This post first appeared on the Good Vibrations Magazine.
A post about the relationships between sex-positivity and asexuality over on feministe.com caught my eye. And before I knew it, I was reading this post and this newsletter from the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. And I think that there’s a lot of food for thought there.
Now, I want to be very careful since, as a non-asexual person, it’d be easy for me to get up on a soapbox and talk about the experience of folks who identify as asexual. There’s a parallel between that and the way that white folks often feel comfortable talking about the experiences of people of color, or heterosexuals do about queers, or men about women. That only recapitulates the centuries of social and legal oppression that many people face. Asexual folks have their own voices and wisdoms, and it’s worth listening to them.
So I read through those and other blogs, looking for the connections between asexuality and sex-positivity. And one of the things that I noticed is that the asexual community is one of the few places in which I’ve heard a clearly articulated understanding that sex-positivity isn’t the same thing as liking to have sex.
In my experience, this is a common misconception. After all, if sex-negativity is the idea that sex is bad (generally, unless it’s redeemed by heterosexual, monogamous relationships/marriage, usually with the possibility/intention of having children), then a lot of people jump to the conclusion that sex-positivity is the idea that sex is good. But sex is neither good or bad- it’s all in how each person experiences any particular sexual practice or event. The meaning of sex resides in the individuals, rather than in the act itself.
So when I talk about sex-positivity (and I do. a lot.), I’m talking about creating a positive relationship with sex. It doesn’t require having any set of desires, practices, or preferences. It doesn’t mean that you have to have sex. It’s not like there’s a set of merit badges that you have to earn in order to qualify.
Instead, I think that sex-positivity means discovering what works for you, in this moment of your life. It means making room for the diversity of sexual pleasures that other people find works for them. It means celebrating when someone else discovers their joy or authentic sexual selves, even (or especially) when that looks nothing like what works for you.
And there has to be room in that for people who are asexual.
The more I explore sexuality and sex-positivity, the more I realize that there’s just as much judgment in the statement “sex is wonderful” as there is in “sex is awful.” It’s just as problematic to say “anal sex is amazing” as “anal sex is terrible.” That’s because sex is too big to fit into one adjective. Sex is both amazing and awful, depending on the situation you’re talking about. Sometimes, anal sex is amazing, at least for some people. And sometimes, it’s awful, again, at least for some people. There’s no sexual act that is always X or Y. Or, as Sturgeon put it, “Nothing is always absolutely so.”
We need to make as much room for asexuality as we do for any other way of relating to or having sex. It’s the sex-positive thing to do.