When I first saw this and this, my first reactions were of amused bafflement. Surely no one could seriously think the utterly unremarkable responses described were indications of a unique orientation, one so very different from that of the dirty rutting slabs of flesh who are naturally driven into frenzies by naked flesh and lip friction? I mocked it and moved on. As I thought about it more, however, I realized what’s actually going on here. Here are two people, presumably teens and/or young adults, who really do believe that most humans do not experience attraction that moves beyond mere stimulation of nerve endings, and who really do believe that every display of the human body is incredibly compelling and erotic for the “sexual” viewer. How the hell did these ideas get into their head?
The answer’s rape culture, of course, and the lack of discussion in mainstream society about what mutually enjoyable sexual contact actually looks and feels like. Rape culture presents an image of sexuality, particularly female sexuality, in which intellectual involvement is rarely discussed. Emotions are, but they generally tend to be negative, revolving around obsession, jealousy, and indifference. Bodies, particularly female bodies, exist for the sexual gratification of others, and bodies that that are judged unappealing are stigmatized. A Martian who made observations of our media might be excused for concluding that human sexuality was an all-consuming, compulsive exercise in which all emotional connection to one’s sexual partners was shallow and highly dependent on sensory appeal.
Tumblr kids, aren’t Martians, of course. They are simply individuals who have internalized the messages of rape culture to the extent that being mentally aroused by a kiss is a revelation. Rape culture has taught them that bodies exist to be stared at and fantasized about, so therefore it’s noteworthy when they are bored by a shirtless stranger. They have been taught that sex is a dehumanizing act of rubbing together. Their feelings are not rare, though the choice to attribute what they perceive as unusual reactions to asexual identity may be. What it reminds me most of was the pre-teen and teenage girls I met while investigating child abuse. These girls were all sexually active with boys and men who were in their late teens and early twenties. What struck me was the way these girls described how the felt about sex. There was no joy, little arousal. They had sex mostly because they had learned that sex is what you do when you have a boyfriend, especially if you are lucky enough to be young girl with a super cool older guy who has “needs”. More significantly, there was no indication that that understood this was abnormal. They knew all the ways one is supposed to indicate sexual satisfaction, but it was pure pantomime. It goes without saying that their boyfriends did not care that they did not enjoy it, so long as they did it. Rape culture reinforced all of this.
Non-asexuals are perfectly aware that learning to take control of one’s sexuality is not something you learn overnight, especially if you are a woman. You will be met with constant resistance. I never had a truly coercive partner, but I spent a long time settling for subpar sex because I didn’t know what I was looking for, and my partners were not motivated to do anything other than what they had always done. While it was relatively easy for me to come to terms with the idea that I was bisexual, I spent way too much time stuck on the idea that I was only attracted to a certain kind of woman, coincidentally the kind who is also appealing to men. Very few people are lucky enough to sort out what they want sex and physical affection and their relationships to be like without at least several years of fumbling. This is especially true if you are queer and closeted. We are encouraged to settle, if settling means being sexually available. Actual pleasure is only for straight men. When you finally realize what you’ve been missing, it’s mindblowing. Why did no one tell me earlier?
The point is that it is a damn shame that people can grow up not realizing a kiss can be both emotionally gratifying and sexual. That kiss described in that post? Sexual. Say it with me. It’s not a bad word. It’s not a word that will doom you to an eternity of mindless meatpuppethood. If we don’t start confronting this shit with discussions of how damn joyous sex can actually be, of what good sexual contact actually feels like, we are only assisting in rape culture’s endurance. We cannot fight sexism by creating a neverending series of meaningless little categories like “demisexual” and “heteroromantic”. Such divisions reinforce the idea that rape culture provides truthful depictions of the human sexual experience, and there is nothing more dangerous than that.