are some pieces written by such aces in this linkspam.
sexually-active aces
  • In order to cover the fact that these aces exist, do not use the phrase “aces can have sex” or “most aces are okay with sex” or similar wording.
    • Saying that having sex doesn’t disqualify someone from being asexual is not the same thing as saying that “aces can have sex,” as discussed by bessibel here.
    • Phrases like “aces can have sex” have become part of a wider pattern of pressuring aces to have sex because they “can.”
  • This demographic category is not the same thing as demis and gray-as.  There are demisexuals who are sex-repulsed even when attracted, there are gray-asexuals who are virgins, etc.
  • This demographic category is not mutually exclusive with aces who dislike or don’t care for sex, so be careful not to generalize otherwise.
  • In any discussion of the conditions under which aces might have sex, “compromise” has become a loaded word.
    • If you write a list of reasons an asexual person might have sex, do not include “to please their partner” or “because they love their partner” outside the context of a discussion of rape culture and compulsory sexuality.
    • The problems with the latter are discussed by Jordan here and also by me here.
    • An alternative way to think about the former is discussed by Siggy here.
sex-repulsed, sex-averse, and sex-indifference non-aces
  • Not everyone who’s repulsed, averse, or indifferent is on the asexual spectrum.  Disliking or being apathetic about sex are traits that overlap with asexuality, not ones that only exist within asexuality.
  • If you address the traits of sex aversion and indifference, make it clear to your audience that a non-ace identity doesn’t make anyone’s aversion or indifference less legitimate and that you don’t have to be ace to identify with these terms.
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18 responses to “How Not to Do 101 on Asexuality, Sex Repulsion, and Sexual Activity

  • epochryphal

    This is awesome, Coyote! Two comments for now :)

    That last bullet point, about non-aces as the category and then “experiencing sexual attraction”…hm, I obviously know you’re talking about allo folks and not grey, demi, or other ace-spectrum folks who experience sexual attraction. But I think it’s worded a bit unclearly? Idk I don’t have a proposal just a feel.

    And two, oh boy the “derive pleasure from pleasing your partner” deal. Is there a way to link in Siggy’s Agenda post about mirroring? Or is that not 101 enough? I think it clarifies somethig very important, and is even called “you don’t have to be a mirror,” but maybe it would dilute the point idk.

    Basically, awesome awesome, huge kudos!

    • Coyote

      <3

      I did think about that, and I'm waffling over it. Technically, it does hold true regardless. But how about if I change it to "a non-ace identity"?

      And sure, good idea!

  • Elizabeth

    A thought about compromise: if you must discuss it–and it frequently comes up in formats where discussion is possible–it should always be accompanied by an explanation of how people tend to unfairly suggest that compromise means that the asexual person has to give up their boundaries and have sex anyway. Even if you’re in a context where you can’t explain what rape culture and compulsory sexuality are, you can still explain at least that much.

    I think it’s helpful to take the word “compromise” away from people who try to say that. What they’re actually suggesting is called capitulation, not compromise. A genuine compromise is only possible when boundaries are not being crossed, although perhaps it’s better to avoid the word “compromise” completely. I’m not sure what other word we could use for it, though. “Negotiation” seems the closest, but also similarly fraught.

    I have a half-written draft about this, but never got around to actually finishing it.

  • queenieofaces

    One other thing I would add (although I’m not entirely sure which section to put it in) is that in the past few years there’s been a push to define asexuality ONLY by an absence of sexual attraction, and that can be really alienating to people who came to an asexual identity because of a lack of interest in sex. I started identifying as asexual because I didn’t want to have sex with anyone, and only started using the language of sexual attraction when I realized that that the rest of the ace community wouldn’t take me seriously if I didn’t. And, yeah, I don’t experience sexual attraction, but the total lack of sexual desire has always been more important for me. (Here’s a piece by Swankivy on the topic: http://swankivy.tumblr.com/post/88052128305/scarybalkanlady-vhenanara-replied-to-your; also a bunch more thoughts here: http://queenieofaces.tumblr.com/post/93515690848/i-was-just-wondering-what-the-actual-definition-of) So when people start going around being like, “Asexuality is an absence of sexual attraction, not desire!” and “Asexuality means that you aren’t sexually attracted to people, not that you don’t want to have sex with people; aces have and want to have sex!” it winds up shutting some people out or making them feel like their path to asexual identity was illegitimate. And, heck, defining asexuality only by sexual attraction can also be alienating to people who can’t tell if they’re experiencing sexual attraction or who experience ???sexual attraction??? but find an asexual identity useful or salient in other ways. (See also: http://metapianycist.tumblr.com/post/111113736878/epochryphal-metapianycist-labradont and http://queerascat.tumblr.com/post/111180155346/re-my-opposition-to-the-idea-of-lack-of-sexual)

  • Linkspam: February 20th, 2015 | The Asexual Agenda

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  • Hezekiah the (meta)pianycist

    Reblogged this on Critique of Popular Reason and commented:
    This is a very good set of guidelines for doing asexual vis-ed work.

  • Writer Ace

    I think it would also be helpful to mention that in regards to being sex-repulsed/sex-indifferent, a person doesn’t have to be all of one thing. They can be repulsed by visuals of sex bit not by reading it, or can be fine with everything except for the physical act, or anything in between.

  • collin237

    Something I think needs to be discussed is how to react to an erstwhile potential sex partner who identifies as Ace.

    I tend to be attracted to women who seem to be “about” more than just sex. However, I cannot deny that eventually having sex is always for me an option in any interaction with women. If I were to discover that a woman is Ace, I would strongly feel — despite knowing how unfair it is — that it’s in both our interests to stop being friends.

    There should be a dating category, maybe called something like “friends with deductions”, for presenting initially an asexual contract, so people who associate dating with sex don’t get involved.

    • Coyote

      “Something I think needs to be discussed is how to react to an erstwhile potential sex partner who identifies as Ace.”

      Well, while that’s a worthwhile topic of discussion I suppose, that seems to be stretching outside of what I consider 101 territory. Or rather, in a 101 context it seems like that could be covered well enough with a general “how to react to someone coming out to you as ace” segment, which is not what any of this post is about.

      “If I were to discover that a woman is Ace, I would strongly feel — despite knowing how unfair it is — that it’s in both our interests to stop being friends.”

      I’m… confused. Are you saying you want your circle of friends to only be composed of people you view as potential sex partners?

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