Saturday, December 27, 2008

All people are sexual beings: summary

Having just finished a two month, 16 part series on the claim that all people are sexual beings, I thought it would be a good time for a recap.

The series began with two introductory posts. The first provided motivation for the topic by giving some examples of assertions that all people are sexual and some quotes about how asexuality raises questions about this. The second post summarized the three major options for addressing the question of whether everyone is sexual in light of asexual experience. No, Yes, and Huh?
Are all people sexual? Introduction
Are all people sexual? Three options

The next two posts addressed the answer No. The biggest problems for this option is the fact that many asexuals feel/do things often considered to be inseparable from sexuality. I discussed two of these and how they can be seen as not necessarily sexual.
How can someone who masturbates not be sexual?
How can someone who falls in love not be sexual?

After this, I moved to the next major option for answering the question: Yes. I had wanted to argue for this option and then present criticisms of that argument. However, I was not able to defend this option because of a lack of source material to work with. I am not aware of any strong attempts to argue for this while taking seriously the experience of asexuals. (The only attempt I know of was written by myself a while ago; I think it was overly simplistic and not worth repeating. I did provide a link for those who would like to read it.) I would definitely be interested in anything someone writes to defend this option. In absence of something to work with to argue for yes, I addressed the major challenges any serious attempt to advocate this position must face. I then examined what I suspect to be a large motivation for the claim that all people are sexual beings--the insistence that certain groups aren't asexual. To the extend that these are a motivation for the claim that all people are sexual beings, I argued that we should reject the claim.
Asexuals are sexual people too
Women aren't asexual
Children aren't asexual.

The next post briefly considered similar claims that the elderly aren't asexual and that people with disabilities aren't asexual. It formed a bridge between the sections on Yes and Huh? In Huh?, I argued that the claim that all people are sexual, rather than being true or false, doesn't make sense.
Huh? I don't even know what that means.
Once upon a time there were three asexuals
I don't think that means anything at all

Having concluded that the claim is neither true nor false, I began to examine how it functions. This, combined with the argument I had developed in previous sections, led me to conclude that asexuals should challenge this claim, and that these debates over definitions are really debates of competing ideologies.
Planned Parenthood says all people are sexual beings
A textbook for sex educators says all people are sexual beings
Is sexuality a natural part of being human?
Debates over definitions are debates of ideologies

This last post is the climax of the argument that I had been developing in this series. In some sense, it concludes the series. The next two posts (and an interim post) were more afterthoughts than anything else. First, satire. With a little modification of sexuality education claims about all people being sexual and some creative reappropriation of analyses typically indented to show how heterosexuality functions as a hegemonic power structure, it turns out to be possible to give a pretty fair "defense" of the claim that all humans are heterosexual. Then I had another post on defining sexuality to conclude the series.

All people are heterosexual
Standing in relation to the Behemoth

I think that this should finish up my blogging for the year. I hope to start the new year off with finally writing about something else.

Standing in Relation to the Behemoth

I had initially wanted to end this series with proposing the only way of understanding “sexuality” that I could think of for which it might be appropriate to call all people sexual. Roughly the idea goes like this. While claiming that all people are sexual at all ages makes absolutely no logical sense and is almost completely indefensible, there is a way to reinterpret it that does make sense. All people stand in relationship to this complex of feelings, desires, activities, social structures, power systems, beliefs, practices, and taboos called sexuality. Regardless of what we know or don’t know, regardless of what we feel or don’t feel, no matter what we do or don’t do, we all stand in relationship to the behemoth "sexuality."

From this perspective, I think it makes sense to consider children sexual. The social structures organizing sexuality relate to children. They sometimes possess sexual knowledge. Even if they don’t, messages given to them by adults assume certain behaviors appropriate or inappropriate with regard to sexuality. They sometimes engage in various forms of “sexual” play with other children. Any kind of education given to them to protect them from sexual abuse assumes that they stand in some kind of relationship to ‘sexuality.’

