Love the column. I'm a gay male in my late 20's. I've noticed more and more references to asexuals in your column lately, and after this last one where the reader questioned whether or not her partner's younger brother was a "maladjusted shit" finally compelled me to write. I admit that every time I hear about asexuals, I tend to think they probably are maladjusted. Why? Because I used to identify as an asexual when I was a teenager.
I believed I was asexual because the idea of having the kind of sex I had been taught was normal held no interest for me. Although I believed I was "romantically" interested in other people, I didn't feel sexually aroused by the idea of vanilla sex, or any kind of sex I was aware of. I never masturbated, occassionally I would have wet dreams that I felt disgusted by afterwards and that never involved sex per se, or if they did it would involve something that I could only describe as rape. I assumed that was an expression of my dislike of sex combined with my body needing to perform a biological function. Outside of the occassional dream, sexual interest was essentially absent from my life. I believed very strongly that I was an asexual. The idea of having sex with someone I was involved with was boring at best, disgusting at worst....
The rest of the letter from a self-described "ex-asexual"... after the jump.
During my first year in college, I became involved with another man (my previous relationship attempts had been of the straight variety), but still tried to avoid sex. When my partner tried to learn more about this, I let it slip that I had never felt turned on by the idea of sex and identified as an asexual. Thankfully he was supportive and helped me get to the bottom of this, and what I realized was that I was actually an extreme submissive with a fear fetish. What I've come to learn since then is that I am actually extremely sexual and extremely kinky. Because I didn't really know what turned me on when I was younger (I was pretty much ignorant that something like that could exist and was a real sexual option), and I knew damn well that "normal" sex did nothing for me, I believed very strongly that I was asexual.
The moral of the story is that I WAS a maladjusted little shit. I'm not saying that every person who identifies as asexual must be in the same position I was, not at all, but based on my personal experience I do find it very likely that many asexuals are actually "turned off" towards their sexuality for some other, unhealthy reason. Obviously I turned out far from what most people would consider "normal." In a society that discourages alternative expressions of sexuality, I think it's very likely that some people would just shut off or deny their sex drive because what appeals to them is so far outside of what is accepted—hell, what actually turns them on might not even be something they are aware exists.
I'm sure that many asexuals would counter this by saying that asexuality isn't accepted as normal either—it's not, but because we live in a culture still influenced by puritanical values, it's much easier to take the moral high ground of denying sexuality rather than admitting to yourself and others that you are, say, a diaper fetishist who just can't get off without a pair of huggies. It's easier to simply avoid sex than to face up to the idea that you might be uncomfortable with it because you were molested as a kid. Even coming out as gay is more socially difficult than being an asexual, especially since so many asexuals engage in what is presented as fairly normal dating up until the point that their partner expects sex to come up. And even if you do "come out" as asexual to everyone in your life, while you're likely to be laughed at by your friends, you probably won't be disowned, beaten or killed.
Many of the things that asexuals say to explain themselves fit this idea pretty well. Many asexuals talk about sex as if it is dirty or base, rather than simply being disinterested in it, implying that they may have hang ups that are influencing their view. Asexuals often admit to masturbating, and asexuality.org supports people identifying as asexual when they have fetishes that don't involve human beings (see their FAQ). None of that is truly non-sexual, instead it speaks to me of having desires that aren't easy or possible to fulfill. If someone masturbates to a fantasy about centaurs, they ARE still sexual, even if they'll never be able to find a real centaur and can't feel aroused unless a centaur is involved. While it is peoples' right to use whatever terminology they want to refer to themselves, it might be healthier for people to try to address their desires for what they are rather than hide behind a repressed identity.
Last but not least, I've had asexuals counter my experience by insisting that I must not have been as committed an asexual as "real" asexuals are. That "real" asexuals are so uninterested in sex that nothing would ever arouse their interest, unlike with my story. The problem with that is that during the heyday of my asexual identity, I would have insisted the same thing—and I did when people tried to argue with me that no healthy person could really be non-sexual by nature. If someone had suggested to me back then that I was really just denying my true sexual indentity, or completely unaware of it, I would have felt highly insulted, persecuted and misunderstood, but I would have still been wrong.
Just thought I would share my point of view as an ex-asexual, and encourage other asexuals to consider engaging in some potentially uncomfortable introspection. It might be worth it.
No Clever Acronym
Thanks for sharing, NCA.