Recently in the news we were presented with sexualised images of a beautiful young model dressed in BDSM-like lingerie. Her name is Yasmin Benoit and she wanted us to know that she was asexual. In a very interesting and somewhat heartbreaking article she penned for Huffington Post in 2019 , Yasmin talked about feeling conflicted about sexualisation pressures young female models experience. Photographers wanting her to flirt with the camera “as if it was her boyfriend”. Entering the modelling world and thinking that because of her body type, she would only ever be able to get jobs on lingerie campaigns. Feeling increasingly uncomfortable with being asked to titillate and perform for the male gaze. Having to turn down a job because they wanted her to model BDSM gear, and then never getting the opportunity to work for that brand again.
She tells us that from a young age, she never had a particular interest in dating and relationships. This is not unusual, since most of us find the idea of sex and dating horrifying until we enter puberty and adolescence and start maturing sexually, but Yasmin says that she never developed that interest, even though she is evidently a sexually mature young woman.
Faced with escalation of violent pornography, that has seen women and girls sexually harassed like never before, we are witnessing unprecedented sexual coercion and violation of sexual boundaries, which has caused so many girls to identify out of womanhood. This increased sexualisation has contributed not only to the long list of “identities” based on kinks and fetishes, but also identities such as “demisexual” which means “tend to only feel sexual attraction after forming a strong emotional bond or connection”. Forgive me for being uncool, but when I was their age, it was known as being “normal” and “lucky to not be sexually exploited”.
The pornification of society has been accompanied by assertions that anyone who opposes it must be “sex-negative”, which is the 21st century equivalent of a “frigid prude” who won’t watch porn with her boyfriend or indulge sexual demands from random men. To this end, the male sexual privileges movement has based its gaslighting campaign against young women on promoting “sex-positivity”, where women are asked to make themselves available for endless porn-inspired heterosexual intercourse. “Porn is empowering”, “sex work is work” and “commercial surrogacy now!” have completed the vicious cycle of male exploitation of women and girls for their female bodies and what they can do to fulfil unbridled and constantly escalating male desires.
Reading around the topic, you get quickly informed that many “asexuals” apparently have quite healthy libidos and that they masturbate just like anyone else, but their sexual orientation is “asexual” because they don’t want to have sex with other people. Last time I looked, this was called “autoeroticism”, which is a typically male psychosexual disorder not entirely divorced from “autogynaephilia”. Autogynaephile communities have frequently used compulsory self-sexualisation by women, which is something all of us are socialised to do, to claim that women “get off” on having sex while looking like sex dolls too. The difference of course is that when a man develops a desire to have sex with himself “as a woman”, it is quite different from women and girls being socialised to objectify themselves for the benefit of the male gaze. Besides, we are women with or without all the make up and the stripper outfits that pass for fashion these days. But most of us end up sexualising ourselves with make up and clothes because we’ve been shown in million different ways, that to not look like that means there is something wrong with us, that we will never find love, or more dangerously, that defying female beauty standards will rob us of opportunities or even paint a target on our backs for corrective sexual abuse.
Asexual identity unfortunately goes further, especially in the media that represents gender identity lobby, who tell us “heartwarming” stories of “asexuals” or “aces” who neither enjoy sex nor want it, but are happy to submit to sex in order to satisfy the urges of men they love. We are starting to hear that “asexuals” can be strippers and “sex workers” as well as lingerie models, that they can have regular sex with their partners or even a multitude of different partners. Reflecting back on the interview with Yasmin Benoit, she talked about pretending a lot. Pretending to be sexy and flirty, pretending to embody the sexualised version of a woman that is designed to satisfy the male gaze, while not feeling these feelings herself. I’m sure pretty much every woman on planet Earth can identify with that, and not because we are all “asexual” but because that has been women’s lot in patriarchy since forever. Making sure we don’t agitate men and give them what they want, sometimes even playing it up for them so that they finish as quickly as possible and leave us in peace. Enduring disgusting jokes about a husband or a boyfriend pestering us for sex. Listening to endless hot takes by male doctors who claim that there is no such thing as a G-spot and that three quarters of women are “frigid” because they can’t orgasm by their male partner fumbling around the vulva and vagina, thrusting and hurting them to get his pleasure while sparing no thought for us as human beings with needs too. The conspicuous absence of clitoris in anatomy atlases. The horrifying “husband stitch” and unsavoury comments male doctors make to our male partners, as they stitch up women’s genitals after labour, to be uncomfortably narrow for the benefit of male pleasure. It’s just too much.