When I had planned on writing this post, this is what I wanted to write about. I had planned to give it a fair defense, and then raise some criticisms. However, as I tried to write about it, I found myself unable to even give it a reasonable defense. First, there is the problem that even if it is appropriate to say that all people are sexual beings in this sense, almost no one will interpret it this way. However, there is bigger problem. Being an outsider is one way of standing in relationship to something. Consequently, even this reanalysis of the claim that everyone is sexual fails miserably. (Everyone in the culture where I live stands in relation to heterosexuality, but this does not, despite Mr. Walter T. Foster's best attempts to argue otherwise, mean that everyone is heterosexual.)

Towards the beginning of this post, I called the assertion that all people are sexual "almost completely indefensible." I wrote "almost" for a reason. Having spent considerable time thinking about, reading about and writing about the claim that all humans are sexual at all stages of life, I have come to the conclusion that in the end there is one, and only one, argument to be made in its defense.

If enough people say it enough times, it must be true.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Comment about that last post

In my last post, I had an “interview” with a heterosex-positive educator who attempted to defend the claim that all people are heterosexual. It was a joke. There is no heterosex-positive movement. From some of the comments I have gotten (and rejected to save commenter from embarasment), it seems that some readers didn't pick up on this.

Evidently, my satirical skills need some work.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

All people are heterosexual

On today’s agenda is definitely something new for Asexual Explorations readers—my very first interview.

In exploring the question of whether all people are sexual beings, I happened upon a group I hadn’t known about before—the heterosex-positive movement. They are involved in sex education, and one of their core values is the belief that all human beings are heterosexual. Intrigued and more than a little skeptical, I decided to contact them, and I have been fortunate enough to even get an interview with Walter T. Foster, the Center for Healthy Heterosexuality regional coordinator for the state of Illinois.

AE: Mr. Foster, I'd like to start by thanking you for being available to do this interview today.

WF: It’s my pleasure. And please call me Walter.

AE: Ok, Walter. The organization that you work for, the Center for Healthy Heterosexuality, has as one of its core values the belief that all people are heterosexual from the time they are born until the time they die. Since many of the readers of Asexual Explorations don’t consider themselves heterosexual, I’m sure that many of them will find this claim more than a little shocking. Could you explain what you mean when you say that all people are heterosexual?

WF: Certainly. This is an objection we get pretty frequently. The problem is that most people think of heterosexuality in very narrow, traditional terms. They think it's about males and females having sex—and usually ‘sex’ is defined in terms of coitus to the exclusion of other forms of sexual contact. But if you really understood heterosexuality, it is so much more than that. It involves our feelings, our values, our behavior, our bodies, our families and so many other things. Heterosexuality is so broad that to say someone isn’t heterosexual is like saying they aren’t a human being.

AE: Could you explain how all of these things are part of heterosexuality?

WF: Even though sexual attraction generally starts around the age of ten, heterosexuality begins long before then. Think of all of the images of heterosexuality that people receive from a very young age—images of heterosexual couples, families with a mother and a father, stories about a boy and a girl falling in love. When I was in Elementary School, sometimes kids would tease each other about liking someone of the opposite sex. There was this one chant about “So and so and so and so sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.” Heterosexual narratives about love-marriage-baby are taught beginning at young ages, along with the development of gender roles, which are also a core part of heterosexuality. Also, heterosexuality is core to our intergender relationships—not just sexual ones, which form a minority of intergender relationships—but in other ones as well. There are constantly things that are understood to be appropriate or inappropriate for such relationships that wouldn’t be for intragender relationships. Heterosexuality is a core part of how people go about their daily lives and interactions, regardless of who, if anyone, they are having sex with. All of this interacts with our beliefs and values and so on.

AE: I see what you mean about heterosexuality being a large part of our culture, our learning and so on, but I’m still a bit skeptical about saying this means that everyone is heterosexual. Some people say that they’re gay or lesbian or asexual and say that they don’t experience sexual attraction to members of the opposite sex. Are you saying that they’re wrong?

