Sunday, June 7, 2009

Whence comest thou, O asexohater?

Sometimes in the asexual community, we find people generally baffled by the negativity faced by asexuals, the incredibly dismissive responses we hear when we come out, and the utterly condescending comments often posted in response to media articles supportive of asexuality. I'm not interested in sex. Why does that bother people? If someone thinks homosexuality is wrong, that at least sort of makes sense, it's sometimes said, but not having sex? Who thinks there's anything wrong with not having sex?!?

Yet anti-asexual views exist, and so dismissing them as an inexplicable anomaly, an unfathomable lapse in rationality only possible by the most deductively depraved must be seen as a superficial response. Anti-asexuality exists and is widespread. Simply dismissing it is merely an attempt to justify our own intelligence, our own superiority, to reinforce our own sense of smugness without trying to understand why such views exist. If they are so widespread, there must be a reason. It has to make sense to someone, even if it makes no sense to me.

Yet it does make sense to me, in a sense. The first time I wrote on this topic was in an article titled Asexuality Among Sexualities in the April 2008 issue of AVENues. In that issues, the main article was a reprinting (reposting?) of an article from Apositive titled Why I'm a Sex-Positive Asexual, and two responses to it. In my response, I outlined three main reasons for opposition to asexuality: familial duty, social conformity, and sexualnormativity.

Tongue in cheek, I explained sexualnormativity and its opposition to asexuality:
Now that we’ve gone through the sexual revolution, we’ve thrown off the chains of sexual repression and the outdated puritanical norms of Victorianism. Now we know how great sex is and we like it. We like it a lot. What’s that? You’re not interested in sex? You’re not sexually attracted to anyone? You must be sexually repressed. Why don’t you just admit that you’re gay? Were you sexually abused as a child? How can you not like sex?! That’s not normal!!!
I have long suspected that a lot of the opposition to asexuality comes from, well, sex-positivism. I have long suspected that a large part of the opposition to asexuality comes from people who think they have positive views of sexuality, who think that they've thrown off the repressive "sex-negativity" of our cultural past, who think that this means emphasizing how sexuality is essential to being human.

There was a recent advice column about asexuality on, rather supportive of it. In it, a woman explained her lack of attraction to guys or girls and that she even finds the idea of having sex "repulsive." There were a lot of negative comments to the author's positivity. I also noticed a blog called Clarissa's Blog with a response to it. (To keep up with finding out about the new asexy blogs that pop up from time to time, I subscribe to google alerts for asexuality.) The author is responding very negatively to the feministing article's author who (horror of horrors!) encouraged the person to be accepting of herself.

The blogger writes
This attitude [accepting asexuality] does not come exclusively out of the desire to show the world how tolerant and accepting one is. It is also the result of a deeply Puritanical view of sex, which refuses to see human sexuality on terms of a physiological process. If anybody found the idea of eating or sleeping (also physiological processes) "absolutely repulsive", we wouldn't be as likely to dismiss this problem with a lot of well-meaning but ultimately empty words. Nobody would (at least for now, I think) suggest to form an identity group around this problem.
This seems to support my earlier theory. She uses her claimed rejection of a "Puritanical view of sex" supposedly held in the past to maintain her view that everyone should be interested in sex. She then insists on how sexuality is a physiological process to create an analogy to eating and drinking. Since repulsion to those physiological processes would be unthinkable, so should repulsion to sex. (I believe the reason that the latter would be unthinkable isn't because they are physiological processes, but because they would result in death, but that's beside the point. It seems common enough to emphasis that sex involves physiology, it involves biology, and therefore it natural.)

Rejecting "sex negativity" and "Puritanism" and insisting that sex is a physiological process: what these two arguments have in common is that they stem from an desire to see sex as normal. This confirms what I wrote in my AVENues article:
Attempts to make sex normal possess
the danger of making it normative.
Now, it could be easy to dismiss this blog as just some random person saying something negative about asexuality. Why get bent out of shape over it? Yet these same sorts of arguments are widespread in more respectable quarters.