In this living nightmare scenario, women and girls are suddenly given a way out. You see, one is not a “frigid prude” or heaven forbid a “transphobic lesbian who won’t have sex with penises”. One is simply a “non-binary asexual, or a “femme demi” or any other shiny new label that offers escape from male sexual aggression while still providing protection under the glittery identity umbrella. Seeing LGBT+ charities talking about the need to celebrate “asexual identities”, giving “asexuals” their own flag and their own visibility week, it’s all so reassuring for that woman of girl who wants to escape but doesn’t want to be cancelled, ostracised, coerced and abused. Sounds good, right? Or is it too good to be true?
My heckles were further raised when I read that some doctors who are involved in child transitioning industry are starting to say that a young gender reassigned person experiencing lack of sexual desire and anorgasmia might have nothing to do with the puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, because it’s entirely possible they were always simply “asexual”.
It is well known that medical gender transitioning of minors impairs sexual development. Depending on how early puberty is blocked, genitals might not develop fully at all, and many of these adolescents and young people report absence of libido and inability to orgasm. This is exacerbated by genital reassignment surgeries, which, if one is lucky to not suffer complications, tend to leave the body only mechanically capable of having intercourse. Males are castrated. Females have their genitals mutilated and implanted with devices that are meant to inflate a surgically created appendage which can then be used for penetration. The results of these surgeries are often very poor and while this topic is rarely discussed by gender identity community, they do cause high rates of sexual dysfunction. Certainly the outcomes are very far from the normal, spontaneous, enjoyable sexual experiences human bodies are naturally designed for.
This is not to malign genital surgery for everyone. People who are born with congenital disorders of sex development sometimes need surgical interventions, and they too can struggle with physical aspects of sex. However, these people have medical conditions and the surgeries are meant to provide relief from complications that result from inborn anatomical abnormalities. It is quite a different scenario from young, fit and healthy people having their sexual function impaired and even destroyed in the name of “identity”.
More disconcertingly, “nullification surgeries” designed for “non-binaries” are also being promoted. This bizarre practice that calls for removal of genitals, breasts and even nipples, awfully reminds of some Christian cults who did this to their followers in order to render them “pure”. Today, some surgeons will happily promote these surgeries, and young people will proudly display their scars and missing anatomy on the internet like a badge of honour. It doesn’t stop there, though. The market for uterine implantation for men is rearing its head all the time, and guess where the young and healthy wombs are supposed to come from? If you thought about gender reassignment and nullification surgeries, during which young women are robbed of their reproductive organs in the name of “identities”, you would be spot on.
Never mind that medically, implanting an uterus into a man would be nearly impossible, practically speaking, and even if surgeons managed to stitch it in somehow and made it viable, it would require immunosuppressing drugs. And what practical purpose would it serve anyway? Imagine that doctors managed to overcome all the hurdles, and implanted an embryo into such an uterus – embryo harvested from some poor woman who is being injected with hormones and fertilised using IVF as a surrogate for an endless queue of narcissists who are paying to rent-a-womb – what are the chances such an embryo would develop into a baby? What congenital abnormalities would be present if this baby was born – considering the amount of drugs needed to support such unnatural, borderline insane endeavour? Meanwhile, women are vilified if they drink a glass of wine, smoke a cigarette, eat cheese, keep cats or dare to be less than perfect while pregnant.
