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» Got Questions? Get Answers. » TOWN HALL » Scarleteen's Ed Stead » Finding ways to make sex ed work with asexuality (Page 2)

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Author Topic: Finding ways to make sex ed work with asexuality
Heather
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You are all so completely fantastic, thank you so much for informing this conversation the way you have. [Smile]

This is just a bookmark: I need to do my rounds this morning with all the service portions of the site and org, but I look forward to circling back in a little bit to dig in. You've given me a lot of really great, helpful things to think about and move my thinking forward with. Cheers!

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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nleseul
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Funny story: The AVEN wiki doesn't even have a page titled "sex." Seems like we don't really even have an shared definition for this thing we all know we don't want!

I do understand the importance of broadening the definition of sex, from an education and sex-positive viewpoint, and I think it would help the asexual community a lot to have more dialog with the sex-positive community; our identity would probably make a lot more sense to the outside world if it were defined by reference to the understanding of sex that is actually used by sex educators.

But on the other hand, the more the meaning of sex gets blurred, the more that gap that makes asexual experiences distinct from non-asexual experiences gets lost. The reason why asexual people found the need to create that identity is because there's a big category of things that are typically called "sex" that are extremely important in most people's lives, but not in ours. That makes us have difficulty connecting with other people, especially when it comes to intimate relationships. While we could, in principle, go with a "sex is whatever feels sexy for you" model, and claim that cuddling or Doctor Who roleplay or shibari is what constitutes "sex" for us, that's just going to confuse potential partners even more without a lot of explanation. "Asexual" is basically a shorthand way of saying "not interested in the four or five activities that most people consider 'sex.'" It's our lack of desire for those activities that sets us apart, even if there might be other things we enjoy that could feasibly be defined as "sex."

I'll grant that sometimes asexual discourse does tend to focus on "sex" being the mainstream, commodified presentation of sex rather than the sex-positive interpretation. We're hardly completely unfamiliar with the broader understanding, though. AVEN is pretty full of people who are homo-, bi-, or pan-romantic, who are transgender, agender, or genderqueer, or who are otherwise queer-identified, so it's not like we never encounter the idea that "sex" is more than just putting a penis in a vagina. But even people with those non-cis, non-hetero identities still find the idea of "sex" to be something they find worth disidentifying with.

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Venn
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I've just had time to a brief skim on this, but I have a few points.

1. "I'd really need to know how someone talking that way was defining sexual attraction. "

This caused a little giggle fit, because you have no idea how much I would love to hear a proper definition of sexual attraction that isn't recursive ('feels like you want to have sex' counts as recursive). I know I assume that this 'sexual attraction' feeling must be pretty obvious once you feel it because no one seems to be able to define it, so I figure I would have known if I felt it, and thus haven't felt it. This is a somewhat common approach (see: "my borogoves feel mimsy" in the essay linked at the bottom).

2. Sensuality and sexuality are two very different things. Sexuality tends to be a sensual thing, but sensuality isn't always a sexual thing. BDSM is a sensual thing. It's about me, feeling my body and enjoying my body. It's not a sexual arousal, it's a physical arousal. It's like the rush of a really good workout, or the soft contentment of a quiet evening in on the couch watching the snow fall. Just because it's sexual for most people doesn't mean it's inherently sexual.

quote:
1) is it not inherent in the definition that BDSM be consensually arranged? So if an asexual partner set up a scene with someone who was going to spank them, does this not define the moment as sexual in nature?
No. It is a sensual moment. For some people it may be sexual. And I'd say that it can be sexual for one person and not for the other, but even sexual people(*) don't always experience BDSM and kink as a sexual thing.

I have written a lot on the topic of asexuality and bdsm. A rundown of the basics can be found in this essay, which was written with a fannish slant, but may still be useful.

(*) you mentioned you don't like the word sexual used as a general term for non-asexual people. This is the second time I've heard this, and I don't understand it. Would you be able to elaborate on why this bothers you and/or suggest another term? Would it be less bothersome if it was presented '*sexual'?

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Heather
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Yowza! And I come back to even more helpful and amazing stuff than when I left!

Suffice it to say, there is SO MUCH HERE, and I really appreciate it. I think the best way for me to dig in in my responses is to start with my "I get it, that totally works" pile, and then move on to my conflicts or confusions.

Because those of you coming in have been so helpful to me, I'll do the latter by also filling you in on what got me there. As a person with a marginalized sexuality myself and an ally for everyone else in the same spot, I know it can be nice sometimes to know what helped someone get something when you're trying to get people to understand you. Hopefully that'll be helpful to other educators in the same spots I've been, too.

So, in no specific order:

asexuality as orientation, not just identity: I'm in. I'm a stickler with language too, so I think the toughest part of this for me was how orientation itself is mostly defined, and same with sexual orientation. But if I frame it as not just being to/with/on but also about HOW someone is oriented and, more to the point, how MUCH (or how little) someone is oriented to others sexually then it all works for me.

In other words, if I think about the how much like this: strongly heterosexual and homosexual people are VERY oriented very specifically. Bisexual people somewhat oriented and less specifically. Asexual people are not oriented. Obviously, we have all the shades in between, but that makes a lot of sense to me.

I was personally already using the definition of asexuality Cleander reiterated, about other people, but additionally, what got me there was also Cleander talking about indifference, then nleseul talking about how broadening sex blurred the lines of making asexuality specific (because I understand orientation as very non-rigid, without demarcations, so I needed to find how this fit without massively separating it, just like with other orientations).

the BDSM/sensuality stuff: Venn, all of what you said was so helpful. Not just with getting that piece, but actually with a very nice Aha! about something I've been trying to explain as an educator for a long time now and having limited success doing, which is getting people to recognize that sometimes when we think what we want is sexual, or are seeking out sexual things, what we're really looking for is only sensual. I agree with you, that's a huge piece of sexuality, but it also exists separately, and the distinction can be tricky sometimes. So, when we have some people not finding what they want in sex, I think sometimes this is why. When we have some people jumping into sexual things when it's clear that really doesn't feel right for them, save the physical piece, I think sometimes this is why.

I've tried to explain that before much less specifically, and you just gifted me a lovely tool. Cheers! Extra bonus? I get it now. [Razz]

Those are my biggies. Btw, if I can do any of you the same good turn you've done me and you want some help from someone with a sex education/sexuality background per trying to come up with a definition of sex for that Wiki that works for you, give a shout. I'd be happy to help if you think you need it.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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I'll probably have to revisit this tomorrow to engage as much as I'd like to, but per the conflicts I'm having, I thought I'd just bring up my mixed-feelings -- actually, with the population I work with/for, they're not mixed, they're pretty strongly resistant -- about framing everyone as either sexual or asexual, and my issues with "sexual" in that context.

Again, I'm an educator for young people, so that's who I'm focused primarily on with this, but there's some issues specific to women that come up for me with that, too.

With women, women are, as a group, highly sexualized. Women's value has historically often been presented as primarily sexual, violence to women is often justified this way, survivors of violence are often treated poorly through that lens, and of course, there's the notion that women are for breeding to contend with. That's a MASSIVE summation of some very big stuff, but the point is that I think assigning "sexual" -- especially if it's being assigned, not self-claimed -- to women can enable or continue some seriously bad juju that's been seriously bad for women.

Young people of late have been expressing, in pretty serious droves, feeling very sexualized, feeling so, so much pressure to be sexual or present as sexual. Given commercialization having a field day with this, that's no shocker. Young people also have long faced challenges when it comes to puberty around this, that when they begin to look certain ways that some people consider sexual or have sexual feelings about, pressures can be felt to react or behave sexually, even if they don't feel that way. To boot, many will often voice that they feel as if they have to pick either being people who are sexual or people who are not sexual at all, that the middle in there that's probably true for most of them (if not most people, period), isn't something they tend to be respected in. They often feel polarized like that already when it comes to their sexual identities.

I guess what I'm saying is that I feel like we have already seen and are seeing how that division has impacted and does impact people, and from what I can tell, it's mostly really not good or comfortable or something that feels positive.

I can get how it might feel a little more positive to someone in the "not" group, because that's basically the no group, which then creates a yes group, if you follow me. The former is about inaction, the latter about action. Does that make sense?