In For them, Just saying no is easy in the NYTimes (2004), we find a comment much like the eating and drinking one from a prominent sexologist, Leonard R. Derogatis.
It's a bit like people saying they never have an appetite for food....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.
Paralelling the argument from rejecting "sex-negativity", in sexology, there is a widely measure that has been widely used in sexology is "erotophobia-erotophilia." This was a measure developed in the '70s when, among sex-therapists, there was widespread belief that the only reason someone wouldn't be interested in sex was "sex-negativity", negative learning that sex is bad, that sex is dirty, that sex is shameful. If only these could be eradicated, if only people would be re-educated, then there would be sexual-freedom, sexual-liberation, and lots and lots of hot, passionate sex. If only negative learning were undone, everyone's natural, powerful sexuality would emerge.

Underlying this survey (called The Sexual Opinion Survey) is the assumption that the only reason someone wouldn't be interested in watching hardcore pornography, the only reason someone wouldn't want to have group-sex, the only reason someone wouldn't want swim in the nude with a member of the opposite sex was negative learning about sexuality. Underlying this survey is the assumption that the only reason someone wouldn't find masturbation very exciting, the only reason someone wouldn't be interested in watching strippers, the only reason someone wouldn't want to have sex with multiple partners was erotophobia. Yet this pseudoscientific survey, this measure that assumes--in stark defiance of reality--that what activities one personally finds sexually arousing, what sexual activities one approves of in others , and what sexual activities one would be comfortable doing oneself are all somehow measures of "the same thing", this nonsense posing as science continues to be taught in human sexuality classes, teaching everyone of lower sexual interest that they are broken, sex-negative, and repressed, and, in somewhat updated form, continues to be used in sex-research.

So here we find in bloggers, here we find in online commentors, and here we find in some professional sexologists similar anti-asexual values, largely stemming from attempts to make sex normal, and in the process making it normative. This process of turning normal into normative is so common that in psychology many people actually don't understand the difference between these two words. Unscientific nonsense like "normative sexuality" are used in academic journals, and the self-contradictory term "normative data" is actually a standard term in clinical psychology. (Normative means ought, data means is, and there is a vast epistemological divide between the two. Ignoring this, normative is used to mean typical, with no regard for how typical, and then all of the value-laden glory of what normative actually means in the English language is imported wholesale.)

What people find threatening about asexuality is that it threatens fundamental beliefs about the world. In an attempt to normalize sex, it has been normativized. And asexuals, simply by existing, simply by saying "I'm not interested in sex and I'm fine with that," simply by striving to make our voices heard, challenge deeply held cultural assumptions. And rather than having their views challenged, many come up with alternate explanations to insulate their own views from reality.


Anonymous said...

I've recently received comments for some articles I posted concerning asexuality in a lesbian forum.
Most comments were quite positive,there was only one person claiming either it's a chemical disfunction or repressed sexuality and saying that sexuality is a human condition (thus implying that it is normal aka normative)'s always the really is but there are always different opinions everywhere, this one is just another of many.

pretzelboy said...

In quoting this particular blog, I did so largely because I felt it to be representative of a lot of the negative comments people say. I generally don't see a lot of point in blogging about why some of the main criticisms of asexuality aren't valid--the large majority of people reading asexual blogs are already supportive of asexuality. I guess my main interest is understanding why we find such negativity in some people's responses. And also, it often seems pretty hard to predict who is going to be accepting of asexuality and who isn't. Asexuals of often look to LGBT people for support, but we find the same range of opinions about asexuality there as anywhere else--some supportive, some not so much. I guess that's one thing that I'm interested in understanding better: who is going to be more or less likely to be supportive of asexuality.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a matter of being misunderstood, which is to be expected at this point.

I don't think Asexuality will ever be considered totally "normal", however it will eventually become at least accepted and somewhat understood. The percentage will grow a little, but we'll always be a minority.

Thanks for the thoughts!

-Ace Amoeba

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that while asexuality isn't "normal" in the sense of lots of people are like that, it's also harmless to anyone else. Rather like dying your hair pink, that's not something everyone does, so it's not normal; but it doesn't hurt anyone. In another sense it is normal, in that everyone has their own quirks. Someone may not be asexual, but perhaps they like peanutbutter and balony sandwiches, that's not normal either; but it's also harmless. And if it's not a liking for odd sandwiches, maybe it's having a snake for a pet, or getting a Transformer tatoo or something else. We all have our oddities and should all be accepting of others' harmless leanings.