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Qutenkuddly

Defining Sexual Attraction

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Qutenkuddly

This thread, currently in its trial phase, is a resource intended to enable exploration of the definition of sexual attraction, especially as it applies to AVEN's current definition, as well as develop further resources related to the topic.

Contents:

Latest resources:

  • Sexual Attraction Debate 101 - This engaging project presents Naosuu's very thoughtful exploration of sexual attraction. - submitted by Naosuu
  • Is sexual attraction always about sex? - This discussion attempts to determine if physical arousal equates to sexual attraction. - link submitted by Beachwalker
  • Confused Sexual This discussion attempts to define different ways in which sexual attraction is experienced. - link submitted by Beachwalker
  • Sexual Desire and Attraction - This articulate essay, by Lady Girl describes an alternative definition of asexuality based on the absence of sexual desire, as well as discusses conditions under which sexual attraction may occur. - submitted by Lady Girl
  • Why do some nonasexuals have sex? - This begins describing why some asexuals might have sex, but is now beginning to delve into describing the varied conditions under which sexual attraction may occur. - link submitted by Lady Girl
  • (Will yours be the next resource added?)

Current resources related to the definition of sexual attraction:

Current resources related to the definition of asexuality:

Many thanks to the following for their assistance in building this resource:

Beachwalker, Faelights, ithaca, Lady Girl, Lord Happy Toast, michaeld, Naosuu

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What this thread is about:

After some thought and discussion, it has been decided to proceed with the idea of developing a resource to assist with answering the question "What is sexual attraction, especially in regards to defining asexuality?" As some may recall, this has been the subject of extensive, even fierce debate. A number of threads regarding this topic had to be closed as result of debates growing too impassioned and stalemated; however, it was evident that the question needs further looking into.

Why this is question relevant:

AVEN currently defines an asexual as "a person who does not experience sexual attraction." For most in the asexual community, this is a fairly straight forward definition as they already have their own understanding of what sexual attraction is (and, more to the point, they don't experience any part of it). For some, though, the definition of sexual attraction is a bit more nebulous and problematic, especially for those on the asexual spectrum who may experience what appears to be some aspects of sexual interest and/or activity. This has caused some concern and confusion for many. The question is also of interest to those seeking greater understanding of the various possible components of sexual attraction.

What this thread is:

Mirroring the AVEN ethos of self-determination regarding one's identification as an asexual, grey asexual, or demisexual, this resource is intended to assist individuals in defining their own understanding of what sexual attraction is. This resource will consist a listing of relevant sites, commentary, and other resources to aid in answering that question. It will be the platform for presenting further ideas regarding the possible definitions of sexual attraction. It also intended to serve as a possible basis for development of further related resources elsewhere in the site.

What this thread is NOT:

The concept of sexual attraction became a surprisingly contentious issue with a number of opposing opinions and valid points for them. Although these opinions will be presented here, to avoid unnecessary strife, this thread (and the Asexual Musings and Rantings forum), for the foreseeable future, will not serve as a platform of further direct debate on this topic. Furthermore, this resource will not have any direct impact on the current definition of asexuality, as presented by AVEN, nor does it reflect any official AVEN policies, guidelines, or statements. It is simply a tool to assist in developing individual opinion.

It needs to be stressed that the thoughts and opinions presented in these resources are simply that and should, by no means, be considered incontestable fact. Extending from this, the ideas presented here are NOT to be used to attempt to invalidate anyone else's orientation.

If you have questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to PM me.

Qutenkuddly,

Asexual Musings and Rantings Moderator

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Submission requests and guidelines:

To add to and develop this resource, input and assistance from the AVEN community would be greatly appreciated. Currently, the sexual attraction resource could use:

- Links to articles and other resources related to sexual attraction

- Short essays describing some of the various viewpoints

- Short synopses (one to three sentences) of the resources listed above

- Short lists of links (about a dozen) from users pointing to any specific posts in the sexual definition discussions (These will be used to create a compendium of relevant information from these discussions.)

- Ideas for the development of other resources

Do you want to develop one of the above resources? Have a resource to submit? Have a great idea for other resources? Please feel free to PM me!

Qutenkuddly,

Asexual Musings and Rantings Moderator

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This articulate essay, by Lady Girl describes an alternative definition of asexuality based on the absence of sexual desire, as well as discusses conditions under which sexual attraction may occur.

Sexual Desire and Attraction

Sexual Attraction is many things to many people. By one definition it is simply an attraction that arouses sexual interest. In this sense most adult human beings experience it. However, when it comes to asexuality a large number of people do not experience it and I think that is when the desire for sexual activity with another person is added to the formula. I don't think this is all that unreasonable.

I will say right from the start that I believe an asexual person can experience sexual attraction and still be 100% asexual. How is this possible you ask? It is possible in that the asexual may define asexuality in terms of desire, that is, they do not desire sexual relations no matter how much sexual attraction they may experience. This in no way invalidates the asexual who says they lack sexual attraction. In fact, they are both legitimate and valid ways to define asexuality. The asexual view is best kept descriptive and not made prescriptive.

As for sexual attraction in and of itself, what exactly is it that arouses sexual interest? For every person this is obviously going to be different. There are a few general items that often factor into the sexual attraction equation. The attraction experienced may be to a person's looks or movements, to their voice, their smell, and oftentimes their general attitude towards the one feeling the attraction. Sometimes there are additional factors such as adornments, clothing, perfume, and hairstyle that may catch one's attention and add to the feeling of attraction to that person.

There is also the idea that sexual attraction is not simply limited to physical traits, although initially that is generally what it is considered to be, an attraction to those things immediatly available to the senses. I would contend however, that perhaps not all sexual people experience strong sexual attraction from the very beginning of a relationship. The building of an emotional bond and intellectual repoire may even be necessary for some before they experience sexual attraction to someone. In other words, I believe that some sexual people have sex, become involved in the relationship, and then begin to experience sexual attraction for their partner.

Basically speaking, I think finding someone sexually attractive means you would have sex with that person if all the other circumstances you regard as necessary for sexual activity exist. For some people that involves a lot, for other people not much at all.

A discussion thread related to this essay is located here.

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This highly engaging project presents an extremely thoughtful viewpoint from which to regard sexual attraction.

(Please note, this project is still in progress).

Sexual Attraction Debate 101: Foreword and Table of Contents

Foreword

The purpose I write this is to provide one perspective on the sexual attraction debate. I am by no means a professional sexologist, a researcher nor do I represent anyone who may share my opinion. These are merely my thoughts and interpretations. I write this hoping it will serve as a guide post for others still questioning their identity.

For the purpose of organizing this, I’ll split this up into various sections: it will have one post per section, with smaller, bite-sized sections to read. It’ll be easier for people to jump on, skip and pick up what interests them. Just use your search function to jump to your desired section.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Part I: Introduction

1.1 Mainstream Understanding of Sexual Orientation

How did people understand sexual orientation? What is it trying to convey, anyway?

1.2 The Sandwich/Curry analogy

My understanding of how libido, sexual attraction and sexual desire relate to each other and what they mean.

1.3 AVEN’s Conception of Sexual Attraction

The problem with AVEN's understanding of "sexual attraction" and its implications.

1.4 What does this mean?

Given all of these things, how does it affect asexuality?

