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On Virginity, the label

I live in a progressive society.

I am ‘not sexually active’, rather than a virgin (maagd).

I

Virgin and maiden and damsel (in distress) are the same word in Dutch.

Everyone is the hero of their own narrative.

I was a child in the nineties.

We were never told we should be the damsel.

Thus, it remained a word for other people.

II

…Born from the Virgin Mary… (geboren uit de maagd Maria)

Except that was not the Mary I liked or pictured.

My Mary was the respected wife of a middle-class carpenter with half a dozen children, who had been exiled to Egypt and returned to Israel only to move to a completely different town and build a new life there succesful enough to afford a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the only woman on the planet to have raised God the Son with reasonable succes and saw him go off to do inexplicable things and then had to bury her eldest child.

The woman who went and asked that same Jesus for a miracle because her friends’ wedding was about to go off the rails.

The Virgin was a blue and white robed statue in old chapels.

Thus, it remained a word for other believers.

III

I was never asked if I was a virgin.

Society never impressed this word on me, but went out of its way to reject it as oldfashioned.

I was always asked if I was sexually active.

So, I was ‘not sexually active’.

Thus it remained a label for other cultures.

IV

I never needed the word to describe or defend the fact I did not have sex.

It was rather taboo to ask if someone had ever had sex.

If you had it, presumably you boasted.

If you did not speak of it, it was assumed you simply did not have it recently.

I moved too much so I did not grow up in one place.

I did not have a family that considered my sexual activity its businesss.

I had no people come on to me uninvited or presuming they could have sex.

Thus, it remained a line of defense for other people.

V

I did have talks with friends, of course I did.

It is really easy to turn the conversation to other aspects of a relationships.

People really love to talk about their own experiences, if they talk about it at all.

I also had kind enough friends that they simply respected my being single as a choice.

When I had a relationship, it felt so utterly personal, tender, vulnerable, I was circumspect.

In talking to my partner, the past seemed so much less relevant to discuss than us, now, until it didn’t exist anymore.

Thus, it remained a discussion I never had.

VI

Every single doctor I have ever had.

Every form.

Are you sexually active.

Yes. No.

I answer.

I get, perhaps, a look.

Thus, it remained a question I was never asked.

VII

The only time the issue of virginity was raised, was in a religious context.

It came dripping with bad and worse associations. Submission. Purity culture. Patriarchy.

I felt revolted at the mere idea of identifying with it.

I like having my judgment respected when it comes to my sexual activities.

I like having the freedom to discuss what I did and did not do without immediate censure.

I like having no law or rule dictate or limit my activities so long as I do not harm or harrass anyone.

I like the sense of safety and respect and responsibility that awards.

I like the idea that I answer to God, and God alone, when it comes to whatever consensual sexual activity I engage in.

The idea that I make choices to follow what I believe is right freely, in my own time and without outside pressure.

I like it a lot.

I like sexual freedom.

Thus, it remained a discussion I tried to avoid.

VIII

I am not a virgin.

I have never had occasion to identify with the word.

I have never much discussed it and when I did, disliked it.

I do not apply this label to myself.

IX

Ironically, people will apply the label if I am ever very clear about the limits to which I have been sexually active.

I cannot even make sense of where that line is drawn.

Is there one?

X

I do not wish to be a virgin, with all that that entails.

I am simply ‘not sexually active’.

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On Virginity, the hymen

Lady bits will be discussed in this post.

I live in a progressive society.

I am ‘not sexually active’, rather than a virgin (maagd).

There are reasons for this. I want to illustrate that.

It’s always felt so… natural (vanzelfsprekend).

Privilege alert.

I

With great glee, teen magazines and sexual education revelled in one fact when I grew up.

Only one percent of girls would have their hymen intact and bleed when they had sex.

Hymen. In Dutch, literally virgin seal (maagdenvlies).

The accuracy of the statistic wasn’t important.

Its repetition was.

Scientific fact or fiction as a mantra, a talisman.

II

Your hymen will 99% likely not be intact.

It meant, do not fear sex.

It meant, it won’t hurt, try it.

It meant, you are safe, don’t worry.

It meant, there is no magic.

It meant, there is no unforgivable sin.

It meant, you will still be the same person.

III

There is no magic.

Your body cannot be a sacrifice.

Your blood does not have special powers.

You will not be targeted by evil sorcerers or monsters or bogeymen.

IV

There is no unforgivable sin.

You are not more virtuous for having had less or more sex.

You are not more holy before you have sex.

You do not have to be an angel.

You will not be a slut.

You do not need to be ‘kept safe’ for your own good.

V

You are safe, do not worry.

You are not in danger because you are innocent or beautiful.

Others’ lust is not on you.

Sexual harrassment is a crime.

We make laws, we bring justice.

If you are in danger, we are on your side.

We will teach you how to speak up.

We will teach you how to fight.

We will teach you how to be prudent.

We will teach you how to wield our laws.

VI

Do not fear sex.

You will still be the same person.