WF: No, no, that's not what I mean at all. Definitely, some people aren’t attracted to members of the opposite sex, but the problem with saying that they’re not heterosexual is that that’s based on a traditional, narrow understanding that equates heterosexuality with sexual attraction and behavior. In addition to nonsexual aspects of heterosexuality in our everyday lives, often even heterosexual sex can be separated from sexual attraction and desire. Take for example, the story a teenage girl I know. Let’s call her Mary, though that’s not her real name. She goes to a party one Friday planning on hooking up with some guy. It’s not because she’s horny. In fact, in order to get herself to even go through with it, she gets completely drunk because she knows that if she were sober, there’s no way she could go through with the process. So why does she do it? Because she thinks everybody else is, at least all the cool people. If she doesn’t have sex, she’s afraid the other girls will make fun of her for being a virgin. They’ll look down on her and treat her as a child for not having gone through with what they see as a rite of passage. This is all part of ‘heterosexuality.’ I don’t know what Mary’s sexual orientation is, but that doesn’t mean she’s not heterosexual.

AE: Is that healthy heterosexuality?

WF: It is what it is.

AE: Well, it's hard to disagree with that, and this way of understanding heterosexuality is definitely an interesting take on things, but I'll confess I'm still a bit skeptical. In one of the blogs that I read, the author said, and I quote “I identify as lesbian, and I can basically guarantee for you that no matter how broad, inclusive, and accepting ‘heterosexuality’ grows, I will never feel quite comfortable or truthful or right identifying as straight.” I’m guessing that you would disagree.

WF: Yes. That would be correct. As I said before, I think this stems largely from a very traditional view of heterosexuality. On the one hand, I fully understand her hesitancy to consider herself straight. In some ways, it’s like the word ‘queer.’ Some people find it to be a useful identifier for themselves. However, others, because of its history and their own personal histories don’t feel that they could ever.

AE: They use the word queer to unite around oppressive heteronormativity.

WF: Yes. Unfortunately, heterosex-positive sounds somewhat similar heteronormative, but they’re definitely very different.

AE: I’m sure that they are. Anyway, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. It’s
definitely an interesting perspective on things.

Next time, I will conclude this series with a reanalysis of the claim that all people are sexual beings.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Debates over definitions are debates over ideologies

In Through the looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty tells Alice why unbirthdays should be celebrated:
There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents -- '

`Certainly,' said Alice.

`And only ONE for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'

`I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

`But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected.

`When _I_ use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master - - that's all.'
In a chapter titled "Queering' Semantics: Definitional struggles," Sally McConnel-Ginet opens by quoting this scene. She then reflects on it stating that they are both partly right:
Alice understands that we can’t make words mean whatever we want them to: there are substantial constraints that arise from past history and from what is involved in trying to mean something. At the same time, there is room for shaping and reshaping word meanings. Humpty dumpty understand that tugs over meaning can be struggles for power. But the stakes go far beyond who wins. Different meaning promote the pursuit of different kinds of social action, cultural values, intellectual inquiry. Meanings, I argue can indeed facilitate mastery in a variety of arenas.” (p. 137-8.)
When asexuals and our allies become well-enough organized for our voices to be taken seriously—not merely to be briefly mentioned as an item on a list, though that would be improvement—but for hegemonic sexualnormativity to be brought under scrutiny, it will be an ideological struggle, and one issue that will need to be addressed head on is the claim that all people are sexual beings.

If someone claims that all people are sexual, it is appropriate to ask why. On what basis do they make this claim? What are their reasons? Why should I accept their authority? If someone wants to maintain this claim even in light of the experience of asexuals, they would need an understanding of sexuality broad enough to include asexuals. But even if they define sexuality broadly enough to include asexuality, on what basis should I accept such a definition? It is a question of power, and it is a question of competing ideologies.

Before exploring how debates over defining sexuality are ideological struggles, I want to use a couple of examples to illustrate how questions of definitions are inseparably connected to ideological questions. The first comes from a recent conversation I had with some friends who, for some reason, became very interested in the question of whether coffee was a fruit or a nut. The problem was that we all had an intuitive sense for what these words mean, but we didn’t have enough technical knowledge to know what they really mean and didn’t know the correct answer. To settle the question one guy decided find out the answer by going to the authoritative source of all knowledge: Wikipedia. (I don’t remember what the answer they found was.) In order for this to be a reliable means of answering the question, there were some basic assumptions that had to be held by everyone involved. The first is that there are "real" definitions for terms like 'fruit' and 'nut.' Moreover, the "real meanings" of these words were not the general, intuitive understandings that we had, but scientific understandings, based on extensive knowledge of plants that none of us possessed but some other people do. This requires that we adhere to a scientific ideology at least enough to recognize scientific authority to speak on certain botanical issues, accepting that the definitions used by the most knowledgeable people are the correct ones. The second assumption was the belief that Wikipeida is (likely) a reliable source for finding these correct meanings. The first assumption is uncontroversial and so people probably don’t even think about it. The second assumption was less of a given, and I imagine that we all knew this (as Professor Wikipedia reminds us.)

