401. a (qualified) coming out (part 1): nature, nurture, or numb
I don’t always blog these days, but when I do, it’s totally TMI.
As I was writing this, I realized that there are actually two things that I need to be out and open about. One is the focus of this post, and the other is something I mention but don’t go on to explain — the fact that as a Christian who reads the Bible and does his best to live a life pleasing and honoring to God, I have no problem exploring sex before I’m married. And so that will be the focus of part two. (How’s that for a teaser?)
I recently read an article about asexuality. And while the topic is something I’ve casually researched (particularly via these videos and this blog), I think it’s finally time for me to out myself as asexual — an orientation broadly defined as someone with “a lack of ‘sexual attraction’ or ‘lustful inclinations’ towards others…”
A couple of caveats.
First, asexuality is just another point on a spectrum, which is to say, it’s not that there are sexual persons, asexual persons, and people are either one or the other. There are a variety of designations within the ace community and if I am asexual, I’m not sure what sort I am yet.1 And while I can say that I do long for a physically intimate, monogamous, romantic relationship with someone, having actual penetrative sex is not something I’m particularly drawn towards. It’s not something I think or even fantasize about. That said, I do find pleasure in touch and cuddling and making out (and OMG, kissing is the best thing ever!), but I just don’t consider actual intercourse as something mandatory or, speaking for myself, desirable.
That said, I’m totally GGG — good, giving, and game. If PIV intercourse is something my partner wants, I’m totally up for providing it (consensually negotiated), but it’s not something that I’m likely to pursue on my own initiative.
Related to this is the fact that I have a pretty low sex drive.2 That white-hot, almost animalistic hunger for sex is something I just don’t experience in life or in relationships, even after it’s gotten to the point where we’re making out. I do enjoy conversing in the warm, buttery language of touch, but even that isn’t something I feel compelled to pursue. Rather, it’s something that’s nice if it comes along, but I don’t feel the need to go after it. It’s deep conversations — sharing the scarred bits of our lives and reveling in joyous memories — that I truly enjoy about being in a relationship.
Second, I just can’t help but wonder if the toxic purity/shame messages that got ingrained into me as a teen and young adult plays a part in my low sex drive and disinterest in penetrative sex. I was 41(!) years old before I got into my first serious relationship, and I’ve done a lot of writing about how it took years of therapy to realize how deeply rooted those teachings had become and how they played a large part in why I found myself sabotaging so many previous almost-relationships.
This post in particular speaks to this pattern. I wrote about how an especially strict Christian leader in my life led to me developing an extreme fear of vulnerability and authenticity. I wrote about how his brutal, relentless shaming techniques (under the guise of discipleship) taught me to put up a front — a surface that looked authentic but was actually masking my deeper, more honest self.3
As for how that affected my dating life, I wrote that…
… the thing about dating relationships is that they’re all about getting beneath the surface. But for me, all I know is how to present my carefully honed, well crafted surface. The me that’s inside is far too terrorized to come out and so as I begin to date someone and sense that they’re getting close, that they want to peer beneath the surface, I get triggered. In my internal world, alarm bells start going off, an all alert gets sounded, and I go into lockdown mode. In the external world, I find some lame excuse to not ever go out with this person again. And they’re always lame excuses, because apart from the terror of my interior world, there are seldom any good reasons for me to break things off.
It’s a totally backwards, dysfunctional dynamic. I’m terrified by the very intimacy I long for and so I sabotage. I shield myself from someone who longs to make my shields unnecessary.
In another section, I made this observation:
Our real selves are supposed to be reserved for our good friends and the really real, unfiltered self is reserved for the ones we love deeply, the ones who love us deeply. In a way, dating is just the process of peeling back these layers. If someone likes our surface and we like theirs, we go a bit deeper, we share more of ourselves, we open up more, and they do the same. This process continues, slowly and carefully, and if it turns out we’re really into this person and this person is really into us, we come to see that we’ve found a safe place where we can reveal more and more of our vulnerabilities – the truly sensitive bits that we normally hide from the world. To put it plainly, we can be naked with them and not feel shame. (And it’s no coincidence that this section can be read on a physical as well as an emotional level).
That last parenthetical is key. As hard as it can be for me to be open and vulnerable, relationally and emotionally, it’s SO much harder to do so bodily — to progress towards being butt neked with someone. Of course not all of this difficulty stems from the church. The experience of exposing all of one’s body to another is awkward and frightening for almost everyone when a relationship reaches that stage. But in my case, the weight of what I was taught in those early Bible studies exponentially compounds that awkwardness and fear.
And I can’t help but wonder how/if all of that relates to my low sex drive and/or asexuality. Is there a causal connection or is it merely coincidental or something else? In other words, am I an ace because of nature or nurture or because I’m just still numb from all of that old, religious shame? I don’t know, but I’m planning on finding a new therapist soon to help me figure that out.
See, this is the thing that the purity message does in so many people’s lives. It teaches people to deny their desires, even the mere thinking them! They give us techniques like bouncing eyes in the hopes of squelching desire well before it even starts. They use shame as a stick and a perfect marriage as the carrot, but there are many who find that even after doing things “right” (saving themselves for marriage), that the smoking, blissful sex and relationship that was promised was a ruse.
It’s my contention that “Christian purity” as it’s commonly defined these days, is not necessarily the same thing as what God wants for us. And yeah, I fully realize what an inflammatory, controversial statement that is, but there it is.
And I’ll have a lot more to say about that in part 2.
1. The designation demisexual is a likely candidate.
2 I actually got testosterone level checked about a year ago to see if this had some physiological basis. And while my (total) testosterone level was a bit low, it wasn’t enough to clinically qualify as being outside the normal range for men my age.
3 In the post I’ve been referencing, I described our Bible studies this way:
Our Bible study meetings were times when we were supposed to confess our sins, all the ways that we had let God down and fallen short of the standards set up for us. It was a really shitty, humiliating time. It was perverse, really. The people who shared the deepest, darkest secrets were, at first, lauded for their openness and honesty, but immediately after, they were lambasted with shame – the group’s and God’s.