Your body is yours to do with as you please.

We have enshrined this in the declaration of human rights.

We are dedicated to bringing this freedom to everyone around the world.

This freedom is your inalienable right.

VII

Try it, it won’t hurt.

Here comes the sticking point.

What if I don’t want to try sex?

Then I don’t, I suppose.

VIII

They said, your hymen will likely not be intact.

You may not have a detectable hymen in the first place.

It may break when you ride a bike or a horse.

It may break when you insert a tampon, fingers or a device.

It may break with rigorous physical activity.

They said, be careful with the vagina, that may be narrow.

IX

The vagina may be narrow.

I have discovered the truth of this last part.

It is a flexible channel with muscles around it.

Go figure what inactivity does.

X

Relevant: bikes.

The Dutch ride bikes regularly from age four.

I have always wondered if other nations had a higher percentage of intact hymen.

XI

Relevant: tampons.

I preferred tampons.

We swim a lot, in Holland.

Hobby, outing with friends, day out in summer, exotic vacation.

Imagine having a 25% chance of not being able to do that.

XII

Relevant: fingers.

It’s hard to bend over and see, easier to touch lady parts.

We were informed it’s good to clean and be familiar with those lady parts.

We were told about a terrifying host of things that can be wrong .

Mostly, I remembered it was good to inform a doctor if anything seemed off.

That means knowing how my genitals looks when they’re alright.

XIII

Relevant: stimulating devices.

I explored enough to know parts were functional.

I found that it worked differently for me, however.

It took me a while to figure out, hey, other sexuality.

XIV

Upon the stage of public opinion, the Dutch don’t really have conservative evangelicals.

We have conservative Muslims.

They are not considered white, so they are ridiculed more openly.

Thus, Christian girls worry a lot less about being a virgin, at least in a clear physical sense.

Muslim girls, well-informed, do worry about not being virgin in any discernable physical way.

I have overheard several serious discussions of the wonders of goat’s blood packets in the marriage bed while on the train, over the years.

XV

An intact hymen is for other cultures and other times.

Physical inspection was for horrible quack-doctors among Victorians.

Physical mutilation is for horrible witch-doctors on other continents.

Here, just sign a petition, send a card.

XVI

Except, not really.

I read about sexual education going out the window.

I read about girls not knowing about or being scared of their own genitals.

I read about women feeling scared about not having an intact hymen.

I read about people getting sick, of STDs spreading again.

I speak to fellow Christians honestly believing this is all a good development.

I am speechless.

XVII

Your hymen is likely not intact.

It’s just a little fold of tissue.

It’s okay.

I find I am holding a talisman.

Sexually-liberated-modern-woman self versus demisexual self

I.

I read a book on feminism, women and desire, femininity and sexuality. Another. And another.

My head gets stuck, thinking. I confuse several people with my doubts, speaking of it.

What does it mean, I wonder, I ask the page. For a demisexual. Or cross out demi and insert whatever applies.

Sexual freedom on the asexual spectrum. Liberated. How? What does that even mean?

I realise, exactly that.

Freedom, to be a complete individual with honest desires. No more and no less than what I am.

A shape of desires unique to me. To explore.

II.

The freedom to explore. The myth – until I believe it, until it is fact – that I am worth an exploration. A sort of Grand Tour of the sexual world in words… until I come home.

Where I belong, with words and language that I shape.

To word the shape of myself, this new thing.

Take a bucket list. Cross out what I – only I, not what-I-should-be – don’t want to try. Keep what I do want.

The freedom, to edit later, how I worded myself first. To evolve, too, in the shape of my desire.

III.

The desires I have, not what-I-should-be.

Should. A standard. A standard that is meaningless, if the world still assumes humans are all sexual.

IV.

I am free to deny. Liberated to say no. Or maybe. Or a little bit. Or very rarely, with that someone I meet once in a blue moon.

Maybe, in a few years, I’ll desire you that way. I will not desire you now. This is okay.

V.

I am free. Yet.

It is a freedom that is an ideal, itself a desire. A freedom that takes years, to reshape myself gradually after that first break from being sexual.

A freedom that can be lonely, because “no, nothing, thanks, I’ll sit here, quietly” can be easier than a full reshaping of the self until it can be said: “This, this is what I do want.”

To dare say.

VI.

But, I want. I want to word myself positively. I want to be free. I want to speak in desires.

I want more than to simply say: I want no sex, I seldom want sex, I want sex very rarely with maybe this person in that circumstance.

VII.

I feel I am bursting at the seems with want. For a full partnership, for love, for a future.

Sex, the thing unwanted, seems paltry.

I do not want to live defined by that.

VIII.

So, I attempt words. I try to reshape the self. I strive for the positive, for the wanting.

The freedom to desire only what I want. No more, no less.

The freedom for words, for actions, unpunished. Room to speak. Room to grow.

The desire for acceptance, for fulfillment.

IX.

A life in freedom.

A self free to desire.

Desires freely worded.

