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 salon.com, 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.