Part II: Sexual Desire and its Relationship to Asexuality

2.1 Sexual Desire and Sexuals

2.2 Sexual Desire and Asexuals

2.3 The Mixed Relationship

Part III: The Sexualities "In-between"

3.1 Demisexuality

3.2 Why "Gray" is Confusing

Part IV: Conclusion

NOTE: All titles are tentative, so they are subject to change. Also, if I tweak any section I'll put a note on the top of the next part to let people know.

A discussion thread related to this project is located here.

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Sexual Attraction Debate 101: Part I

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Part I: Introduction

1.1 Mainstream Understanding of Sexual Orientation

The main idea behind “sexual orientation” is to describe a long-standing pattern of one’s sexual activities/feelings, in particular with/towards other people. There are three jargon words in particular: libido, sexual attraction and sexual desire, that are used to help convey this concept.

Prior to asexuality, it was assumed that everyone was a “sexual being”. That is, everyone wants to have sex with someone at some point (have a libido and want someone to scratch their itch). It was also assumed that everyone experienced “feelings” during their adolescence, including sexual feelings. At some point, these feelings become strong enough to act them out. Sometimes this happens in a relationship, sometimes it happens with two horny people under the right circumstances.

Sexual attraction and sexual desire are often conflated, used incorrectly or at the very least used to define each other. A quick look at wikipedia demonstrates the latter quite nicely:

Sexual attraction is attraction on the basis of sexual desire or the quality of arousing such interest.[1][2] Sexual attractiveness or sex appeal refers to an individual's ability to attract the sexual or erotic interest of another person, and is a factor in sexual selection or mate choice.

Why did this happen? Well, generally speaking sexual attraction and sexual desire does happen almost in-sync, or at least very closely with each other. For some people, these are almost impossible to separate. If Alice finds Mary sexually attractive, it must mean she is open to having sexual activities with her. Given that "sexual attraction" is so difficult to study in a scientific way, it is not surprising that sexual desire is used as evidence of sexual attraction. When there’s smoke, there’s fire, right?

Fast forward to around early 2000s and asexuality bursts in on the sexual orientation party, screaming, “I don’t want sex with ANYBODY!!”. It was a rather awkward debut, but since then it has prompted more in-depth research about those three little terms and how they really relate to each other.

1.2 The Sandwich/Curry analogy

Here is an anecdote:

I had just eaten lunch when I got a message from a friend on AVEN. We were discussing the various aspects of these terms and how they pertain to asexuality. I pondered, chewing on my sandwich and started jotting some ideas down. I was thinking of some analogies to explain my perspective. When I finished my sandwich, I thought about one of my favourite foods: chicken curry.

Curry-Chicken.jpg

It has a spicy, aromatic scent. It’s a laborious food to make: crushed garlic, ground coriander, crushed chillies, ginger and a magical blend of cinnamon, anise, cloves and cardemom... the curry I make is from a packet, but it is delicious: made with coconut milk, it gives the curry a creamy consistency. The chicken is slow cooked, so it’s soft and tender with hearty potatoes. When you eat it with Japanese rice (it’s gluttonous enough to hold the sauce), it’s an incredibly tasty burst of rich, intense flavours.

I was, unfortunately, full. The sandwich satisfied my hunger and I knew I’d never find it anywhere near me: it was way too Asian for a North American city, so I’d have to make it myself. However, if someone were to place a bowl of chicken curry in front of me at that very moment, I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat it. I was full, after all.

So what am I trying to explain? Well:

  • The fact that I get hungry for food is like having a libido.
    Hunger is a craving for food. Libido is a craving for sexual contact.
  • The fact that I ate the sandwich but did not necessarily crave for it can be seen as experiencing sexual desire but not sexual attraction.
    I did want the sandwich and I wasn't dissatisfied with it. It was there, available, and willing (as willing as an inanimate object can get, anyway).
  • The fact that I salivate at the mere suggestion of chicken curry can be seen as experiencing sexual attraction but not sexual desire.
    Despite my being full, any thoughts of chicken curry makes my mouth water. It doesn't matter how tasty my previous meal was; chicken curry is that freaking epic. Would I gorge myself? No, because I don't want to eat anymore. Even if I were hungry, I might be in the mood for sushi, chilli or spaghetti or something.

So, what is sexual attraction? I think it is hard to understand due to the last word: attraction. I make no claim to be smarter than the scientific community, but seeing as studies on sexual attraction used arousal and dilated pupils as an indication of this state, I think the concept is trying to convey an involuntary, subconscious reaction to sexual stimuli.

What constitutes “sexual stimuli” is highly individual: men; women; breasts; butts; muscular frames; both; people with a foot fetish; someone who only likes people who wear glasses; someone who likes blonds, etc. Much like the sandwich/curry analogy, these sexual stimuli does not necessarily incite a drive for sexual gratification. It would be rather problematic if a girl, who liked guys with a scarf, pounced every guy with a scarf. It becomes complicated because, just like anything else, what constitutes as "sexual stimuli" develops and changes over time. People get curious, they try things out. A virgin may not be into BDSM for their first sexual experiences, but it's possible for them to develop an interest in BDSM later. This is why is it so difficult for sexuals to agree what is and isn’t sexually attractive: it is highly personal, which often does not help questioning asexuals.

What kind of reactions do people get? It’s a very wide range. It can be something as subtle as a sexual thing catching your attention (noticing large breasts, a butt, a six-pack, etc), genital tingliness, “electricity”, sexual thoughts and images (image flash of the person on your bed in their underwear) to full-blown arousal. It can be powerful enough to incite one’s drive for orgasm, either through partnered sex or masturbation. All of this happens in the absence of physical/manual stimulation.

I should also be clear on this: I do not think that arousal automatically means it’s sexual attraction. If one manually stimulates one’s genitals, that is merely a physical/bodily reaction, much like feeling pain when one is kicked. I do think, however, arousal is an indisputable aspect of “sexual attraction” that cannot be ignored. In that regard, I do consider arousal in the absence of manual stimulation to be the results of sexual attraction.

A quick summary of what these terms mean (from my understanding):

  • Libido: the general craving for sexual contact.
  • Sexual attraction: an involuntary reaction to sexual stimuli in the absence of manual/physical stimulation.
  • Sexual desire: a libido with a direction, specifically towards other people and/or objects. (Does not include masturbation aids)

1.3 AVEN's Conception of Sexual Attraction

According to AVEN, an asexual is someone who “does not experience sexual attraction”. What this means is this formula:

Bob sees Alice - Bob thinks “she’s hot!” - Bob is open to having sexual relations to her.

There are some problems with this conception. It implies:

  1. ... that the majority of sexuals experience “bar room” attraction.
  2. ... a sexual only desires sex when there’s a potential partner.
  3. ... asexuals never experience “sexual attraction” (an involuntary reaction to sexual stimuli), despite some that actually do.

1. “that majority of sexuals experience “bar room” attraction.”

Where did AVEN get this conception from? Consider this: when AVEN started out, sexuality was taken for granted. As explained in "Mainstream Understanding", sexual attraction and sexual desire were two concepts that were used interchangeably. If one expressed sexual desire, it was seen as an indication of feeling “sexually attracted” to the subject. It is also understandable, then, that David Jay was not immune to this.

This is also based off of hypersexuals: the extremely vocal group of people who are very responsive to sexual stimuli. In reality, this group of people are on the one extreme of the sexual spectrum. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to say “all sexuals are hypersexuals”. However, given English AVEN’s adolescent-young adult demographics, it isn’t surprising to see this “black and white” boxing of people.