Now, I'm hard-pressed to come up with a one-word shorthand that would do the trick here. But I got two: how about just not asexual? I mean, I'm not a mathemetician. Other people are. I get why for you, asexual works, but for me amathematician is no better than "not a mathematician." Would I feel differently if most people in the world were mathematicians? I don't know. Maybe. At the same time, a substantial number of the people in the world my age, for instance, are parents. I'm not a parent. And that works okay for me. I think we also always need to be pretty careful when we're assigning identities to other people who we aren't based on who we are.

So, can't some people be asexual while other people just aren't? Seems to me that referring to people who aren't asexual as people who aren't asexual should work pretty well, but I'd be curious in everyone's thoughts.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Cleander
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On orientational models:

It's true that the conceptualization of asexuality changes depending on the orientational model. For consideration, a few models:

-my favorite model is the storms model of sexual orientation, which I find interesting. (there is some discussion of it here: http://apositive.org/viewtopic.php?f=32&t=57). Under this model, there is a sort of graph with two axes, for heterosexual and homosexual attraction. Heterosexuals would be high on the heterosexual scale, homosexuals high on the homosexual scale, bi/pansexuals would be high on both, and asexuals would be low on both. And an individual could fall anywhere on the field, accounting for variations within orientations. Libido/sex drive differences are unrelated to orientation under this model.

-another model that I've seen is a grid with two axes, one of which is gender attraction (homo/hetero - basically the kinsey scale) and another for intensity of attraction, from asexual to hypersexual. This model isn't quite as good, though, since it makes it hard to account for romantic/affectionate aces. Also, it basically equates asexuality to low-libido.

And as there are two common models, there seem to be two common perceptions/definitions of asexuality:

-the first, which I ascribe to and discussed before, is asexuality as a lack of attraction to any gender, but not related to libido etc. This is basically the form of asexuality defined by the storms model.

-the second, which I would disagree with but commonly see used, is that asexuality is unrelated to gender attraction, but rather is the result of a lack of interest in sex/low libido. I don't really like this model, since it doesn't account for high libido asexuals.

which leads me to the subject of......

------------
romantic/affectional attraction.

I don't remember seeing this discussed before here, so I thought I'd bring it up. A very common idea in asexual theory is a seperation of affectionate/romantic attraction from sexual attraction. Romantic attraction (sometimes called affectational attraction because romantic can have sexual overtones to some people) refers to a wish to be close emotionally, but not necessarily physically.

under this model, there are "homoromantic, heteroromantic, aromantic, and bi/panromantic" orientations that basically mirror their sexual counterparts. For most people, their romantic and sexual orientations match - a straight person, for example, would likely be a heterosexual heteroromantic. However, some people may have non-matching orientations - for example, a girl who likes girls romantically, but not sexually, could be a homoromantic asexual. And a man who would have sex with both men and women but might only feel emotional attraction to women could be a heteroromantic bisexual. In addition to explaining asexuality, it also helps a lot of the variation among bisexuals, or some people who's sexual behavior and stated orientation may not coincide.

It's interesting to see, sometimes, how people put different emphasis on different orientations. For example, some people determine stated orientation by their underlying sexual orientation (who you might sleep with), while others define it by romantic orientation (who you might date.)

And so, yeah, if you combine this model with the storms model, you get a ridiculously complicated model with two graphs, and it's the best approximation I can think of. And it still isn't perfect, since it doesn't address fluidity and is limited by the binary. But, it's a start.


-----------------------------------------
On "sexual" - I agree, that "not asexual"/"non-asexual" would be a preferable term, as it is much more neutral in terms of connotations.

And this is just a musing, but I think maybe one of the reasons that it isn't often used is that it seems like a sort of weird double negative - asexuals are already a negative, a "not something", people who are missing sexual attraction. And being "those people who are missing something" is not a really positive feeling - it feels like being broken. So we have taken that idea and made a new name, "asexual." But then to turn around and talk about people who are "non-asexual" or "missing the the fact that they are missing something." It's weird.

Also, it's a little weird because it is referring to a majority, a common norm, in reference to the standard of a minority, which is the opposite of how things usually work. And this mentality may not even be a bad thing - it's an interesting excercise to think that way. But it's definitely a little weird. It's like referring to straight people as "non-gays", or religious people as "non-atheists"

Of course, even with that I still think "non-sexual" is a better term. Because no matter how sensible it's origins, it just has way too many problematic connotations.

--------------------------------------

also, asexuality as a spectrum

another point I'd like to make is that there isn't really a clear asexual-sexual dichotomy: there are people (commonly called grey-A's) who are in an ambiguous are between sexual and asexual. They may experience sexual attraction only very rarely, or they may experience very slight attraction that is not enough to act on, or anything else. They often get forgotten a lot, but they're an important group.

[ 08-24-2011, 06:47 PM: Message edited by: Cleander ]

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Heather
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quote:
It's like referring to straight people as "non-gays", or religious people as "non-atheists"

That way, for sure. But I think there are places where we do that and it's a lot less contrived. For instance, "I don't think she can get it since she isn't gay," or "That's hard for people who aren't atheists to understand." (In that latter one, I think the benefit is also more clear. If someone is identifying a GIANT group of people who aren't something they are, there is probably a lot of diversity in that group. Like, that group, in that instance, wouldn't just be made up of deists.)

Or, "People who aren't asexual sure seem flummoxed by asexuality, don't they?" [Razz]


quote:
another point I'd like to make is that there isn't really a clear asexual-sexual dichotomy: there are people (commonly called grey-A's) who are in an ambiguous are between sexual and asexual. They may experience sexual attraction only very rarely, or they may experience very slight attraction that is not enough to act on, or anything else. They often get forgotten a lot, but they're an important group.
Very much agreed, which is one of my points about not setting up an asexual/sexual binary. And as someone who works in holistic sexuality, the kind of people you're describing actually don't get forgotten at all, because that's a group of people who often seek out help with sexuality, especially if they assume sexuality is something with a simple on/off switch.

Around romantic feelings and attraction, I'd say something similar. By all means, in mainstream culture and pop culture, sexual feelings/orientation and romantic feelings/orientation are often assumed to be the same things or as automatically intertwined. But I know that's certainly not the way I present them as an educator, and I think it's safe to say many sex educators don't, especially if they work/are educated/are outside very heteronormative spheres.

I agree, I think Storms' model is a goodie (save that I don't like the assumption that those of us who are bisexual are effectively both hereosexual and homosexual: I feel it's more accurate to say we're neither), and I added it yesterday to our core piece on questioning.

I'm heading off for the day, but thanks again. I look forward to having this dicussion keep turning! [Smile]

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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(On a side note, as I run off, this issue with language is also one that comes up all the time for inclusive educators. For instance, a lot of us have been working pretty hard to get people to recognize that calling the whole group of people who aren't men women, or vice-versa, isn't sound.)

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Venn
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I'm glad you found that useful! I have a post specifically on experiencing sensuality if you haven't been poking around already.

Okay I understand the distaste a bit more now, but:
quote:
So, can't some people be asexual while other people just aren't? Seems to me that referring to people who aren't asexual as people who aren't asexual should work pretty well, but I'd be curious in everyone's thoughts.
To me that reads like "why can't we just have asexual people and normal people." I know that's not what you mean but look at it this way: We use the word cisgender because we recognize that defining the categories as 'trans* people' and 'people' is problematic. It's the same with 'ace people' and 'people'.

As an aside: Language and words are so important in ace communities. A lot of asexual people have had to work very hard to create the language needed to describe our own experiences. The words just don't exist otherwise. There are also very few ways for an asexual person to be out and asexual without using their words, so language can be a particularly delicate subject.

[ 08-24-2011, 08:02 PM: Message edited by: Venn ]

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Former Lee Warmer
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I was thinking about this and made a connection that you may find useful. Back when the idea of being involved with BDSM was most appealing, I was struggling with severe undiagnosed depression. Perhaps for some the notion of pain in a safe controlled environment is nice because it distracts from inner pain. Like why some people cut.

Of course, this is not always (or probably often) the case but this is an option for a nonsensual reason to do BDSM.

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aceposter
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Hullo, kinky non-binary grey-A over here.

1. Adding to the BDSM convo: The subjective experience of X kinky activity need not be in any way sexual. And I resent the way kink is painted as always sexual in nature; I've heard many aces talk about how that has made them feel conflicted, and start questioning their identities, even though nothing about their experience has changed. Sometimes a whip is just a whip.

