The Asexual’s Field Guide to The Sexual World
They’re pretty much everywhere. Most of the characters we see in movies, most of our friends, most of the people that we’re in relationships with and most of our families care about sexuality a great deal. As asexual people many of us have no innate understanding of why the world spends so much time meditating on the nasty. To live in that world, it is important that we come to an understanding of how it operates. To navigate the sexual world, we have to map out the way that sex is thought about, and the reasons that sexual people consider it to be so important.
On a fundamental level, sex matters to sexual people in a way that it does not to us. It is intertwined with their desires, relationships and emotions in a way that is often difficult for us to fathom. To us sex is a lot of things, but it does not have a powerful affect on our lives. People identify as sexual because sex is a powerful force in their lives and their world. It helps to understand how they think about and handle that power.
Below are two metaphors for the way that sexual people think about sex. They are not meant to encapsulate the total of sexual thought, merely to serve as examples:
Sex is like Fire
Sex is important because it creates warmth and comfort in a relationship. Sex should be located at the center of a stable family, like a fireplace at the center of a well-built home. Everyone has a sexual spark inside of them, which can consume them if they are not careful. These sparks can be fanned to a blaze only when there is something to contain it- a loving relationship enshrined in marriage. Uncontained sex can be extremely destructive both to the people involved and to the society as a whole. Such uncontained sex should be extinguished. Children should be taught not to play with fire. When they grow up their introduction to sexuality, the lighting of their first fire, will mark a transition to a new phase of life. Sex consummates, validates, and burns at the center of a successful marriage, the way that a fire makes a house a home.
Someone who thinks that sex is like fire will treat asexual people very differently than they treat other people outside of the sexual norm. Some will see asexuality as a gift: we have no sexual desire and can live free of the burden of having to keep our sexual urges in check. This freedom comes at a cost, however: with no sex there is no “warmth” to nurture our intimate relationships, and as a result any attempts we make to form families will fail. We are blessed to be able to find fulfillment in solitude, but cursed to never know true love or the fulfillment of raising a family. They may also see young asexual people as innocent and virginal, assuming that we will develop sexual interest when the time is right.
The person who thinks that sex is like fire will ask few direct questions about asexuality, there is relatively little that they feel the need to know. Instead they will give immediate and direct opinions, either praising what they see as a superior state or confidently clearing up what they see as a innocent confusion or lamenting at our percieved loss: “I struggle so much with sexual desire, it must be great for you to not have to worry about it.”/“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find the right person.” / “I’m sorry that you’ll never know the joy that sexuality can bring.”
Sex is like Electricity
Sex is an integral part of modern society. Without it, we would be thrown back to the dark ages. Sex is powerful because it brings energy, movement and life to anything it touches- from relationships to advertising. So long as it is used safely and responsibly, sex should be used to bring energy, movement and life to as many things as possible and in as many configurations as possible. Exploring new and creative ways to use sex furthers society the way that a new electrical invention furthers society. People who want to use sex in narrow, contained ways are afraid of progress and are holding society back. Everyone is “hard wired” with a sort of sexual circuitry, which determines how sexuality will affect them and who they will be sexually compatible with. This sexual circuitry cannot be changed without causing serious internal damage. When dealing with sex one should take certain safety precautions (like rubber gloves.) Because sex is powerful, people risk getting their circuitry fried unless they can stay grounded by things like good communication, supportive friends, and always establishing consent. Sex is dangerous, useful, pleasurable and powerful according to a set of rules, which can and should be scientifically explored by “sexperts,” documented and published. Children should be taught these rules so that they can use sex to safely enrich their lives. The way that every subatomic particle has an electric charge, every person and thing involves sexuality in some way, some are just more subtle than others.
People who think that sex is like electricity will generally treat us in one of two very different ways. Some think of us as “duds,” people whose sexual circuitry has been burned out, and who are therefore incapable of participating in high-energy operations like falling in love. As duds we are not worth much attention, and should do whatever we can to get ourselves “fixed.” Historically this is how asexual people have been treated by sexologists. Dating back to the Kinsey Report there has been a history of academic researchers and “sexperts” acknowledging the presence of asexual people but never examining us in any depth (unless they were examining how to make us want sex.) These people will only discuss asexuality in terms of potential “treatment,” and may see a supportive and affirming asexual community as a barrier to that treatment.
Other sex-is-electricity people find us far more interesting. Rather than thinking of us as “duds”, they think of us as having an alien sexual circuitry so subtle that it defies understanding. Their first instinct is to pick us apart in the name of scientific progress and find out “how we work.” They will ask a barrage of probing questions aimed at figuring out how we think about sex and how we experience sex or could potentially experience sex in the future (even if we don’t really, don’t ever and don’t want to.) Because they are operating from the guise of scientific inquiry they will often fail to realize how invasive and inappropriate such questions are, but because of their curiosity this is often the easiest group to target with visibility work.
As we interact with the sexual world around us, it is important to do our own probing. To succeed in a sexual world we must understand how it operates. We may not care about the sex, but each and every one of us needs the power that it carries. Unless we can find a way to plug into the sexual power grid we will be “duds,” we will freeze to death unless we can understand fire and warmth well enough to create it on our own terms. Figuring out how to harness that power is, in a way, what makes us asexual in the first place. It is why we struggle, why we make up words to define ourselves and why we come together to talk about them. It is what sexual people should be asking us about.