The Importance of Experience-based Communities

Identity politics are great in many, many ways. When people take on an identity, it allows them to feel like they have a place in the world, and It helps them communicate their experiences more easily.

As an asexual activist, I worked under the framework of identity politics for a long time. In order to explain the asexual identity, I had to explain the experiences that led different people to identify as ace. The visibility work I was doing was so powerful because it was giving words and focus to experiences that weren’t getting talked about. The really amazing thing, though, is that these experiences were familiar to a lot of allosexual people as well. The set of experiences talked about in the asexual discourse wasn’t relevant only to asexual people.

In a way, this has been the asexual community’s “motto” for some time – “it’s a tool, not an identity”. As a tool, asexuality has allowed people to identify the social mechanisms that shape expectations around sex and relationships. As a tool, it allowed people to reexamine how they approach sexual encounters, physical encounters, intimate encounters and so on. It allowed people to reexamine how they do relationships, and try and find what works for them outside of the normative plan.

But even communities who put an emphasis on asexuality being a tool, still base their existence on the ace identity. The community is open, first and foremost, for asexuals.

This creates some problems, because there’s a limit to what identity politics can do.

Identity politics, alongside a large set of advantages, also holds a considerable amount of disadvantages. Basing communities only around identities creates an exclusive club for those who chose to identify under the given label. The problem, as I see it, arises when faced with the conversations I had with allosexual people while doing visibility work. More than once I stood in front of someone who was heavily impacted by the ideas I was discussing, and not because they were asexual. The idea of rejecting the obviousness of sex, the idea of choosing whether to be sexual (and not just with whom), the idea of valuing relationships even if they’re not sexual – all these are extremely radical and potentially empowering ideas, even for people who do experience sexual attraction. The problem is – if any of these people want to continue talking about it, the only place to do so is in communities that are designated for people who don’t experience sexual attraction.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that allosexual people can’t take part in asexual communities. But this can be a less than ideal situation for both the allosexual person and the community of aces: I know that for myself, I would’ve felt uncomfortable taking space in a community that organizes around a label I don’t identify with*. Besides that, I think that a majority of aces might feel uncomfortable if more and more allosexual people, who find the asexual discourse relevant to their lives, came into the community. I think a lot of asexual people would definitely want to keep the asexual community with a majority of aces – which automatically makes allosexual people second-best members of the community. Part of the reason that an identity-based community can be so empowering is because of its exclusivity – for some people, a safe space can be created only with a closed community of other people who identify the same way they do, and that’s totally fine.

But the problem in hand comes exactly from that double-goal of the community. On one hand, we seem to want to open the discourse up for non-asexuals to recognize it and potentially benefit from it, but we close up the communities in a way that doesn’t really allow allosexuals to take part in the discussion as equals.

Are you suggesting to stop doing identity-based communities, and open the communities up for just anybody?

No.

I think there’s a good reason to have identity-based communities. As I said, wanting to have an exclusive safe space is a NEED asexual people have, and it should be met. I think we should definitely have identity-based communities.

I just think that shouldn’t be the extent of the asexual community and discourse, because of the built-in limitations identity politics offers.

What I suggest is creating experience-based communities alongside identity-based communities.

The reason the asexual discourse is so meaningful to some allosexual people is because they can identify with a lot of the experiences that lead people to identify as ace, even if they also have experiences that would “disqualify” them from identifying as such.

I believe that if we could create more spaces to talk about the sexual oppression that works its force upon us all – such as the obviousness of sex – we would be able to open up the discussion to more people. We would be able to create more inclusive spaces, alongside exclusive safe spaces.

Personally, I feel like these spaces are also a need of mine – as someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction. This is because most of the people I interact with are not asexual. Most of the people I create meaningful relationships with do experience sexual attraction. So I have a huge interest in letting them have a space to talk about sexual obviousness, or about how we value relationships according to sexuality or romanticism. Until they have a space to practice these ideas, figure out how they affect them and how they want to deal with that effect – I’m bound to create meaningful relationships with people who might understand how important non-sexual and non-romantic relationships are in my life, but not be able to actually change their personal approach towards relationships. This is because such a change requires practice. And to be fair, I don’t think I have it down yet! I’m still practicing myself. And I feel like I could benefit from inclusive communities, based upon experiences talked about in the asexual community, but not exclusive to people whom their sexual feelings are limited to those experiences. This will not function as a replacement to the existing asexual communities. But it could definitely provide an alternative for those who are seeking for it – both asexual and not.