My second example is one that I've written a fair amount on: defining asexuality. Suppose one person says that asexuality is not experiencing sexual attraction, and a second person disagrees, saying that people who masturbate can’t possibly be asexual—they should be called autoerotic or autosexual. How is this disagreement to be resolved? They can’t simply go to a dictionary.

One person might cite AVEN’s main page as an authority, but this is only useful if the other person accepts as a valid authority to relay the “real” meaning. (In fact, the definition there isn’t intended to be the authoritative definition but only to act as something of a guidepost, as I have written about in Asexuality: the history of a definition part I and part II.) In this case, going to Wikipedia wouldn’t be any better than going to AVEN—Wikipedia gives the same definition as AVEN (though in a more convoluted way), citing an article that cited

Then the second person responds. To support their claim, they cite a quote from a therapist in an article about asexuality. There, a sex-therapist is paraphrased as saying, "some people who call themselves asexual still masturbate regularly – 'which isn't asexual to me.' Sex therapists would call that auto-erotic - that is, enjoying their sexuality themselves - rather than asexual." Here, there are really two arguments. The first is that since masturbation is clearly a sexual act, people who do it aren't asexual. Secondly, the therapist says that not only her but sex-therapists in general say that such people aren't asexual. Rather they are autoerotic. To accept this we must accept that a.) she is correctly giving the opinion of sex-therapists in general and b.) we should accept the authority of sex therapists to define who is and who isn't asexual.

Person A responds by rejecting these arguments, insisting that what people do or do not do with their genitalia in private has little effect on the social effects of lack of sexual attraction, so it makes a lot of sense to include both people who do and who do not masturbate in the category 'asexual.' Moreover, A argues, people should be allowed to identify how they want, and neither B nor the quoted therapist nor anyone else has the right to say otherwise.

'Asexual,' in its current usage, is a word that was coined by various people at various times for various reasons. Different people are free to use it however they want, though are constrained by how they expect the listeners/readers to understand the term. This constraint is lessened if the person defines what they mean by it in the context of using it. There is no "real meaning" dictated from on high. Whether B’s arguments persuade A or A’s arguments persuade B depends on each person’s belief system. There is no “right” answer, and it is clear that this debate over definitions is an ideological struggle. Accepting the other person’s definition is a matter of accepting a part of their ideological framework.

Keeping this in mind, let’s return to the claim that all people are sexual. The ideological nature of this statement can be seen by considering the enormous difference between the following two statements.

1.) For me personally, it makes sense to think of all people as being sexual beings.
2.) Fact: All humans are sexual beings from the time they are born to the time they die.

While both claimants believe the same thing, the first person is communicating how they think about sexuality, they might be suggesting that others should think that way as well, and they're probably at least hoping that others will be able to respect their view even if they disagree. They are not making any demands on the part of the audience to adhere to the claim. In the second, the writer/speaker is claiming not merely that they believe that all people are sexual beings; they claim to know it. By declaring it to be a fact, they are making a demand upon the audience to adhere to their ideology, and this is often reinforced by the audience's perceived authority of the writer/speaker.

Because this claim is made in educational contexts by people perceived as authorities on the subject of sexuality, it is most likely intended to be understood as being more like the question over the definition of 'fruit' than the definition of 'asexual.' If it is perceived as simply an uncontroversial fact made on the basis of expert knowledge rather than an ideology that often functions to make invisible all people who feel that they aren't sexual, it is more likely to be accepted uncritically. Ideologies are most effective when they are perceived as simply fact rather than as ideology.

