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.
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.