2. “a sexual only desires sex when there’s a potential partner.”

Consider this: why do some sexuals pursue casual sex/friends-with-benefits/sex buddy? Some might say, "because they find it pleasurable, no-strings-attached," etc.

Consider this: if it was really about pleasure, why can't sexuals just masturbate? It's an awful lot of work to go out, find someone, chat them up, get them to be sexually-inclined (without coming off as creepy and/or perverted) and then find a private area to have sexual activities. Why is it so important that their "fix" includes another person? This indicates that there is some inherent difference between having partnered sex and masturbation, however motivated they are to get it.

Using another food analogy, it is common for some people to eat for the sake of eating: they like the texture of food, the taste, going through the motions of chewing... I don't think it's unheard of to think sexuals genuinely crave and want partnered sex for its own sake. If one thinks about the sandwich/curry analogy, it is possible for a sexual to simply find a "suitable partner" to get their fix without experiencing any notable reactions, much like my eating the sandwich. However, if one uses a strict application of AVEN's formula, these people are asexual. Yet clearly, they demonstrate a deep craving for partnered sex not found in many asexuals. Are they sexual, or are they asexual?

3. “asexuals never experience ‘sexual attraction’ (an involuntary reaction to sexual stimuli), despite some that actually do.”

This is probably the most uncomfortable point for some people reading. By using a strict application of AVEN's definition, any asexual who is aroused by anything (porn is popular) is not asexual. In order to protect and maintain the validity of one’s asexual label, many posters have jumped through various cognitive hoops, slaloms and pretzels to explain why they become aroused without manual stimulation. Many have brought up the idea that they are not aroused by the people, but rather the situation.

Consider this: there are various activities one does to feel relaxed. Personally, that entails reading, writing, listening and analyzing music and drawing. These all provide a sense of relaxation in different ways, but the results are the same: I feel relaxed.

Why does it matter if one is not aroused “by the people” but by “the situation”? The fact of the situation remains: one has become aroused without any physical stimulus. It was a bodily, sexual response to sexual stimuli. One may not cognitively like it, but that is the precise nature of an “involuntary” response: it happens on a subconscious level.

A smaller side note, but I think it is worth mentioning: what about other sexualities?

Given that the “sexual orientation” paradigm is centred on “... towards other people,” it’s not surprising that other, non-mainstream sexual practices have their own name. For example, a zoosexual. Technically, if a zoosexual only experiences sexual responses and wants sexual contact with animals, they are “asexual” since they do not experience these towards other people. They still fit within the asexual criteria, i.e. “does not experience sexual attraction (towards other people)”, yet it is clear that they do not share the same characteristics of an asexual.

1.4 What does this all mean?

How important is “sexual attraction” in defining asexuality? I am inclined to say, “not as important as some people think it is.”

AVEN presents a strange dichotomy: in keeping the definition so vague, its application of the definition is actually extremely strict. If someone even slips out that they have felt “sexual attraction”, they are automatically placed in the Gray zone. It is OK if that person talks about porn or a foot fetish, because it is understood as being an “asexual” way of being “aroused”.

Why is it so strict? If a heterosexual man has felt, on occasion, sexual feelings from another man, that does not automatically make him homo/bisexual. Why is it so taboo for an asexual to feel “sexual attraction”? That is because, by definition, asexuality cannot “experience sexual attraction”. Some people on AVEN claim to know what "sexual attraction" is, however if one persists they define it using sexual desire, much like the wikipedia entry.

In other words, asexuality defines itself using the same archaic understanding prior to AVEN's debut. This is done despite: English AVEN's immense community; more explicit talks about sexuality; a growing interest from the scientific community and a growing archive of studies that call this conception into serious question.

Why is there such a "puritanical" dogma surrounding AVEN and its conception of sexual attraction? There is nothing wrong with creating a definition and revising it as new information becomes available. Seeing as one's sexual orientation is a complex conception of oneself, I think an involuntary response should not make-or-break any sexuality. It shouldn’t discount the various feelings and experiences that brought one to the label in the first place.

If asexuality is less about experiencing “sexual attraction”, then what is it about? What is really going on? Why are there people who don’t feel the other labels fit? It is in my opinion that asexuality is less about “sexual attraction” and more about “sexual desire”; specifically, an asexual is someone who “doesn’t experience sexual attraction and/or who does not want sexual relations.”

On a personal note, I'd like to say that I have personally been in this position when I first joined AVEN. I am inclined to point the finger at protecting one's sexual identity in order to be part of a(n a)sexual community I finally felt connected to. It served as an anchor when I realized people actually wanted sex and knowing this literally changed the way I see the world and shook my fundamental understanding of human beings and relationships. It was scary, so believe me when I say I understand why some people are attached to this place. I really, really do.

Just in case some people think I am against asexuality, I am by no means trying to bash asexuality into non-existence. Rather, it is through these very forums that I safely explored what sexuality means to sexuals and how that manifests itself. It is through these very forums that I learned all of this and feel comfortable enough writing about it, explaining these concepts in simpler terms in order to help other people questioning their own sexuality. AVEN appears to exist in its own "internet bubble" and, while it enforces a "safe haven" in all of its subforums and I have personally benefited from this, I think it will be AVEN's own undoing if it remains narrow-minded in its own definition. I can only hope that this will inspire others to examine what all of these terms mean outside of AVEN's "safe" bubble.

In Part II, I will elaborate on "sexual desire". It's a very complex concept and I will specifically write about how it relates to sexuals, asexuals and how these concepts interact with each other in mixed relationships.

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Sexual Attraction Debate 101: Part II

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Part II: Sexual Desire and its Relationship with Asexuality

Part II contains:

2.1 Sexual Desire and Sexuals

How do sexuals experience "sexual desire"?

2.2 Sexual Desire and Asexuals

How does this show in asexuals?

2.3 The Mixed Relationship

What happens when these two natures collide in a relationship?

2.4 Sexual Desire in Relation to Asexuality and AVEN

A mini conclusion of Part II.

----------------------------------------------

In my interpretation, "sexual attraction" is an involuntary, subconscious reaction to sexual stimuli. Seeing as one's sexual orientation has many facets, I do not agree with AVEN's death grip on its own interpretation of "sexual attraction". While it is true that the current definition is accurate to some, I do not think it captures asexuality's entirety.

How important is sexual desire in relation to asexuality? In my opinion, this is the most important characteristic of any sexual orientation. I don't think it's an exaggeration when I say most people, including myself, consider this aspect to make-or-break a sexuality, not "sexual attraction".

2.1 Sexual Desire and Sexuals

First, let's do a quick comparison of a sexual when they are not interested in anyone/single and when they are interested/in a relationship.

Context: Not interested / Single

What are sexuals like when they're single? Well, quite frankly, they're pretty much like any regular person. They: wake up; wash up; in a panic eat breakfast and run to your car/catch your public transit; nearly be late; work; eat; get pissed at your boss; etc.

There seems to be some conception that sexuals are, somehow, predominantly occupied with sex. To be fair, there are those whom are very interested in sex and think about it a lot. However, if one watches various TV programs like Cake Boss, Storage Wars, Animal Planet, National Geographic, MythBusters... a majority of those involved with the process are probably sexuals. In fact, I'm sure many well-known figures and celebrities are sexual. Being a sexual does not prevent one from, you know, living a life, building a career, having hobbies and building connections with other people. It's simply one facet of who one is. There should be an understanding that "sexual" is simply a catch-all term for people whom identify as something other than asexual.