Freely denied, too.

X.

A freedom that only invites and does not demand.

Isn’t that desirable?

I can unite my desires and my freedom. I will.

I want to, to reconcile these, and have words.

Carnival of Aces: Begijnhof

BegijnhofAmsterdamEurope Despite earlier posts, here’s my contribution for July’s Carnival of Aces. Belatedly, I realised I had an answer for one of the questions: “Is it appropriate to speculate about the a/sexuality of individuals who lived before asexuality and sexual orientations were a well-accepted concept?” Yes… because I have one possible answer of what life asexual-spectrum women might’ve chosen centuries before the sexual revolution happened and they had, y’know, more of a say in the marrying and sex-having matter.

For the collection of asexual (pre-)history, I wanted to add something that might otherwise be lost because it concerns Christians, women and the Middle Ages. A combination that calls to mind nuns or witch burnings or ladies courted by knights… not industrious single women living celibate lives. The begijnhoven as they existed in Holland, though varieties could be found throughout Western Europe. Much of the material that follows is a summary from several websites and a Dutch paper1 and Belgian paper2 on this topic that are absolutely worth a read.

  • Places: begijnhof, plural begijnhoven.
  • People: begijnen.

Start of the begijnhoven

Begijnhof-Breda-mei-2011-MH-verkleindThe oldest begijnhof, beguinage in English, that remained in operation the longest, was in Breda3. There is also one in Amsterdam4, should you wish to visit one on your holiday. They were small communities of women in urban areas. The first record, in 1267, shows women in Breda being granted land by the lord of that city, and freeing them from any duties to him, making them essentially yeomen rather than vassals, with their own bits of land, an enviable position back then. They were even granted the right to build their own chapel and cemetery, giving them control over their own religious practices and final resting place as well, confirmed by their next patron and the bishop. By this point, they’d apparently already been established for thirty years, having had an infirmary and several small houses from 1240 onward.

Outside of monasteries lived several communities of religious women who wished to remain unmarried and focus on charity work. The begijnen were among them. They took a vow of celibacy, yes, but only for the time they’d live among the begijnen. They took no vow of obedience except to their leader, chosen from amongst the women. They also never relinquished their possessions, though many donated part of what they had and led sober lives in an increasingly decadent society with an increasingly corrupt church.

Life in a begijnhof

Life as a begijn was initially an attractive alternative to both marriage and a monastic life for rich noblewomen and young women from the urban elite. Soon, rich and poor were drawn to it, because it offered a measure of independence while they could supply for their income either out of their own fortunes or by taking a job with a steady income, occasionally supplemented with gifts from richer women.

A begijnhof was both a protected environment and a place of independence. It operated much like a kibbutz or commune, closed communities of up to 300 women. It was a self-sufficient collection of gardens, vegetable patches, its own church, houses. A school or infirmary if many of the women taught or were nurses. Everyone contributed part of their income and did some of the work inside.

They worked and did a lot of charity outside the begijnhof, which was very different from your average monastery. They sought engagement with the world. They became teachers, nurses and worked in the textile industry, where they competed to the point that they were called a women’s guild. Their celibacy gave them an uncommon freedom of movement in the city while out on errands and visiting people.

This life offered a good alternative for women refusing an arranged marriage or not eligible to donate a dowry to a monastery to enter it. But more than that, women entered the begijnen who were plain uninterested in married life, women who wished to move to the growing cities, focus on their work and maintain some independence in their finances, possessions and daily lives. They were also prolific writers, though their often religious works had the second-rate reputation romance novels do these days.

The movement endured for a long time, the last begijn died in 20135, and it flourished in times when women were relatively free, the late Middle Ages and the seventeenth and eightteenth century, while it suffered in more conservative times, the Reformation and the Romantic or Victorian era. It never recovered during the 20th century, likely due to overall secularisation. By then, women were fighting for an independent if not celibate life in other ways.

Why co-opt this as asexual (pre-)history?

I like to think that women make places for themselves, even in cultures where that’s hard. Assuming that asexuality occurs naturally and a significant part of asexual women had little to no interest in sex, romantic love or marriage back then too, they had to build a different life. No doubt many simply remained unmarried and went on to become content spinsters and eccentric aunts. Others would have been forced into marriage and left the unappealing marriage bed once their husbands allowed them, or perhaps entered a monastery. And yet… this alternative seems to have existed too: a way to live a full life without sex, even way back then, in communities of like-minded women. I do not suggest all or even most of these women were asexual, but I think this life might’ve held significant appeal for women who would have been ace-spectrum had they lived in the 21st century.

It also casts an interesting light on modern-day abstinence/celibacy/[preferred-label]. In words, these women’s choice for celibacy matches that of people preaching pre-marital abstinence or those choosing celibacy for religious reasons. In practice, their lives show parallels with people choosing not to have sex for practical or personal reasons. It freed them from living according to the sexual morale of their time. They had no interest in (waiting for) romance and the married life that followed, but prioritised building a life for themselves. It freed up time and space in their lives for other activities, to an even greater degree than it would today. They were socially engaged to the degree they wished, from recluses to women out and about all the livelong day. And most importantly, they found each other, a supportive community that lived as they did.