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* Which is why, by the way, I never felt comfortable taking part in aromantic communities, even though the aromantic discourse, alongside relationship anarchy, is the only way I can find myself thinking of and constructing relationships in my life.

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The Evolution of Asexual Activism

This is about how my identities cannot be summed up in letters.”

I’ve been doing asexual activism ever since I was 19. It’s been my passion, my life-project, my freedom. To talk about asexuality, to educate people… I remember myself at 17, talking to a friend of mine about how crazy I sometimes feel for actually having trouble sleeping at night because some people don’t accept asexuality for the simple lack of knowledge. I would talk about how one day I’ll be interviewed about this on mass media and everyone will know, and how crazy it is to even think this big. Why would anyone else care enough to interview me? But I was restless. And honestly quit crazy. It was that combination that made me feel unstoppable a few years later.

So this is my story: I don’t remember when I started getting interested in gender and sexuality, but it had to be at a young age. At 14 I started identifying as bisexual in order not to limit myself (and also because I did find both men and women attractive, just not in a sexual way). I even came out as bi to my friends at the end of 9th grade. And I had this huge fascination with sexuality, though it still really embarrassed me. I loved sex ed in 8th grade, because we studied it through biology and I got to learn a lot about our bodies and their functions. It was awesome.

When I was 16 I had a conversation with a new friend in my life. We were talking about past relationships, about attraction, and listening to her I realized I’ve never felt what she was talking about. I’ve suspected something might be different beforehand, but because my friends never talked about sexuality I thought this attraction thing and how it’s described is just a big Hollywood invention and no one actually feels that way. Suddenly, I heard myself saying that I think I’ve never been sexually attracted to anyone. And I guess there’s something fucked up about me, but if that’s who I am then so be it. I was extremely lucky that her response was to tell me that there was nothing fucked up about me – there’s such a thing, it’s called asexuality, and she sent me to the asexual forum in Hebrew.

I started coming out as asexual to my friends almost immediately. I said I didn’t find anyone sexually attractive and that’s it. I still kept my bi identity though, on a romantic level. Finally there was a name for what I was! I was a biromantic asexual. This was the beginning of a complexity of identities that will follow me to this day and eventually make me quit mainstream asexual activism.

When I was 19 I came out to my parents, and that’s what I consider as my “official coming out”. This is because up until then I was afraid to publicly speak about asexuality, but this gave a green light to go for it. I started giving talks about asexuality, first in my army base and later on in different LGBT groups. In 2010 I arranged the first ever asexual group to march in Tel-Aviv pride. I was crazy sick that day, almost everyone had cancelled at the last minute, but I went anyway. Sore throat, dizzy head, friends who came after I begged them to do so on the morning of the parade – but it was amazing. I felt like I finally created a place for myself in the LGBT community, even if the community itself still doesn’t see it. Which was an amazing feeling, because I was terrified to go to LGBT youth groups as a teenager from fear of ace-phobia (I thought I’d be laughed at for even thinking of myself as part of the LGBT community, even though I was biromantic). At the end, the person who helped me arrange this group (who wasn’t even asexual, but an ally) turned to me and said – “you do realize you just made history, right?”.

This was the beginning. Then interviews started pouring in, more and more invitation to give talks. Once in a forum meeting, I asked everyone if I could call myself “The Asexual Community’s Spokesperson” because that way people took me more seriously. Everyone said it just made sense – I really am their spokesperson. At the end of 2010 I visited David Jay and I was told, in a café in San Francisco, that I was an activist. I wasn’t even sure what the word meant, but it sounded way too radical to describe me. It was a funny intervention, I must admit (Thanks, DJ and SBB <3). I came back to Israel with knowledge. 2011 was an AMAZING year, with lots of talks, a first ever in an academic conference, the most amazing pride… People started talking about it.