Contrary to AVEN's emphasis on "hypersexuals" (i.e. someone who seeks, pursues and enjoys casual sex), a majority of sexuals do want to have that one-on-one, intimate connection with someone. How much this affects their attitude towards sex will vary: some really like sex and its pleasures; some will never have casual sex, as the only good sex is one with emotions tied into it; some can enjoy both for what they are. Just how motivated one is to pursue sex depends on the individual.

In the state of "not being interested in anyone", they do not necessarily, nor actively, search for a sexual relationship despite showing interest in sexual things. Sometimes people choose not to have any sexual relations: religion; busy building a career; unstable lifestyle; psychologically/emotionally not ready; negative attitude towards casual sex; personality... the list goes on.

Context: Interested / In a relationship

This is where the sexual nature of one's sexual orientation comes out, regardless of how "low-key" someone is.

So Bob meets Alice. They met at Steven's house-warming party; a friend of a friend, or something like that. Either way, It is clear that they both hit it off really well: they find each other funny; enjoy each other's company; exchanged numbers; communicate by phone and/or through text and meet on a bi-weekly basis. Suffice to say, both are romantically interested in and are becoming more emotionally attached each other. For the remainder of my explanation, I will use this context since there is a lot of gray area in new relationships.I will also not cover romantic vs. aromantics, as that adds an entirely new dimension on the subject and does not add to the purpose of this essay. For those of you who are interested in romantic vs. aromantic, a fellow member has already done a wonderful post about this. (Yes, I'm shameless and not ashamed of it.)

Many, if not all, romantics are familiar with this time period: there is a strong desire to be with the other person; to talk to them; spend time with them; flirt / be playful; being on cloud nine; the desire to be closer to this person; the tentative "first kiss"; initiating more intimate affection because it just feels so good to touch and be touched by this person. This is commonly known as the "infatuation phase", or when the chemicals are at its peak in a romantic relationship (à la Helen Ficher). Many romantic asexuals are familiar with this process. For sexuals, this is what a romantic phase can be like, in addition to increasing sexual feelings.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, it simply means that a sexual can experience: noticing their partner's lips, "electricity", "sexual thoughts" and "images" in relation to their interest without manual stimulation. In other words, become "sexually attracted" to this person. Depending on the individual, it can immediately spark the need to have sexual contact with their partner, or it can come up much later. As the relationship progresses, "being closer" to one's partner eventually manifests itself as sexual intimacy. From my understanding, the desire to be sexually intimate with their partner can be proportional to the strength and depth of one's emotional attachment. To add another dimension to the situation, for some sexuals, "sexual attraction" never manifests despite their strong want to be sexually intimate with their partner. What matters, in this case, is the depth of the emotional bond that ignites the desire to be sexually intimate with their partner.

As you can see, for a sexual there is a complex network between emotions, romantic feelings and sexual feelings/need for sexual intimacy. This should also provide a clearer understanding of why sexual cheating is a heinous crime/possible dealbreaker, as it implies the cheating partner is not as emotionally invested as the other partner thought and breaches the contract of a monogamous relationship. This is made even more complex in the light of polyamorous relationships, but seeing as I lack experience in and the knowledge about that area, I will refrain from writing about it.

2.2 Sexual Desire and Asexuals

As explained in 2.1. Sexual Desire and Sexuals, there is a very complex network between emotions, romantic feelings and sexual feelings/need for sexual intimacy. So where does that leave asexuals?

Let's return to the definition of "sexual desire":

Sexual desire: a libido with a direction, specifically towards other people and/or objects. (Does not include masturbation aids)

One could say that sexual desire is more about being driven for orgasm. In that regard, masturbation and partnered sex fall in this definition. However, one should consider that masturbation is, generally, not a result of finding oneself sexually desirable. That isn't to say it doesn't happen, but it is generally viewed as simply taking care of a bodily function. This can also be rolled up into the hedonistic perspective of libido and sexual desire (i.e. sexual pleasure is good and people pursue it for its own, pleasurable, sake) and it does not take into account a sexual's inherent preference to partnered sex over masturbation. Remember: if it were all about the pleasure, why is it necessary to have another person? Or for other sexualities, why is the presence of that object necessary for the experience to be sexually gratifying? This is why the distinction, "specifically towards other people and/or objects" is made.

For those who have been on AVEN for a while, most people are familiar with asexuals with libidos. These asexuals occasionally feel the need to masturbate; scratching the itch, if you will. However, for whatever reason, many of these asexuals are not motivated to have sexual relations with other people. In addition to some asexuals whom experience "sexual attraction" (mostly to porn), it can be very confusing to on-looking sexuals. Remember how sexual attraction and sexual desire are used to define each other? When there's smoke, there's fire, right? In this case, there's smoke but there's definitively no fire!

An asexual's attitude towards partnered sex varies quite a bit: some are mostly indifferent; some find it boring; some would prefer to do without it; some are totally repulsed. While asexuals can enjoy sex for the same reasons as sexuals (increased physical and emotional intimacy, finding it pleasurable, fun, know their partner appreciates it, likes making their partner feel good, etc), these asexuals have a "take it or leave it" attitude towards it. While sexuals have an inherent preference to partnered sex, asexuals have no preference. Some describe having a complete "mental disconnect" with sex, which I think means they cannot enter the same "aroused mental state" as a sexual does. In other words, partnered sex and masturbation are exactly the same in terms of sexual gratification despite the presence of a deep, emotional bond.

2.3 The Mixed Relationship

Now that there is an understanding of sexual desire in relation to sexuals and asexuals, let's take a look at what happens when Bob's sexual nature collides with Alice's asexual nature.

Bob and Alice love each other very much and are each other's best friends. They are strongly attracted to each other; they support each other in time of need, help each other, guide each other when one is unsure, are honest and truthful... in other words, they have the makings of a successful, long-term relationship. This is all rainbows and pink butterflies until sex enters the picture.

Bob, hardwired as a sexual, wants to have sexual intimacy with Alice as an extension of how much he cares about her. This comes very naturally to him since he is very, very attracted to and emotionally attached to her.

Alice, hardwired as an asexual, never thinks about being sexually intimate with Bob. She loves being close to Bob; holding him; kissing him and don't forget the cuddles. She's also very attracted to Bob, but despite the presence of an emotional bond, Alice never thinks about having sex with him.

This isn't something new. Alice has always thought she just had a "low libido", but Bob has his suspicions. Bob notices that Alice never seems... as into sex as he is. Sometimes she'll be rather "mechanical", or she'll try to get it over with as soon as possible. When Bob asks her about this, she clams up.

There are a few layers to this situation. For those of you who are wondering, the situation will not take into account religious beliefs to keep it simple. Aside from that, this tends to be the clichés of mixed relationships:

I will break it down into Bob's perspective and Alice's perspective:

Bob:

  1. ... thinks that part of being "in love" with someone is showing that through sexual intimacy.
  2. ... wants Alice to enjoy sex because he cares about whether she's having a good time.
  3. ... sees Alice's lack of interest as evidence for her lack of attraction towards him.
  4. ... feels very unattractive, unloved and doesn't know what to do.

