About Last Night: I’m turned off by the thought of physical intimacy 25-11-18

December 30, 2018

Q: I think our society is obsessed with sex. The pressure to look sexually attractive, same sex relationships, sexual abuse, assault and harassment, controversy about contraception and abortion, infidelity, sex-ed in schools, worries about porn, or STIs … it seems to be everywhere you look. I think I must be a freak. I am not sexually attracted to anyone, of any gender, or body type. I have had deep friendships, bordering on what I suppose is love, but I have absolutely no inclination to become physically intimate with people. Is there something wrong with me?

A: The short answer is no. As you observe, our society can give the impression that you must have a robust sex drive in order to be healthy, but sex is really not compulsory. People have varying levels of libido. Some experience low libido at certain times in their lives, such as when breastfeeding, when depressed or on medication, and in old age. We are all on a sexual spectrum of desire. At one extreme are so-called “sex addicts”. At the other, are asexual people (or “aces”) who do not experience sexual attraction at all. This is simply one way to be normal.

What all human beings actually crave and need is connection, relationship, love, and positive validation from other humans. Asexuality only becomes a problem when it impacts on our ability to connect authentically, with others.

I spoke to Josh Muller, who is a psychologist specialising in gender and sexuality, working with LGBTQIA+ clients at the Mind Equality Centre in North Fitzroy (mindaustralia.org.au). He says, “Asexual people are normal, they are not broken. Often the issues asexual clients and I work on are about discrimination and erasure, or relationship dynamics.”

Many couples struggle when one is more interested in sex than the other, as Dr Rosie King explains in Good Loving, Great Sex: Finding Balance When Your Sex Drives Differ. Aces do form strong, loving connections. They just do not want to have sex. It is natural that this could be a source of conflict when only one partner is asexual.

It is horrible to feel like a “freak”, like you are the only person experiencing something challenging. Connecting with a community of people in the same situation can be an enormous help.

Muller recommends AVEN (the Asexual Visibility and Education Network) as the best resource for Asexuality and Aromanticism (asexuality.org). He also says that David Jay, the founder of AVEN, has a great TED talk on asexuality (youtube.com/watch?v=VLI09O8bMkU).

There was a time when society understood that a powerful relationship could be platonic and non-sexual. Today, when we read about the Bible’s King David and his love for Jonathan, or the connection between Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, we assume they must have been gay lovers. Similarly, we doubt that men and women can be “just good friends”, but the sexual element is not a given.

The problem is, as Jay explains, love and sex are inextricably “Velcroed together” in our thinking, with romantic, sexual relationships given the highest priority and value. This can lead us to believe that, if someone really loves us, they will also desire our body. It is this misunderstanding that can cause us to engage in “mercy sex” to please or reassure a loved one.

I asked Muller if aces ever have sex for the same reasons. He responded: “The answer is sometimes! Some aces describe their experience as sex-repelled, while others are maybe more indifferent. I also tend to normalise this by noting that most people find some sex acts repellent. For some it is ‘scat’ play, others just oral sex. Aces can and do have sex with partners to please them, and have a mixture of feelings. Asexuality is more about the sexual attraction, rather than arousal or behaviour itself, as these things can align or not with each other.”

I think that we could all benefit from disentangling love from sex. The strength and depth of a loving relationship is not measured by how often we have, or enjoy, sexual intercourse.

Email: abtlastnight@gmail.com

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