Sunday, July 13, 2008


We live in a highly repressive society when it comes to sexuality. Many people are in denial about what they feel and what they want because of the ubiquity of such repressive messages. To illustrate this, consider the story of a boy.

He grew up in an evangelical protestant home. In his youth, he often heard the message that he should save sex for marriage. It would be difficult, he was told, but it is what God wanted. However, it was easy for him, so he told himself that if he had a girlfriend, then it would be a challenge. One thing leads to another, so beware, they told him. So he imagined that were it to happen that he did one thing, then he would want to do another. He was warned about pornography. It was something that many males his age struggled with, but that he should use self-control and repent should he stumble. For him, it wasn’t even a temptation.

At some level he knew that not having sex was unusually easy for him, and he was aware of the fact that getting a girlfriend was much lower on his priorities than it was for many of his peers. During his time in college he only got a crush on one person, and that only lasted for about two weeks. He was aware that that was atypical as well, and deep down, he knew that the reason that he’d never watched porn was because it just doesn’t seem interesting to him.

He believed that it was for religious reasons that he wasn’t having sex, but he did sometimes ask himself if he would be having sex if he didn’t have those religious views. He imagined that it would be unlikely. He would, he suspected, be among those who were unable to “get any.” He had never developed the skill set necessary for doing so. But he couldn’t admit to himself that the reason he had never developed it was lack of motivation. The idea that he might not like sex if he did have it or that he simply had no desire for sex simply didn’t cross his mind. He imagined that once he would get married then he would have sex and like it just like everyone else. For much of high school and some of college, the idea of having sex seemed utterly repulsive to him and he was not at all looking forward to doing after he got married. But he thought, or perhaps hoped, he would get over that. He could never fully acknowledge to himself that he simply wasn’t interested in sex. He was in denial about not wanting to have sex.

He was asexually repressed.

Asexual repression is when you are in denial about your lack of interest in sex. With all of the cultural messages people are given about sexuality, about how great sex is, about how everybody wants to have sex, it can be hard to admit to a lack of interest. And it isn’t only religious conservatives who can be asexually repressed. Asexual repression pervades our society. Many men believe that a part of being a man is always being interested in sex, always being ready to perform. After all, men are supposed to be testosterone-driven sex machines, and for many, admitting that sometimes they aren’t interested is like admitting that they aren't real men.

Images of sex are everywhere. Magazines tell us twenty tips to be super sexy, seven secrets to have the hottest sex ever, what turns men on, what turns women on. Do magazines tell us about how we need to be hungry? Do they remind us of a need to feel thirst? Perhaps ads for food or sports drinks do, but we are reminded about how strong our sexual cravings are supposed to be in ads for everything from Viagra to tires, from beer to health food to cars. Could this constant bombardment of sex be not so much a reflection of how obsessed with it everyone is, but an attempt to make everyone obsessed because without constant pressure, they might not be?

Asexuals can take a long time before they recognize their asexuality. Why? Because they are afraid to admit, even to themselves, that they are uninterested in sex. They try to convince themselves of their sexual desires, unable to acknowledge their asexuality, because of cultural pressures against admitting sexual disinterest.

Our cultural is so asexually repressed, that we have made sexual disinterest into a disease and given it the long and awkward name “hypoactive sexual desire disorder.” We are so afraid of sexual disinterest, so convinced it is unnatural and must be repressed that we have medicalized it, pathologized it. Therapists have tried to cure it, and Pharmaceuticals have tried to find a magic pill to obliterate it. But all in vain. We cannot eliminate the sexual disinterest that we fear so much, so instead, via mass media, we tell the public about how widespread this “sexual dysfunction” is. We try to convince everyone that this is a massive public health problem.

Raise a loud cry in the streets! Proclaim it from the hills and from the mountain tops! Announce it in the cities, the towns and the villages! “Sex! Sex! Sex! Sex is awesome, sex is great, everybody wants to have sex! If you don’t want to have sex, you need to get cured, because everybody wants to have sex!”