Alice:

  1. ... cannot understand why she doesn't feel motivated to have sex with Bob.
  2. ... feels pressured to enjoy sex the way Bob thinks she should.
  3. ... notices "signals" that Bob interprets as her initiating sex, so she pulls away.
  4. ... is very attracted to Bob, loves him very much but doesn't know what to do.

Let's compare each of these points, one by one.

1. "Bob thinks that part of being "in love" with someone is showing that through sexual intimacy." / "Alice cannot understand why she doesn't feel motivated to have sex with Bob."

So let's recall that a sexual wants, desires, thinks partnered sex is really freaking awesome. Asexuals can, more or less, "take it or leave it". One would think oh, this isn't really a problem. Afterall, Alice is neutral, so technically she could have sex and be OK with that.

Unfortunately, it is not as easy as that. Remember that some, if not most, asexuals describe having a "mental disconnect" with sex. That is, one is not deriving any feeling, good or bad, from the experience. In fact, there is usually some degree of boredom associated with the activity.

Here's an anecdote/analogy that I will use throughout my explanation. I will talk about my friend, G and his love for animation and sharing "scrubbing" (going through an animated clip frame by frame) with me. G is analogous to a sexual; I am analogous to an asexual and scrubbing is analogous to sex.

G is a passionate animator. He's studying animation, loves, lives and breathes animation and will coax me into seeing every new (Disney-)Pixar movie. I like seeing his enthusiasm, his knowledge of the trade and his technical skill, but the moment he wants to scrub a scene from "Legend of Korra" with me, he loses my interest. My mind wanders: I make lists; I think of other thoughts; I think how I haven't peed in a while and maybe it'd be a good idea to do that. Or I think about scratching my butt, whichever comes first. In other words, I stop connecting with him about his passion and I can't wait to be doing something else.

A sexual partner is being completely genuine in sharing sexual intimacy. It is something they care about, something that comes from the depths of their souls and it is shared meaningfully with their partner as a way to establish or maintain a connection. An asexual partner, just like me, however is not interested in that. It doesn't ping on their radar and, sometimes they can feign interest, but with greater exposure it can get increasingly difficult.

Anyway, the point is that I can never be motivated to scrub an animated clip. I can pretend to be interested in it, but it can only hold my attention for about 15 seconds before I want to pull at my hair. It does not hold any interest in me, just like an asexual has no interest in sex for these (and more) reasons.

2. "Bob wants Alice to enjoy sex because he cares about whether she's having a good time." / "Alice feels pressured to enjoy sex the way Bob thinks she should."

When G starts to scrub through a scene, I am 99.999% sure he notices that I'm not very interested: I fidget; play with his hair; give him monosyllabic responses to his observations; poke his face... a bunch of signals that indicate I'm not paying attention. Sometimes I feel tense when I'm caught in this situation, as it plays out in one of two ways:

A: He gets the hint and eventually stops verbalizing his thoughts and watches the clip by himself. When he does, I feel guilty; I genuinely love G, even if he may drive me crazy at times. I want to show that I'm interested in the things he's interested, even if it's really hard at times. Not only do I feel guilty, but he might feel bad or rejected that I'm not showing the same enthusiasm for scrubbing as he is.

B: Sometimes he doesn't(?) get the hint and marches on, much to my annoyance. However, because I really can't wait to be doing something else, I also feel a bit resentful for his consistent need(?) to scrub clips with me. You'd think he would've gotten the message by now, right?! But no, there he is... scrubbing the clips and forcing myself to feign interest. He probably senses this too, so he might feel annoyed that I'm not paying as much attention as he is.

Either way, the results are the same: we both lose out. Either I feel guilty or resentful, or he feels rejected or annoyed that I'm not paying attention. This is not so different for most mixed partners.

3. "Bob sees Alice's lack of interest as evidence for her lack of attraction towards him." / "Alice notices "signals" that Bob interprets as her initiating sex, so she pulls away."

For the sake of explaining the analogy, let's pretend that G consistently scrubs clips with me.

By now, things are reaching a very delicate point. I've gotten pretty sick of scrubbing while G has been rather insistent. Eventually, I notice small signs that might open him up to sharing another scrubbing session:

  • He has his laptop out.
  • He's looking up random Legend of Korra images, animating trivia, etc.
  • He just talked about how awesome Legend of Korra is with his fellow animator colleagues.
  • He's already scrubbing an episode.

When he's looking up Legend of Korra images and watching an episode, you better bet I don't talk to him. Or sometimes I'll ask him a question about the series and he'll go off on so many tangents I don't even know how it got to scrubbing. It's all related, I'm sure. This can also happen if he sees me and waves me to come over, then I know I'll have to endure another scrubbing session with him.

So what do I do? I spend less time around him. I withdraw; I make sure to talk to him when he's not on his laptop (which isn't a lot). Since I don't verbalize my dislike for scrubbing, G starts to think that I'm avoiding him because I don't like him. This is, in fact, very far from the truth. He begins to feel kind of hurt and maybe a bit resentful This eventually begins to affect other aspects of our relationship, like my teasing him causing him to lose his temper. It was the straw that broke the camel's back, however, since I didn't know he felt this way, I don't understand where this anger comes from. I mean, everything else is fine, right?

4. "Bob feels very unattractive, unloved and doesn't know what to do." / "Alice is very attracted to Bob, loves him very much but doesn't know what to do."

Point 4 is a result of points 1, 2 and 3. The base emotions are still the same: asexuals understand that sex is somehow important to their partners, but really can't give two hoots about it. Some don't even understand why it's so important and would rather go without it. Sexuals, on the other hand, are constantly demonstrating they want to share an intimate activity with their partner. Constantly being rejected by someone you love, especially when you attach strong emotions to the activity, is very difficult.

There are a lot of questions that are asked in this period. Prior to asexuality, anyone who was in Alice's position would think that they simply did not love their partner the way they think they should. This is very understandable: remember, it is assumed that everyone will want to be sexually intimate with someone at some point, especially in the context of a relationship. It is assumed that they are not as "attracted" as they think they are. That's pretty harsh, especially when both partners are emotionally invested in each other.

The mixed relationship isn't as easy as it sounds in writing. Even though I've listed four characteristics, the emotional story for both partners can run deeper than that. There have been some sexuals who, despite finding a good compromise, still feel they are "coercing" their asexual partner to have sex. Think about the analogy: if scrubbing is meant to be shared as a bonding tool, it's entire purpose is defeated if one partner isn't enjoying it, right? How does G really know if I'm enjoying the experiencing as much as he is? There is also very erroneous conception among some (newer?) asexuals that sexuals are awful people whom can only think with their crotch. Not that there aren't, but in a deeper relationship it dismisses the experiences of the sexual partner. Sexuals can be passionate about sex and it is no one's position to say this passion is inherently wrong. This is an aspect that should be respected. It is, however, a whole different story if a sexual is being a jerk about it.

For those who are in mixed relationships, all hope is not lost. These relationships can work, but they take a lot of effort on both ends. What is normally necessary is the asexual partner's willingness to engage in sexual activity and, usually, turning down the frequency. How an asexual relates to sex varies from person to person: some are neutral; indifferent; minor leaning to dislike/like; completely repulsed. If an asexual is mostly neutral with a minor leanings, it makes compromising much easier. If, however, an asexual is repulsed, compromise might not be an option.