Last but not least, it’s a boon for Christian women on the asexual spectrum. Enterprising women who managed to express their faith, live in financial independence, hold down jobs and have the safety of close-knit communities with other women even 800 years ago seem good role models. Like an ace-spectrum version of Proverbs 31. Perhaps it could even aid in creating a good discourse for asexuality in the Protestant or Catholic church. An example that, no, good Christian lives don’t ‘naturally’ include sex. And, no, women of faith weren’t just quiet, meek, indoorsy types. And there’s more to the Christian tradition around women than virgins, wives and nuns.

Yeah… let’s just say there’s a hen house and I’m feeling a little foxy. fox-gurading-the-hen-house

Further reading

1. De Begijnen van Breda: een studie over het leven van de begijnen, met de nadruk op hun geestelijk leven, doctorate thesis by Ine Roozen from Tilburg University (PDF)
2. Tussen hemel en aarde: Begijnen in de Lage Landen, by RoSa (PDF)
3. Begijnhof in Breda (website)
4. Begijnhof in Amsterdam (website)
5. Een stad voor vrouwen – Begijnen en begijnhoven in vroegmodern Europa (webpage)

Carnival of aces
Call for submissions for July is here if you want to contribute, or go here to the Asexual Agenda if you want to read stuff from earlier months.

Images
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bd/BegijnhofAmsterdamEurope.jpg
https://dichtbijbreda.nl/files/2011/10/Begijnhof-Breda-mei-2011-MH-verkleind.jpg
https://averagejoenewsblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/fox-gurading-the-hen-house.jpg

Asexuality and the Trouble with Chastity

Chastity symbolised

Chastity as allegorical woman.

The second installment in the blog series on Asexuality and Christianity, from the perspective of a Dutch Christian demisexual woman. This will be a post on the origin of chastity, where did the Christians go with the idea of not-sex-having and how it can interfere with understanding asexuality. Do keep in mind that with roughly one billion Christians and 70 million asexuals (if that 1% holds up), experiences with sexuality meeting religion may vary wildly. Yes, I am very interested in hearing about your experiences.

Words as used in this post:

Chastity: the Christian virtue of responsible and moral sexual behaviour

Abstinence: the choice not to engage in sexual behaviour for reasons

Asexuality: umbrella term for people with orientations who rarely or never feel sexual attraction.

The Very Holy Text: why bother?

The Bible isn’t a book, today it’d be a fic archive or a story database or a Collected Works of the Christian Religion. It is a series of stories, from various genres and authors, cultures and centuries. Four times the collection was canonised as THE collection of texts that told people about God: originally written by the Jews, added to and adopted by Christians, partially adopted by Muslims in addition to the Qur’an and translated after the Reformation by Christians so they can read it. A lot.

It’s loved, it’s read, it’s memorised. The sermon on Sunday, bible studies during the week and daily moments of meditation all have this purpose. I’ll be quoting from it a lot, because this is the text to which people relate and that they see as the final word on a whole host of subjects.

Here’s the catch: interpretation changes.

Rev. Robert Schuler

Crystal Cathedral pastor Robert Schuler

A good explanation based on the source text has more authority than a ‘traditional’ point of view. It is experienced as a living text to which people may relate differently based on circumstance, time, culture and yes, faith. What is popular known as “Christian” at the moment, is the type of Christianity that yells loudest in the voices of rich old white dudes from North-America and Europe. Statistically, the average Christian is a poor middle-aged lady from Africa or Asia. So.

Let’s see what the dominant discourse in Christianity says about sex and not having sex, and where it might be a stumbling block.

Chastity, sexual virtue according to Christianity

Here’s a short summary of the thought behind chastity, good sexual behaviour. A Christian follows Jesus’ example, and Jesus didn’t have sex, so sex isn’t inherently good. God created people to have sex, and it begets babies and pleasure, so sex isn’t inherently bad. Paul encourages people not to have sex if it distracts from good behaviour and encourages people to have a legit relationship, to marry, if they do desire sex. I’ll dive into his letters in a separate post, same with Augustine, Christian writer and saint from the 4th century said to have majorly influenced sexual morality in Christianity.1

keep-calm-and-lock-your-chastity-beltRoughly speaking, to remain abstinent in the pursuit of God was thought best of all. In the catholic church, it was powerful enough to create a separate social class in the Middle Ages. Monastic life developed over time and chastity was seen then and now as a defining trait of saints, and since they were held to a high standard, it meant staying away from sex entirely. I do not know enough about the orthodox church to comment on their morality. The rest of this post will largely apply to the lay part of the catholic church, and most of the protestant church.

