Saturday, August 1, 2009

How can you know you're asexual if you've never had sex?

A number of people identifying as asexual have never had sex and sometimes are met with this criticism: Maybe they hear, "How can you know you're asexual if you've never had sex?" This is, in fact, the only of the typical asexodoubting questions people get when telling others they're asexual that I have personally received. There are also variations on it skeptical of asexuality in general rather than merely skeptical of that individual's asexuality: "I'm sure you would like sex if you tried it." Or if the person has had sex, "Maybe you just didn't have sex with the right person."

And there are asexual responses. In the first few months I was on AVEN, the impression that I got was that the most common sort of response to this was either that people generally know that they want sex before they have sex or that even if someone has never had sex, they can know that they're not interested. This seems plausible enough. But I also got the impression that some people believed that even without having sex, they could know that they didn't like it. Sometimes analogies to food are given: people claim to know that they won't like this or that food before they try it. This bothered me.

Our imaginations are notoriously unreliable for predicting what something is going to be like, what something is going to feel like, whether we're going to like something or not. Of course, sometimes our imagination is right, but it's wrong often enough that we shouldn't take it to be too strong of a predictor. I don't see any reason why sex should be any different. In fact, there are plenty of people who, when imagining some particular sexual act, find it rather repulsive, but they come to like it after trying it a few times.

But this meant that I believed that people in the asexual community generally can't know if they would like sex or not without having ever had it. I felt that this opinion was subversive with respect to the standard asexual line, so I decided that I should just keep my opinion to myself.

However, a few months ago on Apositive, Ghosts started a thread on this subject (Don't knock it till you try it!), where I found out that my "subversive opinion" was actually one that a number of other people held. To a large extent, this is why I'm writing this series on many of the standard criticisms of asexuality: I have somewhat mixed feelings about the standard asexual responses. I really don't like to be subversive, so I tend to try to keep any opinion that challenges the system to myself except when I particularly dislike the system. In this case, I was afraid of somehow subverting asexual identity. However, I've been coming to recognize that many of these "subversive opinions" are ones that quite a number of other people hold too, but might not always readily express on AVEN.

With respect to the asexodoubting response in this post, my thoughts are similar to those about being a late bloomer or not having met the right person yet: even when it's true that the individual in question might like sex if they tried it (in the right circumstances), telling them that they can't know if they're asexual or not if they haven't had sex simply isn't helpful, especially as a response to someone revealing their asexual identity.

People should never be made to feel that they need to have sex to feel normal. Ever. If they don't want to have sex, they don't have to have sex.

Also, asexuality isn't about not liking sex; it's about not experiencing sexual attraction. People may not be able to know if they like sex or not without trying it, but they can know if they experience sexual attraction or not. And with sex, sexual desire seems to be a big part of what makes it fun for most people. And people know if they experience sexual desire. Also, as noted by Ily on the Apositive thread, some people don't like to be touched. As sex involves quite a lot of touching, such individuals can have a pretty good idea that they wouldn't like sex.


Ily said...

Also, asexuality isn't about not liking sex; it's about not experiencing sexual attraction.

Exactly, that's what I was going to say before you said it yourself. Liking sex and desiring sex are totally different things.

People always use the food analogy but I'm not sure how good an analogy it is. For example, I've never eaten cottage cheese because I think it looks disgusting and can't get past its lumpy texture. I would gather that your experiences of sex might differ based on the situation, but cottage cheese isn't likely to change much based on who I eat it with.

SlightlyMetaphysical said...

I second Ily (or third, after you said it). Personally, my asexuality is all about sexual attraction, I'm pretty sure I'd like sex if I tried it. My response to "You just haven't tried" is: I have. I tried for years to feel sexual attraction to people, flitting between the genders searching for feelings I just didn't have.

With asexuality particularly, I always wish that there was more distinction between the act (sex) and the identity (asexual).

Anonymous said...

One does sometimes begin to like things one does not desire. If one begins to like something, one sometimes may then begin to desire it too. How many asexuals for whom this might be true, I couldn't say.

Junko Uei said...

It isn't something that can be forced out of yourself to be sexually stimulated about sex; whether one had it or not.