No, the newest addition to the rainbow brigade’s promotion leaflet – asexual identities – are far from innocent. In fact they are downright sinister, when we consider possible implications. But to go back to the term “asexual” as applied to humans, I would like to explain why it is just another misnomer to begin with.
Humans are sexually reproducing species, which means we are all born with bodies that are designed to fulfil the natural imperative, which is to procreate. Sexual attraction and arousal facilitate this. They lubricate genitals, or make them capable of penetration and ejaculation, and they direct our attention toward others of our species who can help us to fulfil this function.
Because sexual reproduction requires two members of the opposite sex to produce two different types of gametes which will unite to produce a new life, vast majority of individuals in any sexually reproducing species, such as humans, are sexually oriented toward those of the opposite sex. Not every instance of copulation results in offspring, of course, and in humans, both sexes are designed to experience pleasure during intercourse. This is why sexual orientation toward the opposite sex isn’t the only natural variation. People are sometimes attracted toward their own sex as well, and can be exclusively same-sex attracted. This has challenged human perceptions for a very long time.
Homosexuality and bisexuality are observed in many species, including apes. There are many possible explanations for it, including being simply a normal variation, or part of experimentation during sexual development. Some even say that same-sex attraction serves to expand the pool of caregivers who might not have their own offspring but are inclined to help rearing the young. Not every individual needs to pass on their genes for the species to survive, and because sex is so relational, it leaves room for variation in sexual orientation. But humans are always sexual simply because human bodies are naturally primed to experience sexual arousal.
Sexual arousal is as fundamental as hunger or tiredness, all of which require us to act to relieve an urge that results from the body needing something. Like we eat to relieve hunger and sleep to relieve tiredness, we have sex or masturbate to relieve arousal.
Various biological functions have their own unique rhythms. Sleep is governed by a circadian rhythm, hunger roughly spikes a couple or three times a day, and there are individual variations too. Some people are hungry often but can’t manage big meals. Some people fall asleep early and rise before dawn, others stay up until late at night. Some need 6 hours of sleep a day, other need 9.
Rhythms can get disturbed too. Eating high sugar foods will mess with our metabolism and we will develop frequent cravings and overeat. We might develop a disease or start taking medication that increases or decreases our appetite. Same can be said for sleep. Sleep deprivation, regardless of the cause, will disturb our focus and ability to carry out tasks, and if it goes on for long enough, it can cause serious mental health problems. Just like chronic food deprivation can cause electrolyte imbalances and the body to starve.
The normal pattern of need-action-relief works for all fundamental bodily functions, and when they are impaired, there is an underlying abnormality, either physical or psychological, that is driving it. This also applies to sexuality.
All life reproduces, either sexually or asexually. The biological imperative is to pass on the genetic material into the next generation and continue the cycle of life. Like all other fundamental urges, sexual arousal has its rhythms, but they significantly differ from the daily imperative to satisfy sleep and hunger. For one, humans are born with a need to eat and sleep, whereas they need to sexually mature in order to develop spontaneous sexual arousal.
We are all born with bodies that are capable of sexual responses. Even small children can accidentally discover that certain parts of their bodies are capable of producing pleasurable physical sensations, however, they don’t experience sexual arousal, desire or orientation until they start approaching the age of sexual maturity. As the body sexually matures during puberty and adolescence, sexuality can go into overdrive and remain there for a while, especially in that “Goldilocks zone” in early adulthood when the chances of healthy offspring are the highest. Sexuality naturally wanes in later years, but even in fertile stages of life it waxes and wanes depending on hormonal cycles, lifestyle, environment and presence or absence of suitable mates.