The issue I want to consider is whether we should accept this ideology. Saying that all people are sexual beings clearly is not an empirically knowable claim—it is unfalsifiable because pretty much any way of operationally defining sexuality to see if all people are sexual would yield the result that not all people are sexual--unless 'sexual' were defined in such a vague way as to be entirely divorced from what people mean by the term--much like the way Humpty Dumpty used the word 'glory.' The claim does not demand my adherence as someone with a deep respect for science. But scientific ideologies are not the only ones I accept. What about as an ethical claim? As an ethical claim, I find it highly suspect for reasons given in previous posts, and I think that for ethical reasons, it should be rejected. The primary ideological drive for the claim is that thinking of all people as sexual beings is the best way for people to understand their own sexuality and to respect that of others.

I am deeply suspicious of this. My impression from much of the sexological literature that I’ve read is that by insisting that sexuality a fundamental part of being human, it privileges high sexual desire at the expense of low sexual desire. The ultimate question for asexuals is this: for people who claim that all people are sexual being, should asexuals accept their authority to declare what sexuality is and who is sexual. I don't think we should. Asexuality has been ignored by people studying sexuality for a long time. Asexuals consistently appear in the data, and asexuals have been consistently ignored despite this fact. Several years ago, when I spent a fair amount of time reading a (highly respected) human sexuality textbook to try to make sense of my own experience, the message I was given is that people like me do not exist. This did not improve my trust of their authority.

Ultimately, whether asexuals accept the claim that all people are sexual beings comes down to some very practical questions. The people in sexuality education seem to use a "broad" definition of sexuality because that makes sense in their lives. But for asexuals sitting in on their classes, does such a definition make sense of their experiences or does it render them invisible? Does this "broad" definition empower them or does it declare them disordered? Does it validate their experiences? Does it help them think about decisions they have to make regarding relationships, regarding sexulaity, and about their lives more generally?

What happens if some asexual understands perfectly well the "broad" definition of sexuality offered by some sexuality educators, but still feels that they are not sexual? In such a situation, insisting that all humans are sexual beings becomes unavoidably anti-phenomenological. Rather than saying that we should understand the asexual person's experiences on their own terms, it insists on viewing them through a foreign lens--even one they knowingly reject, feeling it doesn't make sense of their own experiences.


McConnell-Ginet, Sally (2002) "'Queering' semantics: Definitional struggles." Language and Sexuality: Contesting Meaning in Theory and Practice ed. by Kathryn Campbell-Kibler, Robert Podesva, Sarah Roberts, and Andrew Wong 136-60, pp. 137-60. Standor, CA: SCLI Publications.

In addition to this, my thoughts have been strongly influenced by another chapter by the same author. (This paper's references is why I found the above chapter.)

McConnell-Ginet, Sally (2008) "Words in the world: How and why meanings can matter" Language vol. 84 no. 3 pp.497-527

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Is sexuality a natural part of being human?

When it is claimed that all people are sexual beings, I have a strong suspicion that one of the functions is to communicate to readers that having sexual desires is a natural part of being human so they are nothing to be ashamed of. The issue is not one of having sexual desires or not, but whether to accept them and what sorts of decisions are made concerning them and concerning sexuality more broadly.

Consider an example I used in the introduction to this series. On MSNBC A doctor advises a mother on talking to her daughter about sexuality.
Accurate and relevant information about all aspects of human sexuality — including her own sexual nature and feelings — will empower a young woman to learn how to accept her natural sexuality and eventually express it in healthy, appropriate, and responsible ways that do not harm her or anyone else.
As a part of accomplishing this, the author gives her top three rules for talking to teenagers about sexuality. The first begins,
“Become comfortable with your own sexuality. All humans are sexual beings who have sexual feelings. Sex is a normal part of life.
In order to help the daughter accept her own sexual feelings, she is to be told that all people have sexual feelings. However, insisting that sexual feelings are natural raises a question. If sexual desires are natural, does this mean that not feeling them is "unnatural"? In asking this question, I feel like I'm attacking a straw man. I wish this were true. Unfortunately, if you look at some of the things people quoted as experts have to say about asexuality, it becomes painfully clear that this is exactly the implication some people take--even people who speak with the voice of authority.

