Monday, June 10, 2019

On Purity, Asexuality, and Timing

Calendar. Image source.
So. Let's talk about sex ed and timing.

The timing of when I had sex for the first time was right for me. It was with Hendrix, who is now my husband, a while before we were engaged. I had never done anything sexual with anyone else before that. Even though I had dated other guys, the concept of me being interested in doing genital-related things with them never even crossed my mind. And the reason for that was purity culture- I was taught in church that of course no one should be having sex before marriage. Now that I know myself better, and I know my asexuality, I see that the timing was right for me, and I'm glad I didn't do anything sexual with anyone before. (BUT FOR EXTREMELY DIFFERENT REASONS THAN THE ONES GIVEN IN PURITY CULTURE.)

Christian teaching about "sexual purity" was really harmful to me. I'm now reading tons of sex-ed resources to try to catch up. But ... if I wasn't in purity culture, would I have had sex I didn't want, because I thought it was "normal"? The sex-ed stuff I read now, it's not written in a way that's inclusive of aces. (ace = asexual) I'm trying to imagine an alternative to purity culture, that teaches kids it's okay to have sex before marriage, but also helps asexuals understand their asexuality and be confident in their feeling that "no, I really don't want to have sex."

For example, I've been reading sexy fanfiction lately. In some of the stories, one character has a crush on another, and there's all this angst about "oh my unrequited love", but then SURPRISE the other character feels the same way! And then they kiss. Some stories end it there, but then in some other stories, they go have sex immediately. And at that point I'm like "okay, this is ridiculous." I appreciate reading the description of how they have sex, for educational reasons (even though I know it's porn so it's not realistic), but there's just no way I can believe people really have sex on the first date. (Or rather, before the first date.) Like, in fiction, it might happen, because the readers want to read the sex scene and skip the boring parts, but that would never happen in real life.

Err, I mean, actually, yes I have friends who have mentioned that there have been times they've had sex on the first date. To me, it's like relativity: There's enough scientific evidence, so I know it must be a real phenomenon, but it just makes no intuitive sense to me. Like, did you know time actually goes faster or slower for moving objects, because of some fancy math with the speed of light? Yes, really. Like, literally, if you move, time goes at a different rate for you than if you're sitting still. We never move fast enough that the effect would be noticeable (you'd have to be moving at almost the speed of light) but it's REAL. This has been verified through scientific research. It sounds wild and unbelievable, but it's real, and so in an academic sense I know it must be true. In the same way, apparently sometimes people have sex on the first date, and that is somehow also true even though it makes no sense to me.

But my point is, if I read this stuff back when I was young and impressionable, I don't think it would have made me believe it's normal to have sex on the first date. Because it's just so unrealistic. That just happens in fiction. Right? So, that wouldn't have been a problem for little asexual-but-doesn't-know-it Perfect Number.

But. On the other hand, there are the fanfics where characters are in a relationship, and there's the assumption that of course people are having sex with their partner when they're in a relationship. Like it might not happen on the first or second date, but it is inevitable. And this would have been a really bad influence on me if I had been exposed to it back in high school, as an alternative to purity culture.

There was one story I read, where I really appreciated how one character was really hesitant about having sex, even though they were in a happy relationship. They weren't ready for sex yet, and their partner was supportive of that. Then when they finally decided they wanted to try, they told their partner, and their partner said actually today isn't really convenient, so they didn't end up having sex that day. Later in the story they did have sex, and it didn't go perfectly the first time, there were minor issues and nervousness and the whole thing felt very realistic to me. (Completely different from all those other fics that are like "and then he had the best orgasm of his life", which, come on, really?)

I liked that story because yeah, in real life, sex isn't this perfect thing that always feels good and everyone wants- even though in most of these stories, because they are porn, that's what it is. Like, I get it, the audience is reading for certain reasons and they want something enjoyable rather than something that actually reflects real life. That's fine.

But even though I really liked that story, I still have a huge problem with how it framed sex as something that's normal to do when you're dating someone. I have a huge problem with using language like "ready" because it implies that having sex is a goal you should be working toward. Imagine if, instead of purity culture, I read stories like this back when I was a teenager. Then imagine if I dated a guy who asked me to have sex with him. I would have felt like "oh he is so kind for not pressuring me and waiting until I am ready" while trying to get myself "ready", and "ready" would have meant "I've gotten used to the idea to the point where I'm no longer horrified and repulsed, so I think I can endure this, for his sake." And I would have thought my boyfriend was such a good and loving person- how hard it is to find such a loving partner, how lucky I am- because he was patient and accepting during the weeks or months it would take me to get to a place where I am emotionally "ready."

I see now, because I know myself better, and I know I'm asexual, that that wouldn't have been right for me at all.

What's right for me is this: I date someone, and sex isn't even an issue at all. We just enjoy being happy together, and nobody really says much about the fact that we're not having sex. Sex doesn't even become a possibility until such a time as I start to think, "hmm, maybe I'd like to have sex with him," and then I consider it for a while and finally decide that I want to.

