Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

For discussion of general issues pertaining to asexuality.
pretzelboy
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Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby pretzelboy » Mon May 25, 2009 5:40 pm

Of the criticisms of asexuality that exist, its seems they can be divided into "criticisms from above" and "criticisms from below." Most of the ones we usually hear are the "criticisms from above." These tend to be a) "You really are super interested in sex, you just won't admit it" (you're just saying you're asexual cause you've got issues you don't want to deal with. you're gay but won't admit it. you're just repressed.) b) "You will be super interested in sex, just you wait." (you're just a late bloomer. you just haven't met the right person yet.) or c) "You would be totally obsessed with sex, but there must be some problem (medical or psychological) preventing it." (Gives long list of supposed causes of low sexual desire with no actual empirical support.)

Generally, these don't bother me too much. Of course, some people identifying as asexual may end up experiencing sexual attraction later on, but my guess is that most "late bloomers" will tend to be at the lower end of the desire spectrum anyway and identifying as asexual makes sense until that time (and they have no idea beforehand if it will ever come.) And there probably are some people identifying as asexual because there are issues they don't want to deal with. But I don't really see a problem with this since the result is probably just going to be that they delay becoming sexually active until they're more mature and better understand themselves (the horror!!!!)

Then there are the "criticisms from below." I almost never see anyone making these, but these are the (potential) criticism that genuinely bother me. I almost never see the topic discussed, but it has come to trouble me increasingly.

Roughly, the idea goes like this: If we put people on a scale from from 1-99 in terms of their amount of sexual desire (I know this is an oversimplification, but it is a useful one for the purpose of illustration), and let's suppose that "real asexuals" are 1-2 and "gray-A's" are maybe 3-5. Moreover, let's suppose the the median level of sexual desire for the population is 50. I think that few of us, if any, have any real idea of where 50 actually is. Or what 10-30 are like. We are bombarded with hyper-sexualized images from the media giving incredibly inaccurate images of "normal sexuality." And a lot of our ideas of "normal sexuality" come from peers. Yet it is our peers who are more interested in sex who talk the most about sex. And because (hetero)sexuality is such a vital part of preforming gender, people exaggerate their sexual interest quite a bit. The result is that we get absurdly unrealistic images of "normal sexuality" and we probably assume that the median is actually somewhere around 75 or so, rather than 50. We get very little information about the lower ends of this spectrum.

I wonder if maybe a lot of people in the 5-15 range who aren't "really asexual", who aren't obsessed with sex, but who would enjoy it, who would desire it, perhaps only in very specific circumstances, perhaps a lot of these people mislabel themselves as asexual because of comparing themselves to "sexual people" (meaning about 50-95).

Before identifing as asexual, one of the things that left me the most confused was the fact that I don't experience "hotness." I just don't understand that feeling, and it seemed that everyone else on the planet did. I looked for some kinds of signs of validation, that there were other people like that, that it was "normal." And the only place I found it was in the asexual community, where this a a perfectly normal experience. However, since identifying as asexual, I've spoken with a couple friends (who don't consider themselves asexual) who don't experience hotness either. (That experience led to considerable confusion for them as well, it seems.) It makes me wonder.

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Dargon
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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby Dargon » Mon May 25, 2009 10:08 pm

The problem here is defining, on a sexuality spectrum, the asexual/sexual line. Is it at 5? or is it at 15?

Another issue is again, you are calling into question whether sexual enjoyment or desire is the same as sexual attraction. Perhaps I am not the most qualified to speak on this, having found that very specific situation where I definitely experience desire and perhaps even attraction, but I would still say that, at the very least, enjoyment and attraction are not the same thing. Desire, that gets a little grey, as reasons for desire can be varied.

As for the hotness aspect, I don't quite get that myself, though it seems to me that those that don't experience it tend to have, at least in my experience, an artistic, anatomical, or other sort of appreciation of the human form. Such appreciation tends to extend to all body shapes and sizes, hence reducing or eliminating the whole concept of "hotness." It also seems to me that people mistakenly equate the ability to see "hotness" as the ability to experience sexual attraction.

From what I have gathered, most of those able to see "hotness" do experience sexual attraction, but those that don't see "hotness" may or may not experience sexual attraction. I have spoken with a number of sexuals who don't see "hotness," but find that sexual attraction grows as the emotional connection grows, thus they still experience sexual attraction and are indeed sexual.

Again, I suppose it all comes down to that original definition. Do you experience sexual attraction or not.