This is when things started to get complicated. For 2-3 years, by this time, I’ve been working on getting the word “asexual” into people’s vocabulary, especially in the LGBT community. And it worked. Hell, it worked so well that I’m still “that asexual chick” to this very day. Only I’m not just that asexual chick.

When I was 15, I was first introduced to the concept of polyamory. It struck interest in me from the first second, and sounded so much more suitable to who I was. This information was kept somewhere in my head, even though for some reason I didn’t give it too much thought. Around 2011 it became more and more important to me. In the asexual discourse going on in my head at the time, I was thinking about concepts like queerplatonic relationships, or WTFromanticism (though I didn’t have the words for these yet). This went wonderfully with polyamory, and my polyamorous identity started to form.

Around the same time I was exposed to the genderqueer discourse and started identifying as panromantic rather than biromantic, due to the understanding that gender isn’t binary. I also started identifying more as a-gendered at the time.

I started fucking with sexual labels. I used them as a game – what can I learn from them, and when can I let them go and do whatever the fuck I want? I sat in an introduction to queer theory course at Tel-Aviv University and my views became queerer and queerer, and I started looking at my asexual activism in a different light. I realized I was using the rhetoric of “we’re just like you, except we don’t experience sexual attraction”. Which might be true for many asexuals, but not for me.

I’m not just like everyone else, besides my lack of sexual attraction. I use the asexual discourse as a political force, in order to object common perceptions of sexuality and relationships. I use the asexual discourse to talk about physical intimacy in words that aren’t-necessarily-sexual and aren’t-necessarily-non-sexual. I use the asexual discourse to experience physical pleasure, sometimes even sexual pleasure, through an understanding of sexuality that allows pleasure to be experienced in various ways that don’t necessarily begin with attraction. I use the asexual discourse to fight the dichotomy of “sexual” and “non-sexual”, of “romantic” and “non-romantic”. I use the asexual discourse to value my non-sexual relationships, in a way that compliments my polyamorous approach. I use it to build relationships I couldn’t have otherwise, through the combination of the poly and the asexual discourses.

None of these can be represented in mainstream activism. In my experience, mainstream activism requires simple concepts, easy to comprehend sound-bites, preferably served with a smile and an upbeat attitude.

In 2011 I was first exposed to the idea of “The Unassailable Asexual” (aka “The Gold Star Asexual”) thanks to Hot Pieces of Ace videos (I miss you guys!). It threw me off completely. To those of you who’ve never heard of this idea, it refers to a political approach towards visibility and community life in the asexual community (and in my experience, in every minority based community…) that we should come off as the most normal, likable, appreciated members of society as possible, besides this one difference. In the asexual community, this means the best representatives would be considered those who are hetero-romantic, have a sex drive, don’t have a history of mental disorders, were never sexually assaulted, grew up in a sex-embracing environment, were always asexual, and are generally positive, friendly, attractive people who enjoy the company of others. This approach is a direct result of the responses asexuality gets. No one can tell “The Unassailable Asexual” that they are asexual because of something.

It’s easy to brush off a comment such as – “were you ever sexually assaulted? Maybe that’s why you’re asexual” with the answer – “no, I was never sexually assaulted”. It’s much harder to explain to someone why their question is actually invalid to the situation. In the ace community, we all know the difference between PTSD symptoms that can sometimes result in the avoidance of sex and between not experiencing sexual attraction. Explaining that is difficult.

It’s far more difficult to explain that even if the person in question is experiencing a lack of sexual attraction due to sexual violence, it doesn’t make their feelings, identity, or life experience less valid.

And it’s insanely difficult to explain to people that sexuality is fluid and is influenced by numerous factors and experiences, and asexuality is just another possibility for our unstable sexuality to sometimes be. And if you have a five minute segment, it’s plainly impossible.