And ugh, I hate to say this, but because of purity culture, that's pretty much how the timing worked for me. I never even considered the possibility of having sex with the boys I dated before Hendrix- but it wasn't because "I know myself and I know that's not what I want", it was because "premarital sex is evil and dirty and will ruin your life and no one should ever do it."

What would it have been like, if I was taught to respect and value myself so much that I knew my "I don't know if I want to" meant "no"? And I use the words "respect" and "value" very intentionally here, because purity-culture advocates use those exact words. They say that girls who respect and value themselves don't have sex, and girls who choose to have sex don't respect and value themselves. In their ideology, "respecting and valuing yourself" means following God's rules because they are God's rules, and not being aware enough of your own feelings and desires to even know what you want. "Respecting and valuing yourself" means you can't be trusted to know what's best for you and make your own decisions. Yeah, eff all of that.

Sooooo... purity culture was really bad for me. But, for me, this stuff about sex and timing was one little good thing. And please don't misunderstand- it happened to work out correctly for me, but I have read a lot of #churchtoo stories about women in purity culture who were sexually assaulted and didn't have the tools to understand what happened, and blamed themselves and thought they were dirty and worthless, and I see how I was vulnerable in all those same ways but luckily that didn't happen to me. So no, let's ABSOLUTELY NOT teach kids that they need to be "pure" ... but I'm having trouble figuring out how to teach sex ed in a healthy way that's also a healthy way for aces. 

Like, right now I watch sex-ed videos about how to do oral sex and what foreplay is, and things like that, and it's a very different thing from what I always thought sex ed was... Before, I thought it was "well we don't really want kids to have sex, but that's not realistic, so, like, well, if you have to have sex, at least use a condom." But now I'm learning from a completely different kind of sex-ed materials, that presents sex as something good and enjoyable and worth taking the time to discover- because it does take time and it does take learning. And right now it's really good and healthy for me to learn this stuff, because I know myself and I know what I want, and I have sex with my husband. But if that was the sex ed I had as a teenager, instead of purity culture, ugh no that would have been bad. I would have felt like I should be doing those things.

And yes, sex-ed sites also mention asexuality. And they say you don't have to do anything sexual if you don't want. But that's not enough. Because how would I know I was asexual? How would I know that I'm one of those people who doesn't want to have sex? I was too inexperienced to know what I wanted, and so I would have just taken what was presented as "normal" and assumed it applied to me. 

So... what would have helped? Maybe if I read a story with an ace character who's in a relationship and is very confident about not wanting to have sex. But... sort of difficult to have a story like that and have it come across as real. It would be easy for it to come across as a morality lesson to teach kids that they shouldn't have sex. Or like the character claims they're happy but they're in denial and it always feels like something is missing. Or, if sex isn't mentioned at all, it would read like "this is a G-rated story so we won't actually say they're having sex, but like, you can assume they are because that's normal in a relationship."

Maybe, if I could have read something like that, I would have recognized, "THIS is how I feel. This is what I want." And I would be able to process the information from "here is how to have sex" sex-ed materials in a healthy way. Instead of feeling like being in a relationship means I'm "supposed" to do those things.

And actually, reading sexy fanfiction has been really helpful to me because it includes a TON of examples of different ways people might feel about sex. You might come across a character whose perspective you relate to, and that helps you understand yourself better. I don't know of any other resource that has that. Even though, obviously, sexy fanfiction is heavily biased toward being over-the-top porn.

And on a broader level, maybe we should teach all kids "as a general rule of thumb, you shouldn't have sex unless you definitely know you want to. If you feel like 'I don't get why anyone would do that' then that's probably a sign that sex isn't really right for you." But be careful it doesn't come across like "haha, oh, you'll understand when you're older", as if being interested in sex is a sign of being grown-up, and aces just aren't as mature as everyone else. Like I said, I'm not okay with terminology about being "ready"- as if sex is a goal that people should be working toward.

And maybe this too: "As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn't have sex if you haven't masturbated before." Masturbating can help you to get a general idea of how your body would feel during sex- it's not at all the same as partnered sex, but it's better than having no information at all. And then you can decide if it's the sort of thing you would want to bring another person into, or if you feel like "no, this is way too vulnerable, I don't want anyone else here" or "no, I don't like this, so I don't want to have sex with a partner either."

Because, wow, the idea of having partnered sex if you've never even masturbated before, if you've never even touched your own genitals ... which is what I did ... it's just so vulnerable. So much more vulnerable than if you do have experience with your own body. You lay yourself out there for your partner to touch- they touch you in a way you've never even touched yourself. You're letting them, but you don't even know what you're letting them. It's vulnerable because you don't even have any way to estimate beforehand just how vulnerable it is. So vulnerable, in fact, that maybe I would go so far as to say no, no one should ever do this. Do not have sex if you haven't at least tried masturbating before. Do not let another person touch your genitals if you've never even touched your own genitals.

