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ISSUE 119 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/12/2006

Sex on the Hill: Asexuality: Not just for amoebas

By Paul Dillon
Student Columnist


Friday, May 12, 2006

For some reason, Oles love the closet. Maybe, when we go really far back, like under the shoe rack, we can find the Christmas presents our mom is hiding for us next year. Perhaps Narnia trend-setter Mr. Tumnus has declared “in with the closet, out with the wardrobe!” for the summer season of 2006. Whatever the reason, countless queers spend their first three or so years at St. Olaf in a beautifully scripted denial of their sexual preference.

Thankfully, most Oles’ true sexual identity often manages to manifest itself before the graduation ceremony. Still, these newly liberated Oles are inevitably exchanged for an incoming class of first-years that hide under coat racks freshly stocked with hetero-sexist moth-balls. Yet one of the few things Oles love even more than the closet – right up there with grade inflation and tater tot hot dish – is our euphemisms. For instance, Oles don't have girls desperate for validation; we have “ring by spring.” We don't have racist homophobes; we have “intellectual diversity.” We don't drink; we “play campus golf.”

And because of our aforementioned love affair with The Closet, our favorite euphemism of all is our spectacular attempt to skirt around the issue of the sexual struggles of our closeted friends. Here at St. Olaf, our friends are never in the closet, they are simply “asexual.”

“Hey, Lena, is Laars gay?”

“Oh, no! Heavens, no! For cryin' in the corn! Laars isn't like that ... he's just ... um ... asexual! Yeah! Asexual!”

While I fully commend the well-intentioned efforts of Oles to protect the confidentialities of each other's sexual identities, which have every right to remain personal and private, I must denounce the use of the word “asexual” as a verbal closet, as the proverbial “beard” of closeted gay men or the “purse” of closeted lesbian women. The word should be reclaimed and re-evaluated for what it is: a common and valid sexual identity.

An asexual person, as defined by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (www.asexuality.org), is anyone “who does not experience sexual attraction.” Asexual people may or may not partake in romantic relationships. They may or may not experience sexual arousal frequently or ever. Just as a gay-identified male may still sleep with a woman or as a sexual person may choose to be celibate, an asexual person's identity is not necessarily a predictor of their sexual behavior. The one thing asexual people do have in common is a lack of interest in partnered sexual activities.

According to a massive study conducted in Britain and published by psychologist Anthony Bogaert in The Journal of Sex Research in 2004, one out of every 100 people identified as asexual, coding their sexual orientation in agreement with the statement, “I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all.”

Despite such obvious prevalence of asexual people, their identities remain largely stigmatized, ignored and devalued by an increasingly sex-positive and overwhelmingly heterosexist culture. The oppression of asexual people is unique among other marginalized groups, and it adds complexity to the layers of oppression in the United States.

Because of our strong societal pressures to conform to heteronormative gender and sexual identities, asexual people may engage in sexual behavior or simply play up their sexual attraction to members of the opposite sex in order to combat allegations of a TBLG (trans, bi, lesbian, or gay) identity. These pressures may also explain why women are more likely than men to openly identify as asexual, because men often experience a greater expectation than women to assert their heterosexuality through sexual performance.

In addition, the United States media has become increasingly sex-positive, asexual people have also become marginalized as “not liberated,” “ashamed of themselves,” or even “prudish.” We must acknowledge that a true liberation of sexual identity necessitates not only the freedom to be sexual in healthy and responsible ways, -but also the freedom to be asexual without experiencing the assumption of a desire to be otherwise.

So, if Laars hasn't slept with a woman, don't assume he hasn't been sexually attracted to a woman, or that, by default, he has been sexually attracted to a man. Don't assume that he's ever been sexually attracted to any one at all. On the other hand, don't call him asexual just to cover up that fling he had with Sven last year. Save the word for its legitimate meaning.

If you have any comments or ideas for Paul, please write to sexcolumnist@stolaf.edu





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