My contribution to the March Carnival of Aces, about physical health and bodies. Go check out all the contributions.
Explicit language about sex, though I try not to be graphic.
For twenty-five years all the landmarks of developing sexuality and romantic relationships pass me by.
I blame my impopularity, my insecurity, my anxiety, my depression.
I have a few crushes. I think those feelings are attraction.
I look at a man I have known for several years.
In disbelief I feel my lower stomach roil with heat and my groin clench. I flush.
I flee to the hallway and slide down a wall.
That was sexual attraction. Out of nowhere. Already waning.
I realise I have never, ever felt it before.
My mind explodes.
I find the word “asexual” online. I read, ferociously.
I am demisexual, I decide.
I feel highly relieved.
The general practicioner looks at me. “Are you sexually active?”
I tick the box for single on the document, on every document.
I am in Amsterdam during Pride week.
I buy a purple dress and paint flags on my hands.
No one recognises asexuality as a thing. I comfort myself with forum hopping.
Weaving through the crowds I realise the most important thing about Pride is intangible: lack of expectations.
People bring their kids to experience a place and time when anyone’s sexuality and gender can be anything and it is okay.
It is festive, but I am alone and unknown. I leave early.
On the way home I buy a black ring and put it on my right middle finger.
There, I am out.
I take a photo.
I fill out another form. Yes, I’m single, dammit.
For the first time, I want there to be a question about sexuality.
“I’ve been flirting with you for ages!”
“I honestly didn’t notice.”
“Oh my God.” Skype makes his laugh a muffled thing. “Do you like me? I mean, you were not responding, so.”
“…yeah. But. I wasn’t gonna say anything. This is online.”
“You were just gonna pine. Pathetically.”
“Well, yeah. I’m… kinda glad to be having this conversation, though.”
I discover that being in love comes with heightened awareness, especially of my body in the world.
Flirting, once I’m aware, is an addictive adrenaline rush.
I feel tender, vulnerable.
I stop blogging. This is for me.
“Your vagina’s kind of narrow.”
I glare at my doctor. What part of ‘never sexually active’ was unclear?
“You never masturbate?”
I shrug. “Yeah.”
She grimaces. “This may hurt.”
She slides in the I.U.D. Aside from a dull ache, it’s fine.
Five years’ worth of birth control, installed.
Our flirting, our conversations continue.
I am shameless. I grew up in a culture open about sexuality. I see no reason to hold back.
I find my imagination has the greatest influence over my body.
Anticipation can buzz for an entire day beneath skin.
I want touch, I crave it.
The flip side, he lives in another country.
I love the attention, the banter.
I want company. I want another body, close.
The calls become explicit too, sometimes.
I delight in the celebration of body, it is so new.
I am, perhaps for the first time, interested in manly bits.
I love the touch, even imagined, even removed. Giving and taking.
I love the gaze. I love the sounds. I love the play of talk and touch and exploration and affection.
However, as it becomes more… focused, it becomes less interesting.
Reality is less without imagination fully engaged.
The more it is about just the genitals, the less my body and mind are into it.
The popping, crackling full-body fizz as we suggested, flirted, started, settles down into a low, steady buzz in my belly, depressingly familiar from masturbating.
Now, as then, orgasm is simply an end. A sudden stop to pleasant sensation, like stepping in a cold shower.
I have learned not to let that buzz culminate and tip over, but now it does.
“Did you finish?” he asks and I answer in the affirmative.
I do not fake that, but I fake how it makes me feel.
I fear he notices.
We end that call and I curl up wanting to cry.
Orgasms do not work as advertised and I want an afterglow badly.
The foreplay is not supposed to be the highlight, dammit.
When I start counting in months, I feel his physical absence acutely.
The difference with friendship turns out to be the level of preoccupation and the territoriality that comes with it.
He is a missing limb, in my thoughts but never under my hands.
We drift apart. His disinterest grows and I become stiffer the longer I want more than I can have.
I start babysitting, for some money.
Children, I discover, like touch, especially when they can dictate it.
Since touch has always equaled affection in my family, it is very, very easy to love the kids.
I also discover babysitting can stop from one day to the next.
The first time it ends I cry for several days on the couch, I simply think I am sad.
The second time was longer, much worse, and I realise how much more territorial I was over kids than even a romantic partner. Even when I knew they were not mine.
