How Asexuality Can Help Us (Re)think Intimacy and Pleasure
My asexuality has never been the lack of sexual attraction. It hasn't closed me off but rather opened many possibilities of forming pleasurable relationships with my comrades and companions. To be very specific, asexuality has allowed me to imagine intimacy without the assumption that sexual acts and sexual desires are at the centre of, if not wholly peripheral to, human bonds I enter into. My journey as an ace individual has taught me that this world can hold the possibility of beautiful, committed equations where love, romance, sex can be seen as not necessarily coming one after the other: linear equations are overrated!
Does Asexuality Look the Same for Everyone?
Of course, my experience is just one of the multiple ways in which asexuality is navigated. Some ace folx can indeed feel a complete lack of sexual drive or even have an aversion to sexual intercourse. Some may prefer emotional bonding over sexual bonding, and some may see emotional bonding as a prerequisite for sexual attraction to even take place or materialize into action. For some, their asexuality may mean arousal, self-stimulation, and sexual attraction are different and unrelated experiences. Some asexual persons are kink-friendly but may not want to have sex with someone because they are aesthetically pleasing to their eyes. There are different words like demisexual, sex-averse asexual, greysexual, aromantic asexual, which help people name and ground their experiences. The possibilities of intimacy are indeed endless!
Being ace is not always rooted in sexual trauma!
It is important to remember that asexuality of an individual may or may not be rooted in a sexual experience that was traumatic or abusive: to search for such a singular "root-cause" is to risk pathologizing asexual persons. Any possible and valid instance of sexual trauma and abuse can also be tied to historically oppressive factors wherein sexual oppression of racialized communities, disabilities, differently sized bodies play into an individual's experience. Asexuality invites such troubling questions precisely because it unsettles the so-called natural sexual contract beneath all of our social and dominantly oppressive institutions. What will a world look like if a "sexual" marriage was not the overriding way we think of ascending in our relationships? This is what my asexuality has often made me wonder!
Naming the Normative: Allo vs Ace
Asexual people thus differentiate themselves from what is termed as "allosexual" individuals and couplings where sexual attraction is assumed to be naturally occurring and is also felt consistently and regularly. Being sexually active is also crucial for an allo relationship to solidify institutionally (via marriage, family etc.). An allo experience could include a very straightforward/unquestioned desire to have sex, having sexual fantasies about people you desire and even experiencing sexual attraction to crushes/people one may never meet! Asexuality helps decenter all of this and says: well, sometimes holding hands and having cake together is more important and pleasurable for some than having sex.
The Pleasures of Asexuality
Thinking of pleasure as sensual, romantic, as not always partnered and as not exclusively sexual can help all of us navigate our pleasure practices in exciting ways! Sex toys, for example, have been a lot of my ace friends' best companions. One of the allo assumptions around sex toys is that it is the last resort for people who do not have partners/ that having a sex toy stems from being lonely. This is untrue for both allosexual individuals and for ace folx who love sensual stimulation/ self-pleasure. When we centre different forms of intimacy and different practices of pleasure, we decenter sexual relationships with others/sexual attraction from defining our pleasurable experiences. We begin to see the multiple ways of holding someone else close to us and, more importantly, enter into the most undermined relationship: the relationship we have with ourselves!