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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby Isaac » Tue May 26, 2009 1:26 am

For this rank you located 5-15, where I might be in, we have the denomination hyposexual.
I agree with Dargon that attraction/desire, excitement/arousal and tolerance/enjoyment should be measured in different scales.
W.r.t. hotness, that's a concept I don't command in English language, since it may differ from Spanish analogous "estar bueno" in crucial points. After reading AVEN, I'm questioning if my concept of hotness is accurate or it differs form general population. Or whether different people have different concepts and we are not aware of it, as happens with the concept of love. For me hotness is an aesthetic canon, different of being cute, pretty, beautiful... but about aesthetics. I've recently read a Spanish language page of Yahoo Questions dealing with being a woman pretty ("ser guapa") or hot ("estar buena"). Replies form women were about aesthetics (like "pretty is about the face, hot is about the body") while replies from men were about sex appeal. I shall inquire my peers for their exact definition.

Edit to fix spelling.
Last edited by Isaac on Tue May 26, 2009 6:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

pretzelboy
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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby pretzelboy » Tue May 26, 2009 5:11 am

I would be very interested in finding out what people think/feel when they think someone is hot (or "estar buena" as I assume that the feeling is the same regardless of language). As for what sexual attraction is, judging from a recent thread on AVEN (How do you define "sexual attraction"?), it seems that a lot of people on AVEN think that experiencing sexual attraction IS experiencing hotness. Here's the first response:
um you look at someone and they give you a "wowzer in your trousers"....its not a word for word but i like to use that as my little explaination..
You have to go a ways down the thread to find someone disagreeing with this on the basis that not all sexual people experience something like this. Here's another one.
It's when you feel sexually aroused by certain's person look or/and personality.
That would seem to include fantasy. And here's another indication that someone's belief in their asexuality is confirmed by not getting hotness.
Yeah, one of my friends and I were discussing this when I finally found out about my asexuality. We were out and about. We saw a really good looking guy. She asked me what do I immediately think of when I see him. I said that he was cute and that was about it. She said that she could see herself just ripping off his clothes and doing naughty things to him. It was one of those "yeah I'm asexual" moments.

Eventually, we do get a voice of reason, responding to a very reasonable question.
So you are saying that sexual attraction is based primarily on visual? Couldn't there be various other attributes of a person that could make them sexually attractive? Could a person be sexually attracted to someone based on other things?

Guys are highly visual in this area, though there are exceptions. Anecdotal evidence suggests that girls are more varied here, and that smell is an important sense for them when it comes to sexuality. And I've known at least one girl who found particular voices to be highly arousing, and used music instead of visual porn.

Here's a definition that blurs the line between sexual attraction and sexual desire, yet it seem perfectly reasonable.
I think more in terms of attraction leading to desire, a person you're attracted to you desire being with them in the manner of the attraction.


So, asexuals are people who don't experience sexual attraction, but we don't have any idea what sexual attraction is. So, if someone doesn't experience the more extreme/instantaneous forms of sexual attraction, or they have only experienced things that might possibly be very early seeds of "sexual attraction" they may conclude they are asexual. Also, I wonder if there are people who might feel sexual attraction/desire in the context of a close, loving relationship but don't otherwise, who only experience romantic attraction rarely and haven't yet had an experience of such a close relationship who might (mistakenly) consider themselves asexual. I realize that this sounds like, "You just haven't met the right person." I hate that response because a) we don't know if the hearer ever will meet "the right person" b) we don't know how they will respond if/when they do and c) it is used to trivialize the person's experiences and sense of feeling different. Yet there does seem to be something to it. It's the question of if low/rare/infrequent sexual attraction/desire, interacting with low/rare infrequent romantic desire might lead someone to identify as asexual when someone with equal capacity for sexual attraction/desire but more frequent romantic attraction might not.

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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby Lemon » Wed May 27, 2009 2:40 am

I'm so happy that discussing these possibilities are not taboo here, its the kind of open discussion that is progressive and limitless. Huge love for you all.

I have been thinking about this my self because as a happily sexually active asexual drawing lines between romance/pleasure/intimacy/attraction is very difficult... especially because I had some really great sex the other day (the post fight 'lets reinforce intimacy' kind), my desire to be having sex lasted for the entire event (which for me is very rare, sex occasionally seems like a good idea and then I get distracted or simply discover once again that it STILL doesn't interest me) but regardless of this admission I still don't feel like I experience the same thing as my partner or most people.

I guess I do feel some forms of sexual attraction, I can be turned on by smell/visuals/a persons attitude etc... the only problem is its so rare and weak it doesn't lead me to enjoy having sex with people if it ever goes that far.