Some people may feel that this is still bad since the asexual is still "going against their nature" to have sex. Let's bring the analogy back and pretend that G and I talk about scrubbing. For G, it means a lot to him that I scrub episodes with him (I make funny observations, he values my opinion, etc). Rather than sitting through an entire episode, I tell him that I'll scrub a favourite 10 second clip with him, at max once a week. It doesn't sound like a lot, but consider that there are 24 frames per second, so that means there are 240 frames to look through.

If that doesn't work for you, you can also imagine this with food. Many of us have gone out for lunch or dinner, right? There is usually some discussion over what kind of food to eat. One person may want sushi, but the other is allergic to sea food or doesn't like sushi. It logically makes sense to not eat sushi, seeing as one person will be thoroughly enjoying themselves and the other will sit like an awkward, hungry penguin in the zoo. True, there is less emotional baggage associated with dining, but the underlying principles are the same.

The point is to demonstrate that sex is not just about sex itself. When sexuals are deprived of this need (and yes, it is in fact, a need), it takes its toll. Like Bob, many sexuals take a tremendous blow to their self-esteem and suffer psychological damage. They feel they are not attractive; they're worthless; unlovable; think their asexual partner is cheating on them; feel there is something wrong with them. These could not be further from the truth with an asexual partner, but one has to remember that asexuality is still under the radar. No one can blame a sexual for expecting their partner to be sexual because, quite frankly, there are three other orientations that include some motivation towards sexual relations. For a heterosexual, there are still potentially two sexually-driven sexual orientations they can end up with (heterosexuals and bisexuals). It's a numbers game: mathematically speaking, it's highly improbable for a very sexual partner to be paired with a very sexually-uninterested/repulsed asexual partner, but it's clear that it still happens.

2.4 Sexual Desire in Relation to Asexuality and AVEN

Let's come back to AVEN's conception of "sexual attraction":

Bob sees Alice > Bob thinks, "she's hot!" > Bob is open to having sexual relations with her.

Given that step two is sexual attraction while step three is sexual desire, what makes people identify with the asexual label?

My friend has been welcoming newcomers for the past two months or so (she should get a gold star). The majority of anecdotes and stories shared are based on how the newcomer has never wanted sex with another person. It might be in a different colour or the pattern is different, but this theme comes up over and over again. These newcomers will identify with AVEN's conception and assert that they do not feel sexual attraction. These same newbies will post questions about arousal, porn, how other people feel about X kink, have fetishes, etc.

Remember how a lot of people conflate, confuse or interchangeably use "sexual attraction" and "sexual desire"? It is my opinion that a vast majority of asexuals actually experience sexual attraction. In fact, by virtue of having a fetish or a turn-on, that is evidence of experiencing sexual attraction to some degree.

Consider this: take this interview done on MSNBC on March 27th, 2006. In this interview, listen very closely to the

to the question, "So you don't think about sex?". If one looks at other interviews with David Jay, he repeatedly asserts that he "does not desire sex" but continuously asserts asexuals "don't experience sexual attraction" and can have fetishes and kinks. He isn't wrong in his assertions, but with this minor confusion with the vocabulary, along with its politically-driven background, it has exploded just like the Butterfly Effect.

This leaves AVEN in a compromised position: in my opinion, AVEN should change its definition in accordance to new information and studies. A definition should not be a "sound bite", or a "catchy" tune because then it fails as a definition. A definition should be able to communicate what it means concisely, with clarity and not force its newcomers to jump through various hoops. On the other hand, there has been extensive work done in the name of visibility and education thus far with that definition. If one compares it to a tree, its roots are much too deep to simply pull out. It has been there for too long and any forceful attempts simply put the tree at risk, or worse.

So why do asexuals identify with the label? In my opinion, it is because they lack sexual desire ("a libido with a direction, specifically towards other people and/or objects. (Does not include masturbation aids)"). and not because of a lack of sexual attraction. David Jay does not feel the need to express his sexuality with another person. He is essentially expressing that his libido is "directionless" despite the presence of a libido. It is this "directionless libido" that other people identify with, even though it's being called "sexual attraction" instead of "sexual desire".

There has been some fierce debate between "sexual desire" and "internal motivation towards partnered sex", but in my mind they are expressing the same thing. Whether someone prefers to say asexuals "do not experience sexual desire" or "do not experience sexual attraction and/or want sexual relations" is a matter of po-TAY-toe or po-TAH-toe. The latter could be seen as more "inclusive" since many asexuals do not experience sexual attraction, but they technically fall under the former since they still do not want sexual relations with other people (or lack sexual desire).

In Part III, I'll talk about what this all means in relation to demisexuality and the "gray" area.

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Qutenkuddly

Sexual Attraction Debate 101: Part I

Back to Table of Contents

Part III: The Sexualities "In-Between"

Part III contains:

3.1 Demisexuality

What is demisexuality in relation to sexual desire? Why does it get so much flack to begin with?

3.2 The "Gray" zone

The fuzziest area in sexuality. Why the subforum came into existence, what does it say about sexuality in general?

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3.1 Demisexuality

The Definition and Discussion Flack

Let's start off with AVEN's definition of "demisexual":

Demisexual: a person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong emotional connection with someone.

It's normally supported by self-identified demisexuals using the Primary vs. Secondary sexual attraction model developed by Rabger/~Forbidden Fury~. Using this model, some demisexuals explain that they do not experience"primary sexual attraction".

There is some murky areas with these though:

  1. Its definition of "sexual attraction" is based on hypersexuals.
  2. A majority of sexuals technically fit the definition, even with the Primary vs. Secondary sexual attraction model.
  3. The definition does not take into account sexual desire.

I've been pretty explicit about sexual attraction in parts I and II, so I'll address points 2 and 3.

2. A majority of sexuals technically fit the definition, even with the Primary vs. Secondary sexual attraction model.

Before demisexuals cry "blasphemy!", hear me out. Please

First: Considering that AVEN's idea of "sexual attraction" is based on hypersexuals, it's fair to say a majority of sexuals do not experience "bar room" attraction. In fact, it's somewhat common for people to date others whom they don't necessarily find attractive at first. It is only through gradual exposure and growing intimacy that they start to find someone more attractive. Technically, these sexuals would fit the demisexual label.

Second: Not everyone likes casual sex. In fact, there are some people who only find sex enjoyable only if it's with someone they love. Back in 2.1 Sexual Desire and Sexuals I explained the correlation between the need for sexual intimacy and emotional attachment. Again, on this front, a demisexual sounds like a regular sexual.

Third: Based on sexual attraction meaning, "a subconscious, involuntary response to sexual stimuli in the absence of manual/physical stimulation", one could say there's very little difference between an asexual, a sexual and a demisexual. Demisexuals can have fetishes too, right? So can asexuals and sexuals. If asexuals can also experience "primary" and "secondary" sexual attraction (notice cleavages and think their partner's chest hair is sexy, respectively), technically they're sexual or demisexual. But this also happens to sexuals who represent a good chunk of the population. What about sexuals who don't experience sexual attraction but still want sexual intimacy? What's the point of all of this? To an outsider, demisexuality sounds like a cry for a "special snowflake" status. I don't blame them.

That's three strikes. What's really going on here?

3. The definition does not take into account sexual desire.

Just like sexual desire plays a major role in asexuality, I think it plays an equally big role in demisexuality. As I've mentioned in the conclusion of Part II, there seems to be some cognitive assertion that "sexual attraction" means the want or desire to seek out partnered sex. This is, in fact, erroneous. At this point, hopefully I've demonstrated that "sexual attraction" isn't what people think it is. Many people are actually talking about sexual desire disguised in "sexual attraction" clothing.

