FormSpring Question: Asexuality

Q: I’m asexual. Do you agree with those who say I’m just repressed? Could there be any “unfortunate premises” I accepted? I’m no prude but I can’t imagine personally wanting sex with anyone, ever.

A:  Your question is very difficult to answer, given how little information you’ve supplied.  Let me give you some of my general thoughts on asexuality and maybe it’ll help answer your question anyway.

First, asexuality is the condition of experiencing no desire for sexual activities of any kind.  While some people consider this to be a sexual orientation, I do not.  I think it’s silly to say that the lack of any sexual desire is an orientation, just as I think it’s silly to say that black is a color (it’s an absence of light) or that atheism is a religion (it’s an absence of religion).  Asexuality can be psychologically caused, physically caused, or a combination of both (this is why I can’t really answer your question).  No matter what the cause, you could make yourself be sexual if you really wanted to an put a lot of effort into changing your beliefs and inclinations.  Now, the question would be why you would want to.  Personally, I think that sex is one of the greatest pleasures in human life and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to miss out on it.  However, if you’ve never had any desire at all for sexual activity and you’re older (50+), the amount of time it takes to become sexual and enjoy it might be better spent on doing things you do enjoy.

I want to discuss some possible psychological causes, but I want to preface them by saying that I am a philosopher and not a psychologist.  While I happen to be well read on the subject of sexuality and psychological theories behind sexuality, I cannot give you any sort of professional psychological advice. However, I do have some possible explanations for why someone may not experience sexual desire. You might consider writing Dr. Ellen Kenner and asking her advice.  In case you’ve never heard of her, she’s an Objectivist psychologist.  I’ve met her and seen her lecture live and she seems to really know her stuff.

In terms of your question of whether you’re repressed, I doubt it.  Repression, when used as a valid concept, involves psychologically shunning ideas or inclinations and forcing them outside of your conscious mind so that you do not have to face them.  Part of the irony of repression is that you know, on some level, that you are trying not to think about whatever you are trying to repress while you are repressing it.  Thus, if you were repressing your desire for sexual activity, you would likely know it.  Further, I don’t think repression works on physical sensations: try to repress your feelings of hunger and see how well that goes for you.  Sure, you might be able to take your mind off of them for some time with a lot of effort, but it’s ultimately futile.

Now, on the other hand, if you you strongly hold a belief that X is wrong, and you aren’t conflicted in your belief structure, you will not desire to do X.  For example, if you really think that eating shit is a bad idea, you will not experience the desire to eat shit.  This can be confusing for some people, since they are full of contradictions and mistaken premises (so they might say that sex is wrong and, yet, still desire it), but if you actually believe something to be wrong, you will not desire it.  It is possible that you have such a strong belief that sex is wrong, dirty, painful, weak, etc., that your desire is insufficient to overcome it.  However, generally in this case you feel some low level desire for sex, but it’s overridden by your belief structure and the desire is denied.  If this were the case with you, you’d be aware of it.

It could be the case that you are the victim or rape or sexual abuse and that this has linked the ideas of sexual activity and violence, fear, and shame in your mind.  If this is the case, you’d never be able to become aroused as these things generally inhibited desire (they can actually have the opposite effect, though it’s more rare).

If you want to try to become sexual, first look to your mind and your beliefs about sex.  While it’s possible that it’s completely a physical problem (which a physician can determine for you), it’s more likely that it’s at least partly, if not wholly, psychologically caused.  Think about your beliefs about sex and sex pleasure.  Think about actually doing sexual things.  What thoughts come into your head?  These will be the clues to figure out if your thoughts are the culprits.  If you don’t get any clear ideas at first, but only vague feelings of uneasiness, trying writing down what you feel and giving it some kind of shape.  This may take several sessions to actually figure out what you’re feeling, but it’s worth it.

Lastly, I want to point out that while usually sex is a natural desire, nothing about sex comes naturally.  Sex is a learned activity: just as you would do poorly in basketball if you didn’t know the rules, the moves, or had never even handled a ball, so too will you do badly in sex when you first start.  Don’t worry though!  Everyone has awkward sexual experiences when they’re starting out, or even after they’ve been at it for years.  However, I wouldn’t recommend jumping right into intercourse if you’ve never had any sexual experience.  Start slowly by exploring your own body and finding out what feels good.  Slowly touch your penis or clitoris and just see how it feels.  Don’t start out by focussing on orgasm, it will put your focus in the wrong place.  To begin with, just see what feels pleasurable and go slowly.  Recognize that things that feel too intense or painful when you’re not sexually aroused sometimes feel amazing when you are, so don’t fixate too strongly on “I don’t like this” or “that’s too much” at first.