For the last two years, after realizing this, I decided as a political act to keep presenting myself as close to “The Unassailable Asexual” as I could when it came to mass media interviews. This meant I talked about being biromantic, but I never ever talked about having mental disorders. Or a fear of trying new things. Or a fluid sexuality. Or being polyamorous. This stuff would sometimes come up in talks that I gave (as long as they were longer than 30 minutes). I decided to represent the easy-to-digest asexuality rather than representing myself. I put the queer Gaia aside for the media, and would let her publicly out only during in-depth LGBT outreach.

This became harder and harder as years went by. I found myself facing questions I had to choose how to answer – the “normal”, simple answer, or what I really thought. When people would suggest that asexuality can’t be a sexual identity because it’s a phase, should I tell them I’ve been ace my entire life, or should I say that their question isn’t relevant to my understanding of human sexuality? Or to how sexual minority discourses evolve? One would be the smoother political answer, the other would be what I actually believe. When I have five minutes, I have it decided for me already. But when I have an hour long talk – I get to choose. But for a while I was afraid that if I were to answer what I really thought, I would let down the whole asexual community. Because not everyone who identifies as asexual sees sexuality like I do, or believes that asexuality is more important as a discourse rather than a solid, essential identity. And when I’m appearing somewhere as “Gaia, The Asexual Community’s Spokesperson”, I have to take that into consideration. And I can’t express my opinion – my sex positive, queer perspective has to be silenced in order to represent the community.

This became impossible in the past year. During the past year I’ve experienced, for the first time ever, major shifts in my sexuality. I found myself enjoying sex occasionally, or having very sexual periods of time along with my “regular” asexual periods of time. I still consider myself asexual, because I don’t find people sexually attractive. I do find sex to be attractive sometimes, though (further explained in my post, Asexy Sex). Up to now, when I’ve been asked in outreach activities why don’t I just try sex to see if I like it, I had my simple answer ready. I knew that saying that “it hasn’t happened before and probably won’t happen unless I ever actually want to have sex” was a compromise – I knew that some asexuals were having sex and enjoying it, but because I wasn’t one of them I could keep my record “clean” of confusing experiences to the normative audience. But once I started desiring sex occasionally, I couldn’t do that anymore. I had to start giving the long explanation every time I was asked, trying to verbalize my approach towards attraction, physical intimacy, physical pleasure, not-necessarily-sexual-not-necessarily-non-sexual experiences and so on. Which was confusing, and I probably lost a lot of the audience along the way. And I would only ever dare to do it in a talk, never in an interview.

So I stopped doing interviews altogether, fearing I’d be asked about sexual pleasure in a way I can’t gloss over anymore due to my personal experiences. And when I would talk about my experiences in almost every environment but my queer community, I’d get laughed at. I didn’t even bring it up in the Israeli asexual community because I knew the majority of people on the forum don’t come from a sex positive or a queer point of view, which would make it impossible to explain – and might even make them think I’m trying to “take” asexuality and the essence of its definition and presentation away from them. It was easier to talk to queer folk about asexuality because we had similar views on sexuality in general.

Last pride I reached my limit. It took me about two weeks to write the A5 page long fliers. This is because I was trying to explain asexuality MY way, but also in a way the community could feel represented by. I had to find a way to explain asexuality as a sexual identity without using the term “sexual orientation” (why? Read here). I had to be careful not to knock gray-a’s out of the flier’s explanation. I had to be careful not to dichotomize romanticism and aromanticism.

And that’s when it hit me: of course no flier is going to represent all of us. We all have different approaches to sexuality, sex, relationships and so on. We have different ideas about what asexuality is, and that’s perfectly fine. However, I felt obligated to put aside my queerness because our audience was mainstream. And it’s okay for those kind of politics to exist, it’s just not the politics I can stand behind anymore. So I’ve decided that those are the last fliers I’ll ever write representing the entire asexual community.