I am preternaturally aware of my womb for several months.
After the third time is bad, so bad, I swear off babysitting.
I fill out another form. I tick single, and no, for sexually active.
A year in my new town, I finally feel comfortable to start touching the people I have come to know.
A hug, a supporting hand.
I do not realise just how much it relaxes me until I am asked what’s made me so cheerful.
I meet my new doctor.
“I am not sexually active, no. I am on the asexual spectrum.”
She gives me a weird look at my wide, wide smile.
Two years seems to be the mark for me to be settled enough to start feeling attracted to people.
A grinning woman, oozing charisma and feminity, makes me weirdly cheerful and want to stare like a creepy stalker.
At the coffeestore, to make it more cliche.
No flush, no buzz, though. No desire to touch.
Oh, oh. Aesthetic attraction, I realise. For a real, live person.
I meet a young woman, single.
She is going to be a foster parent.
It is a revelation. Many ways lead to Rome. I need not take the most common one.
My anxiety hits me over the head again, out of nowhere.
My sex drive remains. I still feel the occasional attraction, mostly aesthetic or romantic, once even the flush of sexual.
I blamed all the wrong things when I was young.
I am demisexual, and it is simply my nature, not a symptom.
I have tried to cover all the feelings that relate to my body and are encompassed by my demisexuality.
This is not a complete account, I have chosen to include the first (or only) time I felt or acted on certain attractions.
I decided to leave out times when that attraction was not directed at a real person but a fictional character, especially since sexuality seems to function very differently in imagined and real scenarios.
The starting point: a TED talk by Helen Fisher on romantic love that is part of my reading up on sexuality.
I perk up five minutes in.
“I began to realize that romantic love is not an emotion. In fact, I had always thought it was a series of emotions, from very high to very low. But actually, it’s a drive.” (5:27)
My notes, based on what she says –
Three drives – three parts of the process
- Sex drive – to notice – select people to have a relationship with from a crowd
- Romantic drive – to focus – exaggerated attention, behaviour and emotion towards a specific person
- Attachment drive – to remain – a stable bundle of affection, attraction and behaviour towards a person to whom one has committed.
(May trigger in any order – important later)
I hesitate, then make a second list.
- If sex drive not(/rarely) triggered – asexual? – alternative selection process?
- If romantic drive not triggered – aromantic? – alternative method for focusing on specific person(s)?
- Attachment drive – independent from either
In the first flush of ideas of what it could potentially mean, the sweeping click-click-click of possible patterns, I dream big. Research statements for bold, new discoveries.
Attachment drive independent becomes –
The potential succes of relationships that asexual and aromantic people start is entirely independent from their romantic or sexual orientation.
Sex drive / romantic drive not triggered becomes –
Asexual or aromantic people formulate alternative methods to select and court potential partners from (zed/allo)sexual or -romantic people.
Alternative methods perhaps implies –
Asexual or aromantic people use methods to select and focus on partners similar to those they use to select and notice people to form other sorts of relationships with.
As I am writing reality trickles back in.
2018, not 1998.
Not Terra Incognita. Just new to me.
I sigh and go to add questions to my subjects-to-read-up-on list.
Demisexuality means this: sex drive may trigger simultaneously with or after attachment has formed.
This is why I may be dismissed: these drives do not necessarily trigger in order for anyone.
Attachment may come before sexual attraction for anyone. Romantic feelings may come before sexual attraction.
Asexuality: sex drive exists, but is irrelevant.
This is why I dislike being dismissed: I have been sexually attracted, in passing, to only half a dozen people in my lifetime. Other feelings, however, I have felt far more often.
Alternative methods are developed.
If one chooses to try for a relationship. If. Or it happens accidentally.
I am amatonormative, (and heteronormative?).
Aware, but still stuck with these trappings.
Progress. Not answers, but some questions to ask.
- How do I select anyone I wish to know better from among strangers?
- How, from that point, do they become friends or a potential partner?
- What makes that difference for me?
- How do I become territorial or obsessive over people for a time?
- What emotions/attractions/behaviour/thoughts overflow if one person preoccupies me?
- What does attachment look like for me (if I have enough data to say)?
- What are my alternative methods?
- What are others’ alternative methods?
- Do we see a difference in our brain, do we have something that lights up instead of the regular instincts?