We have created this mythical concept “sexual repression,” that when people aren’t having sex, when they aren’t interested, it must be because they are repressing their natural, innate, powerful sexual urges. “Sexual repression” is nothing but an attempt to convince ourselves of how intense everyone’s sex drive is in light of the obvious reality that some people just aren’t that interested. “Sexual repression” was claimed to be the causes of neuroses, but, truly, asexual repression is the cause of many mental health problems: people desperately trying to convince themselves they have feelings that they don’t have, people suffering from delusions about how they really want what everyone tells them they should want, even when they don’t want it, people consenting to, and even seeking out, sex that they don’t desire in order to convince themselves that they are “normal”, that they aren’t “inhibited.”

There is a cultural belief that the so-called sexual revolution “freed” sex. It gave people the “permission” to be sexual, the permission to say “yes” to sex. Indeed, multiply the yes’s and add in some Oh’s, grant to people the permission to give the most orgasmic affirmative to sex they possibly can! But is there permission to say “no” to sex? Not just “no” to some particular person, or on some particular occasion, but simply “No, I’m just not interested”?

Don’t people recognize that sexual disinterest is natural? Everybody’s not interested in sex sometimes. Some people aren’t interested in sex all the time. Everybody has lots of people they don’t want to have sex with. For some people, that's everybody.

I’m sure you have guessed by now, oh reader, that the repressed boy in the story is none other than myself. But I do not seek your pity. I do not want your sympathy. I want, instead, your support in fighting this asexually repressive culture. We must let people know that not only is it okay to admit sexual feelings, to enjoy sex, to be sexual. It is also okay to admit to lacking sexual feelings, to not like sex, to be asexual. Just as religious freedom requires the right to have no religion, just as freedom of speech requires the right not to speak, so must true sexual freedom necessitate the right not to be sexual, to admit disinterest, even lifelong disinterest, without fear of being thought sexually repressed or being neurotic or in need of a cure. Only then will there be true sexual liberation.

So the next time that someone tells you that you’re sexually repressed, tell them, “It is not that I am sexually repressed. It is that you are asexually repressive!”


The Impossible K said...

I'm glad you shared this- when I read your story, I was nodding all the way through. It kind of mystifies me why we should feel repressed about something we have little/no natural interest in- my friends have tried to convince me how great sushi is, but I never felt like I had to be ashamed I wasn't interested in that!
I grew up in a strong religious culture that pushed abstinence until marriage, so I can definitely relate to the repression that causes. To this day, I hesitate to even mention my asexuality and my religious beliefs because I'm afraid people will think I'm just "sexually repressed" or doing a really good job at "saving myself". But there is a fundamental difference, like you mentioned. And I don't think many people recognize how asexuals can feel alienated even in religious settings. So... thanks :)

Ily said...

Asexuals can take a long time before they recognize their asexuality. Why? Because they are afraid to admit, even to themselves, that they are uninterested in sex.

That was totally me-- but I'm so damn asexual that at a certain point lying to myself just seemed ridiculous. But, that doesn't mean it was easy to take the plunge.
I recently heard the very wise assertion that our society is "sex negative but sex obsessed". People are obsessed with the idea of sex, but still can't discuss sexual difference openly. And your description of sexual freedom is spot-on...people need to follow things to their logical conclusions more. :-)

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your blog! I love the idea of asexual repression, and I think you make a good argument for it!

Z-Styles said...

I realize I'm coming into this discussion pretty late, but I just found the post. I'm so happy you wrote this!
I wasn't sure that anyone could relate to the experience I've had of asexual repression and hearing your story almost makes me want to cry.

I've tried to make myself sexual. I've had sex I did not want to have, with people who I didn't want to be sexual with. I've hurt myself and I've hurt other people, and I've ruined relationships that really valued. All to supposedly cast off the shackles of my repressive religious and sexually traumatized upbringing. It's no one's fault but mine that I did what I did, but I wish I could have grown up without "sexually liberated" people telling me that I had to have sex and lots of it in order to be a healthy and righteous person.

ACH said...

Hi Z-styles,

Thanks for sharing your experience. I sometimes suspect that a lot of "liberated sexuality" is really just a new sexual norm that people are supposed to conform to, and are made to feel that there's something wrong with them if they don't. Sex is complicated, and I often think we'd be better off if we were willing to recognize the good, the bad, and the ugly of it (and in terms of sex, there's a lot of all three.)

Baptiste said...

This article is very good. I'm a french asexual activist and I thank you for that.