So on very rare occasions I have 'met that right person' which has led me to feel attracted to them, but it isn't strong enough to develop into a sexual relationship.

I think another important idea to consider is whether desire for sex can be increased and decreased in the same person...

I would imagine the hyper sexual imagery in society is responsible for some peoples higher sex drive, if you are a visually stimulated person then being surrounded with sexual imagery is going to make you more aroused, more of the time. Personally while I don't really feel much attraction to other people, the more sex I have the more my body reacts to sexual stimulation. Some sexual people have told me they feel the same (all women though come to think of it, although I don't often have those conversations with boys so I can't say....)

I wonder what differences this has between the genders, men have a physical function, ejaculation, that would seem to cause men to have a more regulated need for sex (I don't know how asexual males feel about this, fplease chime in, I'm just throwing ideas around) where as all the women I have spoken to seem to feel that the more they get, the more they want, which in reverse means sex drive can vanish after long periods of sexual inactivity.
I know this is true for me and it would make sense that a woman with little or no sexual attraction would not be indulging in sexual thoughts/feeling often enough to develop arousal.

I just asked my sister who considers her self to have a low but existent sex drive. She agrees in that she finds more pleasure from sex if she introduces more sexual images/thoughts into her daily life (be it porn, day dreaming or masturbation) she says it generates more sexual feelings and if she has been focusing on sex she is more likely to reach orgasm from intercourse.

So maybe its possible to increase sexual arousal in an asexual person, especially if you are with the right person and in a trusting relationship where you can be open about what works or doesn't work, which is the case I think for me... however even after I have 'developed' more sexual arousal I still don't find anyone 'hot' which surely must be sexual attraction?

Edited to make it slightly less of a ramble!

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ily
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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby ily » Wed May 27, 2009 1:45 pm

At the risk of sounding like "The 6th Sense", I do see hot people. Granted, it's not often. I'm not sexually attracted to these people, though. (Except for one legendary time in my entire life.) What do I think?...probably just that the person is especially good-looking. I've heard straight people say, "If I wasn't straight, I would totally get it on with ____". So I say to myself, "If I wasn't asexual, I would totally get it on with that person." Even though I can't really conceieve of wanting to.

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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby pretzelboy » Wed May 27, 2009 4:50 pm

I suddenly have an urge to title something "I see hot people."

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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby Lemon » Thu May 28, 2009 1:28 am

Ily, are you talking about aesthetics? A strait person can enjoy the aesthetics of their own sex for example, women buy magazines filled with photos of hot women without necessarily being sexually attracted to them. If you have felt sexually attracted to one person surely you can see there is a difference between some one you know is very good looking/cool/interesting etc... and some one you want to have sex with?

Maybe for the sake of clarity hotness should be defined as some one that makes you hot (under the collar, in the pants, etc...!) rather than is hot (good looking, funny, interesting etc...) :)

I think I have been sexually attracted to two or three people in my whole life, I'm in a 4 year relationship with one of those people but those initial feeling of attraction didn't remain for long or make sex immediately enjoyable/interesting/necessary for daily life. I guess that means I HAVE met the right person and I'm still ultimately asexual.

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ily
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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby ily » Thu May 28, 2009 10:39 am

Nah, I can't really tell the difference. Maybe that doesn't make sense, but I'm not sure why I was even attracted to that one person besides the fact that he had cool sneakers and a great smile. I see plenty of people with cool sneakers and nice smiles that I'd never want to have sex with in 1,000 years. I've had crushes on other people that I was never sexually attracted to, and I probably would have called those people "hot". Slang terms are hard to define. It's like everyone having a different definition of what a "hookup" is.

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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby Clarity » Thu Aug 20, 2009 1:50 pm

pretzelboy wrote:I wonder if maybe a lot of people in the 5-15 range who aren't "really asexual", who aren't obsessed with sex, but who would enjoy it, who would desire it, perhaps only in very specific circumstances, perhaps a lot of these people mislabel themselves as asexual because of comparing themselves to "sexual people" (meaning about 50-95).


I would agree with this, except--why would they be mislabeling themselves? In fact, these people are the ones who would perhaps most benefit from the asexual movement--or at least, from the apositive-style asexual movement, which involves individuality and open discussion and questioning of all sorts of things, vs. a potential alternative asexual movement where people identifying as asexual would feel strong pressure to conform to asexual behavior or face criticism from their own community and ridicule from people outside the asexual community who might see a self-identified sexual acting sexual as an admission of initial confusion or dishonesty.