I begin and discard several blog entries entitled The Three Drives.
I know too little yet, about brains, about sexuality in brains.
What questions do I elect to answer first?
Also progress, no need to go back and edit impersonal “we” and “you” back into “I”.
I think, therefore I am.
Demisexual. Questioning. Discovering.
Delighting in it.
Got Valentine on the brain.
I do not want your naughty bits
I don’t want any sex
I do not want your dirty talk
No beast with the two backs
I do not want your nakedness
I do not want you bare
Unless you wish to sunbathe too
Unless you wish to share
I do not want your fondling
I do not want your touch
Unless you lack attraction too
Want cuddles just as much
I really want your loving, though
I really want your heart
I really want to love you too
I really want to start
I really want to share a life
I really want your mind
I want to know just what you think
Return that trust in kind
I really want to know the joy
I really want to court
To buy the roses down the street
Cook food that you adore
I want your love and no regrets
Society can fuck off
To love you, honestly myself
True love, so help me God
One thing you definitely should not be doing in your late twenties is staring at a pic on your phone and thinking this is all still rather new and exciting.
Teens, yes. Twenties, no.
I’m doing it anyway. I’m loving the hell out of it.
Who cares, really, who cares what age you start, or what age a romantic schmuck with a phone in her hand’s supposed to be.
I want to feel like this when I’m eighty too.
Happily, octogenarians date. There is hope.
I’ve stumbled into a cul-de-sac with this series, which is what this post moans about. The next two posts will be a two-parter for this blog post series about the Gay Pride, because it was a rather life-changing event.
I think the joke’s on me… I started “I Want to Have Sex Like…” with the honest intention of discovering what sort of sex I’d want, if I ever came to the point where I chose to have any. Yet in my analysis of Captain America and Sherlock Holmes I find myself focusing on characters’ relationships, emotional engagement, treatment of each other, whether consent happened… Which are related to sex, but don’t exactly help me discover what I’d like between the sheets… Not to mention that what I find attractive in fantasy or reality.
Not sexual fantasy
I have found writing about this subject, ignoring what others say I should feel, very helpful. I’ve spent a lot of time going through forums and articles and videos and blog posts, and find that I’m starting to get a grip on demisexuality, at least as an identity I’m comfortable wearing. So I will continue this series.
But I’m muddying the waters if I pretend it’s all sexual fantasy.
Why’ve I called it that up until this point? Well, because I wanted to know what I have in the place in my mind where most have the thing labeled “sexual fantasy”. What you might use during masturbation. What hits you on a visceral level when consuming media. What people trying to get a date salivate over. Why selling things related to sex, or selling things by pretending they are sexy works at all. This thing I do not understand.
Besides, this exercise was not meant to flesh out what I’m supposed to think, but what I actually feel and imagine to be attractive. So. What does that mean for the future?
We’ll continue the analysis of items of pop culture as planned. From this point forward, I’ll focus on attraction on different levels consciously. I believe this broader focus accurately reflects how I experience that which is attractive, what I would desire and what I’d want in a (sexual) relationship. Sex is just… a potential part of it, and has no priority.
Different levels of attraction will be distinguished. For example, what’s gorgeous is aesthetically attractive. What I want to touch is sensually attractive. A person whose mind I want to assimilate like a Borg… intellectually attractive. Romantically attractive is a bit vague to me… so I’m probably going to mix that up with calling people emotionally attractive.
A second distinction which I’ll hope to get across is between that which I might fantasise about, and that which I would wish to do… or at least try. So, the distinction between what is attractive and what is desirable. The former is a far larger category than the latter.
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Liberties were taken with the script format.
The blog series in which messy reality muddles my neat mental image of sexuality. Let’s start with the basics, shall we? How’s asexuality and demisexuality a “sexual orientation”? And how does it relate to others? How’s “I want you with my brain, but not my loins” translate?
What I think I know:
What I got in secondary school (high school): the Kinsey scale is my preferred choice of partner presented as a spectrum. Nature and nurture combined determine my place on it. That’s called my “orientation”. Names for the varieties are homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual. Colloquial names in Dutch are those words minus “sexual”. In English people say “straight” and a have bewildering variety of words for “homosexual”, most are used as insults, even the neutral word “gay”.
