It's not about the act

For discussion of general issues pertaining to asexuality.
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Nathan
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It's not about the act

Postby Nathan » Mon May 05, 2008 8:03 pm

Most people here seem to agree that asexuality is not simply about whether or not somebody has sex, or even whether or not somebody wants to have sex. It's about whether or not somebody feels sexual attraction, and whether or not sexuality is tied up in how intimate relationships are structured. 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 the act of sex – it's about not interacting with people along a sexual framework, and not desiring/requiring sexuality (note the -uality) 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 around 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.”

It's true, sexual people do want sex, but it seems that sex should be thought of as more of an expression of their sexuality than the 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 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. I'd say, even, that in order to understand asexuality, it is necessary to understand sexuality.

Now I enjoy cuddling with people, and with one person in particular. Recently we were discussing the topic of doing "more." Sure, I could touch somebody in various places, and it would feel nice (physiologically, and probably emotionally also); I assume I would enjoy those sexual things. But pushing button X to light up synapse Y doesn't seem like it leaves much opportunity for a varied and creative sex life, which it seems most sexual relationships have, or seek to have. Adding a few more buttons wouldn't be too different. I used to assume that people did sexual things simply because they were enjoyable, and the significant other happened to be the person to do them with. But as I think about the impression I get of what others do/feel in bed, much of it seems to be more about creating-a-mood sorts of things, being passionate, sexy. Not just “Yep, that feels good.” That's a physiologically-sexual feeling, perhaps, but not enjoyed in a sexual way. As Spin wrote, “...I don't just 'put up with' sexuality; I can even get a kick out of it, if not the same way he does.”

There's not really a question here, but I suppose it's What do you think, does this make sense? It's just thoughts, really – I would like to read yours.
-Nathan
Last edited by Nathan on Tue May 06, 2008 4:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Dargon
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Re: It's not about the act

Postby Dargon » Tue May 06, 2008 4:06 pm

I agree wholeheartedly than sexuality is about much more than who you like or don;t like having sex with. Perhaps this often gets the most attention because it is the most outwardly apparent aspect of sexuality. However, being most apparent does not mean most important.

The AVEN definiton of asexuality is "a person who does not experience sexual attraction." Pretty much any sexuality can be boiled down to a similar definition, "a person who experiences sexual attraction towards [x]." Sexual attraction, in turn, can perhaps be boiled down to a rather base definition, "the desire for sexual attention/stimulation/gratification from [x]." That definition has flaws, but, at least on the most basic of levels, is pretty accurate.

However, as you said, Nathan, sexuality is much more complicated than that. One of, if not the key difference between asexuals and sexuals is the importance, perhaps even necessity, of sex in an intimate relationship. Most people, regardless of sexuality, experience both physical enjoyment and an emotional connection from non-sexual physical intimacy. The act of hugging or cuddling, for example, is somewhat physically pleasurable, but the larger aspect of it is the emotional connection that already exists before the act, and is heightened by the act. I can only assume that for sexuals, sex draws a similar, and perhaps more intense emotional connection. I find it interesting, and perhaps somewhat disturbing that many asexuals, while they understand the pleasure and emotional intimacy brought by non-sexual physical intimacy, they cannot accept, and often outright deny that there is more behind sex than a physical act.

One final remark. Nathan, you said "in order to understand asexuality, it is necessary to understand sexuality." I cannot agree more with this statement, and I figure that it is that exact thought that spawned this forum. Sadly, it seems many asexuals are so caught up in avoiding anything remotely related to sex to realise that by exploring even only the basic concepts of the most general parts of sexuality, they can gain both a better understanding of themselves and of others.

Nathan, your posts so far have been very interesting reads. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

chlirissa
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Re: It's not about the act

Postby chlirissa » Thu May 08, 2008 5:39 am

I share your guys's perspective and pretty much feel it's very similar to what Jay tends ot talk about and is consistent with most of what gets said on this site.

When I discovered AVEN and particularly when I started listening to The Asexual underground (I wish someone would revive it) it was the first time I started thinking about sexuality in deeper more complex ways. The more I read or listened to, the more I cam to appriciate the role that sex plays in peoples lives and to be able to identify with sexuals because I saw that people use sex as shorthands for closeness, intimacy, adventure--a lot of the things desire in my own life. It's hard to navigate that when society conflates these things with something that is fundementally unappealing to me yet gets pushed on me ten times a day.

The seeds are there; it's just the fear and alienation that prevents a lot of asexuals (I too was guilty of this) from being able to recognize, accept or even appreciate the meaning behind the acts and symbols and expressions.

I hope there are more like minded people than you think.