Most people were encouraged not to have sex before marriage, to marry and remain faithful and not divorce. The degree to which sex was regarded as bad varied. Calvin actively encouraged sex within marriage as a means to express love, a view which has become more popular over the last century. Sexual acts outside of the heterosexual zone, whether homosexuality or even masturbation, were generally seen as bad. It affected men more obviously and women more deeply, to the point where we’re only now learning more about how female sexual arousal actual works.2

To be chaste, in the original sense, is to behave according to the sexual moral of the time or to have sex in such a way as is best for yourself and your environment. It is also seen as good to pair sex and love or sex and a relationship or sex and marriage. Obedience to God and being good, being loving is seen as more important than any dictum of society.

Sometimes faith favours the feminists, mostly outside the western world. Christianity can give women space to follow their own ideals rather than submit to their husbands. It can help in encouraging men and women to pay more attention to their marriage as a beneficial relationship rather than a social necessity. It can create a safe space in places where sexual abuse is prevalent.

Other times, it’s used as prescriptive morality. It is used to reject sexualities other than heterosexuality. It is used to promote marriage and marital sex. It is used to preach abstinence rather than provide people with a basic sexual education, even in developed countries. It is used to keep intact all the inequalities that permeate the western world, because all the arguments in favour of those were formulated by Christians in the first place, and more often repeated and better preserved than Christian arguments against the inequalities.

Original sin, what tradition says about sex, sexuality, nature and morality

Sex became bad because lust became a sin. Lust became a sin because it’s a gut reaction rather than a feature of higher reasoning. It is emotional, it crosses social divides, it makes men need women… and that made it evil. These days, rhetoric about sex can go in the other direction, where it’s made out to be awesome because it’s natural behaviour. But what the Bible truly preaches is moral behaviour, based on the “loving your neighbour as yourself” commandment. And that can lead in different directions, depending on what you consider to be morally good.

Let’s look at some of the popular bible verses on the subject, shall we? For transparency’s sake: I selected them from several Bible books, to illustrate how interpretations may vary.

  • Matthew 5:28 “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Spoken by Jesus, can be used to:
      • Point out that what you think influences what you do.
      • Reject sexual objectification.
      • Say committing adultery, and even considering it is bad.
      • Argue that women naturally lead men astray and should be chastely dressed.
      • Say that base desires such as lust are bad and temptation is everywhere.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;” one of several such urgings written by Paul, which can be used to:
      • Reject any sexual behaviour, based on what a person believes to be immoral.
      • Tell listeners to control their bodies, i.e. remain abstinent entirely, have sex sparingly or simply to use condoms and not have sex while drunk during orgies.
      • Oh the ways in which people can be red-faced, uncomfortable and incoherent while trying to tell inquisitive teenagers exactly what Gentile “passion of lust” looked like in the Roman empire.
  • In the ten commandments, “You shall not commit adultery” and “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant,” which can be used mainly to:
      • Say adultery is bad… and yes, faithfulness during a relationship is far more important than whether or not you have sex before it.
      • Say jealousy is bad.
      • Say you need to be honest in your relationships.
      • …so mostly, if you’re polyamorous you’re shit out of luck with this bible verse, but funnily enough, that’s not really on most Christians’ radar.

Those were a few of the verses meant to point out some of the more common interpretations to come out of them, and also how different pastors come to different conclusions based on the same text.

In the Christian tradition, what’s emphasised most of all is that there is sin, which humans may commit, that sex leads to numerous ways in which you can harm people, so it’s good to behave in a sexually moral way. What is moral in terms of sexuality… ah, there’s the rub.

Modern-day chastity and why it’s a problem

Chastity has come to mean pre-marital abstinence, especially in the Protestant churches. Individual abstinence is usually celibacy.

Traditional pre-marital abstinence doesn’t work because it’s enforced for women only. Logically, it means men are having sex with some women. Not good, if women are celebrated or doomed based on whether they are perceived to have had sex. That sanctification of abstinence can be taken to extremes. In the catholic churches Mary has become synonymous with Virgin, and her virginity her crowning glory.

In order to be protected women, was the idea, needed to be controlled and protected to a ridiculous degree. From research into sexual harassment in the Middle East3, we see that sexual harassment has a proportionate relationship with the level of restriction women experience, not inversely proportionate, as the “protection” argument would have you believe. In other words, if you don’t want to be harassed, go live in a place where sexual freedom abounds.

pre-marital abstinenceThere’s a modern-day version of pre-marital abstinence, which puts men and women on an equal footing, at least as far as not having sex goes. This could work in theory, if everyone were heterosexual and everyone ended up in a relationship with their one true love while still of a reasonable age. Since ¼ of adults remain single, sexualities abound and relationships are messy, that doesn’t work. Sorry, Disney.

But…

I’ve witnessed couples decide together not to have sex until they were married, and it was beautiful. They had decided to follow a sexual morality that went against the grain of their society, and stick it out together, out of love for each other and as an expression of what they believed. This I had absolutely no trouble with, especially since sex does not have the attraction for me it that it does for people who do desire sex often.