Similarly, masturbation isn't always experienced as sexual, either; it can simply be a physical release that carries no connections to sexuality for the subject. I've heard this talked about and sympathize. And I'm pretty sure that could extend to sex, too, as a-thing-I'm-doing-but-it-doesn't-feel-sexual-really.

2. "Not asexual": As Venn just mentioned, that's like using "not trans" for cis people. Problematic. It's othering and normalizing and, you're right, it creates a false binary.

I believe it's important that we have a group name for all the sexual orientations that aren't ace (asexual, demisexual, and grey-asexual). I believe we experience the world in profoundly different ways, and we need to capture that in order to communicate properly. I know sexual privilege is not a popular idea, but ace oppression is absolutely a real thing.

3. Also, as a grey-A, even though you claim we aren't forgotten about 'cause we often seek help, I sure don't feel remembered. Especially since my word for myself rarely gets recognized or validated. Really, I feel that's part of *why* I've felt compelled to seek out some help, is because my experience/identity is not visible anywhere. And, it's usually seen as a problem and something I'd want to "fix."

Plus, no, demisexuality is not "the most common." Dangerous misconception. I got here by finding you quoted on tumblr saying that. My response: Demisexuality Is Not

And I would quibble with the way you're defining sexual orientation overall. It's about the experience of sexual attraction - who/when/how. Saying it's specifically about being oriented at a specific set of people - well, that hurts people who simply use "queer," too, and yes, that definition makes demi and grey-a quite difficult to incorporate.

4. It's easy to say "why would we include not-sex in our sex-ed?" But it is so important that sex-ed be about all experiences of a/sexuality, that it mention that, oh yes, you might not experience these things or maybe you experience this other thing, and that might change but also it might not, this is all okay. And hey, here is a keyword so you can go find community and support. Where else is anyone going to learn this, either to find support for themselves or to learn there are people with different, valid experiences?

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tl;dr I recommend following tags/blogs on tumblr, where all the deep conversation happens and a whole community will spring to discuss these issues with you. Grey-a's, still not so represented, but the #asexuality tag is quite strong, and #demisexuality also gets many responders. Many more patient and polite people than I, that's for sure.

You may also like asexualsexologist.wordpress.com.

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Heather
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(Just an FYI, my schedule went sideways, so I won't be at the boards today for folks engaging specifically with me. Again, super-appreciate everyone's additions and thoughts, and I'll be back to dig in some more Friday. Cheers!

OT: Yes, I'm familiar with Dallas and think she's awesome. Was able to spend a little time during a training last year. Maybe I'll give her a nudge, actually, and see if she's up to coming over here to take part, too.)

[ 08-26-2011, 11:37 AM: Message edited by: Heather ]

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About MeGet our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Kazaera
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Hi, nonbinary repulsed wtfromantic asexual representing. [Smile] I came over here from I forget but possibly tumblr. (Speaking of which, since someone mentioned checking out the asexuality tags on tumblr - the tumblr asexual community has, for the past several months, been experiencing a series of vicious and hateful anti-asexual attacks. So if you check out the tags, be aware that there is going to be nasty stuff popping up and in comments, and be aware that a lot of the tumblr asexuals are at the end of their rope so tempers are a lot shorter than they might otherwise be. I do agree it's a good place to go for discussion apart from that. Another good place to check out are the linkspams at Writing from Factor X)

Some thoughts:

- I think it is very, very important to have information about asexuality presented on this site, because asexuality is so invisible that a lot of asexuals don't realise it's a possibility. I get very worked up about this issue because I actually ended up in a traumatising and unwanted sexual encounter (I go back and forth on calling it sexual assault) because nobody ever told me that it was possible not to want to have sex at all, ever. If I'd heard from anyone, anywhere, that it was possible to be asexual I'd probably have been able to recognise it in myself, but because I didn't I tried to fit myself into heterosexuality with disastrous results.

- because of the invisibility issue, it's actually important to slip mentions of asexuality in lots of places. Some asexual people might come to a website like this and search for "I don't want to have sex, what's wrong with me?" and find asexuality info, but other people might not because they don't even make it that far (I spent quite a while convincing myself I must want to have sex but be too stupid to realise it, for instance.) So for instance, if you're saying "if you don't want to have sex for any reason, that's okay" slipping in a "some people don't want to have sex *ever*, might for instance identify as asexual, and that's okay". Also, speaking from an evil asexual agenda viewpoint [Wink] , this makes asexuality more visible to everyone - which means that e.g. a heterosexual person may then be less likely to say stuff like "oh, that's impossible, everyone's sexual, you're just [insert bingo argument here]" when their asexual friend comes out to them.

- speaking of which, the sexual thing - like other people have said, this is a necessary piece of vocabulary and asking us to use "someone who isn't asexual" would be pretty much like "someone who isn't trans*" or "someone who isn't autistic", with the unavoidable connotation of "there are people who are [asexual/trans/autistic] and then there are, you know, normal people". At the same time, I understand that it can have pretty unfortunate implications. I think the issue may also be that in the asexual community, that term has an agreed-upon meaning that is pretty different from its other uses, so when I hear "sexual person" I really only think "not identifying as on the asexual spectrum", I don't jump to sexualisation. However, if you're presenting asexuality info to an audience that isn't familiar with the ace community, they're not going to have that context. So I can see why in situations like the one you mentioned it might be best to avoid the term or use "non-asexual" instead (generally not good because again it presents asexuality as the deviation and everything else as the norm - there's a reason it's not "non-trans" or "non-autistic", after all) - just, you know, we-as-a-community really do need it. Denying us that vocabulary is severely hampering to discussion, alienating and marginalising. And going to second Venn that this is a pretty touchy subject for asexuals, since we get a lot of "but this word is unnecessary and you shouldn't be using it, this word is wrong and you should be using a different one, why on earth would you even have a word for this?" (I had an experience like this just a few days ago as part of the ongoing tumblr wars, in fact!)

-speaking of which, generally people are speaking in terms of a spectrum - asexuals, then grey-a for the in between, then sexuals - instead of an asexual/sexual dichotomy. Demisexuality is AFAIK generally considered as a specific identity under the grey-a umbrella. And no, it's not the norm! This is ironic because I've seen several posts recently about how explaining demisexuality to sexuals seems to be one of the most difficult things to manage in terms of asexuality info and trying to brainstorm what might make it click for people... I will try to have a go. *rubs hands* As far as I understand it (not demi myself), demisexuality is primarily an asexual identity. So demisexual people identify that way because even though they experience sexual attraction in certain, specific circumstances, overall their experiences are enough like an asexual person's experience and dissimilar enough from the norm that they feel the asexual spectrum is a better fit for them than some other sexual orientation. It's "asexual with rare exceptions", not "sexual except for..." Also, a simple example that may help explain the "lack of sexual attraction until emotional connection is present" thing - a demisexual would never be attracted to, for instance, movie stars, or pop stars or celebrities or in fact anyone who they don't know very well - which I gather is atypical. Any demi person may feel free to come and correct me on any of this!

- on the "are these acts sexual or aren't they?" I think you could probably subsume that into the more general "different people may consider the same acts sexual or not". Because it's not even as if it's the same for all asexuals - not all asexuals who masturbate consider masturbation nonsexual, for instance, although some do. What's generally considered defining for asexual people is lacking sexual attraction, fuzzy and ill-defined as that term is. I'm really not the best to talk about the fine distinctions because for me it really is as simple as "I really really don't want to have sex, with anyone, ever." I still consider myself to have a sexuality, though, which involves stuff like fantasies and reading erotica and libido, it's just that that sexuality does not include any desire to engage in sexual acts with other people.

I might add more later but those are the first things that came to mind reading this discussion.

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loststone
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There is so much that has been said here, and I'm going to come back when I've had a really good think about everything, but I wanted to touch on the topic of demisexuality/grey-As again.

As someone who does identify as demisexual, I think Heather, you are probably right. Or at least, I hope you're right; in that the concept might not stick around.

In a world with a very prescribed view of sex, with very specific and limited ideas of what sex is, and where many people are sexualised; the concept of demisexuality makes sense because being only attracted to very few people, and/or needing strong emotional connections before being sexually attracted to someone is different. But, in a world with a much bigger view of what sex is, what sexuality is and how people are (or aren't) attracted to others, and which sees all of those things as equally valid (which seems to be a world that everyone working here wants to get to, it's certainly a world I'd want to get to), demisexuality is just another way to be, that fits perfectly well onto the spectrum of human sexual experiences; and thus, the word is probably unnecessary.