I'll admit, it was kind of hard to dig deep on this subject: various topics, posts and blogs mostly skirted around this topic, talking about "libido" and "sexual attraction" and generally throwing the same vocabulary as AVEN; or they'd sound like a sexually-conservative sexual. It really wasn't easy. That was, until, I read this little gem. A little lightbulb came on.

The definition itself isn't wrong, but perhaps there should be a minor change:

Demisexual: someone who does not experience sexual desire unless there is an emotional bond.

Or:

Demisexual: someone who does not want sexual relations unless there is an emotional bond

Or, a more "gross" definition:

Demisexual: someone who is SOsexual.

Note: SO stands for "Significant Other".

So how are they different from "regular" sexuals? For this discussion, I've developed two "types" of demisexuals for comparison: "Personality" demisexual / Conservative sexual and "textbook" demisexual.

First, I'll make a list without taking sexual desire into consideration:

Personality Demisexual / Conservative Sexual:

  1. Can only be attracted to people once they know them.
  2. Does not see the point in casual sex (either due to religious beliefs, principles other factors)
  3. Thinks sex should only be done in a relationship or is only fulfilling when it's with someone you love.

Textbook Demisexual:

  1. Can only be attracted to people once they know them.
  2. Does not see the point in casual sex, due to strong emphasis on the emotional connection.
  3. Thinks sex is an extension of the emotional bond between them and their partner.

Right then. I almost wanted to be facetious and just copy and paste, but I decided not to. Anyway, notice how a "textbook" demisexual can sound a lot like a conservative sexual if one only talks about attraction. It almost sounds like it is a po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to situation, which is partly why it gets so much flack.

Let's bring sexual desire into the mix:

Personality Demisexual / Conservative Sexual:

  1. Still interested in having sexual relations.
  2. Can think about how wonderful a relationship would be, especially using sex as a way to strengthen the emotional bond.
  3. May, in fact, crave and desire sex if only to feel that connection.

Textbook Demisexual:

  1. Generally has a complete disinterest towards sexual relations.
  2. May want affection specific to relationships, but does not necessarily think about the sexual aspect.
  3. Does not crave or desire partnered sex outside the context of a relationship.

Aha, suddenly a demisexual is starting to look different from a sexual.

You could technically say demisexuals are like an asexual/sexual hybrid: outside the context of a relationship, they really do not have any interest in sexual relations. Just like asexuals, it doesn't ping on their radar. Their libido, for the lack of better word, remains "directionless". A conservative sexual has a subtle undercurrent that brings up their desire for the emotional connection unique to partnered sex.

In the context of a relationship, a demisexual's libido then has the potential to "gain a direction".... specifically towards their partner. They still have a complete disinterest in having sexual relations with other people. Essentially, their sexuality is directed towards their partner. (NOTE: the link is only for giggles. Please don't take it seriously :D) I'd imagine a conservative sexual might experience the same difficulties as other sexualities with sexual infidelity. From my understanding, I don't think demisexuals normally worry about that.

Demisexuality walks an extremely fine line. By only taking sexual attraction into account, demisexuality is easily lost into the sea of regular sexuals and can be criticised for being a "special snowflake". On the other hand, by looking at it through the "sexual desire" lens, it becomes clear that demisexual does have its differences from "regular" sexuals.

There's also a kind of.. hrm, a dangerous line demisexuality draws. Considering demisexuals are essentially "asexuals with options", I think it supports the criticism, "you just haven't met the right person yet". Not that there is a right person, but I think the idea that one requires a deep, emotional bond (seemingly unique to romantic relationships) before sexual desire appears seems to be somewhat justifiable in this case. Either way, the existence of demisexuality casts a small but reasonable doubt on asexuality, but doesn't necessarily throw it into the vortex of non-existence.

3.2 The "Gray" Zone

Talking about the Gray forums is a tricky tightrope walk with a rusty unicycle. This is probably the section I've struggled with the most, with lots of intellectual vomit, small, stray thoughts and trying to link them together. Not only does it delve in the "in-between the categories', but I think it also brings up a lot of interesting points and questions. Also, I know that the Gray forums are Birdwing's mark on AVEN and I want to respect that.

For those who don't know, Birdwing was a former member whom proposed the "Gray" subforums. I remember reading her posts and I really appreciated her honesty, willingness to help and her penchant for putting everything on a graph. At the same time, my penchant for analysing everything brings up a lot of questions and criticisms. Please understand that I am not bashing the subforum, nor am I suggesting that it should be removed. I am merely sharing my thoughts about the concept of "gray".

I like to imagine human sexuality on a bell curve. On one end of the bell curve there are the hypersexuals. As one goes closer to the middle, there are a majority of people who don't feel their sexuality as intensely. As one goes towards the other side of the graph, one enters the "asexual" zone. I suspect that, somewhere closer to the asexual end is where demisexuality lies. Gray, I suspect, lies around the middle-lower half of the sexual spectrum.

I had one friend explain to me that "Gray" was an umbrella category where "you could feel sexual attraction, but only under certain circumstances," and placed demisexuality under the gray label. To which, I jokingly said, "So you mean I can only be sexually attracted to people if they have green hair and purple pants on a full moon in the middle of a humid July?" We both laughed, but I think there's a kernel of truth. I have seen some topics and other people identify or ask about being a "gray demisexual", so perhaps these labels don't have a parent-child relation like my friend thinks. I thought maybe I can figure it out as I write this, so this section will probably be more philosophical than hard-fact persuasion.

First I thought, maybe I can get some answers by looking into what brought Birdwing to propose the "gray" forum. I could be historically inaccurate here, so I do apologise. It is also more difficult to go through her old posts since her account has been deleted(maybe?) and she has deleted the content of most of her posts.

Without getting into too much detail, my understanding is Birdwing was a repulsed asexual. It was her choice to slowly, but gradually, desensitizes herself to sexual content. During her process, she slowly started to experience sexual attraction (i.e. saw a guy and image flash of him handcuffed to her bed, stark naked). I think this was a confusing time for her; she was still in the middle of desensitizing herself, but sexual thoughts and feelings started to show up. I can't say exactly what it was like, but I wouldn't be surprised if she found this disorienting to say the least.

In this regard, she didn't quite fit into any category: according to AVEN, she couldn't be asexual by virtue of experiencing sexual attraction. On the other hand, these feelings were still not enough to incite a drive for sexual gratification, also according to AVEN's "bar-room attraction norm". So, what are you?

As I read more into the gray forums, some questions/observations pop up:

  1. Grays/Demisexuals have some reference point about what is a "sexual"... but never quite explain it.
  2. Does "wanting sex" a handful of times invalidate an asexual's identity? Does "wanting sex" not often enough invalidate someone as a "sexual"?
  3. The Gray zone seems to show that people don't often fit a category down to the last letter.
  4. Birdwing's coming-to process shows that sexuality is not strictly an "in-born" trait, but it is greatly shaped, influenced and formed by her feelings and experiences.

For organization/discussion purposes, I'll couple points 1 and 2 together and 3 and 4 together.