A huge part of the goal of asexual movement seems to me to be reducing the cultural value gradient where the more sexual you are, the more valuable you are as a person, and the more asexual you are, the less valuable you are as a person. And, face it, probably anyone less than 25 on your 1-99 scale starts feeling the bite of being inadequately sexual according to pop culture and also, unfortunately, to many of their potential partners, friends, and relatives--and maybe even to themselves.

Labels are often adopted for political and social reasons. The difference between someone at 15 on the scale of sexuality and the majority of people who are above 49 on the scale is doubtless politically and socially significant enough to justify use of the term "asexual", unless someone thinks the asexual community would be well-served by requiring that asexuals be people who never, ever experience sexual attraction, instead of simply people who may experience sexual attraction infrequently but still need the asexual label, identity, and movement.

They might call themselves "somewhat asexual", "mostly asexual", "usually asexual", "gray-asexual", or whatever they like when explaining things to other people, but there currently isn't a separate movement for hyposexuals and asexuals, and I think having one would do more harm than good. It would split one group that hasn't achieved enough recognition and very little social change into two even smaller ones, and it still wouldn't remove the ambiguity. Would someone who's experienced sexual attraction once or twice but not for years identify as asexual or gray? Would someone who never, ever wants to have sex (not enough desire) but does experience a small degree of arousal when looking at pictures of sexually attractive women identify as asexual (to indicate their absolute non-interest in sexual activity) or gray asexual (to indicate an attraction which is, after all, otherwise entirely private and personal)?

I strongly support the bisexual movement, because they have a real motive to separate themselves from gay and lesbian groups: People don't believe that someone can be bisexual, and so bisexuals face additional prejudice because they're bi. "Gay" and "lesbian" groups can also become prescriptive terms (you can tell I've been reading other threads here), and bi people can be condemned by their own (gay) community for expressing their desires. But society at large, including most asexuals, has little difficulty in believing that some people experience low levels of attraction/desire (although how low they think "low" means varies widely based on their own experiences), and as long as the asexual community doesn't start demanding some form of asexual "purity" from their members, keeping anyone who thinks the term applies to themselves enough to be useful seems a good path.

pretzelboy wrote:So, asexuals are people who don't experience sexual attraction, but we don't have any idea what sexual attraction is. So, if someone doesn't experience the more extreme/instantaneous forms of sexual attraction, or they have only experienced things that might possibly be very early seeds of "sexual attraction" they may conclude they are asexual. Also, I wonder if there are people who might feel sexual attraction/desire in the context of a close, loving relationship but don't otherwise, who only experience romantic attraction rarely and haven't yet had an experience of such a close relationship who might (mistakenly) consider themselves asexual. I realize that this sounds like, "You just haven't met the right person." I hate that response because a) we don't know if the hearer ever will meet "the right person" b) we don't know how they will respond if/when they do and c) it is used to trivialize the person's experiences and sense of feeling different. Yet there does seem to be something to it. It's the question of if low/rare/infrequent sexual attraction/desire, interacting with low/rare infrequent romantic desire might lead someone to identify as asexual when someone with equal capacity for sexual attraction/desire but more frequent romantic attraction might not.


Thank you for writing this! It's validating in two ways:

(a) You point out that the offensive response "You just haven't met the right person" "is used to trivialize the person's experiences and sense of feeling different." I have often felt tortured by such responses, but I didn't have the words to explain or validate that feeling, and I think now I do--"You're just not listening!"

Responses like "You just haven't met the right person" become dreaded by the entire community who might experience them because they're so hard to argue with rationally--you might feel strongly that the response is false, but mainly what you feel is that it's invalid, not applicable to your current situation, and you can come up with convoluted arguments against the literal meaning of the response, but what you really want to say is "You're missing the point! I'm trying to tell you part of my identity, something that guides my interactions with the world, that's been formed out of a lot of real stress, and even if it changes in the future, that doesn't change that I've struggled with this for the past X months or years and that right now it's actually a really positive thing in my life because it helps me make sense to myself and form healthy interpersonal relationships!"

(b) I think that the interaction between low degree of sexual desire and infrequency of romantic attraction is what impels me to identify as asexual. Or, rather, I don't know whether I'd feel sexual enough to call myself a sexual if I were in "the right" relationship, because I've never had a relationship with someone I'm attracted to emotionally and intellectually, so I don't know if all-around intimacy would make my sexual attraction/enjoyment non-negligible. Lemon's a/sexuality sounds a lot like mine, actually, but I don't know how closely it matches--maybe even with the "right person" I still wouldn't be sexual enough to be sexually active, but on the other hand, maybe I'd actually be interested all the way through. Or anything in between.