Now, maybe not all demis would agree with me, but that's my take. And I think probably this is true of quite a few grey-As generally: if there wasn't such a narrow view of sexuality, maybe they wouldn't feel the need to separate themselves from sexuality. I mean, I feel like I identify a lot less with the demisexual identity now than I did a year ago say; and I think that's a lot about me really learning about how wide and broad many people (including here) would consider sexuality, and spending time in queer, feminist and sex-positive circles. That doesn't mean that I don't sometimes feel that I'm a bit unusual in that the number of people I've felt any sort of romantic and/or sexual attraction to is most certainly single digit; but that feels like a perfectly valid part of sexuality. It feels like, "I'm sexual but..".; not "I'm asexual but..." if that makes sense.

I'm not saying we should say that demisexuality doesn't exist, or isn't an okay identity to have (I do still identify as demi...); but I think engaging the grey-A/demisexual community (which, to be honest, is probably a challenge and a half given that we've barely begun organising into a community) in this sort of sex-positive environment could be really beneficial.

Now, here's hoping I haven't just been projecting my own feelings onto everyone else.

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AceSexologist
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I read every post yesterday... it was quite the read.

The following link came to mind as something that might be useful to add to this discussion:

http://asexualspace.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/being-in-an-acesexual-relationship (This is a transcript between an ace and his non-ace partner discussing the role sex plays in their relationship and how that has changed over time, it's a great read).

Also, I cannot recommend Venn's site enough: http://verbs-not-nouns.dreamwidth.org/ (Verbs Not Nouns is an awesome site with lots of well articulated essays about being an Ace who engages in various aspects of BDSM).

Regarding the use of the word "sexuals" : It does get used a lot in ace discussions and there are positives and negatives to it. I think one of the positives is that it gives aces a short hand way to say "everyone else." But a negative to its use within ace discussions is that it can be alienating. For instance, I engage in lots of activities that other people consider sexual and some activities that I consider sexual. The argument can certainly be made that I am a sexual person... whose orientation is asexual. Using "sexuals" to describe the "others," I think, can lead to doubt about "am I asexual enough?" etc. I like X-sexuals more, or stating more specifically "people who experience sexual attraction" or "people who regularly experience sexual attraction" etc. It's a little unwieldy, admittedly. What are your thoughts?

Regarding the "inherent" sexual "nature" of an activity: I think, in almost all cases, that an activity is not inherently sexual or not, it's all about what that activity means to the participants- and it could mean different things to the people engaging in the same activity. I knew a reporter for my university's student paper who wanted to write an article about BDSM so I sent him to 5 or so people to get different perspectives and the article pretty much had the following perspectives: "BDSM is ALL ABOUT SEX!! It's the only reason to do it, you beat each other, get all worked up and then have sex!" and "BDSM is not at all about sex, it's about power exchange and trust and endorphins but I never mix intercourse and BDSM" and "Sometimes I engage in BDSM with no sex of any sort involved and sometimes I use it as foreplay, depending on what my partner and I are looking to get out of it at that moment."

It's difficult to draw clear lines... what if I do something that's not sexual to me- like wearing stockings - because I know that for my partner it is sexual? Or think about a voyeur watching someone who isn't an exhibitionist. The person being watched is taking a shower or going to the bathroom or just sleeping - all not sexual activities... but the person watching is getting off on it... so it's sexual to them. It is all open to interpretation and the only person who can say whether or not an act is sexual in nature is the person engaging in it.

Regarding aces consenting: Yes, aces can consent to sex, I think that's been pretty well covered. I liked the back massage and chess examples that Cleander used. I don't think that there are any simple answers for this and there are very few blog posts that I've come across on the issue. Since I'm non monogamous I feel like it *less* of an issue for me but it is still practically the first thing that has to be negotiated in every new relationship- which is a really stressful way to start things off. I've kind of resigned myself to the idea that I will never be someone's primary partner (though I do know of at least one relationship between an ace and a non-ace - or whatever term we'd like to use - where they are primary partners and both have outside partners, too, so it isn't like it's impossible).

This essay crossed my path the other day and I passed it along to my partner so we can discuss it together, I think it's a pretty good - if depressing - read: http://outlawroad.tumblr.com/post/8777243309/the-relationship-misunderstanding-or-the-problem-of

-Dallas

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Heather
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Hey everyone! Just getting the day started here and again, appreciate your input and patience.

Moving this forward, I think there are a couple things I need to get sorted first before I can, from my spot.

The core thing is that when I'm asking about this, I'm asking about it not as someone who would be speaking about or in one community, nor from a personal standpoint, but as a sex educator for a diverse range of people. From that place, two things come up:

1. There been some talk about what's sexually "normal." The thing is, most people's view of what that is a MUCH more narrow than the view I'd say most of us have -- and certainly I do -- as people who work in sex and sexuality doing education or sex therapy, etc. Personally, you're not going to hear me talk about what's normal at all unless people are asking, and even then, I can/will talk about what may be common or rare or popular, about majorities and minorities in terns of who does/is what, but not about what's "normal," primarily because what we know to be normal, the only thing, really, in sexology is diversity, a whole heaping lot of it.

As well, things one person or group may see as exceptionally rare are often things we've seen much more of as educators.

So, that can make it hard to kind of float with someone's idea of what is and isn't normal and is and isn't common, because it kind of asks us to dismiss what we know, including when we know things aren't the way they're being suggested. Know what I mean?

With the "sexual" language, I absolutely hear everyone about marginalized communities needing language of their own -- and again, I get this: I am queer, for instance, have been since I was a kid).

But understanding that when I'm asking from the standpoint of someone who would not be giving information and address just to the ace community, but to a much broader one, including many young people (I just got an email from another last night, oddly enough, who was unaware of this conversation) who would feel very uncomfortable being default-assigned to be sexual, that remains a huge conflict for me. I'm not feeling like the trans/cis comparison really works, but even if it did, there are a lot of people assigned by others to be cis who have issues with that one, too, and not just genderqueer or agender people. I think that when we're talking about language we use to assign something to others, not when we're talking about ourselves, it's very different than when we're talking about self-identifying language.

I also think Dallas brought up some interesting points around that, too, and which can be especially pertinent to younger people, most of whom are really just starting to figure out what their individual sexuality is, and who binaries are often especially challenging for (this is something we see with gay/straight or man/woman and young people every day here).

More later, but if anyone wants to weigh in on these things in the meantime, that'd be awesome. As well, I put some links up there of how we have worked with asexuality here so far, so if anyone took a look at those and saw anything that really didn't work for them, I'd love your feedback. One of the things I'd like to do is try and get a sense of if we're doing things well with this so far, so that I can know what might need to be improved or changed. [Smile]

[ 08-26-2011, 10:39 AM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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loststone
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Okay, quick thoughts at what specific people said:

MMax: I think everything you've said is great, I agree.

Cleander: In terms of the chess analogy, I think this (and, in fact, all analogies) have a bit of a problem in that sex is very much something that culturally is done within a romantic and monogamous relationship, unlike chess/food/[insert analogy here]. I don't think that's necessarily a good thing, and I think here is a place that the asexual community can really benefit and widen our perceptions of sex and relationships, because we do distinguish between wanting a romantic relationship and a sexual relationship, and because having a romantic relationship with one person and a sexual relationship with another is something that many people in "mixed" relationships (where one or more partners is asexual, and one or more partners is not).

nleseul: I don't think it's a bad thing if we open up the idea of sex. I don't think "asexual" is shorthand for "not interested in the four or five activities that most people consider 'sex.'" and I don't think that's a helpful definition. What if someone isn't interested in those 4/5 activities but is interested in other activities that are most definitely sexual to them? Surely they aren't asexual? Yes, I agree, this does mean we're going to have to have more conversations about sex, and what sex we want, and not assume that when our partner says "I want to have sex" that they mean manual sex/oral sex/intercourse. And I think that's good. We should have those discussions, and they will benefit everyone, asexual or not.