Asexuality (ace) does not appear on that spectrum, so it needs a new one, especially if things like demisexuality are going to exist. It’s the degree to which you actually wish to engage in sex, in thought or deed. What I’m not really sure about is what’s the opposite, and what’s the middle of that spectrum?
What I found:
On Asexuality.org’s wiki1, I found asexuality was granted a designation, X, like the Professor. And that the view on sexual orientation’s less deterministic than it’s generally presented as: one can change over time, and one can be somewhere vaguely inbetween starkly hetero and not.
For that matter, there are more sexual orientations, including pansexual2, and gray-a or grey-a3(?), who are attracted in different ways and degrees (e.g. to all people, or occasionally). Demisexuality falls somewhere in that grey area, where the will to have sex exists, but only sometimes. Anything not asexual is called allosexual.
Then there’s Storm’s model4, in which the degree to which one is attracted to one’s own gender and the opposite gender is measured independently and there’s room for gay, bi, hetero and ace.
There’s the collective identity model5, in which sexual identity is shaped by how much you fall out of the norm of any given group. This resonates because for me sexual orientation wasn’t ‘in the picture’ until I had the time and inclination to feel attraction and went in search of what I was, thus making me something other than the default silent crowd. On the other hand, it supposes you do have a pre-set attraction…
The ABCD model6 of defining asexuality makes a distinction between romantic attraction and sexual attraction, saying one can feel either or both. This model makes a space for romantic asexuals to have relationships resembling allosexuals, but not so much for those who are aromantic.
The primary-secondary attraction model7 is most useful when you are demisexual, because it takes time into account as a factor for sexual feelings. In other words, though you may not be attracted at all to anything new, it’s not strong enough to be an independent signal, it can piggyback on previously existing connections, mostly emotional ones. For asexuals, it takes another factor into account, namely, that while you may not have sex for pleasure, primary desire, there are other reasons, under the heading “secondary desire” to engage in sexual activity.
Nonlibidoism8 is a good model in that it makes a distinction between wishing to engage in sexual acts with a partner (according to your orientation) and wishing to engage in sexual acts at all, including masturbation (your libido).
Under the heading “Not interested”9 the wiki explains that interest in sex does not equal attraction. When one is asexual, it simply comes (mostly) from other sources, such as curiosity, emotional fulfillment, enjoying physical acts of affection but not sexual acts per se, wishing to have kids, etc.
The opposite of that is being antisexual10, an article that contains many reasons why sex is not a good thing for some.
There’s a whole lot of models, not just the one I knew, to define sexuality. There’s even more gray areas than defined sexualities, so I presume that as time goes by, we’ll be adding to that list rather than simplifying it. All models have some benefit, which I’ve tried to point out, so I think they work best if mashed together. I’ve learned several words and distinctions I was seeking, here goes:
- Sexualities, there are many more than the four options that binary gender would suggest there are (homo, bi, hetero, ace) and attraction to the own and the opposite gender could be independent or related. The ones such as pansexual, gray-sexual and demisexual fill in some of the gray areas.
- Libido is the wish to engage in sexual acts at all. So someone who wishes to engage in sexual acts, but is uninterested in doing so with a partner, has a libido and is asexual.
- Attraction is the feelings you have for a potential partner, these may be romantic or sexual. What attraction should be called for an aro-ace if they feel it is unclear. It also develops over time, in the case of demisexuality attraction is gradual rather than immediate.
- Interest or desire is the choices one makes about behaviour one wishes to engage in… so an allosexual may be entirely disinterested in sexual activities, and an asexual person may wish to engage in sexual activity, and vice versa, for many and complicated reasons. If a person is not just disinterested but actively wishing not to engage in sex for a variety of reasons, that is called antisexual.
- A sexual identity or orientation is formed because people seek to define what sexual activities and interests they have that are outside of the norm in their society, which’d explain why I’m writing about being demisexual now, and don’t really have a word for what I was before I defined myself as such.
- AVEN wiki: Kinsey scale
- AVEN wiki: Pansexuality
- AVEN wiki: Grey-A
- AVEN wiki: Storm’s model
- AVEN wiki: Collective Identity Model
- AVEN wiki: ABCD model
- AVEN wiki: primary-secondary attraction model
- AVEN wiki: Nonlibidoism
- AVEN wiki: Not interested
- AVEN wiki: Antisexual