Nicole Daedone and the Invisibility of Asexuality
There’s a youtube video making the rounds of a TEDxSF talk by Nicole Daedone, founder of OneTaste Urban Retreat Center, and there’s a lot of great stuff there. She talks about many of the challenges we have around sexual shame in general, and female orgasm in particular. She speaks with authenticity about topics that many people only whisper about, if that. And she offers some great insight for how we can change that. I liked it a lot and I definitely recommend checking it out.
At the same time, she said something that I found troubling:
Female orgasm is vital for every single woman on the planet… It roots our fundamental capacity for connection.
This is the kind of sweeping statement that a lot of sex educators and sexologists make. And while I agree that for the majority of folks, orgasm is pretty important, I’m troubled by the way that these sentiments render asexual women invisible.
While we don’t know how many people are asexual, why some people are asexual, or what influences some folks to move in and out of asexuality, the fact is, some people genuinely feel no sexual attraction to other people. Some folks might experience sexual arousal through masturbation, either with or without orgasm, and some people never experience sexual arousal at all. Although some people are quick to assume that this is the result of trauma or other factors, enough asexual people have made it clear that this is simply how they are that I consider it part of human sexual diversity.
Over at the Good Vibrations Magazine, swankivy wrote a few articles on the topic that shed some light on a set of experiences that are often swept under the carpet. Many people who are asexual want and create relationships with a deep connection, without bringing sex into the mix. Others feel no desire for romantic connections, so they create deeply personal and important relationships without that dynamic.
Granted, for most of the women who don’t experience arousal or orgasm, there’s something going on that would benefit from attention and healing. As Ms Daedone points out in her talk, for a lot of people, there is a deep hunger for connection, for passion, for arousal, for pleasure, and for orgasm. Without taking anything away from that, it simply isn’t the case for “every single woman on the planet” and when someone has such a large audience as Ms Daedone has, it becomes even more important to be aware of and mindful of that diversity.
I have a great respect for Ms Daedone and her work. I have spoken with many of the people she and others have helped and supported through OneTaste, and I know that their lives have been transformed. Along with that, I invite her to make room for a group of people that is often ignored and discounted. As a skilled sexuality and relationship educator with a very visible platform, I think she has a responsibility to acknowledge that her very powerful message isn’t relevant for every single person on the planet, and to use language that makes room for that.
Check out her talk- there really is a huge amount of excellent stuff there and she’s a great speaker.
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I certainly agree with you on the topic of asexuality. One of my former girlfriends was asexual, and yet we had a very deep relationship without any sex at all. Granted, as a partner that wanted to support her I thought there was something wrong physically or mentally. I mean, who didn’t enjoy sex?
As time went on I gained a greater understanding of it and didn’t push the issue too much. So yes, anecdotal as it is, from my own experience it is possible for someone to be asexual and not let it interfere with a relationship. Of course the partner has to be loving and understanding as well of this, not just dismissive.
It’s led me to the idea that the sexuality spectrum should include those who do not have an interest or desire in sex at all and are still perfectly happy.
A quick tour of the OneTaste website suggests to me that Nicole Daedone might respond with something roughly like the following.
“Charlie, are you and I talking about the same organisms? I’m talking about orgasmic meditation, and I will stand by the statement you object to, that OM is vital for every woman. If you are talking about sexual orgasm, as in climax, then I agree with you. Some women who don’t experience that kind of orgasm are better off that way. But no one is better off for not experiencing OM.”
I’m not defending her point of view (in fact, I disagree with it). I’m suggesting that you take her definitions into account. I think doing so would make your critique more useful.
First of all, thank you so much for opening this conversation. It’s really my fault–I shortened my story about discovering OM because of the rapacious TEDx time limits! The way I usually begin is with my own personal period of celibacy. I was one week away from moving into the San Francisco Zen Center. The kind of sex I had been having up until that point in my life no longer appealed to me, and as a result I had very little interest in pursuing sexual relationships. So while I wasn’t asexual in the definition you describe, I certainly knew what it felt like to be without desire.
When I found OM, I discovered there was another way. I realized I had been trying to make my body fit someone else’s definition of orgasm, rather than sinking into a definition of orgasm that fit my own body. I saw that the given definition of orgasm misses the fact that every woman is orgasmic, just as she is. Climactic or not. Asexual or hypersexual. This kind of orgasm is actually not about a traditional definition of sex at all.
The orgasm I’m talking about is our resting pulse. It doesn’t go away, whether we choose to engage in sexual relationships or not, whether we have desire or get aroused or not, or whether we’re cranky or irritable or “not in the mood.” (In fact, being cranky is a key signifier of having so much orgasm it gets backed up in the body–we call that “tumescence.”)
When I say this kind of orgasm is critical for every woman, I mean it’s critical like air. Like water and food and connection and nourishment. It’s our source and it is available to everyone, no matter where they fall on the sexuality spectrum. It’s a definition specifically designed so it can include every woman, regardless of how–or if–she expresses herself sexually.
Thank you again for opening the conversation, and especially for all of your generous words about the video. I appreciate it more than you know.
Thanks for chiming in, Nicole. It sounds like part of the difficulty here is that you’re proposing a a re-definition of the term, which is something I totally support. Actually, I’ve long been of the opinion that many men are pre- or non-orgasmic, even though they may ejaculate quite often, which I think is in alignment with what you’re saying. At the same time, given that most people use the much more common definition of “orgasm,” it’s easy for people who are asexual to hear what you’re saying as no different from what they hear so often. If there’s a way you can get your message out there without that, I think it’d be really useful.
As a single asexual, representing only my own opinion, I can’t say that I like the idea of redefining “orgasm” to include everyone. Frankly it strikes me as an attempt to understand everyone else’s experiences by jamming them into a model that has worked for one’s own experiences. It’s like when religious people can’t think of a way to understand atheists, and so assume that atheists “worship” science. If people’s experiences don’t fit, maybe you just need to make it more metaphorical.
And underlying this (intended or not) is a desire to normalize people who have orgasms. If this normalization leaves some people in the cold, does that mean that our definition of “orgasm” is too narrow? Or are we being confined by the normalization itself?
Point well taken, Charlie! Yes, I am usually much more on top of that specifically as the topic of asexuality is one that has touched me. I was just so damned nervous at the talk that I missed like five of the points I was planning to make.
BTW thank you for the brilliant definiton of a man being pre or non orgasmic yet still having ejaculation. If I may use this, I would love to. Women often get what I mean, men have a more challenging time. I think this spin might help.
And thank you again for “keeping me honest’ as it were. The very last thing I want to do is make yet another person feel crappy about feeling anorgasmic, like something is wrong with wanting it or not wanting it.
As a female-bodied, genderfluid individual who has long struggled with gender stuff, I find Daedone’s work intensely problematic.
Generalizations about “women” don’t work for me because the people making them almost never define what they mean by “woman.” I would love to hear what Daedone means when she talks about “women.” Folks identified as female at birth? Folks who self-identify as women? People with functioning clits?
Plus, anyone who makes blanket statements about humans in general beyond “humans require food to live” and similar super-basic stuff, is just plain wrong. People are different, people are weird. There is no One True Way.