I’m not going to stop representing asexuality, but I am going to stop representing asexuals. I’m representing GAIA from now on – sex positive, queer, poly, radical feminist Gaia. And I’m going to talk about queer asexual politics, and whoever agrees with me is welcomed to join the new voices I wish to bring into asexual activism. We can’t be one unified community anymore, because to face the truth – we never were. I feel like we had to present ourselves as so in the beginning, to get people thinking about asexuality, to get the word and the basic concept out there. But if we have different approaches to sexuality and relationships, it just makes sense that we’d have a variety of political approaches as well. I believe we’re ready for something new – for queer, non-mainstream asexual politics, alongside mainstream outreach. I personally feel I’ve put asexuality on the map in Israel, so I feel comfortable enough to quit building the asexual hegemony. This means I can’t do interviews anymore, and even 30 minute talks are a little short… But it also means I can be ME, and that’s fucking fantastic.

I’ve heard rumors flying around, in the international asexual community, that I’ve quit asexual activism. That’s not entirely true. I’ve quit being the spokesperson, being THE asexual representative in Israel – but being the political person I am, I could never really quit asexual activism; I just have to do it my way this time. I think we’re ready for that.

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This is one of my struggles as someone who identifies as sex positive first, asexual second.
I always feel bullied when I get to the part of (A)sexual where Dan Savage says it’s difficult for him, as a “sex positive person”, to embrace this sort of asexuality.
This post verbalizes Savage’s use of the term “sex positive” wonderfully, putting it in terms of the sexual freedom Olympics.

The Asexual Agenda

I’m writing it on and on : I’m asexual and sex-positive. Even AVA, our French organization, is sex-positive. And I surely don’t want anybody to think otherwise. I don’t want anybody to believe that I have anything but respect for the consensual practices of others. So I keep writing that I’m asexual and sex-positive. But this is not a complete truth.

As you may or may not know, asexuality is often interpreted as being inherently anti-sex or as a judgment against the sexuality of others. And in fact, we’re often assigned to the wrong side of sexual freedom. There’s been quite a lot of discussion on this subject, like the Kaz’s piece that my friend Wonktnodi has translated in French. And as a matter of fact, we’re not the only group that is consistently encouraged to “free” itself sexually. It’s as if some sexualities were less free than others. And…

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Asexy Sex

Sometimes I feel like we don’t talk enough about sex. When I give talks about asexuality, I explain “why not” – why don’t we want sex, how we are unattracted and so on. For some asexuals, this will be the full truth. But I always feel like I’m hiding something. I feel that what differs me from other people is not how I don’t have sex, but how I do have sex.

We all have reasons not to have sex in different situations in life. It’s not foreign for sexual people not to want to have sex with someone sometimes. After all, we don’t desire sex all the time and with everyone. Sometimes we have something else we rather do. Sometimes there isn’t anyone we find attractive around us. Sometimes we wish to focus on other things in life. Sometimes we just don’t feel like it. Not wanting to have sex isn’t a mystery. Wanting to have sex – that’s a matter to think about.

Why do people want to have sex? Is it because they find some people so unbelievably attractive that they just have to sometimes sleep with them? Is attractiveness the most important motive for sex? Surely, it isn’t the only one – people have sex for many different reasons. But is attraction a requirement for desiring sex? I shall not presume to answer why people have sex, but I shall begin my pondering with a story.

 

Emotionally Safe Sex

A few months ago I wrote a piece for a Hebrew sex education website about “The First Time”. At first glance, you’d think – why would they let an asexual write that?! But while I was writing, I found that my asexual experience was actually helpful. I may not have a lot of practiced knowledge about the technical part of sex, but I had so much to contribute to the emotional side of sex.

I remember talking a little about the technicality in sex ed in school. It concentrated mainly on (heterosexual) “safe sex”. Safe sex refers to engaging in sexual activity while taking necessary precaution in order to prevent the transmission of STI/STD and pregnancy. While this is without a doubt an important topic, I feel we neglect emotionally safe sex. Emotionally safe sex, in my opinion, is engaging in sexual activity while taking necessary precaution in order to prevent scaring experiences, for sex to remain a fun and positive activity. And I haven’t seen that topic addressed too much.