If you want to discuss it further, I welcome you to write me at Jason@JasonStotts.com.

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If you want to ask me a question feel free to e-mail me or ask me through FormSpring.

5 Responses to “FormSpring Question: Asexuality”


  1. Aaron

    I agree with your general assessment and specifics amounting to ‘it’s complicated..’ and am glad you didn’t jump to any conclusion of repression. However, one thing I’d add is simply what my first question would be of anyone who claims asexuality – i.e. do you masturbate? It seems like a negative answer would be a necessary condition for real asexuality as opposed to some other psychological state.

  2. Tom Rowland

    Jason: I don’t have the knowledge to argue with your analysis of asexuality. So this note is a bit off topic. And it is important to you as a philosopher. It has to do with your claims in paragraph two that atheism is the absence of religion and that black is the absence of light. Probably you were focused on your point that asexuality should not be considered a sexual orientation because ‘sexual orientation’ implies a presence of interest in sex, it’s just a matter of which one or both. I’m not clear about the absence of sexual desire. But I am clear about the two parallels you provide to make your point.

    You say that black is the absence of light and therefore not a color and that atheism is absence of religion and therefore not a religion. This is not quite accurate from an Objectivist point of view, This is important, because it touches on the relationship of science to philosophy in the color case and the careful use of language in the second. Rather than me trying to say it all

    Black is not, even scientifically, the absence of light. If you can see color at all, there is light. And atheism is the absence of belief in a god, not religion.Atheism is possible in the presence of religion, which is an epistemological issue primarily.

  3. Christopher

    Re: Tom Rowland

    You are correct in saying the black is not the absence of light. Black is the term we ascribe to objects that do not reflect/emit any visible light (they could still reflect other parts of the spectrum: UV, radio, IR). Jason is a little loose with his terms, scientifically. I think he is using “black” instead of perhaps the more scientifically accurate “dark[ness]” (no photons are present). I think the same is true with “atheism” and “irreligion.” I think in your last sentence, many varieties of Buddhism would serve as counterexamples?

    This adds a new dimension to Jason’s analogy. Sexuality is generally thought of as on a 1-D spectrum: attraction only toward males puts you on one side, females on the other. What if there was another dimension to measure how much you were attracted to a given kind of person? something similar to the absorbance spectrum of a compound, but instead of wavelength, maleness/femaleness would be on the x-axis.
    (http://www.bio.davidson.edu/Courses/Bio111/Bio111LabMan/lab1fig3.gif).
    A similar presentation for irreligion could be prepared, but it would be more of a bar graph of belief than a spectrum.

    For the state of total asexuality, the “attraction spectrum” would be a flat line at 0 attraction (similar to a state of total darkness–0 intensity at all wavelengths, total atheism/irreligion–0 belief for all gods/religions). If you were only using the 1-D sexual spectrum, there’s no way to represent asexuality.

  4. JasonStotts

    Aaron,

    Good point. Someone who still masturbates is not “asexual,” but “a-sex-with-others.”

    Tom,

    As Christopher said, black (darkness) is the absence of visible light. So, I maintain my point here.

    However, you make a good point that one could have “religion” without a god, as in the case of Buddhism.

    Christopher,

    First, thanks for clearing up the scientific issues.

    I think your ideas about visually representing sexual orientation is interesting. The Storms model of sexuality is somewhat like what you’re suggesting (http://www.youthnetsouthampton.org.uk/breakout/images/storms-axis.png) as it accounts for asexuality. The thing is, though, that I don’t think asexuality needs to be accounted for, since it’s not truly an orientation but more of a “lack of orientation.” However, what’s nice about the Storms model is that it’s better at indicating both orientation and degree of attraction to a particular sex. The problem with it is, though, that you can’t verbally communicate it. The beauty of the Kinsey scale is that it’s easy to understand and communicate.

    ~Jason

  5. Asexualidad Por Jason Stotts | Psicología Objetivista.