Just when you thought that there could never be another big new idea about sex, there is one, and it is way different from just about everything else out there. For years, it has been possible to find all sorts of advice and information about how to have more sex or better sex or different kinds of sex or better positions during sex. The new idea is this: It is okay not to be interested in sex, for a while, or even for the long haul. Once you realize that, you can enjoy a new sort of freedom and understanding. You can still have all the sex you want if that’s what interests you, but you can also feel a whole lot better about those times when you are just not into it.
The new enlightenment about sex comes to us from a movement that barely existed just a few years ago. It is the asexuality movement. Asexuals are people who do not experience sexual attraction; some do have sex, for various reasons, but deep inside, they do not really feel motivated to do so.
At this point, if you never heard of asexuality before, you may be feeling relieved to realize that other people feel the same way you do, or tempted to shrug the whole thing off because you consider yourself a very sexual person. Wherever you are with regard to sex, the insights from the asexuality movement have a lot to offer you.
If you want to know what it means (and does not mean) to be asexual, the best online source of information and guidance is the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). They have been on the vanguard of this movement, and they do a great service with their website. Unlike even just a short time ago, there are now scholars with expertise in the study of asexuality, and they have been publishing academic articles and putting together anthologies. One in particular, Professor Kristina Gupta of Wake Forest University, has been writing about what we can all learn from the asexuality movement, so I thank her for the insights I’m sharing here.
Here are a few of the things we can all learn about sex from people who are not that interested in it:
- There are certain things we think we know about sex that seem obvious – for example, that we are all sexual beings who enjoy sex and want to have sex, maybe even a lot of it. But what we think is obvious changes over time. For example, there was a time when women were assumed to be uninterested in sex. The story back then was that women just had sex to please their husbands and have kids. That was a non-controversial way of thinking about sex differences in sex. Today’s women are liberated from that constraining view. But women – and men – still face significant constraints today.
- In our society, sex talk is everywhere. There are inexhaustible supplies of books, magazine articles, advice columns, websites, movies, TV shows, and more touting the joys of sex and offering to help you figure out how to have more and better sex. That can feel freeing, compared to when it was considered shameful (or for women, unladylike) to be a bit too interested in sex. But where is the room for people who are not all that interested in sex, whether temporarily, or more enduringly? What all that sex talk is selling is compulsory sexuality. It is creating a new, contemporary form of pressure or shame, which hurts and burdens and constrains people who do not want to have sex, or do not want to have a lot of sex, or just want a break for a while.
- The new way of thinking reminds us that there are many reasons why we may experience times when we are not all that interested in having sex. Maybe we are having health problems or we are preoccupied with something like finding a job. Sometimes people really do have a headache. Or they’re tired.
- Some of the reasons why people are not all that interested in sex are very positive ones. For example, maybe you just moved to a new place and you are fascinated with your explorations there. Or maybe you are working on a problem that is absorbing in the most rewarding way. Or maybe you are pursuing some other passion, and you find that more engaging than sex.
- The new way of thinking offers suggestions for talking back to the endless ads for Viagra and Cialis and comparable products that companies are trying to pitch to women. Even if you are experiencing low sexual desire, you don’t need to let those messages raise your anxieties about performance. Instead, you can ask yourself the question Kristina Gupta suggests: “Do I want to work to increase my sexual desire or do I want to instead see this change as either something temporary that will pass as circumstances change or as a new phase of life that could even be enjoyed?”
- Perhaps the most significant lesson of the asexuality movement is that it is possible to have close personal relationships and a meaningful life without experiencing sexual attraction.
The asexuality movement urges us to think more clearly and more deeply about our sexual anxieties. Are we really worried because of what we really want or because of what we think we should want – what societal pressures are telling us we should want? Some people will consider the various possibilities and decide that they really are concerned about their sexual performance or their low sexual desire and they want to do something about it. There really are some relevant medical conditions that can be treated. Coming to that conclusion thoughtfully is a much more powerful way to get there than just mindlessly caving to the pressures all around us.
[Note. Other relevant discussions can be found in the collection of links at “Getting married and (not) getting sex.”]