I mean, sure – we all heard the “you should only sleep with someone when you’re ready”… But what does that mean? How does one know when he’s ready? It always feels to me like people mean to say that you one day pass the line of “readiness” and that’s when you can start getting sexually active. This makes me feel like an undone steak, as if I started my way in the human sexuality factory, and was left halfway into the assembly line. Being asexual, I will probably never cross the line of “sexual readiness”, even though I crave physical intimacy. This brings me into physically intimate experiences with a very tricky baggage – I feel unready for traditional sexuality, but very intrigued by alternative paths for physical research.

I think the concept of sexual readiness comes from a common perception of sexuality as a ladder of intensity. You know, you start somewhere with kissing, move on to making out and end up with sex (with other potential stops on the way). As if sex is the highest point of physical pleasure we can reach with a partner. I strongly hold the belief that figuring out what is pleasurable for you, sexually and otherwise, and being able to communicate that with a partner is a key to emotionally enjoyable and healthy physical partnership.

Discussing these concepts with fellow sexual friends, it seems to me as though this is relevant not just to the asexual community. I feel many people struggle with the dichotomy between sexual readiness and un-readiness, and more specifically – between sexual and non-sexual. In talks I give about asexuality, talking about desirable physical intimacy brings up the question – “where do you draw the line between physical non-sexual intimacy and physical sexual intimacy?” To this I respond with a question of my own: where do you cross that line, and more importantly – does that line matter? When we put such an emphasis over sexual experiences, as being the high point of physical pleasure – that line definitely matters. It divides your experiences to sexual worth ones and non-sexual less-worth ones. During this process we sometimes forget to ask ourselves which sort of experiences we really find desirable, regardless to our “sexual readiness” status.

Another difficulty is that the concept of sexual readiness isn’t very open to shifting or fluid sexuality. One can be very sexually desiring at one point in life and very non-desiring in a different point in life. Moreover, one can shift from desire to non-desire within a single situation! That’s because we’re human and our feelings aren’t always solid or consistent. Speaking in terms of sexual readiness and a ladder of sexual intensity opens the door to “pushing the bar”: reaching a certain rung of the sexuality ladder, perceiving that as changing your current sexual readiness status and not being able to take a step back (or sideways) if wanted. As an asexual, my sexual desires have always been questionable and potential to change. When you’re at the bottom of the sexual spectrum, every tiny change is noticeable and I feel that makes the asexual discourse more sensitive to the need of ongoing consent or the option of saying “no”.

In my experience, the asexual community offers questions for self physical research that have been more helpful to me than the discourse of sexual readiness. In order to be “sexually ready”, you need to agree that there is a fundamental difference between sexual and non-sexual experiences, and that one requires a different method of consent. The way I see it, every activity in our relationships should include consent – or may I even dare to say, enthusiastic consent – and therefore the question of sexual / non-sexual is irrelevant, so is the line of readiness. Desirable experiences are welcomed, regardless to their nature.

Asexy Sex

My asexual truth is – I sometimes enjoy sex. I don’t see sexual pleasure, even with a partner, as contradicting to my asexual identification. I still don’t find people sexually attractive, but I do find my own ways of creating pleasurable intimacy with people I’m non-sexually attracted to, and that sometimes expresses itself with sex.

I feel my asexual identification has led me to a more accurate perception of my desires – sexually and others – and how I wish to express them. For this, I need to create asexy sex: sex that is motivated by the constant question of desire, and that is – paradoxical enough – not always necessarily sexual. This can only be practiced by deconstructing the lines of sexualness and non-sexualness, and finding your own path of desires within this discourse of obviousness.

Will it still be called sex? Or will I still be classified as asexual? With all seriousness, I don’t know. Call it asexuality, call it critical sexuality, call it Al as far as I care – but my idea of asexuality is not just locating myself at the lower part of the sexual spectrum but also to criticize the sexual spectrum itself and creating an alternative method for human connections. That, for me, is asexy – even when it comes to experiences so perceived as traditional sex.

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Is Asexuality a Sexual Orientation?

The asexual community has been around for a little more than a decade. For a long time, the asexual community has been outreaching to the public, wanting to explain the asexual experience. They called it “the fourth sexual orientation”.

But is asexuality really a sexual orientation? In order to address this important question, there are two terms that need extra clarifying: “sexual orientation” and “asexuality”.