Vann: I really like what you've said about sensuality not being the same as sexuality and BDSM, it's really interesting. Awesome!

aceposter: Adding slightly on what you said about masturbation not necessarily being sexual, I think we have a pretty good example of that in children/babies/fetuses masturbating.
I really don't like the whole concept of asexual oppression and sexual privilege. That directly compares to say male privilege and sexism, cis privilege and cissexism, white privilege and racism; and I just don't think that comparison is valid. I really do think that asexuals do face a whole lot of problems, but I don't think that's about systematic oppression, I think that's about sexism, heterosexism, and other types of oppression that already exist and are named, as well as rape culture and other cultural ideas.

Okay, so, onto the use of the word "sexual". Heather, I'm agreeing with you here. I hadn't really thought about it before (never having used it outside the asexual community), but the problems are clearly there (and, are problems which not only are problems for people who aren't asexual, but for those who are). We can't ignore the implications this has, in the same way we can't ignore the implications of using "gay" to mean rubbish, even if we're not trying to be heterosexist. "Sexual" already has a meaning, and using the same word to mean something else within the asexual community is not really helpful (I'm sure I've had this problem within the community, let alone when we try to use it outside it). I also think assigning people labels is pretty iffy, self-definition is important. Sometimes, we're going to have to talk about groups generally, but I think the moment that extends to individuals, we have a problem. Say, I'm not trans*, I have cis privilege, I'm going to be someone who would be included if we were talking about cis people. But I don't necessarily identify as cis, and I wouldn't want someone to label me, as an individual, as cis, without talking to me about my gender identity.

I don't think the binary is necessary, and we don't have a binary in a lot of things. I don't think this has to create a "normal" people; and in a place like Scarleteen I don't think it would. We often talk about the asexual spectrum as if "sexuals" are separate from it, but that makes no sense; we can't have a spectrum for asexual people and a box for everyone else.

(also when I said "It feels like, "I'm sexual but..".; not "I'm asexual but..." if that makes sense." above, what I was really trying to get across was that I feel more like "not asexual and [clarification]" than "asexual, but with exceptions")

[ 08-26-2011, 11:14 AM: Message edited by: loststone ]

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Julze
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So, after reading this thread I would like to add my own personal thoughts and feelings regarding calling anyone who experiences sexual attraction Sexual.

1. I find being called a Sexual objectifying. It's saying that just because I experience Sexual Attraction, it means my body is to be used to sex. This is not always the case. Calling someone Sexual is not a neutral term in today's society. It's pushing a load of societal expectations and narratives onto a person. Asexuality is about escaping those narratives, so why do we in turn push them onto other people just for being Not Asexual?

2. It's forcing an identity that I don't agree with onto my body. It's say that just because I experience Sexual Attraction, it means I am Sexual. That is not always the case. There have been times in my life when, due to my experiences with FSD, I have been completely non-sexual. Did I still experience sexual attraction? Yes, I did. But my sexuality was locked away in a part of me where I did not deal with it, think about it, anything. It was completely removed from every part of my being, by my choice. To call me Sexual during this time would be inaccurate at the very best. Once again, Sexual is not a neutral word.

3. I'm going to quote an interview from the blog Feminists with Sexual Dysfunction. The interview is regarding Asexuality with a prominenet member of the Asexual community named Elizabeth. Elizabeth says "For example, I’m not sexually attracted to anyone, but with an understanding partner and a different approach to sex, I’ve found it enjoyable and desirable, even though I don’t really have an intense level of interest in it."

This, I believe, gets to the heart of the matter for me as far as the term Sexual goes. The crux of Asexuality is not whether or not you have sex or even desire sex, it's about Sexual Attraction. So why are we so wuick to label those that experience Sexual Attraction as being Sexual? There are words out there that don't force an identity on people without their consent, that don't objectify people, and don't force society's narratives regarding sex onto people just because they experience Sexual Attraction. I can think of a number of options off of my head: Attracted, people who Experience Sexual Attraction, Sexually Attracted, and so on. The Asexual community is right, we can't have the term Asexual and then just label everyone else as normal. But I balk completely at labeling everyone else as Sexual for the reasons listed above.

We have options. Why not explore them?

P.S. rest of the interview is here: https://feministswithfsd.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/guest-post-interview-with-elizabeth-on-asexuality/

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Justin from Bish
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The emerging notion on here of the 'asexual and sexual' binary is something I'm finding very very difficult. Like Heather I would be very unhappy about framing people that aren't 'asexual' as 'sexual'.

The points that people make about transgender and cisgender are not analogous in my view. To frame or label someone as sexual is a very different thing altogether and it feels like it takes away agency in a way which I find uncomfortable. Good sex educators would never suggest that sex is compulsory, but if we get into framing people as sexual or asexual then this feels like it's taking away choices.

I can understand that an identity which creates this binary might be helpful to some (it might work well as shorthand for instance) but when it comes to holistic sex positive sex educators it creates a big problem.

Young people's emerging feelings about sex can be confusing and all over the place, some may feel tremendous sexual attraction and desire, others may not yet, others just may not. Sex educators try to give young people the power to see the bigger picture: this might include asexuality as an identity but it may also include 'just not feeling it yet', or 'your values are not in tune with how you are feeling physically or emotionally (or vice versa)' or resourcing teens so that they can deal with the many different and contradictory messages they receive about sex.

I understand that people in ace communities feel marginalised but I think that this is in part because of a very narrow definition of 'sexual'. I think it's important to try to understand that whilst broader society/governments/religion/culture/media etc have a very narrow view of 'sexual' (genitals, penetration, PIV, being sexy), this is not what scarleteen or other sex positive sex educators are doing.

Further (bluntly) I think that Heather and Scarleteen has done a bloody good job of reflecting asexuality and desire from the model of holistic sex education for young people.

I read the whole thread and then I read this http://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/am_i_asexual which is such a fantastic, clear, inclusive and thoughtful piece. I genuinely think that Heather is already doing a fantastic job on giving young people the tools to work out for themselves how sexual they are and how this might be something they can choose to identify with or not.

Chapeau!

Justin

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anamia
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Re: calling non-ace-spectrum people sexuals. I can see why you would object to the term, though I'll admit that, seeped in ace culture as I am, I have a hard time shutting off my main instinct which is, "words mean things and have context and context is as important as meaning and in this context it doesn't mean what it means in other contexts!" But the comparison to using gay as a slur is an uncomfortably apt one, and I can see why people might not like being labeled against their will. But I think the cis vs. trans comparison is also a good one because we do need words to use when we're talking about our experiences and our communities. There is a need for a word for people who aren't ace-spectrum, and given that people are inherently lazy language users a lot of the time, we need a one or possibly two word solution, not something like, "people who do experience sexual attraction regularly" because that's unwieldy and almost certainly won't catch on.

I like the suggestion of *sexual, since that puts more focus on the word as part of an orientation than as a description of behavior or personality. I'm not sure if that would be an acceptable compromise though, since, like I said, I have a really hard time seeing the word outside of the context we in the ace community have given it.

WRT whether asexuality should be included in sex ed, I absolutely think it should. The point of sex ed, in my mind, is to teach people about their own sexuality and how they related to sex, not just the mechanics and how to do it safely. On a site this big it's pretty much a guarantee that there will be asexual people who find it, and they have as much right to learn about their sexuality as anyone else. Sex ed, especially sex ed taught to young people, is a tool of self-discovery, not just a laundry list of tricks and techniques and tips. If it were, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting. (Says the repulsed ace...) But, like, I'm taking human sexuality this semester and from what I can tell the textbook we're using doesn't acknowledge asexuality at all and that hurts. Even if asexuality isn't a main focus of a sex ed site or class, it definitely has a place there, possibly with links to places to get more information or find communities.

As for how to include asexuality, I think one of the things it's really, really important to do is avoid generalizations. I'll admit, I haven't looked through this site too much so I don't know how much you already do this, but things like, "every person is sexual" or, "every person is romantic" or whatever is incredibly alienating and really adds to feelings of erasure and brokenness. Changing it to, "most people are sexual" or, "many people are romantic" or similar things and then adding an aside noting that things like asexuality exists does a lot to help people who are seeking information and who are terrified that they might be broken beyond repair.

Also, just out of curiosity, do you touch on dissonant identities much here? I think that might also be something to mention, because I'd imagine that, say, realizing that you want to have sex with gender x but only ever crush on gender y is pretty terrifying as well.