It should be said that many medical and psychological conditions can cause lack or a complete absence of sexual desire, and sexual dysfunction. Side-effects of some widely prescribed medications – such as SSRIs – or hormone blockers – such as GnRH agonists or androgen antagonists – are a common cause. Erectile dysfunction and low libido in men has a whole host of causes, including cardiovascular illness, peripheral nerve damage due to diabetes, and overindulgence in masturbation as a part of porn addiction. Depression, anxiety, sexual trauma, obsessive compulsive disorder and even some psychotic and personality disorders can cause low libido, repulsion or sexual disinterest in both sexes. Truth is, low libido is becoming a more common phenomenon these days, for a whole host of reasons. But the number of people who have never experienced sexual arousal or interest in sex is extremely low, and when it happens, the cause can usually be ascertained, regardless of whether treatment is available, or indeed desired by the individual.
While need-action-relief seems deceptively simple on surface – I get hungry, I make tea and toast, I feel full, or I feel sleepy, I lie in bed and sleep, I wake up feeling rested – there is a whole host of behaviours and cultural practices that surround basic need fulfilment.
Hunger drives anything from food foraging, hunting, preparation, farming, utensil making, kitchen design, recipe development and even division of labour within a home. Sleep does the same. We sought out caves and skinned animals to make soft lodgings, carved four poster beds, sowed wool into mattresses, developed cleansing routines, designed silk pyjamas, rearranged our activities and built houses with windows and locked doors, all so we can be safely unconscious for eight hours every night.
Sexual urges, likewise, have many different behaviours and rituals associated with them, but they are more complex than sleep and hunger. Perhaps this is because human children take so long to gestate and even longer to raise, so many factors intertwine, from choosing the mate with best or most compatible genes, who will be able and willing to stick around and provide, to the very notion of long-term investment both parties make, which is reflected in our attitudes toward monogamy, marriage, divorce, division of labour and even ownership and property. Not to mention attracting the mates in the first place, which in humans involves a lot of deception, both thanks to beautification as well as promises of love and respect and to “treat you right”. For men, biological imperative is simply fulfilled by getting a woman pregnant and by that woman giving birth to a baby. Many men understand the role good husbands and fathers play in ensuring health and well-being of the next generation, but many strangely do not, and I often wonder if this is the cause or the outcome of the fact that somewhere along the line, human behaviours around sex developed in the direction of systematic sexual coercion of females by males. In any case, by denying females their right to choose mates, and by prioritising male pleasure and male biological imperative, we have created a perfect storm around human sexuality.
Instead of sexuality being understood as a fundamental function of our bodies are designed to fulfil – whether the goal is reproduction or not – and that sexual attraction to others serves a multitude of purposes, our culture has tabooised female desire while organising itself around exploitation of it. This has produced a truly messed up environment where sex and sexuality are never free from bias and neurosis. Not the practice of it, not the research into it, not the safeguarding from abuse.
Asexuality in humans doesn’t biologically exist. Throughout their reproductive years, humans are capable of spontaneous sexual arousal, and the absence of this function is always caused by a physical or psychological abnormality. Celibacy, however, has been fetishised and celebrated as well as abused and exploited in our society for a long time. Both women and men are seen as virtuous, pure and safe if they declare a natural lack of sexual desire, or determination not to indulge in it. And now this concept has been given a shiny new identity label and it is in danger of being used to cover up a multitude of sins, such as medically-induced sexual dysfunction, extreme body modification, grooming of children and porn and rape culture.
It is sad that as a species we don’t seem willing to face what sex and sexuality in humans are – normal bodily functions that drive love as well as procreation, which can be fun, and dangerous too. As with so many identities, “asexuality” isn’t novel. It is just a new word for several old concepts, dressed up in our current obsession of labelling ordinary things as “brave” and “stunning”. The reality is more prosaic. Shiny labels are a convenient distraction from the real work that needs to be done, such as addressing sexual abuse of women and children by men, and teaching everyone about healthy boundaries, bodily autonomy and the way our bodies work and why. Instead of identities, we should focus on shedding some of the accumulated neuroses about sex and sexuality and providing a safer space for all of us to exist in as sexual beings.