From where I am now, that sounds intimidating--like a lot of effort, experimentation, uncertainty, and doubtless disappointment along the way. It could easily destroy a romantic relationship, if "trying" sexually became the main focus--and frustration--of the relationship, making whatever enjoyable connection we had at first die. But then again, maybe that couldn't happen with "the right person". But last time I tried, albeit with someone who was definitely not right--although infinitely better than the one before him--I had an experience I'm not eager to repeat, so I would rather emphasize my asexuality than anything else right now.

As for surrounding oneself with sexual stimuli to increase response/desire/arousal... I often guiltily feel like I ought to do that. I ought to at least try looking at porn, which I've never done before. I ought to get a vibrator and try to "discover my own sexuality" like some of the sex-positive feminists would urge. But since I'm "hypoactive desire" as the good ol' DSM would say, I don't want to be aroused. I don't want to seek it out. In fact, I would really rather not--especially because of all the icky feelings that can result from being physically but not psychologically aroused. And I've learned from experience, in the "operant conditioning" way and more than the "intellectually learned" way that the most likely results of me trying to be sexual will be those icky feelings, because psychological arousal just doesn't happen to me very often at all.

Something I like about what asexuals say--if you want to call them true and me mislabeled--is that you don't have to want to be sexual, and that's alright. At heart, and persistently throughout my life, I don't want to be more sexual than I am, which in effect means I don't want to be sexual. Maybe this would be a bad thing if I were rejecting sexual feelings I truly did have because I was afraid of relationships, or because I'd had a bad first experience with sex and didn't want to repeat it (which is sorta true), or because I had internalized a cultural valuation of sex as dirty, but I don't have to reject any sexual feelings. I don't have many to begin with, most of the ones I do aren't directed at any people, and the remaining ones are very rare and almost never occur in situations I would act on--and when, in the past, I have acted on them, I've had bad results because the sexual attraction disappears when the other person's is just getting started.

But what I don't know is that in the future these feelings couldn't be directed and stick around long enough to lead to sexual pleasure. I don't know that, in a mature relationship, when I was older and had done a lot of experimenting, with a partner who's deeply in tune with me and who I trust entirely and who wouldn't push or expect me to do anything I want, or assume I'm liking something just because I'm not saying I'm not (or even who would believe me when I said I didn't enjoy it and know I was physically pushing them away and not "being [erotically] rough", and who I could communicate this to whenever necessary)--but I don't know that I'll ever be in such a relationship, either. I have waking nightmares from past relationships--even from cuddling--and my negative reactions to bad encounters are much, much more than most people's (or at least I think they are). It's more than I want to risk on the chance (of unknown likelihood) that I would enjoy sex, which I'm not motivated to seek out on any counts other than conformity and curiosity (and maybe even mostly the sense of obligation to whatever label I use to describe my sexuality or lack of one).

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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby Isaac » Sun Aug 23, 2009 9:19 am

pretzelboy wrote:I wonder if there are people who might feel sexual attraction/desire in the context of a close, loving relationship but don't otherwise, who only experience romantic attraction rarely and haven't yet had an experience of such a close relationship who might (mistakenly) consider themselves asexual.

This remark reminds me the AVEN thread aromantic + demisexual = asexual?, which I translated into Spanish language boards ¿ arromántico/a + demisexual = asexual?. In the latter forum, we drew the conclusion that an aromantic asexual may recognize if they're demi who will never find their right person because of their aromanticism depending on how linked are sex and love for them.

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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby Siggy » Mon Aug 24, 2009 6:42 pm

Isaac wrote:
pretzelboy wrote:I wonder if there are people who might feel sexual attraction/desire in the context of a close, loving relationship but don't otherwise, who only experience romantic attraction rarely and haven't yet had an experience of such a close relationship who might (mistakenly) consider themselves asexual.

This remark reminds me the AVEN thread aromantic + demisexual = asexual?, which I translated into Spanish language boards ¿ arromántico/a + demisexual = asexual?. In the latter forum, we drew the conclusion that an aromantic asexual may recognize if they're demi who will never find their right person because of their aromanticism depending on how linked are sex and love for them.

Hey, that was my thread! :D

I actually think that this is a loophole in my own asexuality, one which I fully intend to exploit if possible. :shhh: Don't tell AVEN I said that! They will think me crazy, which maybe I am.

