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Asexuality?

Question:

I know that there’s a spectrum that ranges from heterosexuality to homosexuality . . . but what about asexuality? What about girls like me, who are attracted to the opposite sex and would like to get married someday, and want everything short of sex? I feel like I could meet a wonderful person someday but as soon as he found out where I was coming from, it would all go downhill. At the same time, I’m terrified that I might become a sex maniac as an adult and have no control over it. I’m terrified that there’s already a part of me that wants it, but I’ve certainly been surpressing it. Is it realistic for me to say that I can surpress it all my life? And is it unhealthy that I feel guilty after just reading about sex from a biology textbook? That I worry if I’m accidently masturbating while just cleaning myself in the shower? I have come to despise the very idea of it all. Thank you for your time and help.

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Answer:

I think some definitions will help us out to start. When someone is described as heterosexual, that means that the person is sexually attracted to partners of the opposite sex. Similarly, when someone is described as homosexual, that means that the person is sexually attracted to partners of the same sex. An asexual person would be someone who is not sexually attracted to other partners (of either sex). This is not the case for you. You are thinking about sex a lot, and feeling guilty about your thoughts about sex. Based on what you’ve written here, you are not asexual. Your writing suggests that you have a clear (and even strong!) heterosexual sex drive which you are not acting on. This is a good thing, to my mind; having a healthy sex drive is normal. You are normal for having these feelings and thoughts and desires.

It is very unlikely that you will become a “sex maniac” as an adult. Your sex urges probably feel like they will turn you into a monster becuase you: 1) have little experience with them and so they seem overwhelming, and 2) becuase they are powerful. But waves are powerful too, and people can learn to surf on them. Sex is a powerful force and it will not be denied, anymore than hunger will be denied, but people can and do learn how to channelize their sexual urges into appropriate outlets where sex can be safe and enjoyable and relaxing and invigorating. It is okay to let yourself go in your sexuality if you take proper precautions against disease and do so with a safe, hopefully committed, partner whom you can trust. If you don’t have a partner, masturbation is a safe and convenient and healthy alternative.

For you, sex has become something scarey that you must control. How sad! Someone, probably well intentioned, has taught you this idea, and you have taken it to an extreme. The idea that sex needs to be controled is a good idea, but only when you take it in moderation. You can’t have sex with everyone you see – that is very unsafe and unsavory! But you can have safe sex with a committed partner, and you can certainly masturbate safely. You can allow yourself a fantasy life. In these ways, you can offer yourself a safe sexual preserve in which you don’t have to worry so much about remaining in control. Provided that you’ve structured your environment so that it is safe in the first place, you are then safe to allow yourself to get a little out of control. That is part of the fun of sex – that you are out of control.

You ask if you can successfully suppress your sexuality throughout your life and the answer would be “sure you can”, but you will also be miserable for that entire period. You are ashamed, not asexual. So ashamed, in fact, that even the thought of acting on sexual desires produces a painful surge of shame. This puts you in a bind. Your sexual urges aren’t going to go away any time soon. Sex urges start up at puberty and stay pretty steady throughout adulthood, waning somewhat as you age. Those urges are there to motivate you to have sex, and do so by making sex a very pleasurable thing to engage in, motivating us to seek it out. This much is biological. At the same time, the thought that sex is forbidden/dirty/shameful/bad is powerfully driving you to suppress your sex urges. You are thus damned if you do and damned if you don’t. There is no escape, or so it would seem. Until you can work through this bind, you’re going to be frustrated and ashamed much of the time.

You ask if the guilty feelings you get when you read about sex are unhealthy. They are not unhealthy in the sense that they will harm you physically. But they are unhealthy in the sense that they make you frightened for no reason, and keep you from finding your way towards a healthy sexual life – one of the many truly great pleasures that life can afford. Such guilt keeps you a prisoner, and being imprisoned is not good for your health.

I strongly urge you to seek out counseling so that you can have a safe place in which you can explore exactly why you are so ashamed about your sexuality and whether that is the way you need to continue to be going forward. If you do this, please make sure that you find a counselor who is not him or herself all that conflicted about his or her sexuality – that would be a bad fit for you. Topics for discussion might include:

  • Your past history regarding sexuality, particularly whether or not you were sexually abused or mistreated.
  • Past and current relationships.
  • Any religious or spiritual beliefs you may have that feed into your shame feelings.
  • Any beliefs you may have about your worth or desirability as a sexual partner.

Obviously, these are sensitive topics, so you should find a professional counselor or therapist to talk with who can offer you confidentiality, and with whom you can feel safe.

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Comments
  • Kristin

    Dr. Dombeck,

    I agree with much of your reply regarding someone's concerns about asexuality. However, I wanted to clarify a few points.

    First, "would be" in the definition of asexuality is ambiguous. Asexuality is the absence of sexual attraction to others and is thought to occur in approximately 1% of the population. Some asexuals have a sex drive and may masturbate. Some may experience romantic attraction to members of the same or opposite sex. Asexuals maintain that they were born as they are unlike hypoactive sexual desire disorder, asexuality is not characterized by a decrease in one's sex drive but a permanent absence of sexual attraction. Moreover, unlike mental disorders, one's sexuality alone does not distress individuals.

    Yes, it sounds as though the young lady who asked the original question does have healthy drives and desires (and I understand that declaring them as good and normal was intended to comfort and reassure), but the absence of these drives is also healthy.

    For more information about asexuality, please check out the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) at http://www.asexuality.org.

    Thank you! :)

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