Re: demisexuality, I don't think it's the norm at all. The example I like to use is that I believe crushing on someone you don't know and just see in the hallway at school and have never talked to is not at all unheard of. For people who are demi, that doesn't happen, and you have to be friends first for any crushing to happen. Unless I miss my guess (and I suppose I could, though what I've read leads me to suspect that I haven't) being sexually attracted to people works the same way, and even if you aren't sexually attracted to most people you see you have the possibility of being sexually attracted to anyone, including someone you don't know, whereas for demisexuals that possibility does not exist. So I think it is a distinct and important category that should be acknowledged and discussed. Since I assume the goal of this site is to help all users figure themselves out and come to terms with their individual sexualities and orientations, I think it's important to tell the person who's never been sexually attracted to anyone but suddenly finds themselves attracted their friend and doesn't know why or how to deal with it that it's okay and that there are words for what they're experiencing. Words are so, so important and I'm really uncomfortable denying people access to words that they might need to understand themselves.

I think that's all I wanted to say. As Kaz mentioned, the ace community on tumblr is a good resource but also one that has been attacked again and again and again and isn't necessarily terribly patient anymore. Also, when this was linked there the quote pulled was Heather talking about how she didn't believe demisexuality was a legitimate thing, and that's a really touchy subject with a lot of us so be careful.

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Saffron Raymie
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This depends if you are framing Asexuality as an orientation, but perhaps another word for "sexual" people could be "people of other orientations".

For example:

"People of other orientations- such as pansexuality- can be shown that some people are asexual, and this should never be rendered invisible."

This could work for identities too - "people who identify in other ways".

[ 08-26-2011, 01:40 PM: Message edited by: RaeRay2112 ]

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Heather
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I have to step away for this for the rest of the day, and maybe a couple, but like I said, I feel like I need to see more input first, anyway.

However, per the last most, I want to make very clear that nowhere did I say I don't think what is being talked about as demisexuality is not legitimate. (I really dislike being quoted out of context, by the way. A lot). Rather, what I said about it was that I think it's more common than I suspect many people think and that that way of experiencing those feelings is something that appears to occur both for people who identify as asexual and for people who do not. As someone who works broadly in young adult sexuality and sex education particularly, I'd say it's probably even more common than one might see in older adult populations, particularly with younger teens.

Also, we don't do "every" here with pretty much anything I can think of. I agree, whether we're talking about asexuality or ANYTHING to do with sexuality or interpersonal relationships, generalizations are intensely problematic and not at all helpful to people. If anything, we've often been critiqued here for too much pushback against generalizations, rather than for support of them. And yes, we've discussed dissonant identities (as well as dissonant wants in interpersonal relationships) here often.

(OT, asexuality is also included in my book, which was written over five years ago. Any human sexuality class not using a single reference that includes at least some mention of it at this point is seriously lacking when it comes to providing current information, IMO. And it would be valid to voice a complaint about that if you felt safe in doing so.)

Lastly, before I bug out, I wanted to toss a couple more options out there for possible terminology for folks who aren't asexual or don't identify that way, which seem a) much less troublesome to those being assigned that term and b) more in alignment with asexuality, per using a prefix.

For instance, what about pro-sexual (using the meaning of pro as potentially moving towards) or intra-sexual (within) or be-sexual (having)? Of course, this gets tricky because a- as a prefix can not only mean not or without, but also of or to. Hrm.

At the same time, I agree with what Julze added, which is that when what we're really talking about is sexual attraction to other people, rather than sexuality as a whole, this is still awfully sticky. At the same time, I don't think it's fair or sound to ask ace people to choose another term besides asexuality, because that's the self-identifier you're choosing for yourselves, which I'm not down with encroaching upon.

Edit: just saw Rae's suggestion, and I also think it's valuable. Mind, it's perhaps also worth noting that when working as a sex educator, the context we talk about these things in is usually going to be a) talking with someone who is asexual, b) talking about a wide range of orientations and identities or c) talking with someone who is not asexual about someone who is. And really, in all of those contexts we're not usually going to even need to talk about this as who is asexual and who isn't, because we're either just talking with the person who is, and making the conversation about them or talking about broad groups of people, where the range of who those people are when it comes to sexuality is far bigger than just those who are asexual and those who are not (for instance, we'd be making a long list of the many, many ways people could identify their orientation or sexuality, including combintations. A list of two would be much shorter than we'd make in that kind of context).

I'm mentioning that because I also want to make sure I'm not leading anyone down a path that is taking a lot of time and energy but might not have all that much relevance in the context of broad, holistic sex education as a whole, the sphere I'm asking about all of this within.

[ 08-26-2011, 01:40 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather
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Sorry, I keep trying to jet out and then feel like I'm being incomplete.

One thing I do want to mention though, too, especially as conversation continues, is that making things be about shorthand or catchy phrases isn't usually an aim of seriously comprehensive sex educators and sexologists. In fact, sexual shorthand is often one of our biggest bugbears because what we know is that sexuality is complex, but often oversimplified in media and popular culture, something which we often see hinder people rather than help them. In fact, personally, I'd feel comfortable saying that somewhere around 30% of my work every day is about helping people understand all a given shorthand can mean and how no, they do not have to try and squeeze into small boxes and yes, doing so is rarely going to work well for many, many people.

So, form a sex ed standpoint, trying to find the shortest, simplest words with catchall appeal often isn't one of our aims. Rather, we're looking for whatever language seems most accurate and descriptive and clear, and if that means using a string of words that are more awkward but more clear rather than one or two words which are shorter but less helpful, we're usually going to aim for the former rather than the latter.

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Julze
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Thank you Heather, for once again reminding us what we're all here for: sex education for young people. You are correct that we shouldn't be looking for the catchiest catchall word, but instead trying to make things as clear as possible. Thank you.
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ourmoonlitsun
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Hi there. I'm asexual (29, male) and research and study asexuality academically, specifically as it relates to comparative literature. I'm fairly up to speed on what has been published and what is currently in the process of being published. I can point you to one of my own pieces if you like, though it is lit. crit. focused.

I've read about half this thread, skimmed the rest for important points, and will go over it again later, but I would like to mention some things real quick. First, academic discussion of asexuality--which has come about from surveying self-professed asexuals from within the community itself--has really taken off in the past year or so. When I started my work about two and half, three years ago, there were only a handful of studies. Now we have dedicated journal issues, volumes, books, a documentary film, and online seminars either released or planned for release.

While all of this is great and important, it's resulting in a lot of voices that come from different backgrounds--sociology; psychology; biology; anthropology; and the diverse community itself--that don't always use the same terms. A lot of clarifying of words and concepts is going on. Notions of attraction, desire, sensuality, love and so forth are now being reconciled with the existence of asexuality by a number of different theorists and researchers, including myself. Our words don't always match up nicely, but this a natural process. So it may take some time for the dust to settle on specifics.

Second thing, as someone else already mentioned earlier, a lack of sexual desire (or attraction; I prefer desire) doesn't have to mean repulsion to sex. Personally, I'm indifferent. I think one of the interesting things about asexuality is it makes us question our motivations for sex that do not always include, or are dominated by, sexual desire (feeling horny). A couple trying to conceive, for example, might be motivated primarily by a desire to have a kid, not necessarily because they desire singularly the act of sex itself. Certainly I think both motivations can occur at once, but that doesn't mean their influence needs to be equal. So even in individuals that at times experience sexual desire, that sexual desire need not always play the same role in every act of sex in their life. (This is my own stance from personal research and study; as I said, things are kind of up in the air right now as far as a consensus goes.)

I really do think you are doing a wonderful thing by giving consideration to asexuality. As I said, even those focusing on clarifying the subject specifically have their work cut out for them, so please keep that in mind. It's a nascent discourse and the dialogue is pretty fluid at the moment.

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Kazaera
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Reading over this discussion, it seems as if there's a bit of a disconnect which I was trying to get at before.

As far as I understand it, Heather is trying to work out the best ways to present asexuality to audiences unfamiliar with it in terms of sex ed. However, a lot of ace people are coming from the way we have discussions in the asexual community, in between ace people and *sexual allies. And the two probably require very different approaches - but that doesn't mean one is inferior or should be subsumed. For instance, I think Heather is probably right that using the word "sexual" for someone who isn't on the asexual spectrum when talking to a group of teenagers about sexuality is a bad idea because of the connotations and the jargon issue, and that circumscribing it is probably a good idea. But that doesn't mean that it's not an important word in ace dialogue, or that we should be getting rid of it in favour of "person who isn't asexual" (which has all the issues with it I mentioned.) Similarly, Heather's post about disliking shorthand is something I find very understandable and sense-making from a sex-ed perspective... at the same time, I know intimately how awful it can feel to not have a word for what you are and what you want and indeed a lot of what the ace community's done is creating shorthand so we can talk about our experiences without feeling alienated and without ending up giving up halfway through in frustration because we have to write out, for instance, "a deep nonfamilial intimate relationship that does not fit into the friendship/romance categorisation generally given by Western society" (in jargon, "queerplatonic" or "zucchini" for the person/people you're in that relationship with) every single time. This is what we mean by "our language is very important, don't try to take it away from us".