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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby Siggy » Mon Aug 24, 2009 6:57 pm

On the main topic... Mislabeling is generally a bad thing, I think. All other things being equal, I would prefer that people have accurate labels rather than inaccurate labels.

But there are degrees of wrongness. If someone in the 90s range was completely confused, and decided that they were asexual, that would be terrible. But someone in the 5-15 range? I think I might actually be okay with that.

I think I agree with pretzelboy in his blog:
My fear is that there is often a temptation to use this identity normatively--having decided they are asexual, someone feels a need to "be asexual." Recognizing feelings that suggest that perhaps they aren't may be frightening because that sense of belonging may be lost, and if there isn't something to replace it with, if there isn't some other source of validation of their relatively low interest in sex, it can lead to futher feelings of isolation or fears of future feelings alienation.

So it seems to me the real problem is not so much that people might mislabel themselves, but that they might use these labels prescriptively or normatively. So, simple solution: don't be prescriptive about asexuality. Throw our full support behind people who decide they are not asexual after all. Also, throw our full support behind people who have doubts. Tell people that they don't need to be asexual to be able to relate to asexuals some of the time.

I suspect though, that this simple solution is not quite so easy as it sounds.

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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby pretzelboy » Tue Aug 25, 2009 6:54 am

Siggy wrote:I suspect though, that this simple solution is not quite so easy as it sounds.

The only reason that this criticism of asexuality holds any weight is, in my mind, the temptation to use the label normatively. I know that I have felt these desires, and a few other people have indicated this as well on their blogs.

A thread on Apositive (which was a blog post turned into a thread) Labeling: Descriptive vs. Prescriptive) (original.)
On Ace of Hearts: Asexual Musing Part 3: Kissing.

In both cases, the authors say that they feel that they should use asexual identity descriptively rather than prescriptively, but they acknowledge this precisely because they felt the temptation to do otherwise. My suspicion is that ideas about labels I sometimes hear in the asexual community (and elsewhere) about labels being more appropriate for soup cans than people, or that labels should be used primarily to describe ourselves, or labels should be more like sticky notes seem to miss something important about the feelings associated with identity and belonging that are involved. The reasons people may choose to identify as asexual are complicated. Partly it may be a shorthand for self-description, but it is not just description of oneself to oneself. It is a consiously chosen mechanism for self-revelation, and it can involve choosing to identify ourself with others using that lablel. It involves a sense of belonging--it can satisfy a felt need to have a sense of belonging, especially when dominant ideas of sexuality create feelings of alienation instead. And despite silly modernist ideas about individualism, people aren't little autonomous beings going about doing their individual autonomous things by themselves. We are social creatures, living in society, in relationship to others with whom we have mutual dependence. Regardless of how "social" someone is, this is true of everyone who isn't a hermit living off in the desert somewhere who grows or hunts/gathers all their own food. As such, having mechanisms for functioning in groups, means of getting along with others, and means of cooperating with others as absolutely essential for getting things done.

What I'm going to say next may sound radical (perhaps because it might sound ultra conservative, and would thus be radical compared to the people I'm using to being around,) but I feel that it should be more of a mere trusim: social conformity is a basic human need. Cooperation requires shared goals. Communication relies on shared knowledge and expectations. (At the minimum, using language requires shared conventions about the words being used. And how much background knowledge you can expect your interlocutor to have on some particular topic is something people regularly think about. If you assume too much, they won't understand you. If you assume too little, you'll sound patronizing, and you'll needlessly spend time explaining things they already know.) In order for this to work, the people involved have to follow shared conventions. If all of a sudden, you start using the word "dog" to refer to what everyone else calls "cat," that's going to create problems. (Violations of shared conventions can lead to problems sometimes. Other times, the violation itself can effectively be used to make some point.)

In addition to this necessity to conform that we see, for example, in language, most people have strong desire to conform. Many have observed the peculiar irony that many non-conformists attempt to be non-conformist by doing what the other non-conformists they want to be like are doing. People try to rebel by doing the things that others trying to rebel are doing. This makes perfect sense if we assume that most people have this felt need to be like others--at least to be like those that they respect and admire.

My suspicion is that it is these feelings that cause the alienation asexuals feel from sexuality; it is these desires that cause distress and and a subsequent seeking out of others like themselves, others they feel they can relate to. I think it is this that causes people to want to use asexual identity prescriptively, even if their own beliefs about sexuality tell them that they're not supposed to. They want to belong, and belonging to a group generally, if not always, involves conforming to some standards, though there may be plenty of room for debate regarding what those standards are. Because of this, I think that temptation to use an asexual identity prescriptively is unavoidable (for many, at least.) There are things that can be done to mitigate this such as making people aware of it and allowing the freedom to explore things.