Chlirissa

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spin
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Re: It's not about the act

Postby spin » Thu May 08, 2008 9:21 am

Nathan wrote:But asexuality, as I understand it, is about more than the act of sex – it's about not interacting with people along a sexual framework, and not desiring/requiring sexuality (note the -uality) 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.

That is I don't know, if I'm exactly following your line of thought, but it's got me thinking so I'm going to run with it.

To me, it's the not requiring sexuality.

BunnyK once asked on AVEN, and I felt it was a very good and important question, if those who enjoyed or desired sex felt that sex was a necessary part of a relationship. To that, my answer is no. I feel like I could be perfectly satisfied if all the relationships in my life were nonsexual--meaning without sex, and basically without sexuality.

That said, I do feel that sexuality is an intrinsic part of my current relationship with the fella, because it means so much to my partner, and because, as Nathan quoted above, I get a kick out of that, and I don't just mean physically. On one hand, it does just feel good--he's good at pushing the right buttons to light up my synapses, you could say. There is more to it than that: making each other feel good, being vulnerable to each other, having some power over each other, just focusing on one another. I guess that's part of the '-uality' of it to most people, the underpinnings that make sex more than just a physical act. And I do enjoy that all in its own right, but apart from when I'm extremely physically aroused I don't connect it to the physical acts of sex. I feel the sexuality of it comes from him--the way he wants me makes me feel sexy. I don't know how to explain it. . .the intensity of his sexual attraction to me empowers me.

So. . . I don't require sexuality, and I don't really feel "sexual" in and of myself, but I'm not immune to sexuality either. And sex as a physical act is really just a small part of that. What I run up against is that while my partner understands that the sensual intimacy that comes naturally to me is my way of--for lack of a better phrase--making love to him, and we fuel each others' sexuality, he doesn't think of it as 'sex' if it's not intercourse.

Dargon wrote:One final remark. Nathan, you said "in order to understand asexuality, it is necessary to understand sexuality." I cannot agree more with this statement, and I figure that it is that exact thought that spawned this forum. Sadly, it seems many asexuals are so caught up in avoiding anything remotely related to sex to realise that by exploring even only the basic concepts of the most general parts of sexuality, they can gain both a better understanding of themselves and of others.

That is indeed a large part of why Apositive exists.


Really excellent post, Nathan. Would you be all right with me nabbing some of it for an Apositive blog post?

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Shockwave
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Re: It's not about the act

Postby Shockwave » Thu May 08, 2008 11:06 am

chlirissa wrote:When I discovered AVEN and particularly when I started listening to The Asexual underground (I wish someone would revive it) it was the first time I started thinking about sexuality in deeper more complex ways.

He posted a new one a few days ago: http://www.asexuality.org/en/index.php?showtopic=31441

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Nathan
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Re: It's not about the act

Postby Nathan » Fri May 09, 2008 5:55 am

Shockwave wrote:He posted a new one a few days ago: http://www.asexuality.org/en/index.php?showtopic=31441
That seems to actually be episode #18, at least on my computer. That episode was also interesting though. So was his Asexuality 101 lecture somewhere around episode #10. I really enjoy hearing how his brain thinks about things.

spin wrote:There is more to it than that: making each other feel good, being vulnerable to each other, having some power over each other, just focusing on one another. I guess that's part of the '-uality' of it to most people, the underpinnings that make sex more than just a physical act.
I can definitely imagine what you mean by that. I meant the -uality slightly differently, I think, though it's tricky to sum up what I mean. I just get the sense of what I'm trying to say from reading what sexual people say and seeing how they tend to think. Here's a couple that give the sense of it, I think.

All kinds of nonsexual warmth and affection exists between us... but no sex of any kind. As a sexual person I am deeply hurt and frustrated. Maybe some asexual individuals don't understand the immense depth of emotional bonding and intimacy that sharing sexual pleasure creates between two people. I have learned a lot about feeling close and connected in other ways, but for me there is no substitute for a sexual connection (of whatever variety - I am not talking about any specific physical act)....for me sexuality is part of my every day life, part of moving through the world. [...] My sexuality is such a core part of my identity that I cannot feel wholly loved as long as my partner rejects taking part in sexuality with me.
My husband feels no desire for me, and it shows in everything to do with sex. The way he looks at me, his attitudes to my appearance, the way he touches me - everything is affected by it. It also means that if I look at him in a desirous way, it does not register [...] He never makes those little comments that husbands often make to their wives, implying sexual interest in them. An asexual person might say: "why is this such a big deal?" To me that's like saying: "what's so great about using your eyes to see?" There is much more, and much of it is very subtle and difficult to explain. What it comes down to, in short, is that I feel the equivalent, in sexual terms, of being unloved. There is no way to describe this feeling, but it's almost as significant as being emotionally unloved.

