The sex. It is all around us on billboards, in magazines, in every plot-line. And yet many of us actually think about things other than our genitals. Lots of the time, even! So why don't we ever talk about the fact that we don't want sex? Because admit it: sometimes — maybe even oftentimes — you don't.
In an article for The Atlantic, Rachel Hills tackles asexuality. It has been estimated that about 1% of the population are asexual meaning they feel no interest in sex, or little to no sexual attraction. But asexuality has also become an orientation, and really, a movement. The article centers on David Jay, who did not invent asexuality but has become the orientation's ring leader, in a way.
Jay launched the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), an online community dedicated to raising awareness of asexuality and providing support to people who identify as asexual, in 2001, when he was 18 and a college freshman. ‘I had spent the past four years struggling to realize that I was okay, and I didn't want other asexual people to have to realize the same thing,' he says. The website soon became a rallying cry: first for hundreds, then thousands, and later tens of thousands of people who felt alienated from the sexual stories and imagery that dominate our culture.
What I find more interesting are the (less frequently opined over) graysexuals. Gray-A's don't identify as asexual but also don't feel a kinship with being sexual. They are fluid butterflies, flitting somewhere on a spectrum of wanting sex. Kind of like the bisexuals of the asexual movement.
I talked to a few gray-a's last year for a story for The Frisky. We talked about how sex positive, third wave-y, girl culture has failed us, sexually. Sex positive people don't necessarily like the images of sex in media, but with sex positivity being rooted in ideas like "sex is good and natural," it can lead to a glamorization of something that, all told, is not necessarily that glamorous.
"They say we gotta own our desires, I say we gotta own our lack of desires," Belinda, a self identified gray-a, told me. Elizabeth, another gray-a, agreed: "The idea that sex is natural and beautiful and everyone should want it is limited. Sex is not always beautiful — it can be — but it can also be earth-shatteringly horrible."
Pair those sex-positive aphorisms with a mainstream culture that glorifies sex (but doesn't educate all that well), and it all too often equals a sex (positive) hysteria: pressure to be sexual or sexually open all the time is just as limiting as not being able to express yourself sexually or being able to reclaim words like "slut."
But with David Jay appearing on many talk shows and even starring in a new documentary, (A)sexual, it seems the Conversation has slowly begun to morph. We see this in some sex educators moving away from the term "sex positive" and instead using words like "comprehensive."
Hills seems to be vibing on this too, but hits us with a reality check:
"In an interview with The Guardian, Jay suggested that the asexual movement might be moving into a ‘third phase': from awareness raising and mobilization to expanding mainstream beliefs about what a ‘normal' sex drive and life looks like. But the disbelieving and derogatory responses that flood in whenever the subject is raised in the media would suggest, they're not quite there yet." Hills points a finger at Dan Savage, who was interviewed in (A)sexual as sort of a devil's advocate. On film, Savage speculates that often if you don't want sex you must be repressing something.
Jay has often noted in interviews that people find asexuality alien because they equate intimacy with sex. I pinged Jay on g-chat today, and he expanded on this. "In our culture sex and intimacy are velcro-ed. When I say ‘not drawn to sex' they hear ‘not drawn to intimacy' and that sounds alien. The desire to connect is a vital part of what makes us human, it's hard to imagine someone who doesn't have that on some level. But sex itself is just a set of physical activities, it's easy to imagine someone who's not into them once you take all the symbolism away."
Sex positivity works to broaden our understanding of what sex is (e.g., not just penis in vagina, but body part + body part = pleasure). But what if we also set out to broaden our understanding of intimacy — intimacy is not just sex, but also... — perhaps a new picture would unfold. One where people realize they don't need to have sex when what they want is intimacy. One where, maybe, there would be a little more gray in our sex-drives.
Image via Dmitry Melnikov/Shutterstock.