I think what I'm trying to say here is - let's not generalise, and let's not say that because vocabulary doesn't work in situation X it doesn't work overall. And really, I think that as far as "what's the best word for the asexual community to use for people who aren't on the asexual spectrum?" goes, this is not the right discussion nor the right place for it. And okay, to be entirely honest - it's putting up my hackles seeing so many people who aren't iding as part of the asexual community and don't seem to be familiar with it debate our terms, ascribe meaning to them that we don't, and tell us what we ought to be using instead.

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Heather
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Kazaera: giant world of yes to everything that you've said, and my apologies if anything I have said or added made it seem like I was trying to police or correct your own language in your communities. Absolutely not my intent.

So, to make sure it's clear, I'm asking about the things that I am when I'm talking about very broad groups, where anyone is them may or may not be/identify as sexual. The goal is to approach this and everything we do where asexuality can potentially be a part in ways which work both for asexual people and for those who are not or may not be, and to find a way to make it all work that suits progressive, inclusive sex education models.

It might also be helpful to add that that always includes quite a lot of debunking about idea of what "normal" is when it comes to sexuality, how mainstream -- and thus, often peer -- representations of sex and sexuality are often inaccurate or at least highly limited. Core to that is also the given that what the goal is is for any given person to feel at home in what their sexuality is, to have their sexuality be a part of their life that feels in alignment with who they are and what they want (and don't), and if and when others are involved, to have all of this exist in a context which is mutually consensual and mutually accepting and respectful of everyone's sexuality. That certainly also includes understanding and communicating that there is far more than any one kind of sexual motivation or reason why any given person might choose to engage in sexual activity alone or with others. (Where consent was coming up for me here as an issue was when it was being presented as a "compromise." That sounds much more like survival sex in some contexts to me, which certainly doesn't have to be nonconsensual, but where we'd talk about consent in a very different way than we would when using enthusiastic consent frameworks.)

ourmoonlitsun: thanks for those additions. I agree, it's been pretty amazing how much more study has started happening in the last couple years. Over a decade ago when I first started working full-time in sex ed there wasn't any of this language or any study at all. I think where asexual people wound up being filed when they were likely coming up in general sex studies was probably (and IMO, very incorrectly, but then I don't support the whole "sexual dysfunction" medical model, period) in groups considered to have sexual dysfunction, very low libido, etc.

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Cleander
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As an asexual, I commonly get peers, educators, health workers, and even strangers telling me things like "you're just too young", or "you're a late bloomer", or "maybe you just haven't the met the right person to inspire those kinds of feelings in you yet." I've gotten lectures on how media is oversexualized and how I should label myself as different just because I don't fit the standard hollywood image. And as an asexual who agonized for years about what I was and what I felt and studied myself and questioned things for years before I could confidently identify as asexual, that is frustrating. I mean, do people really think I haven't thought of all those things myself? Do they think I would really put myself through the stress of having to explain myself to everyone becuase I was "just shy?." I've thought about this a lot, and I hate to hear people tell me things like this. It's erasing my identity, insulting my intelligence, and just plain stupid. I would rather people just accept my asexuality without question.


But the thing is, (and this is probably an unpopular opinion for an ace), sometimes these things do need to be asked. More tactfully than usually happens, perhaps, but it should be considered. Because there are people who are just shy, or who are late bloomers, or who don't accept sexual feelings because of religion, or who feel different because they don't match what they see in the media. And while some of these people may be asexual, many are not.

Especially when dealing with young teens - many are still developing their sexualities, and so may seem asexual at first when all they are is young. Now, if you happen to be one of the ones who really is asexual, it sucks to be told things like that, but for the rest it can be very helpful advice.

In fact, one of the reasons that it took me a long time to realize that I was asexual was that when I was younger, many people acted and presumably felt similar. Take when I was in middle school - I wasn't interested in guys at all. I'd rather read and play games. But then, a lot of people were still like that at that time. There was still a bit of "[insert gender here] has cooties!". Eventually, people started getting boyfriends, getting crushes, coming out - but not every one. and not all at the same time. So, I wondered why I didn't like anyone, but figured that, hey, maybe I was just a late bloomer. After all, a bunch of my friends aren't interested in anyone either! But eventually, they all did become interested. And when I was the only one left feeling the way i did, that was when I realized that something was different.

But still, my point is that questioning asexuals are something that would be really hard to deal with for sex educators, because it can be very difficult to determine if a young person is actually asexual, or just a late-bloomer, or shy, or whatever.

Because as a lack of attraction, there are no clear indicators - an asexual person and a sexual person who just hasn't matured fully may seem exactly the same. Heck, during the teen years it's pretty normal to not want to go sleep with people at all. So how do you differentiate a romantic asexual from just a young non-asexual?

The point is, you can't always figure it out. Eventually, when you get older, it becomes pretty clear that you're not a late bloomer. But as a teen? it's confusing as hell for someone who suspects they might be asexual.

So, the way I see it, a sex educator has conflicted options: on the one hand, they can emphasize that it's not unusual to not have a lot of strong sexual feelings as a young person, and that some people are late bloomers, and that you shouldn't assume something is different or wrong just because you feel that way.
On the other hand, they can promote asexuality, and support people who are asexual by saying that some people just aren't attracted, and maybe you're one of them.

But there are problems with both approaches - the first one erases asexuals, but the second one has a liability to really confuse and even traumatize the people who aren't asexual, but suddenly think they must be asexual because they didn't really like X, and get all the stress of thinking they are a sexual minority and broken and all the crap that comes with coming out, only to have to deal with all the chaos of developing as a non-asexual later and being confused again and whatnot.

So I guess what I'm saying is that it is important to acknowledge that asexuality exists, and that it's completely ok - asexual people are not monsters, or sociopaths, or broken. But on the other hand, it's also important to recognize that many young people who appear to be asexual will later be revealed not to be.
And while I think that it's fine to identify as asexual when you feel that way, and then change your identity as your feelings change, it's stressful and not something I'd imagine most people would want to deal with. So there's no clear cut way to deal with it I guess.

And here I'm kind of rambling by this point. Sorry. I'll come back when I've thought about this more and figured out exactly what it is I'm trying to say.

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Heather
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Cleander: I think you've brought up a whole bunch of really important stuff here, and have articulated what I'd say is, indeed, often a conundrum, whether we're talking about asexuality or other orientations or identities.

I'm personally not a fan of talking about late or early "bloomers." As well, given how many, say, women who only discover they are lesbian in their 50s or 60s, I'm not sure ANY young person could be a "late" bloomer around attraction. The way I prefer to talk about these things is to talk about how a) everyone's pacing in terms of their sexual and personal development tends to be a very unique process and journey, and b) everyone is really different when it comes to how easily, and if, we are attracted to others, and how specific or nonspecific our attractions are. In other words, often this isn't just about if someone is or isn't attracted to others sexually, or experiencing desires to be sexual with others, but about the fact that some people are very easily attracted to many people with very few situational restrictions, while others might only be attracted to a few people in the world, or only in very specific dynamics or situations, if at all.

Of course, one sticky wicket that can come up with this, as again, with other orientations, is that it's very common to seek out identity in the teens and twenties, and to really want identities to hold on to and feel are permanent (even though most of us know that as life goes on, it becomes clear that so many things won't be). But my personal choice as an educator with that is to support people in whatever orientation/identity feels true at the time -- since that's all any of us can do at any time of life -- and make it as little or as much of one's personal identity as feels right and as a person feels able to handle.

But I really like all of what you've said here, and really appreciate you sharing your process around this.

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Heather
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Something struck me with all of this last night, by the way, that's mostly on topic and I thought I might share.

It seems to me that one thing that might make all of this tougher, especially for those of you who are asexual and building community, is that it seems like you're having to do so in a very public way very early in the process of building that community.