Points 1 and 2:

It is rather unfortunate, but at times I feel that the "Gray" forums are being used as (a)sexuality's "catch-all" subgroup or "dump" subgroup (particularly when talking about "sexual attraction"). Folks who feel are are neither here nor there and need to be put in a category. A place that welcomes them, so to speak. In that regard, I ask myself: have I ever heard of a gray heterosexual? A gray homosexual? Usually I spot topics with "gray demisexual" or a "gray asexual". In that regard, I think "gray" is referring to how often one experiences the want for sexual relations and not its direction. I have a feeling those who identify with the "gray" label specifically say, "well, I don't want to have sex a lot..."

So far that makes sense. However, consider this: what is a "normal" frequency to have sex? Perhaps hypersexuals are the implicit reference point for "sexual". However, I think it is also clear that hypersexuals are merely one end of the sexual spectrum and do not represents sexuals as a whole. In any case, ultimately it is difficult to say what is considered "below average" beyond the personal scale. Statistically, it ranges from age group to marital status to social/living circumstances. I suppose with English AVEN's younger demographics (early teens to mid twenties) and its unusually large female population, it always seems the sexual male always wants more sex. Something about society perpetuating that men have higher sex drives and its attachment to their manliness or something like that. Just a thought.

I think a lot of "sexuals" and asexuals are actually grays and demisexuals (be it "personality" or actually related to their "on/off" switch). I suppose whether they fit closer to the "sexual" end or the "asexual" end is a personal choice, but on the bigger scale it makes "gray" a hard category to define. "Someone who wants sex sometimes"... but then it brings back the question of, "what's the average?" and that's not a consistent variable either. That being said, I think there are a couple of implicit ideas that go into this whole "Gray" idea.

Points 3 and 4:

I feel like I'm opening a whole can of worms by talking about this. But, considering the topic, I think this is relevant.

Most concepts are categorised neatly in different boxes: heterosexual; homosexual; bisexual; asexual; etc. Part of the sexual revolution and gay rights is the idea that sexuality is an in-born trait. While it has its powerful message (i.e. you can't change us to be heterosexual), supports and propagates biological determinism (i.e. organisms are the sum of their genes and DNA), it carries some scary implications. Isn't it scary to think that there could be a gene that tells people if they're gay or not? It's just as easy to say, then, that there are genes for kindness; short-temperedness; left-wing; right-wing; socialism.... just how far does this go? It's the stuff of science fiction: you give that kind of power over to some crazy hetero-normative people and they can start manufacturing heterosexuality like bunnies. I mean, ethical issues aside, it's pretty easy to change the DNA of a fly, right? All that needs to happen is to figure out how to change human DNA at will and pass a law that states all fetuses must have a dominant heterosexual gene. Boom.

Sci-fi nerdiness aside *packs Stargate SG-1 episodes away*, pointing the finger at a "gay gene" is giving a high-five to "nature" arguments and it is almost an insult to social sciences / "nurture" arguments. Humans are much more complex than their DNA and genes. If anything, I think anyone who hasn't been living under a rock knows that humans rarely ever fit a category to a "T".

On the other hand, you bring in arguments where there is, in fact, a "good" or "bad" "cause" for (homo)sexuality: "I'm gay because I was assaulted by men," "I've only had bad experiences with women," "women scare me," "I never had a strong father figure," etc etc. At that point, there is the implication that there are "bad" points of origins and "good" points of origins. It also assumes that, perhaps through some "rehabilitation" process, a sexuality can be changed. Maybe that's why the "in-born trait" angle was an attractive message: no matter what happened, they would be gay whether they went through some negative experience or not.

I think, as human beings, people try to be rational and try to pin-point what made them the way they are. It would be so easy to point the finger at nature or nurture (blame your genes or blame your parents, apparently), but human beings are much more complex than being entirely shaped by either category.

I personally think it's a bit of both: "nature" provides a blueprint of possibilities and/or inclinations. "Nurture" sees whether these possibilities and/or inclinations are enforced, discouraged, or fully realized. Of course there are some things that have been proven to be hardwired, like introversion and extraversion, but I have yet to see scientists nailing a "kindness" or "short-temperedness" gene.

A less technical way of saying it is like this: let's take baking. If you have flour, eggs, butter, sugar and milk, there are a whole bunch of things you could make that may or may not use all of the ingredients: cakes; custard; meringue; hollandaise sauce; pancakes; crepes; shortbread cookies, etc. If you compare cakes and pancakes, they technically use the same ingredients right? It is, however, through the recipe that makes them come out differently. I think people are like this too: many people have the same "ingredients", but it is through their own, personalized recipe that creates who they are. You could also be like the custard and meringue (made from egg yolk and egg white respectively) and only have one ingredient be fully utilized. The other stuff waits for an opportunity to be used, if at all.

If one considers that a person is a sum of their feelings and experiences, then "bad" and "good" origins are not as relevant. That isn't to say traumatic experiences or extremely good experiences don't matter, or traumatic experiences should happen (some really shouldn't), but both of these can have the same effect as the other and motivate one into one direction or another. Just as there are bad people with good backgrounds, there are good people whom come out of horrific experiences. Each of these experiences and feelings mark us; change us; shape us in some way that creates the individual that you are today.

If you take Birdwing's story, it was through her process of desensitizing herself that opened the possibility of sexual feelings to enter the picture. Whether she was actually sexual underneath the repulsion or whether she would simply not be repulsed both assume that sexuality is an in born trait ("oh, she's sexual!" or, "oh, she's asexual!" respectively). One could arguably say, well, her personal process was like a "rehabilitation" method. Doesn't this imply that some repulsed asexuals are like Birdwing?

First, let's look at "rehabilitation". Rehabilitation assumes that there is some "original state" one has to "return to", just like a homosexual being "rehabilitated" to "become heterosexual". I really don't think this was the case with Birdwing. If one takes the cooking analogy, it is like saying she's a cake when she really should be a chicken sandwich.

It sounds really silly, but consider this: she had the ingredients and the recipe to be a cake. In order to make a chicken sandwich, you need an entirely different recipe and ingredients: chicken, bread, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, honey dijon... in this regard, "rehabilitating" herself doesn't make any sense. What an "original state" of sexuality is varies from person to person, whether that means their personal recipe means they're homo, bi or heterosexual.

What did happen with Birdwing? Sticking with the cooking analogy, I think her project brought in a different ingredient that changed her recipe. Remember how some ingredients could just be sitting in the background or in the cupboard? Just to be silly, maybe she was a chocolate cake but with her project she became a red velvet cake. Maybe, with more experience, she'll become a red velvet cake with whipped cream on top or even be tiramisu. Who knows?

I'm not saying that every repulsed asexual are really sexuals, nor am I saying every new experience will bring in a different ingredient. What I am saying is that it can, but whether or not it actually does cannot be predicted. This is why I also think experiences are terribly underrated in AVEN, especially sexual experience. Unless one is sexually repulsed or strongly adverse, I think experience can only help an individual refine their own personal recipe. Who knows, you might be pleasantly surprised.

After all of this talk of nature vs. nurture and human beings, what are grays in relation to (a)sexuality? I think this subgroup only points out sexuality isn't as neat and tidy as studies and sex education make them out to be. By virtue of its "fuzzy" nature, I find it equally hard to pin-point a more accurate definition aside from, "only want sex occasionally". Just like analyzing a sexual, there is a lot of intricate networks and connections between sex, personality, perceptions/beliefs/values, environment, relationships and sexuality when one talks about the "gray" area. It shows, as a colleague likes to say, the power of the "brainz".

In part IV, I'll sum up everything... or something like that. I'm still thinking about it. :blink:

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