In 2004, there was an article in the New York Times about asexuality called For Them, Just Saying No Is Easy. After giving a positive quote from John Bancroft, former director of the Kinsey Institute, they provide a less positive perspective.
Not all clinicians agree that lack of interest in sex can be considered normal. "It's a bit like people saying they never have an appetite for food," said Dr. Leonard R. Derogatis, a psychologist and the director of the Center for Sexual Health and Medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "Sex is a natural drive, as natural as the drive for sustenance and water to survive. It's a little difficult to judge these folks as normal."
In the article Asexual and Proud! on, we find another less-than-affirming quote from a therapist.
"To me, to say that someone is 'asexual' is tantamount to saying that they're not a human being," says Barnaby Barratt, a sex therapist in Detroit and president of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. "I would be profoundly critical of the idea that 'asexuality' is an 'orientation' or that it's somehow the inevitable way that some people are born. The basic building blocks of sexual patterning are there in everyone. The real question about what you're describing as 'asexual' is: What sort of history could make someone wind up being that closed down?"
Given the way they are introduced, I assume that these people know quite a lot about sexuality and sexuality education and that their understandings of what it means for sexuality to be "natural" or what is meant by the claim that all people are sexual beings to be representative of many (though not all) people who make such claims.

If this is what is meant by saying that all people are sexual beings and if we take asexuality seriously as a normal part of the sexual variation that exists among people, then I think that asexuals should insist that such claims be dropped from sex education and other contexts in which they are made. Someone could claim that all people are sexual beings in a way that affirms asexual experiences; they could claim that the above quotes are misunderstandings of what what is meant by saying that all people are sexual beings.

However, if you want to insist that everyone is sexual, it is important to understand not only what you mean by it, but what others will interpret it to mean. Given the status of the above quoted people, I think it is clear that many who say that everyone is sexual and many who hear this claim understand it to deny the reality/legitimacy of asexuality. As such, I think the claim should be done away with.

Next time: Debates over definitions are debates over ideologies.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A textbook for sex educators says all people are sexual beings

Perhaps the longest explanation that I’ve found of what is “meant” by claiming that all people are sexual beings comes from a textbook for sex educators. The title of the book is Sexuality Education: Theory and Practice. (The link is for the fifth edition. However, I will be citing the second edition (1989) because that’s the copy I was able to check out from the library.) In the first chapter, one of the main points that they emphasize is that all people are sexual beings at all stages of life.
Traditionally, human sexuality, if thought about at all, has been thought to have to do with participating in intercourse or some other sexual act, and references to sexuality have been cloaked in negative terminology. Traditional concepts imply that people participate in sexual behavior only on occasion (sometimes only when apparently forced), but at other times are fundamentally asexual beings. This amounts to the view that although individuals participate in sexual acts, sexuality does not otherwise exist as part of individuals’ personalities (p. 3-4)
I have absolutely no idea who these people are who hold these “traditional” views of sexuality. I’ve never of heard anyone who asserted this, and I doubt any serious historian would make such an unfounded claim about some amorphous unidentifiable “traditional” belief, as though beliefs about sexuality used to be homogeneous. But they aren’t historians. Their purpose isn't to inform people about the past. It's to push their own ideological agenda.

This argument is a strawman designed as a foil to their own views in order to establish them. Like many strawman arguments, it depends on another logical fallacy: the false dichotomy. The assumption is that either we take this (totally untenable) “traditional” position, or we take the “total view of human sexuality” that they hold. Since clearly we should reject the former, we MUST accept the latter. Also, “narrow views” of sexuality are condemned by association with “negative views” of sexuality even though it is perfectly possible to think of sexuality in narrow terms without thinking it sinful, dirty, or bad. (And the term “apparently forced” is just plain scary. Fortunately, it is no longer found in the most recent edition.
In this book we take a broad view of human sexuality and define it as part of the total personality and thus basic to human health and well-being. This type of comprehensive view of sexuality assumes that many factors in the human makeup interact to create and individual’s sexuality. (p. 5.)