Even if you have some super-romantic story of how you're so committed and you're soul mates for life and you're not going to have sex until marriage and all that. Even then, I don't think anything good can come from having another person be the first one to touch your body like that. It should be you. Know yourself and love yourself and own your own body. And then, after you're confident that you know yourself and you understand what you're getting into, then you are able to share that with another person in a healthy way.

Masturbation is a very different thing from partnered sex- I'm not saying it's the same. I'm not saying it feels the same. I'm not saying you have to masturbate enough to be good at it. I'm not saying you have to have experienced an orgasm. Just, oh geez for the love of lady god, to at least have some very rough approximation, some broad outline, some vague sketch of what the physical part of sex might feel like- SOMETHING! How can you know if you would like to have sex or not if you don't at least have *something*, some experience with touching your own genitals- however limited that experience might be. Just something, oh god something. ... Because, I didn't.

(To be honest, I feel quite weird laying down an absolute rule here, when I haven't heard other people giving advice along these lines before ... Am I wrong? I truly can't see any benefits to attempting partnered sex without ever having attempted masturbation, and I see A LOT of unnecessary emotional risk here.)

And also: "As a general rule of thumb, high-schoolers shouldn't have sex." Am I wrong? I think high-schoolers aren't mature enough to handle the physical and emotional risks. Am I being naive and showing my asexuality way too much here? Like, yes I believe high-school kids absolutely SHOULD be given all the information they need about how to have sex, in case they end up doing it anyway, but it should be framed as "you will need to know this in the future, but not now."

One more thing: Well since I said it could be helpful for baby aces to see an example of an ace character who knows what they want, I'll go ahead and talk a little bit about my husband, and why I have sex with him while I'm glad I never even considered having sex with any of my exes.

Here goes:

So, popular opinion says that if you're attracted to your partner, having sex inherently feels good, in a physical sense. It will feel good, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea to do it, because it could make the relationship all complicated, or make your emotions all complicated. But the "temptation" is there because it will feel good physically, and you have to keep reminding yourself it's not worth it because of the other complications that would come from it. (Or rather, have a realistic view of what the outcome would be and decide if that's something you want or not.)

For me, that's not what sex is like. (Actually, that's what kissing is like for me. Straightforward and self-explanatory, and feels good if I'm attracted to my partner. But potentially complicated and unwise for reasons related to emotions.) For me, sex is such an incredibly weird thing to do, that I would be extremely extremely uncomfortable doing it if I didn't already love and trust my partner. And when I say "love and trust" I mean I'd want to be pretty sure we're going to get married. Like, it's just not worth it otherwise. Like, sex can feel good physically but that's not the main point of why I want to do it with my husband- the main point is the trust and closeness. It's so NOT worth it if the physical feeling was all I was getting out of it.

With the boys I dated before, they weren't committed enough. We never got to the point where we were discussing marriage. So they weren't worth it. (And I'm not saying that as a judgment on them- I'm just saying our relationship wasn't committed enough where it would have made sense to have sex. And that's totally fine! Absolutely nothing wrong with being in a relationship that never ends up getting to that point.) Sex is weird and vulnerable and confusing and time-consuming and has a steep learning curve, and it just wouldn't have been worth it to get into all that with a short-term boyfriend. With Hendrix, it's worth it because we're married and he loves me and we're committed. (We had sex before we were engaged, so maybe that's a plot hole in my story... *shrug* well whatever, the timing was right for me.)

(Important note: If I had had sex with other boys before, it wouldn't have been worth the trouble, it would have been a mistake and a bad idea, but it would NOT mean I "gave away part of my heart", it would NOT cause problems in my marriage, it would NOT mean I was dirty and impure, or any of that scare-mongering crap that purity-culture proponents teach. Life would have moved on and I would be COMPLETELY FINE.)

The point is, I know what I want now. And if other people want something different, that's fine. People can have casual sex if they want, whatever, I'm not judging, but I know that's not what I want. But I wonder, what kind of sex ed could I dream up, that would have been good and healthy for me as an asexual, while also good and healthy for other kids who aren't asexual? How do we send the message that sex is a normal part of life for most people and can be a very good thing, without accidentally telling aces that they're "supposed" to do it?

I think aces are especially vulnerable here, because for people who experience sexual attraction, they understand "I'm sexually attracted to this person but not to this person", they get what would make people interested in having sex, and they're not going to consider having sex with someone they're not sexually attracted to. But aces have no reference points like that. So we are likely to focus on some subsection of our not-sexual-attraction and decide maybe that's what people feel when they want to have sex, and maybe it means I should have sex.

Aces deserve better sex ed than that. For me, the timing worked out right because purity culture made me terrified of my own body, but I don't recommend that to anyone.


I Wanna Preach the Good News of Masturbation
They said it was about "valuing our bodies." That was a lie. 
I’m Really Really REALLY Glad I Had Sex Before Marriage 


This post is part of the June 2019 Carnival of Aces, a blog carnival about asexuality. This month's topic is "Then, Now, & Tomorrow."

No comments:

Post a Comment