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November 2013

Asexuality ≠ Being Single, Celibate Or A “Virgin”

Words that are NOT asexuality: 

Virginity, purity culture, abstinence, celibacy, fear of sex, sexual repulsion, sexual dysfunction/medical issues regarding sexual performance, anti-sex, single. Do NOT use these words interchangeably with “asexuality.” 

Virginity is mostly a heterosexist, phallocentric, shame-oriented construction meant to police the sexual choices of women (though not only women; some people are genderfluid or intersex and still face the same thing) via patriarchy, sexsim, misogyny, misogynoir, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism and more, and at times is used to question the masculinity (when masculinity is patriarchal) of men for being “less of a man” for not having sexual intercourse by a certain age. Any person of any sexual orientation can ascribe to this thought/behavior, though it tends to be heterosexist and cissexist when spoken of and usually relies on binary notions of gender and patriarchal binaries. (May also be connected to some theisms.)

Purity culture takes virginity a step further by then equating the actual value of a person to their sexual choices. It’s often heterosexist as well, focusing on a woman “preserving” her body and sexual experiences for a husband who depending on where the purity culture is proliferated, might not have to reciprocate the same “preservation” because of patriarchy and sexism as well as patriarchal notions of masculinity where men “have to” have sex while women “wait.” Any person of any sexual orientation can ascribe to this thought/behavior, though it tends to be heterosexist and cissexist when spoken of. (May also be connected to some theisms.)

Abstinence is usually associated with youth and refers to delaying sexual experiences until a relationship is legally recognized by the State as having value, i.e. via marriage, or when a “respectable” relationship can occur. Sometimes it only refers to waiting until college/adulthood before having sex depending on the social class/cultural norms of the particular person in question. Any person of any sexual orientation can ascribe to this thought/behavior. (May also be connected to some theisms.)

Celibacy is usually associated with adulthood and refers to an extended period of time where a person does not engage in sexual intercourse after having sexual intercourse sometime in their life before. The reasons may be personal (whether good [i.e. disinterest] or bad [i.e. shame]), medical, theistic, or simply “just is” and is not an over the top effort to “avoid” sexual intercourse, but simply a choice. 

Fear of sex can be a reaction to trauma, result from strong disinterest, relate to a particular theism or be the response of shame. Anyone can be legitimately afraid of sexual intercourse. While marketed as the ultimate pleasure, for some people sex is painful, traumatic, not of interest and/or creates anxiety. (Not speaking of rape here. Rape is NOT sex.)

Sexual repulsion is what it is stated as—repulsed by sexual intercourse to the point it evokes a feeling of sickness or extreme dislike. This feeling is not specific to any particular sexual orientation. Dysfunction/medical issues refer to specific medical conditions (i.e. hormonal, biological, response to injury/trauma) that impact libido, arousal and performance. This can occur with anyone and is not particular to any sexual orientation. 

Anti-sex speaks to people who are either opposed to sexual intercourse across the board or are opposed to very specific forms of sexual intercourse (i.e. a cissexist homophobic anti-sex person opposes sex unless between a cishet man and a cishet woman), or opposed, but in a political sense (i.e. some anti-sex people want White supremacy, heterosexuality, and cis/able-bodied privilege decentralized from “sex positivity” ideology).

Single is obvious; simply a person of any sexual orientation that is not involved in a sexual and/or romantic relationship. This word still tends to favor people who aren’t asexual. While people of any sexual orientation who are single can face endless insults and even inequality and discrimination, being asexual and single is written off as pathology quite often.

Asexuality is a sexual orientation. People who rarely or do not at all experience sexual attraction (though they may experience other forms of attraction; i.e. sensual, romantic, aesthetic) are asexual. It is about attraction, not their behavior the night before. It is not solely any of the things listed above though some of them can impact asexual people just as they can impact heterosexual and queer people. 

Not all asexual people are people who have not had sexual intercourse before (“virgins”) or are prolonging their first sexual experience (abstinence). Not experiencing sexual intercourse is not what makes someone asexual or every teen who has not had sex yet would be asexual, which of course is ridiculous. Not all asexual people participate in purity culture. Many find it repulsive, restricting and heterosexist/sexist/dogmatic. Others may find it to be a good thing but still are not asexual solely because they think physical intimacy should not occur without a marriage license or adulthood. Celibacy does not even apply to some asexual people. Some do not engage in sexual activity whatsoever, so they are not on a prolonged “break” from sexual intimacy or intercourse. Celibacy does apply to some asexual people who were celibate before coming to terms with their sexual orientation as not heterosexual or queer etc. and can apply to some asexuals (i.e. gray, demisexual) who while rarely experiencing sexual attraction still may have sex and are thereby able to be on a “break” from sexual activity.

Some asexual people may fear sex but that is not what makes them asexual. The fear of sex is a separate issue that heterosexual and queer people can also experience. Some asexual people can experience medical issues that impact sexual performance but said medical issue does not determine their actual sexual orientation. If so, then cishet men with erectile dysfunction would automatically be asexual. Obviously, they aren’t. Some asexual people may be anti-sex but so are some heterosexual and queer people. Some may be anti-sex because of bigotry or conversely as a political statement specific to critiquing the narrow ways that “sex positivity" is proliferated. Even so, this is bigotry or sociopolitical resistance, respectively, not sexual orientation.

It should be more than obvious that being “single” has NOTHING to do with sexual orientation yet this word gets used interchangeably with “asexual” (as is “gay;”  for Black women, not chasing cishet Black men often means being called a “lesbian” where the word is meant to be a slur via homophobia; feminists/womanists are regularly called “asexual” or “lesbian” where both are used as slurs) by people who don’t know the difference or by people who are willfully ignorant and mean to demean asexual people or shame single people. 

Pretending like all of the mentioned words are the same as “asexuality” occurs because people do not have the correct information on asexuality or because they are being willfully ignorant and are trying to marginalize the experiences of asexual people by associating us with labels often used to marginalize those who aren’t performing sexuality in a way that is supported by the status quo or is supported but only via binaries ultimately meant to oppress. Because of the history of racism, sexism, misogyny and anti-Blackness as the root of White supremacy that creates misogynoir, there is no sexual orientation that Black women can have without facing oppression. Controlling images that make heterosexual Black women “Jezebels” and asexual Black women “mammies” while oppressing queer Black women for being neither one are evidence of misogynoir. Though the oppression is not uniform, as heterosexual Black women have heterosexual privilege, even heterosexuality for Black women is treated as deviant and as a divergence from “pure” White heterosexuality, let alone the immense oppression that Black women who aren’t heterosexual face, especially when they aren’t cis or binary gender either.

No examination of sexual orientation will ever be thorough if viewed through Whiteness or heterosexuality alone. Asexuality is its own sexual orientation and should be treated as such, not as an “alternate” word for the ones mentioned above, not as pathology and not as representative of people to control, pity or shame.

Related Information: Taking The Cake (a zine on asexuality), Asexuality Bingo Chart (covers much of the bigotry/derailment that asexual people experience), quote on asexuality and relationships 

Related Posts: Aces Can’t Talk About Nothin’ On Twitter…For Me, Sex Positivity Involves The Word “NO”The Large Space That White Supremacy Occupies In Conversations About Sexuality

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