A recognition that we are all sexual beings also contributes to positive interpersonal relationships. As we grow up, we do not realize that our parents, teachers, relatives, and everyone else around us are sexual beings. This of course does not mean they are performing sexual acts at every opportunity, but it does mean they all have sexual feelings and characteristics (p.7)
By taking such a broad view of human sexuality, it is unclear if the statement all people are sexual being is asserting anything at all. Nevertheless, they go on to claim that it does mean that all people have sexual feelings. Unless “sexual” is understood so broadly that “sexual feelings” is coextensive with feelings (in which case “sexual” means nothing and it totally divorced from how actual people understand the term,) the claim is simply false. Here, the claim that all people are sexual beings does function to deny the existence of many of the people now being called asexual. In asserting that all people are sexual beings, the authors make a conscious effort to render asexuals invisible. Also, I am skeptical that adopting their view of sexuality has the causal relationship that they claim it does.

Another point that bothers me is the claim that since sexuality is fundamental part of being human, sexual health is a fundamental part of being healthy. This is another kind of claim that I find deeply troubling, largely because for the life of me, I have no idea what it means, but I know that it functions to make high sexual desire normative. Are they saying that being sexually active is necessary to being healthy? Or that wanting to have sex is necessary to sexual health, and thus fundamental to overall health? They will probably deny this, but if they do, then it is difficult to see how "sexual dysfunction" can be seen as being detrimental to sexual health and thus a public health issue. I know that I am stepping on toes here, but I also think that these are issues that need to be addressed. Such claims allow addressing sexual issues from a medical standpoint possible and more "normal," allowing doctors to help people have the kinds of sexual experiences that they want. On the other hand, such claims are also fundamental for the medicilization of sexuality and the pathologization of "abnormally" low levels of sexual desire (which includes about 39% of American women who participated in a recent study, making it a rather atypical understanding of atypical.)
Perhaps you already knowthat all people are sexual beings at all ages…Actually, if you were paying attention earlier in this chapter, you realized that human sexuality is so broad that it is impossible for anyone to be an asexual being at any point unless he or she stops breathing. The idea of an absence of sexuality is similar to the idea that a person has an absence of personality. You may feel that a given person has a poor personality, but that individual still has a personality of some kind. Just as people have personalities from the time of birth, they are sexual beings at all ages and states of development (p.8 empahsis mine.).
People who don’t experience sexual attraction aren’t “asexual.” They’re just boring!!!

A few things stand out. First, note the italics. These claims are not merely their views. They are facts. Also, the analogy between not having a personality and not having sexuality is interesting. They make it to defend the claim against the fact that it is both unfalsifiable and meaningless. However, it’s not a very good analogy. A person can’t be without personality because personality is about being a person and the way a particular person acts, behaves, feels as a person. You can’t be a person and not be a person. That’s simply a tautology. However, claiming that all people are sexual is something quite different that claiming that all people are people and is far less tautological. If sexuality is understood as broadly as they want it to be, the claim no one could be asexual unless they stopped breathing would be vacuous and wouldn’t be worth saying and wouldn't permit the implication that all people have sexual feelings. And when they made the analogy between people not interested in sex and people with “poor personalities”, I'll bet they didn’t consult anyone thus characterized to see what they thought about that sentence.

In my next post, I will examine another function of the claim that all people are sexual beings: communicating the message that sexual desires are a natural part of being human.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Planned Parenthood says all people are sexual beings: Supplement

In my last post, I wrote about how Planned Parentood's claim on their website that all people are sexual beings functions to make asexuals invisible. One way that the claim could be maintained while not functioning to makes asexuals invisible would be to talk about asexuals in the context of the quote. I was curious if anyone actually does this.

The answer, as it turns out, is yes.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana has a article in their newsletter from summer '05 designed to help parents talk to their children about sexual orientation. They write:
All people are sexual beings. Engaging in sexual activity is a normal and natural way for humans to express their feelings, feel comforted and learn something about themselves.
On the same page, they write,
A third component, our sexual orientation, is how we label ourselves, whether we consider ourselves heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual.

Heterosexuality is the sexual attraction to members of the other gender, while homosexuality refers to sexual attraction to the same gender. A homosexual man may be called gay, while a homosexual woman may be called lesbian. Bisexuality is defined as attraction to both genders. Those who are not attracted to either gender are referred to as asexual. All of these orientations are normal and have no known cause.
For anyone interested, another example--this one coming from Planned Parenthood of New York City--can be found here. This file is a bit large. I suggest using CTRL + F. The second use of the word is the more interesting of the two.

Next time: A return to my regular scheduled blogging.