I've personally had a few relationships, but it turns out more to personality-based, because I can't find myself sexually stimulated by my significant other. I find this troublesome to the romantic relationship when I try to tell them I am not sexually stimulated, this offends them. So they decided to end the relationship, with my presence of love but my absence of sexuality.

What most people would think is that asexuals are loners who hates to be in a relationship be it sexual or not; which is completely wrong. Asexuals definitely have the ability to love, and people shouldn't judge them by their absence of sexual stimulation.

Isaac said...

This post has been an incentive to reread this Apositive thread. All these subversive ideas were shadowed in my mind by the claim that many asexuals may enjoy wanking better than the sexuals. As I believe in the separation of people and activities, enjoying certain sexual activities like masturbation, intercourse or oral or anal sex has nothing to do with being sexually attracted to certain kind of people. There are gays who are attracted to men but dislike anal sex, and there are men who enjoy anal sex (and practice it with women) but dislike men. This rigid association of sexual orientations with sexual activities is one of the heaviest yokes of sexonormativeness. I have exposed this a few times in AVENes (the Spanish language boards of AVEN) when someone distinguishes asexuals and masturbators as incompatible.

I thus agree, but I understand that this asexodoubting opinion is based upon facts, though biased. The existence of demis supports the right person theory. The position under discussion is based upon the existence of people —all the cases I know are girls—who claim that they will only have sex for love and that true love waits but, after trying it a few times, they change their mind. I know a case where the turn was diametral in two months: form saying her boyfriend to wait if he loved her, to leaving him after a session of hot sex and having fuckbuddies after that. I’m sure that bonafide asexodoubting people have in mind a couple of examples of this kind when expressing their doubts about asexuality.

AAA said...

I think what you mention briefly in the last paragraph it really the meat of the answer to that question. Everything about knowing even if you haven't tried it is irrelevant fluff.

Enjoying sex doesn't really have anything to do with asexuality (beyond the possibility of finding it difficult to be "turned on" without sexual attraction and any problems that might cause). It's about attraction, and everyone has "tried" that if they've ever looked at, heard or smelled another human being. Attractyion is, at least initially, quite passive; either you get it or you don't. Unless one is deliberatley attempting to suppress such feelings, there is no "try".

Enjoying sex would not make one any more or less asexual. And if these people are suggesting that trying sex will make one develop sexual attraction... well, that's not the normal method, so they're just using the old "I know how to cure you!" angle.

Ragnar said...

Reading through this I thought of to debunk this belief or at least get (at least the majority of) people to shut up in a way which I think people could understand.

As hetorosexuality is the overall norm you could respond to such a question by simply asking if they would like to have sex with a member of the same sex. Most, I believe, would say no. So how could they know they aren't homosexual if they have never tried it. If the person were gay you just simply change the question to oppisite sex.

But of course it is about the attraction, which is so hard to explain.

Anonymous said...

Well, how does someone know that they're straight/gay/bisexual without having sex? They just know

Anonymous said...

In defense of those who have never tried it, their expectations of what it is like are probably so high after hearing how great it is for so long, that even the most talented partner couldn't possibly live up to them. Someone in their 30's, or dare I say it, 40's who has never had it will probably never be satisfied if/when they ever do get it. It will all seem like too much work for little reward. Lovemaking can go on for hours and be very exhausting and at the end the sensation you get from it is usually no better than what you get after a few minutes of masturbation. If it takes hours and actual hard physical work to get the same result, then what's the point? And that doesn't even bring emotional complications into it or the time, effort and expense that you have to put forth to make someone willing to jump into the sack with you. For many people, it's just not worth it.

torie said...

True asexuals are somewhat rare, as many are people who have been hurt by boys and girls, and try to ignore what attractions they do have. I realized at 13 that I was asexual- before even my first kiss. I realized when my friend asked who would I like to see naked if it could be anyone and I told her "I'd really have to love someone to be willing to see them so vonirable." that (after some careful thinking) was when I realized I was more attracted to personalities And thought very little of physical appearances. That's what it all is: loving someone spiritually, and through that learning to accept sex from them. We much prefer to just cuddle or hug or hold each other when connecting with our partner.