I do feel revulsion every time I hear a private or public appeal for people to abstain from sex before marriage, to the point where I am very skeptical of anyone tackling the subject of sex in a church. I felt hesitant starting this blog series for that very reason, and oddly enough, it was also the deciding factor for me to start writing it, in the end.

Why, I wondered, do I desire to be free to have sex, if I rarely want to have sex? If being abstinent is easy as pie, for me? Why, if the few I’ve desired are guys, have I wanted to punch people in the nose for disapproving of my hypothetically being attracted to women?

The trouble with chastity

Smash-the-Paradigm-PostersThe first problem: presumption. If anyone encourages me to have sex, or to abstain from sex, they presume to tell me what to do. My body is mine. My vagina and womb are mine. The desires in my head are mine. I am a rational creature who has full access to information about sex and sexuality. To decide what happens to my body is my right. I have inherited this right from the generation before me, who fought for it. I will not let that right be taken from me. Not even by bending my head to people who presume to know more than I. I consider it proper as Christian, even, to bend my head only to God, and pass on both the freedom and responsibility inherent in that to others.

The second problem: power, and its abuse. I cannot be obedient to any sexual morality outside of my own. By surrendering the choice of what’s right and wrong to anyone, whether well-meaning family or religious leader or community, I give them power. If power is distributed unequally, especially between genders and about sex, it creates systematic abuse of that power. I cannot condone such injustice and still presume to be loving my fellow humans as much as myself.

The third problem: possibility. I didn’t know what I orientation I was going to end up with until my mid-twenties. It’s made me more sensitive to having options closed off. That you can decide how others love and have sex is wrong… it seems even more unjust if it’s potentially about you. If and who you’re attracted to may not become clear to you until your twenties or thirties, especially if you’re on the asexual spectrum, and it’s suffocating to have only one approved road to travel down as you grow up.

sexualrightsarehumanrightsThe fourth problem: practicality. I’ve grown up in a country where the amount of sexual freedom is very high. I’ve dressed and undressed in front of boys. I’ve been alone in rooms and cars with guys. I’ve been alone at bus stops late at night. I’ve been out on the street at all times of the day. I’ve dressed in all sorts of clothes. We’ve all grown up freely mixing and mingling. It’s just not a problem. It’s immensely liberating to be a person who’s free to go anywhere, anytime to do whatever she prefers to live her life. The restrictions in other countries are exasperating, from needlessly needing to watch what I wear to who I’m with at what location and what time. Especially when you don’t understand what the problem is. People seem better able to control lust, like the Bible preaches, in a liberal country. So why impose rules that hinder women?

The fifth problem: pressure. I didn’t experience it. I have sex if and when I feel desire. I have a relationship if and when I fall in love and it’s reciprocrated. If I feel neither, I need not have sex or a partner. I will not worry my family. I will not be considered less of an adult by society. I can do what feels good and know to be right. The lack of demand to do anything sexual that comes with sexual freedom is ideal, if you’re any shade of asexual. I wish it on everybody.

The sixth problem: exclusion. If having sex is the norm, it excludes people who don’t. That’s exacerbated when there are only a few options not to have sex, such as pre-marital abstinence and celibacy. It masks the existence of asexuality, and can be used as an argument to deny asexuality altogether.

The seventh problem: people versus God. If people are allowed to determine who and what is Christian, it excludes other believers. It also goes against the core of Christianity, that judgment and control and fear of the afterlife are surrendered to God, so that the way is free for you to live a good life you otherwise can’t. So that people might gradually discover how they should live and love. Discover what they consider to be morally good sexual behaviour and act on that of their own free will.

So in less than 200 words…

I believe that original chastity, practicing morally good sexual behaviour, is great to think about and act on. I believe that how it’s currently preached creates more trouble than advantages. I believe it means Christians on the asexual spectrum deal with other problems than other aces in the western world. I believe that a critical examination of the bible may yield a surprisingly supportive narrative for ace Christians. I believe it’s possible to unite Christianity and asexuality as discourses, but it will go against the mainstream ideas about what it means to not have sex in the Christian community.

Further reading

  1. Augustine’s view in a nutshell on Christianity Today 
  2. Stuff Mom Never Told You video: Vaginas Get Boners Too
  3. Research into harassment women experience in the Middle East and North Africa, PDF. 

Recommended reading

For a more in-depth exploration about several issues touched on here, go read the Ace Theist’s posts on Asexuality and Religion

Images

http://sd.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/i/keep-calm-and-lock-your-chastity-belt.png

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/Hans-Memling-allegory-chastity.jpg

http://cdn1.relevantmediagroup.com/sites/default/files/field/thumbnail/download_1.jpeg

https://simplyjaymary.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/chastity3.jpg

http://www.thefeministwire.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/8534Smash-the-Paradigm-Posters.jpeg

https://c676132.ssl.cf0.rackcdn.com/sexualrightsarehumanrights-529e2f3c3b576.jpg

In search of a lexicon

potofgoldWriting a good post about a subject that’s new to me in my second language, with specific words and sensitive matters I’m not clear on… it’s like a pot of gold. There’s a rainbow involved, I don’t know when it will appear, but I’m not going to stop chasing after it, even when I never seem to reach it. Because I can’t stop thinking, stop writing, stop wondering.