My sense is that sexuality (how I meant it), being a sexual person, is about moving through the world in a sexual way with sexuality a part of who you are, not simply a part of what you do with somebody. Say there's some sexual person who thinks/acts/feels just like any other sexual person (however that is!), but simply isn't able to do the physical act of sex. I'm guessing 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 the people actually <i>do</i> would be pretty similar, but the asexual person wouldn't have all the accompanying thoughts and interactions of, well, having sexuality. Making it tricky! It's great, and a bit inspiring, that you and the fella have figured out how to try to make it work though. I know what you mean by the -uality aspect of other-than-sex things, but that's not quite what I was getting at, I think.

spin wrote:Really excellent post, Nathan. Would you be all right with me nabbing some of it for an Apositive blog post?
Thank you! You mean take the ideas and run with them in your own post, or take an excerpt of what I wrote? Either would be great (flattered!), but if it's my writing maybe I could edit it a smidge first...

Dargon wrote:Nathan, your posts so far have been very interesting reads. I look forward to reading more of your posts.
Thank you very much.

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Shockwave
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Re: It's not about the act

Postby Shockwave » Fri May 09, 2008 7:14 am

You're right, that is episode 18. I'll go poke him and see what's up.

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Placebo
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Re: It's not about the act

Postby Placebo » Sat May 10, 2008 5:43 pm

Nathan wrote:Most people here seem to agree that asexuality is not simply about whether or not somebody has sex, or even whether or not somebody wants to have sex. It's about whether or not somebody feels sexual attraction, and whether or not sexuality is tied up in how intimate relationships are structured. . . . 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.

It's true, sexual people do want sex, but it seems that sex should be thought of as more of an expression of their sexuality than the goal in itself. . . . even the idea “I don't feel sexual attraction” is almost meaningless without an understanding of what “sexual attraction” is to a sexual person. I'd say, even, that in order to understand asexuality, it is necessary to understand sexuality.


I agree, that was a very deep post, Nathan. It's really really tough to tease apart the various components of sexuality. In fact, it's probably mostly impossible. Even the most bare-bones separation would mean that you need to discriminate between sexual attraction, desire, and drive. And within the word "attraction" there are other subtypes, not just sexual but also physical, emotional, etc. Lots of sexual people feel lots of those things together, so it makes sense that it is confusing. Heck, probably each of us relates to each of those aspects of sexuality differently, which makes it even more confusing.

I've seen some people argue that "asexuality" is not "no sexuality" but rather "sexuality directed towards no one." It might be semantics, and I understand the distinction, but for me really asexuality really is having no sexuality, sort of being adrift in this world of assumptions and inside jokes that I don't get and can't connect to. To some extent I can learn what's what, and to a very large extent with my current partner I can sort of crudely approximate between my physical desire/attraction for him and sexual desire/attraction--it's not perfect, but it makes it easier to communicate. But still the fundamental understanding is not there.

That said, I can understand that he IS feeling something that I don't feel, and I do enjoy participating with him in sexual activities, even though I don't feel the drive to do so myself. And I can feel that afterwards and during that he feels more connected to me, happier, more secure, and in a weird way the fact that he is feeling happier and more connected and more secure actually feeds back on me and makes me feel the same or similar. Strange, I know. I think that maybe also when we are cuddling together and I am happy and content it feeds back on him and does the same thing, so actually each of us engaging in our respective "sexualities" or lack thereof, in the context of each other, strengthens our relationship.

spin wrote:BunnyK once asked on AVEN, and I felt it was a very good and important question, if those who enjoyed or desired sex felt that sex was a necessary part of a relationship. To that, my answer is no. I feel like I could be perfectly satisfied if all the relationships in my life were nonsexual--meaning without sex, and basically without sexuality.


That's interesting. I feel the same way. On the other hand, in the relationship I'm currently in with my (sexual) friend, sexuality IS a necessary part of the relationship. And by that I mean that even though I am perfectly happy being celibate and cuddling and being nonsexually intimate with him (and we do that A LOT, he jokes that he gets 10 minutes to my 10 hours, :D ), if we actually did only that and didn't have any sexuality components (including sex), there would be an enormous, huge, gaping hole in the relationship. That would be a sign that something was very very very hugely wrong either with him or with me or with the way that we interact. Even though I'm asexual, I can sense that, that it would be broken. So yes, I could totally have nonsexual relationships (and I do have lots) but for a relationship like this that is already sexual, I can't see it switching. Particularly since my friend is a sexual person and, as Nathan pointed out, for sexual people that's a very fundamental way of expressing love and bonding and feeling loved and bonded in return. I don't have to do it perfectly, but I do have to be willing, interested and able in at least trying to meet him halfway, in the sexuality (not just sex) aspects. Obviously, that's pretty tough to do, because I have to think sort of in overdrive, but that's OK.
"Now it's right for me to be me."