In other words, when I think about the history of LGB culture and community, it seems like we had a really long time to build community and culture internally before much of it was external, open to the public, as it were. Now, that was for mostly crappy reasons, like fear of violence, personal loss of freedoms, prison: things everyone had every right to be afraid of and which likely kept outsiders from having these kinds of conversations early on lest they be mistaken to be LGB themselves. The same certainly goes with having those conversations with outsiders as LGB people.

However crummy the reasons, though, it seems to be that gave everyone quite a lot of time to be having these conversations internally without an audience (and certainly without one as huge as the internet!) before taking them on the road. I imagine it's tremendously challenging -- and likely frustrating as hell sometimes -- to be trying to do this now, this way, without all of that time and insulation.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Cleander
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about the very public situation that the asexual community finds itself in as it grows - I completely agree. It's a rather unique position, that has both ups and downs.

It one sense, the advent of the internet and the widespread visibility it brings are one of the only reasons that an asexual community even exists. Before the internet allowed people form all over the world to communicate, it would have been incredibly difficult to find any other asexuals, or to even find out enough about asexuality to identify as one.

Due to the nature of asexuality, I think that before the internet most asexual people's instinct would be to simply hide it/deny it/never speak of it. For LGB peoples, there was a drive to be at least a little open, and to find others like oneself because that was the only way to find a meaningful relationship. But for asexuals, there wasn't really as much of a drive. And also, in more conservative and sex-negative times, where there wasn't much discussion of sexuality, asexuals may have had no reason to realize that everyone else wasn't like them. Even if they did realize, asexuality is rare enough that it would be incredibly difficult to find people who felt the same way AND would be willing to admit it.

And that is where the internet is helpful - it's very nature makes it a great place for niche cultures to grow, since it transcends geographical boundaries. It is also a useful tool for visibility, since it allows questioning people easy access to so much information, and it makes it easier to spread visibility.

Another interesting thing about the internet is the possibility for anonymity - which cuts deeply both ways. On the one hand, people who might not feel comfortable taking about their a/sexuality in real life are willing to discuss it online, and they can do so without potentially having to come out in a risky situation. But on the other hand, other people can be anonymous too, and aren't restricted by the kind of tact and politeness that might keep them in line in real life. And so the people who like to criticize the idea of asexuality, or trolls who like to bash people or even just ignorant people who make unfortunate assumptions can easily harrass the community without any real fear of reprisal or judgement.

Also, another result of the fact that most of the asexual community is organized though public, online spaces is that it is difficult to really have safe spaces -because everything is open and public, there is no way to hide from potential harrassers. With a very few exceptions, there are no ace clubs or ace bars or ace support groups where we can go without fear of being harrassed. That's one of the reasons so many aces are eager to associate with established LGBTQetc, communities, because they have the safe spaces that we lack. But even there, aces aren't always as safe as we'd like to be, which is very stressful.

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Saffron Raymie
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I feel another major reason to discuss asexuality thoroughly in sex ed is to show people who may not be asexual that it's a possibility to be that way in the context of fluidity and spectrums.

If sexuality is about spectrums, intrasexuality (sexual people) to asexuality must also be a spectrum. A young person could be somewhere on the spectrum between attracted to men and attracted to nobody.

Say a young person has only been attracted to the same woman for ten years, and everyone he knows keeps telling him that 'sexuality isn't like that' and he starts to look at other women desperate to understand if he really is hetro, or if there's something wrong with him like he's 'too obsessed' with his partner, or gets it confused with libido problems and goes looking for treatment.

Or people that find identifying as asexual works amazingly for them for ten years, then feel they have moved into a place that doesn't have a name, somewhere between asexual and occasionally attracted, but not enough to identify as homosexual, hetrosexual or pansexual. Somewhere between grey-a (sorry if that isn't what grey-a means, please correct me) and intrasexual (sexual), without being fully intrasexual.

This can definately lead to mix-ups in relationships. There are people who can only be attracted to one person at a time, not for security reasons, but because it's rare for them to be attracted to two people at once. When they are with someone who is attracted to many people, the one who is ony attracted to one may not understand what' going on.

They may feel that their partner is unfaithful 'in their mind'; especially when they see movies with characters are saying things like: 'darling, I only have eyes for you.' The person who can only be attracted to one person at a time then feels flawed and insecure; like they cannot trust anybody - when really what they need is something simple - perhaps to find someone who has attraction 'rates' like they do, or more understanding that attraction 'rates' vary on a huge spectrum towards the orienation of ace. If they knew about the grey-a' spectrum and then also that sexuality is fludity and we are all in different places, that could really, really work for them.

In a culture that tells people they must find lots of people attractive or start questioning their orientation - usually from homosexual to hetro as a consequence of asexuality (and pansexuality) being so invisible - there will be many who find their place in the gray-a spectrum, or between grey-a and something else, as well as many, many asexuals on the far side of the spectrum. Perhaps they could be happy identifing like so; 'hi, I'm somewhere between a aromantic grey-a and a lesbian'.

There may always be people who sometimes or always cannot fit themselves under just one heading, whether that's asexual, grey-a, demisexual, intrasexual, and these people need including in sex ed.

[ 08-30-2011, 04:21 AM: Message edited by: RaeRay2112 ]

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Heather
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Just so it's clear, since it keeps coming up (and I'm not exactly sure why), I don't think there's any question that asexuality needs to be included in sex ed. I asked the things I did with it being a given it is included, but feeling that I needed some more guidance about how to do so well.

I think it's a given that it does need to be included, primarily for people who are asexual or might be, and secondarily for people who are not, or probably are not, but who should still a) see the whole of the spectrum with sexuality anyway, and would benefit for that and b) because I do think social justice and teaching compassion and acceptance is part of good sex ed, and important for everyone, both people who would be on the receiving end of that acceptance and compassion but also for those feeling/giving it.

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HQ
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I don't have much to add but I wanted to address this:
quote:
Originally posted by Heather:
Just so it's clear, since it keeps coming up (and I'm not exactly sure why), I don't think there's any question that asexuality needs to be included in sex ed. I asked the things I did with it being a given it is included, but feeling that I needed some more guidance about how to do so well.

I think I can tell you why it keeps coming up: asexuals are extremely underrepresented in sex-ed and even sexuality courses, and it is often both slightly unbelievable and very exciting when there are sex-educators and sexologists who think asexuality is worth understanding and discussing, instead of pathologizing. Especially when even relatively good media pieces on asexuality like to include things like:


quote:
Salon
"To me, to say that someone is 'asexual' is tantamount to saying that they're not a human being," says Barnaby Barratt, a sex therapist in Detroit and president of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. "I would be profoundly critical of the idea that 'asexuality' is an 'orientation' or that it's somehow the inevitable way that some people are born. The basic building blocks of sexual patterning are there in everyone. The real question about what you're describing as 'asexual' is: What sort of history could make someone wind up being that closed down?"

Or

quote:
nytimes
"It's a bit like people saying they never have an appetite for food," said Dr. Leonard R. Derogatis, a psychologist and the director of the Center for Sexual Health and Medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "Sex is a natural drive, as natural as the drive for sustenance and water to survive. It's a little difficult to judge these folks as normal."

Mmm, nothing like being dehumanized or invalidated…

So thank you for not sweeping us under the rug. Hearing things like this is so refreshing:
quote:
Originally posted by Heather:
I think it's a given that it does need to be included, primarily for people who are asexual or might be, and secondarily for people who are not, or probably are not, but who should still a) see the whole of the spectrum with sexuality anyway, and would benefit for that and b) because I do think social justice and teaching compassion and acceptance is part of good sex ed, and important for everyone, both people who would be on the receiving end of that acceptance and compassion but also for those feeling/giving it.


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Heather
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UGH.

I had seen both of those pieces already, and I ughed in their general direction.

Some of this is about the divide between sex therapists and sex educators. There isn't always one, sometimes we are on the same page, but a lot of the time, we're really not.

Of course, when we're not, and when -- IMO -- sex educators are taking the right road (and personally, I strongly feel pathologizing the range of sexualities and experience of them is very much the wrong one, and particularly perplexing when we're talking about a sexuality in which no one needs to worry about anything actionable, like say, we do with minor-attracted people), in a lot of ways, we have a little more power than sex therapists, because we tend to see and influence more people, mostly by virtue of the fact that more times than not, what we do isn't cost-restrictive on the user-end.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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