Several posts and articles I encountered recently made the importance of language very clear… Joss Whedon tries to propose “genderist” as a replacement for “feminist” in a speech that I decided not to link to in my previous post1. Five minutes’ research pointed out that a) it’s unnecessary2 and b) genderist already is a word, used to describe those who discriminate against transgender and genderfluid people3. Urban Dictionary is inconsistent on the subject4.

Since this happened a week after I’d read how Flibanserin might cause asexuality to be treated as a low sex drive that can be cured with a pill5, and BytheGoddess’s post on how asexual people can be recast as the romantic or celibate version of gay, bi or hetero6, I realised I’d run into a problem.

My lexicon is lacking. The words I have do not satisfy me, and they fail in conveying what I mean with the care it deserves. I want to use antonyms, colloquialisms and synonyms in order to avoid using the same word twenty times in the same post. I want words that rhyme for poetry and be able to vary the style of my posts… I don’t want to sound academic when writing what’s on my heart.

I’ve hit the point where I stop being comfortable writing whatever. The Flibanserin article in the New York Times points out the danger of not making the proper distinction between not being interested in sex and asexuality… the former might erase the latter. Cake at the Fortress paints an even starker portrait7 of how two words for the same lifestyle, celibate and antisexual, might divide a community because they indicate two different philosophies, or at least, two groups that disagree on several points.

I know I’ve used celibate and abstinent interchangably for choosing not to have sex, because those are the words I know, with little thought for what connotations they might have and who would feel included and excluded by the labels.

As far as wishing to have sex to some extent, I’ve run into a lack of words… How to describe, for example: 1. the state of engaging in sexual fantasy, but not actively masturbation or the act of sex. 2. a person who sees people as sexual, but will never act on that, because the act isn’t interesting. 3. being indifferent to sex in general but strongly interested in it for the sake of procreation.

I know I still switch too easily between romantic, sexual; loving a friend, loving a partner platonically and loving a partner sexually; wishing there were different verbs for all three… When writing about what I am, I confuse “demisexual” as my identity with “asexual” as my community.

Stuff can be described, but it feels… clunky. I guess I still have a ways to go.

Further reading:

  1. Joss Whedon proposes Feminists should be called Genderists, youtube video
  2. A good article pointing out the various reactions to the above speech and problematising the coining of a new word
  3. Genderism explained succinctly
  4. Urban Dictionary thinks genderist comments are about women, while genderism is about discrimination of the transgender and genderfluid
  5. NYTimes writes about Flibanserin
  6. By the Goddess’s post “I’m only going to say this once
  7. Cake at the Fortress’s post “A tale of two sites

Image: http://www.cbarks.dk/Digital/seraa195405.JPG

Demisexuality and Mental Health, accepting (a)sexuality.

Are there any common assumptions made about a particular mental health issue that do not apply to you because of asexuality? Or have extra complications when you add in asexuality?

Let’s see where this list takes us…

  • Teenage lust was a non-issue. I didn’t feel any.
  • Promiscuity and STDs and condoms were only theoretical things.
  • Presence or absence of sex do not count as faithful symptoms, in my case, of good or bad mental health.

A deeper, cultural issue, to consider during therapy: I think for demisexual and asexual women especially, sexual freedom is important. Because it leaves you free not to have sex, or have it in your own time. It is with a profound relief that I can say that I’ve never experienced sexual assault, and only rarely heard of it second hand.

A general openness towards different sexualities (to the LGBTQ community), translates into a more welcome place in which to be ace or demi, I feel. Both because you’re encouraged to explore your own sexuality during your teenage years and because it’s less hard to get people around you to accept there’s variations in levels of sexuality, the way there is variety in who that sexuality is aimed at.

In an openly sexual country (aka the western world) I think you’ll have to deal with the pressure to have sex, in and out of a relationship. It’s probably the biggest point of inner conflict for me. In a more traditional culture, you’ll have to deal with the pressure to marry and have children. For women, that translates in having to have sex with your husband, whether you want it or not. I think that is a deeper horror when you don’t want sex at all.

In general, the drive to just have sex is like a foreign language. It’s harder to understand. Entire genres of commercials and music clips don’t make sense. You can go along in jokes and behaviour, the way you learn to buy a certain type of shoe or shirt. But you wouldn’t do it on your own.

Consider this: a girl walks down the street in a short skirt and is accosted. The assaulters claim she wanted it, and general audiences do, at least, agree she ‘dressed slutty’. This is a travesty. How much more so, if that girl didn’t just not want to have sex at that point in time, but never in her life has, or will, and doesn’t even really understand why other people do. And, because of a lack of information, can’t even articulate her confusion.