Phil Halvorsen, from "The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff" (Theodore Sturgeon)

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spin
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Re: It's not about the act

Postby spin » Sun May 11, 2008 2:47 pm

Nathan wrote:
spin wrote:There is more to it than that: making each other feel good, being vulnerable to each other, having some power over each other, just focusing on one another. I guess that's part of the '-uality' of it to most people, the underpinnings that make sex more than just a physical act.
I can definitely imagine what you mean by that. I meant the -uality slightly differently, I think, though it's tricky to sum up what I mean. I just get the sense of what I'm trying to say from reading what sexual people say and seeing how they tend to think.

Thank you, and those quotes did help put it into context.
Nathan wrote:My sense is that sexuality (how I meant it), being a sexual person, is about moving through the world in a sexual way with sexuality a part of who you are, not simply a part of what you do with somebody. Say there's some sexual person who thinks/acts/feels just like any other sexual person (however that is!), but simply isn't able to do the physical act of sex. I'm guessing 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 the people actually <i>do</i> would be pretty similar, but the asexual person wouldn't have all the accompanying thoughts and interactions of, well, having sexuality. Making it tricky! It's great, and a bit inspiring, that you and the fella have figured out how to try to make it work though. I know what you mean by the -uality aspect of other-than-sex things, but that's not quite what I was getting at, I think.

Okay, I think I have a better idea what you mean. And yes, that sense of sexuality as something that naturally colors all areas of life is definitely something asexual folk don't have, or really 'get.'

Things aren't all roses and sunshine with the fella--it can be really difficult when we aren't necessarily conscious of the very different emotional processes we each have surrounding sex and sexuality. For example, the sorts of things you're talking about. ..I feel really bad that I benefit from his sexuality--now that I've become comfortable with it, I rather like the nonsexual ways he expresses his sexual interest and the sexuality he reads into things, his '-uality'--but whatever I do, I can't honestly give him that in return. As you say, I don't have the accompanying thoughts and interactions of having sexuality. It takes a lot of extra communication, then, to get across that basically what it all comes down to is both of us doing things out of love. Some of it can be really hard to talk about though, for both of us.

Nathan wrote:
spin wrote:Really excellent post, Nathan. Would you be all right with me nabbing some of it for an Apositive blog post?
Thank you! You mean take the ideas and run with them in your own post, or take an excerpt of what I wrote? Either would be great (flattered!), but if it's my writing maybe I could edit it a smidge first...

I was thinking excerpts. How about you clean up/edit/expand it however you want, and post it in the Blog forum under Website Stuff? So you know, anyone can write something up at any time to submit for consideration for blog posting (and we're a bit behind on the blog lately!!)

Placebo: exactly. You are in my brain. I don't need sexual relationships in my life in general, but I have a sexual relationship with the fella and that's the way this relationship is. I feel something's off when he avoids sexuality (usually when he's sexually frustrated and trying not to push things), and it would hurt a lot to try to go to a nonsexual relationship now because I would feel it as lacking something in a big way.
I tried to explain that to him the other day, and I don't think he quite got it.

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Re: It's not about the act

Postby Bunnyk. » Sun May 11, 2008 6:42 pm

I've actually thought about this quite a lot, often in relation to the posts where asexuals ask "Why can't you just give up sex? Why not just make the sacrifice?" It's hard to explain that no matter how much I deny myself sex, I can't turn off the part of myself that responds in a sexual way to a dance, a rhythm, a warm night breeze in some tropical bar - not that I get aroused by those things, but they lead me to thoughts of sex, or set the mood for it, or just are sexy for whatever reason. I could never turn off the part of myself that thinks that the perfect end to a romantic evening would be a long, passionate, sensual lovemaking by candlelight, because that's what romance IS to me - enjoying the company of your lover in every way possible. Some people see the sex as separate from the romance, but to me they flow and mix; one without the other is like oil and vinegar salad dressing that's missing the oil (or the vinegar). It would be impossible for me to ignore that part of myself - though I don't think it's impossible for it to change on its own.

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ily
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Re: It's not about the act

Postby ily » Mon May 12, 2008 6:08 pm

It's interesting, it seems like at the beginning of every "new" orientation, it's always all about the sex (act). For example, when people were first starting to identify as lesbians, the mainstream communities thought lesbianism was all about crazy, exotic sex, and that's it. But, the lesbians themselves (according to some studies cited in the book I'm reading, Surpassing the Love of Men) would tell you that sex wasn't even a primary concern in their relationships. Now I think people see the gay identity as being more than about just sex, at least in some circles. Hopefully, as people being to see asexuals as actual people, the emphasis on the sex act will diminish...