1. Sexual Orientation

The common usage of the term “sexual orientation” asks us one question: people of which biological sex do you find sexually attractive? Categories of sexual orientation are divided according to one’s answer. For example, if my answer to this question is “people of the female sex”, I would be categorized as Lesbian.

This division isn’t as innocent as it seems. The term “sexual orientation” does not relate solely to sexual attraction, but has gone to accommodate many assumptions on behavior and intent. In order to fully understand the common usage of the term “sexual orientation”, we need to examine what people assume when they categorize the world through orientations:

1. The first and most important sexual identity

Assumingly, if you’ve figured out people of which biological sex you’re sexually attracted to, your job of understanding your sexuality is done.

The obvious question to follow is of the content of on’es sexual activities. Is the sexuality of a gay man who is into BDSM more similar to another gay man or to another BDSM person? Where should we draw the lines of identification – by subject of attraction, by desired activity, by desired frequency? What differs one sexuality from another? Which difference is more important?

2. Desired sexual activity

It is expected from people of same sexual orientation to desire similar sexual activities.

For example, discussions about homosexuality tend to concentrate on anal sex. You’ll be given options, of course – active, passive or versatile – but non-penetrative sex is hardly ever brought up as an option for gay men. And if a gay man is to admit not liking anal sex altogether, not as active and not as passive, he might be perceived as a “broken homo”, even if in fact he finds other homoerotic activities appealing.

3. Sexual essentialism

Or in other words: “I was born this way…”.

Many would agree that we don’t have much control over our sexual desires. However, common discourse jumps to the conclusion that the only explanation for our uncontrollable sexual desires is that our sexuality is unambiguous, everlasting and never-changing. An essential and permanent part of our humanity.

A gay man will always be attracted to men, end of story. But what if that guy would happen to find throughout life one single woman sexually attractive? What does that mean? Is he bisexual? But he doesn’t find women attractive, he finds this one woman attractive. And what about someone who found mostly women attractive in an early age, but in an older age is almost exclusively attracted to men? Was he always gay in denial?

Truth be told, common discourse, using sexual orientations, doesn’t allow these sorts of shifts in human sexuality. Common discourse puts an emphasis on the most recent and decisive answer to the leading question – people of which biological sex do you find sexually attractive?

4. The main factor in significant relationships

Though sexual orientation asks about sexual attraction, there is a misconception that we are to be emotionally attracted to the exact group of people we find sexually attractive. Which means – if I find men sexually attractive, I’m obviously also interested in an intimate and romantic relationship with a man.

Those of you from the asexual community reading this probably know that sexuality and romance don’t always go hand in hand… But for those of you who are unfamiliar with the asexual discourse, a full explanation will follow in the asexual identity section.

You can see that this discourse is very limiting. Think about it – the sexual identity that is perceived most important in one’s life (that is supposed to affect not only his sexual relationships but all of his most intimate and meaningful relationships) is set by an answer to a single question – people of which biological sex do you find sexually attractive?

2. The Asexual identity

Throughout the past decade, the asexual community has tried to define asexuality. This is a long and complicated discussion. Identities tend to set clear boundaries, and the asexual community has always striven to be open minded and accepting. But we still needed a main idea to gather around, a title to help explain our experience. AVEN has defined asexuality as a lack of sexual attraction, which I feel is the most common and accepted description for what unites the asexual experience.

But if I look at the discussions held in the community (at least in the Israeli community – I must admit I hardly read in English speaking forums), I find three main areas of similarity in how different people describe the asexual experience:

1. The low part of the sexual spectrum

If we were to draw a scale of sexual attraction, asexuality would be the lower part of it. It’s not an “off” button to sexuality, but a range of lower-than-normative amount of attraction.

2. Asexual essentialism

Such as categories of sexual orientation, asexuals usually claim a feeling of essentialism – we’ve always been asexual and probably always will be. It’s a part of who we are.

3. Romantic spectrum

The issue of intimate relationships has been on the asexual agenda from day one. Asexuals are struggling with questions like – how can I create intimate relationships without sex? What would these relationships look like? What is intimacy and how do I mindfully create it?