My Sexuality, Today

The best part of growing up now, especially as a woman? It is alright to have whatever life you want, as long as it does more good than harm, and we grow up with parents who live like that too. Our dads read bedtime stories. Brothers and sisters share equally in household chores. All that can, can go to college, have a career. We can explore what sex we want to have and have what we want.

The sexual revolution…

…didn’t give women the freedom to have sex. It gave women the freedom of consent. I spoke to a lady who regularly travels to Africa, and the miracle she brings to girls there, when she gives sex ed, isn’t that white women have sex outside of marriage. It’s the idea that women say no to men unless they reciprocrate the sexual desire. That to have gone through puberty isn’t an open invitation for any and all to take advantage. That nothing is owed. That their body is theirs. Before and after marriage.

Sexual freedom…

…takes on another meaning when you are asexual, demisexual or not sexually active for other reasons. It is socially accepted to have sex. I’m also happy I live in a country where it is socially accepted that one can have sex with either gender, since part of not really having a sex drive during adolescence was that it was rather open-ended what sexuality I’d turn out to have if I ever did start wanting to have sex. It took away some of the angst. If you are not sexually active, though, you are invisible. I’ve rarely talked about the not-having with friends. I don’t even really know why. I’m lucky I can talk to my family. That I have, at the very least, the fundamental right to determine that I have sex, is important, in the face of that.

Sexual consent…

…was something I took for granted until I travelled outside the western world. I wasn’t in love, so I was not in a relationship. I was not in lust, so I did not have sex. It was that simple to me and to my family. It is that simple to most of my friends, I am happy to say. I hope it’s that simple for you too. Not so in other countries. There, women my age (twenty, at the time), felt the same pressure for marriage, and thus sex, that I only experienced when I thought about getting a job. Growing up, earning a living, being independent was enough pressure. I shuddered to feel the same pressure to find a partner. But then, returning to the western world with open eyes, it seems like there is that same social pressure, not to marry, but to have sex, definitely. And it startled me how hard it was for women to refuse without being ridiculed, once I started paying more attention.

Sexual attention…

…seems alien. I cycle past a giant bill-board of larger-than-life six-pack abs and all I think is, “geesh, photoshopped, much?” I look at Thor, and agree he has dreamy biceps, but not until the third time I’ve rewatched the movie, and I thorougly approve of his character. I can’t tell at all if I am attractive to people. I’m guessing not, because I’m rarely cat-called and I do not reflect the aesthetic ideal one bit. I was stared at, when I travelled, but I’m still not sure whether that was because I was white or because I was a woman. Since I’m not able to objectify anybody sexually until I know them well personally I never really understood how anybody else could. I know it’s possible, but I’m able to understand four-dimensional reality better than sexual objectification.

Body image…

…is as much an issue for me as it is for the general population. Sorry guys, the pressure to be thin and diet and hatred of yourself and seeing yourself through the eyes of a virtual onlooker… nothing really sexual about that. Just pop-culture brainwashing. That’s why eight-year-olds get as insecure about their bodies as adults do. How do I know? Been there, done that, with zero sexual drive. Been there, done that, with the sexual drive online. Been able to accept my body, without changing it a whit, with the sexual drive online too. Exactly because I started exploring myself and owning my sexual identity. Because I’ve felt the difference between leafing through a magazine and walking around an exhibit of half-naked women painted in the seventeenth century. The first was depressing. The latter was empowering.

Women’s rights…

…are so important and I came across it a lot during my search for what other women do when it comes to sex. I think it’s very important that women do not legally become like children when they marry (since 1950s) and rape is illegal even inside marriage (1980s) and sexual slavery is forbidden (since 2004, in the US). I think it’s very important that I can do with my body what I like, especially since I started wanting sex long after I would have had to marry in earlier centuries and other countries. I love that there’s more attention for the exploration of female sexual body parts, because stimulating my clitoris works, my vagina doesn’t do anything for me. Wouldn’t have known to try that, a decade or two ago. I like that there’s way more female writers who produce good sex, romance and erotica, and the female audience that demands it, since I need emotion to go with my sex, in fiction, and that just very often doesn’t happen in porn. I like that there’s more women in fiction, because reading early science fiction books where women just… don’t exist… is deeply creepy.

Feminism…

…is very important for one reason for demisexuals, specifically: genders mix much more. I am able to meet and know guys socially and professionally in ways I wouldn’t have a hundred years ago. It’s alright to be in a room together, because you’re all able to treat other people as people. Since genders mix, men and women are much more comfortable in each other’s company. Less posturing, less rules, less bullshit. Much more that you’re able to do in your life in general. This way of living, meeting and mixing as people with little regard as to whether you’re a man or a woman… that’s how the world is when you’re demisexual. People are just people. Gender is as relevant as someone’s choice of shirt, 99% of the time.

Until I know someone personally, sexual attraction doesn’t even really register, and that goes much deeper, and has much more fundamental consequences than just not wishing to have casual sex. I hope I’ve been able to show what that’s like, just a little.

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