It's not about the act

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It's not about the act

Postby Nathan » 25 May 2008, 08:02

Most people on Apositive seem to agree that asexuality is not simply about whether or not somebody has sex, or enjoys sex, or even about whether or not somebody can want to have sex. It's about sexual attraction, and whether sexuality is a part of somebody's life and a necessary aspect of intimate relationships. The media like to portray asexuality as “Here's somebody who doesn't want sex.” Even many asexual people say something like “Asexuals don't experience sexual attraction, and don't want to have sex,” again making it about the act. But asexuality, as I understand it, is about more than some particular act, or group of acts – it's about not interacting with people along a sexual framework, and not desiring and requiring sexuality (note the -uality, the whole sexual mindset) to be a part of close relationships in the way that sexual people do. Thing is, it seems that sexuality, too, is about much more than the act of sex, even though wanting sex is a main part of the common description.

In David Jay's podcast #18, he interviews sex-positive sexuality-education advocate/activist Nora Dye, who biked across the country talking to sex-education folks. She says that “There's this sort of assumption, or belief out there, that when I said sexuality, people thought [I meant] sex. And that's not what I mean at all! The physical act of having sex is such a small part of sexuality for almost everyone – I mean, I haven't met anyone for whom that's it, that's the end of their sexuality is the physical act of having sex.”

I used to assume that people do sexual things simply because they are enjoyable, and the significant other happens to be the person to do them with. Sex, though, is not merely another way sexual people want to be intimate, an extra part of a relationship. Say there's some sexual person who thinks/acts/feels just like any other, but simply isn't able to do the physical act of sex. It would be far easier for another sexual person to have a relationship with that one, who still is sexual in every way except for the particular act, than with an asexual person who says, “Sure, I'll do whatever, just not have sex.” What those partners actually do would be pretty similar, but the asexual person wouldn't have all the little accompanying thoughts, interactions, and understanding of, well, having sexuality.

My sense is that being a sexual person is about moving through the world in a sexual way with sexuality an integral aspect of daily life, close relationships, and sense of self. It's true, sexual people do want sex, but it seems that should be thought of as more of an expression of a person's sexuality, which permeates all aspects of a relationship, than their final goal in itself. I think that in order for asexual people to create fulfilling relationships with sexual people, it is necessary to understand how sexuality ties into a sexual person's life.

Much of the asexual talk, it seems, is about what asexual people don't want to do (“I don't want [____], simple as that”), rather than about all the things that both sexual and asexual people desire in common. And I think that to find those commonalities requires a broader understanding of how sexuality is a part of most people's lives. The slightly more useful asexual talk is about how people feel, but even the idea “I don't feel sexual attraction” is almost meaningless without an understanding of what “sexual attraction” is to a sexual person, and what role sex plays in their life and relationships. I'd say, even, that in order to understand asexuality, it is necessary to understand sexuality.