Sex-Positivity and Asexuality: Bringing Them Together

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.”

And, at its heart, that’s what sex positivity is about; while a natural progression of the freeing of sex from its clunky and occasionally sinister moral baggage, taboo nature, or all-around prudish denial may be the kind of highly enthusiastic embracing of sex as act and as intimacy that is so clearly illustrated in the people who most directly benefit from it, the point, really, is simply to naturalize sex and allow people the opportunity to pursue the sex life that is most wholly fulfilling to them – so it’s not that (practicing) asexuality is an outright denial of the validity of sex positivity, but rather simply another manifestation of its central goals. To be celibate as an asexual is to lead a sexually fulfilling life,just perhaps not in the way implied through the term.

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.

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7 Responses so far.

  1. BEG says:

    One thing I notice a lot is that “sex positive” generally seems to mean that you must like having sex, which definition/usage I’ve had a *lot* of trouble with (and I am NOT asexual). It doesn’t seem to make much room for people who are currently celibate, or for people who are very strictly vanilla and don’t go for the BDSM or “kink”. Or even for people who make perfectly coherent objections to cultural issues surrounding sex (eg, *any* critique *whatsoever* of pornography earns one a “sex-negative” label). For these reasons, I generally prefer to go with “sexual freedom” — as in the freedom to choose the sort of sex (or not) that works best for you, without censure by anyone else…

    Interesting that the asexual folks make a similar complaint, but on reflection, makes perfect sense 🙂

  2. icel4nd says:

    Maybe it’s time to stop talking about sex and just start having it. If there weren’t legal restrictions in place to keep some people from doing what they want with their junk, that’d be easier.

  3. Barney says:

    The problem with statements like “sex is wonderful” may be the use of the copula, “is”. It disguises a statement about people’s experience of sex as a statement about sex itself.

    It’s similar to saying that a book “is” great for example. The statement is really about someone’s experience of the book, but by disguising it as a statement about the book itself it creates potential for false conflict with someone who didn’t have a great experience of reading that book.

    There’s a form of English that some people try to use that doesn’t include the word “is”, or “be”, “are” etc.

  4. Barney says:

    sorry should have given the name of the form of English – E-Prime

  5. Minerva says:

    First, let me thank you effusively for writing this post. Thank you!!! As an individual who identifies as both asexual and sex positive, I have been continually frustrated by the pervading notion that these identifications and the personal perspectives that lie behind them are contradictory.

    Not so!, as I think you’ve well pointed out here. For me, my sex positivity means that I seek to grow out of a personal understanding of sex as negative, unclean, base, or any other moralistic adjective I learned from my childhood in the Catholic Church. This change in perspective I then try to manifest in my actions and words towards myself and other people who are themselves sexual.

    Ultimately, my asexuality means that sex is a very rare, if not entirely absent, event in my life. However, that does not mean that I do not have a perspective on it for myself and others. My perspective: sex is a profoundly complex and personal experience that everyone should enjoy the right to interpret and integrate for themselves. Also, I hope that everyone is experiencing the kind of sex that is truly fulfilling and life-affirming for them.

  6. Caitlin says:

    Wonderful post! I’ve thought a lot about asexuality and am horrified by the judgement and assumptions of psychological damage/abnormality made about people who identify as asexual. Being part of a sexual minority myself (hypersexual straight female) I could really see parallels with the kind of aspersions cast on people like me, even when they’re couched in terms of concern about our mental health/self-esteem. Genuine sex-positivity is about recognising diversity and respecting everyone’s autonomy to have the sex they want to have and assign their own meaning to it, and that logically includes any decision or inclination not to have sex at all…

  7. B says:

    (Just realized I’m a little late to the party, sorry about that.) I identify as ace, but I’ve never understood how sex-positive = anti-asexual. To me, sex positivity is an attitude that just says you like whatever sex you are or are not having; everyone’s sex lives are different, and if you’re content with yours, keep on keepin’ on.

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