In order to talk about meaningful relationships, the asexual community came up with the romantic spectrum, which is similar to the sexual orientation spectrum. Instead of asking ourselves to whom we are sexually attracted, romantic orientations ask us to whom we are romantically attracted. This means that every identity on the sexual spectrum has its twin on the romantic spectrum – hetero-romantic, homo-romantic, bi-romantic, a-romantic and so on.

The asexual orientation?

After examining what people mean by the term “sexual orientation” and examining the asexual identity, I want to address the question that we started with – is asexuality a sexual orientation?

Let’s look at the points of similarity and difference:

(V)  People of which biological sex do you find sexually attractive?

The first similarity is the leading question of sexual orientations. Asexuality gives an answer to that question – we don’t find people of any biological sex sexually attractive.

(V) A/sexual essentialism

A second similarity is that asexuality as well as categories of sexual orientation is experienced as an essential part of a person’s identity, a part that has been there all along and isn’t likely to change.

Though, unlike common discourse about sexual orientation, the asexual community is less protective of the asexual label than what I’ve experienced from groups of different sexual orientations. The asexual identity is prone to that thought thanks to the spectrum of sexualities that fit under the asexual umbrella. Sexuality can shift and change and from my experience, many people fear that because they are afraid of losing their identity. The asexual community really gives people the opportunity to identify as asexual as long as they identify with the community, without forcing people into tiny boxes of sufficient answers.

(V/X) The effect of sexual identities over meaningful relationships

This is a tricky point to address, because it has some similarities between asexuality and sexual orientation, and some differences. Both categories, of sexual orientation and asexuality have an effect over meaningful relationships. However, the nature of that effect is very different: Your sexual orientation sets boundaries of potential mates for intimate relationships. Asexuality, on the other hand, says nothing about the people to potentially create meaningful relationships with. The effect asexuality may have is over the nature of those relationships.

Furthermore, the asexual discourse opens possibilities for intimate sex-less relationships for sexual people as well. By separating sexual attraction from romantic attraction, the asexual discussion allows these identities not to necessarily overlap. Some people identify with mismatching romantic and sexual orientation. For example – a man who finds men sexually attractive but wishes to form romantic relationships with women: a homosexual hetero-romantic. So the asexual discourse is actually starting to dissemble the immense power sexual orientation currently holds over our meaningful relationships, giving people the opportunity to identify their desires of intimacy regardless to their sexual desires.

(X)  Desired sexual activity

The first real difference I find between sexual orientation and asexuality is the effect over our presumably desirable sexual activities. As I claimed before, identifying under a certain category of sexual orientation is expected to result in certain sexual behaviors. However, identifying as asexual says close to nothing about your sexual behavior. Some asexuals would prefer not to be sexual at all, some enjoy certain sexual activities, and others enjoy sex occasionally. Asexuality sets no boundaries to your preferred sexual activity, but supplies questions for self research that help people who experience less sexual attraction to understand what they want in terms of sexuality. The asexual identity’s emphasis is solemnly on the amount of sexual attraction, and not at all on the activities of which that attraction results in.

(X) Questions asked

The main difference that in my opinion everything revolves around is this. Sexual orientation asks us a single question – “people of which biological sex do you find sexually attractive?”. Asexuality, on the other hand, asks us a variety of questions concerning relationships, sexuality and romance. In the asexual community, we’re not satisfied with asking “who do you want to be sexual with?”, we also ask – “how much do you want to be sexual?”, “which sexual activities do you desire”, “which do you not?”, “with whom do you desire intimacy?”, “what would your intimate relationships look like?”, and so on.

This variety of questions allows people to give many different answers without losing their asexual identity. The asexual community focuses much more on the questions you ask yourself than on the answers you give.

In conclusion, as long as we use the term “sexual orientation” as part of our vocabulary, I have no doubt that asexuality is one of the categories that should be offered. However, I suggest to more critically examine a term we so obviously use and refer to as the basic element of human sexuality. I suggest examining human sexuality through a variety of questions rather than a single answer.

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