If we take asexuality seriously and accept it as legitimate, there the three general ways to answer the question, “Are all people sexual beings?” No, Yes and Huh? In this post, I’m going to give a general outline of each of these three options. In later posts, I will try to explore each one in more depth.
No. Many asexuals have a strong sense that they are not sexual. They take a look at sexuality as they see it around themselves and say “This is not me.” Taking this in combination with the fact that ‘sexuals’ and ‘sexual people’ are terms for the out-group, statements like “all humans are sexual beings,” are often understood to limit humanity to the out-group, functionally telling asexuals that they are non-human or sub-human. Or such statements are interpreted as meaning, “I know you’re deepest, inmost thoughts and feelings better than you do. If you understood your own feelings, you would realize that you really are just like everyone else (i.e. 'normal' people.)"
However, if we answer the question based on the intuition of asexuals who strongly feel that they are not sexual, this is not without its difficulties. One of the biggest is that it has some very counterintuitive implications. Things like attraction, falling in love, masturbation, sexual fantasies, etc. are seen as inseparably connected with sexuality. Given that some asexuals experience/do one or more of the above, calling such people “asexual” makes little sense to some. In order to maintain the view that people who feel/do these can be asexual, it is necessary to explain how such activities/feelings can be “not sexual.”
Yes. Rather than saying that asexuals are not sexual, “sexual” is understood in a way broad enough to include people who don’t experience sexual attraction, people who prefer not to have sex, etc. There are some asexuals who are comfortable with this option. It would require divorcing asexuality from its etymological meaning of ‘not sexual,’ but the term would still be used because no one can think of a better one. Having a term is empowering and very useful for creating asexual discourse.
This option faces two major challenges. The first is figuring out how to (re)define sexuality in a broad enough way so that it includes asexuals without denying, ignoring or marginalizing their experiences. Second, this option has to justify why exactly we would want to do so and what the point of insisting that all people are sexual beings is.
Huh? This option doubts that the claim "All people are sexual beings" is even a meaningful one. If such a broad view of sexuality is taken that it includes the full range of the experiences of people, including asexual people, is anything even worth saying? Especially considering how such statements are supposed to be bold and daring ones that are fundamental to how we think about sexuality, not vague, weak ones that say virtually nothing at all? Moreover, if the enormous variation in how sexuality is thought about from culture to cultural and even person to person within a culture is taken seriously, can the claim that all people are sexual beings be maintained? Or does such a claim commit gross anachronism (and whatever the synchronic equivalent is)? Do such claims privilege the experiences of the claimants and those like them at the expense of experiences of people that don’t fit the hegemonic ideology of sexual-normativity?
Next time, I will start with exploring “No” and how to deal with its major problems.