Here's a fun bit of irony for you: if you strongly emphasize in the asexual community how people shouldn't use asexual identity prescriptively, lots of people will start worrying about whether they are using asexual identity prescriptively rather than descriptively. They'll start worrying about this because they want to conform to the views and expectations of those in the community they respect, including those making this admonition, especially if it's an admonition lots of people in the community make.

Social conformity is a basic human need, and yet we all know it can lead to lots of problems because lots of people just don't fit into the molds they feel that they should. My own feelings on the matter is that we need to seriously think about which norms are valuable and which norms are harmful. The fact that I feel a little awkward in saying that social conformity is a basic human need, I think, simply proves my point: I don't want to say things that I fear would be seen as too controversial within groups where I value people's opinions.

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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby Lemon » Wed Aug 26, 2009 2:42 am

Social conformity is a basic need, you don't need to do any scientific studies to experience it, it feels good to have consensus with your fellow man... And I'm a huge hippy, I don't think it's a conservative idea at all. The majority of alternate life style are conformity within nonconformity, which is why I live in a town full of hippys who more or less share my nonconformity :)

The reasons people may choose to identify as asexual are complicated. Partly it may be a shorthand for self-description, but it also involves an mechanism for self-revelation (and a very intentional way of choosing to do that), it can involve choosing to identify ourself with others using that lablel. It involves a sense of belonging--it can satisfy a felt need to have a sense of belonging, when dominant ideas of sexuality create feelings of alienation instead.

I think in the case of asexuality its a short hand rather than a sense of belonging. If I tell some one I'm asexual they wont know what I'm talking about so there isn't much sense of belonging to be had from a social group no ones heard of which requires lengthy explanation! Perhaps there is a sense of belonging to be had on 'tinterwebs in fine establishments such as apositive.org but since every one here is pretty open about the variation of asexuality and as you say its a descriptive not prescriptive value I think its worth noting the difference between a feeling of validation and a feeling of belonging.

With labelling and mislabelling I think its a fine balance of benefiting the individual by accepting all variation and benefiting the community through presenting a stable generalisation. For example celibacy is not part of the asexual community, welcome, but it doesn't fall under the scope of asexuality. Sexually active asexuals, while more difficult to generalise and on the border still fall into asexuality (at least no one has told me I can't be asexual and try and enjoy sex yet). For people in the low sex drive area of 5-15% on pretzel's scale perhaps the best solution is a society that understands the variation of sexuality :) but in the mean while as with other less common sexual/gender groups, lumping together in one big rainbow flag group has helped them to become more widely accepted.

Clarity, you obviously don't need to cultivate something you don't want! While it might be possible for you to find aspects of sex you enjoy if you have no motive to try why should you? My motive to exploring the boundaries of my asexuality are, being in a loving relationship with a sexual person where sex is a part of our relationship which we both value, just differently. I have been in sexual relationships since puberty because I didn't know there was any alternative and while I was baffled by my lack of sexual interest and often felt inadequate and frustrated with my lack of sexuality I didn't start searching for the answer until I was old enough for 'your still young' and in love enough for 'you haven't met the right person' to clearly not apply.

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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby Omnes et Nihil » Tue Sep 01, 2009 10:15 pm

pretzelboy wrote:
What I'm going to say next may sound radical (perhaps because it might sound ultra conservative, and would thus be radical compared to the people I'm using to being around,) but I feel that it should be more of a mere trusim: social conformity is a basic human need.

[...]

My suspicion is that it is these feelings that cause the alienation asexuals feel from sexuality; it is these desires that cause distress and and a subsequent seeking out of others like themselves, others they feel they can relate to. I think it is this that causes people to want to use asexual identity prescriptively, even if their own beliefs about sexuality tell them that they're not supposed to. They want to belong, and belonging to a group generally, if not always, involves conforming to some standards, though there may be plenty of room for debate regarding what those standards are. Because of this, I think that temptation to use an asexual identity prescriptively is unavoidable (for many, at least.) There are things that can be done to mitigate this such as making people aware of it and allowing the freedom to explore things.


I'm going to have to disagree with this. (I know you must be shocked... that I emerge from oblivion only to voice a contrary view.)

I disagree, not so much that people experience pressure to conform, but that this is the root of the problem. I think it boils down to two things in fact: misunderstanding, and reactionary politics.

I think a lot of the alienation that asexual folk feel with respect to sexuality has to do with being different *in a way that is not understood*. People are different from other people in all sorts of ways. These don't all lead to alienation. When there's a hierarchy of value, this kills confidence and self-esteem. It sucks, but it's not alienating. What really makes a person feel like they're from another planet is constantly coming up against walls of misunderstanding. There's a reason "nobody understands me" is the hackneyed mantra of teen angst and emo cliché.

Personally, I don't mind being a freak. What bothers me, and what I find exhausting, is having to explain (with limited effectiveness) that people's expectations and presumptions about what it means to exist, interact and engage in relationships simply don't apply to me. It's that sense of "you just don't get it!" that I find alienating.

And that's precisely how I came to call myself asexual. I found people who, in terms of one aspect of my experience, sound just like me. Asexuals get it. For me, it wasn't about definitions or scales. It was really a profound sense of shared experience that I never expected to find. That's why I think debating the 2, 15 or 25 entirely misses the point. If it works, if person with number whatever is on the same page with other "asexuals" (of whatever number), isn't that why we have an asexual community?

*beat* MANIFESTO WARNING

That leads me to the other point... identity labels and the temptation to be prescriptive. I don't think tendency toward prescription follows inherently from conformity pressure. I think something else is happening. (And I don't think the solution is a heavy-handed imperative for people to be descriptive with their labels, in the hopes that people will conform to it and avoid prescription.)

It all comes back to politics.

Edit: this turned into a manifesto about reactionary politics and the development of the "real asexual"... and the cost-benefit analysis of being the "real" asexual to get recognition... and the not-so-cookie-cutter asexuals who suffer for it.

So I decided to post that as its own post. Cheers!

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ily
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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby ily » Wed Sep 02, 2009 1:41 pm

Omnes et Nihil wrote:I think a lot of the alienation that asexual folk feel with respect to sexuality has to do with being different *in a way that is not understood*. People are different from other people in all sorts of ways. These don't all lead to alienation.


This, but also the fact that asexual community is still very different from other communities. Unlike other groups (to use your example, emo people) we have no visual indicators of who we are. When I'm cycling, I'll smile or nod to someone else on a bike. That doesn't happen with asexuals. I feel like a lot of what gives people a feeling of community is going out and being publicly emo with others. The only time I've ever felt that with asexuals was when we were at the pride parade with our banner, signs, and asexual shirts. Not to mention that unlike emo people (again, for instance), with asexuals there is very little pressure to conform. I think this is a good thing that I hope we never lose, but to people going through transitional times in their lives, it's much more comforting to be told, "put this on, show up here and do this". I know more than one person who became Mormon because it offered such a strong sense of community. Heterosexuality doesn't seem like a community, but I think it is-- heterosexuals have their own clothes, bars, social institutions, media, etc. That, paired with the social privilege it gives you, is not easy to give up for something less defined.

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Re: Criticism of asexuality. Maybe there's something to them.

Postby Omnes et Nihil » Wed Sep 02, 2009 11:53 pm

ily wrote:
Omnes et Nihil wrote:I think a lot of the alienation that asexual folk feel with respect to sexuality has to do with being different *in a way that is not understood*. People are different from other people in all sorts of ways. These don't all lead to alienation.


This, but also the fact that asexual community is still very different from other communities. Unlike other groups (to use your example, emo people) we have no visual indicators of who we are. When I'm cycling, I'll smile or nod to someone else on a bike. That doesn't happen with asexuals. I feel like a lot of what gives people a feeling of community is going out and being publicly emo with others. The only time I've ever felt that with asexuals was when we were at the pride parade with our banner, signs, and asexual shirts. Not to mention that unlike emo people (again, for instance), with asexuals there is very little pressure to conform. I think this is a good thing that I hope we never lose, but to people going through transitional times in their lives, it's much more comforting to be told, "put this on, show up here and do this". I know more than one person who became Mormon because it offered such a strong sense of community. Heterosexuality doesn't seem like a community, but I think it is-- heterosexuals have their own clothes, bars, social institutions, media, etc. That, paired with the social privilege it gives you, is not easy to give up for something less defined.


True point. Sometimes I forget about that because I'm so used to being an outsider along so many dimensions that to me, the asexual community actually seems pretty well defined (and the hetero world suffocatingly rigid).

Oh, I initially read "bars" as "bras". I had an amusing yet coherent interpretation for "hetero bras" in my mind... until I realised it was probably a little more "oddball-feminist" than the rest of your post, and re-read it correctly.