Refusing Compulsory Sexuality

Posted by – September 21, 2022
Categories: General Excerpt New Release Society & Politics

Refusing Compulsory Sexuality


COFFEE, ICE CREAM, AND ALCOHOL. These are three things that always elicit a look of shock, horror, and disbelief or even an audible gasp whenever someone learns that I do not enjoy them. How can you not like coffee? But everyone likes ice cream, it’s delicious! So you don’t like any kind of alcohol? They either instantly pity me or become irrationally angry about my aversions— which I did not consciously choose to have. They try to convince me that I simply haven’t tried coffee, ice cream, or alcohol in the correct way, that I should just try it the way they like it. Then, they often pressure me to say that I will commit to trying it again at some undetermined point in the future. Sometimes, I lie and say I will.

Sometimes what they display feels a lot like moral outrage, and maybe it is. People tend to attach morality to peculiar things. They instantly take offense, and in turn become defensive, because they either assume that I am insulting something that brings them great pleasure, comfort, and joy or because they think I am judging them for their indulgence in it. Neither assumption is true. I have simply tried these things—on multiple occasions, with different flavors, and in various situations—and I have determined that I do not like them, and I currently have no interest in trying them again, in any iteration. This is apparently a difficult thing for many people to grasp when it comes to coffee, ice cream, and alcohol—a few of our society’s favorite things that we are all encouraged to love, to one extent or another—and I have experienced and witnessed similar reactions when people learn about the existence of asexuality.

This is not a book about sex and food and the connections between social attitudes toward them. Although, the connection is worth mentioning, as examples continue to show up in our everyday lives. Not the least of which is the widely held belief that Black people are given to excess and have poor impulse control concerning both sex and food, a myth that continues to inform anti-Black and anti-fat attitudes and policies. In this way, and many others, purity culture and diet culture are indeed siblings. They are the offspring of colonialism and capitalism, and shame is integral to them both. Diet culture attaches morality to food as a way to police the way people eat and to bring bodies under colonial and capitalist control. Purity culture attaches morality to sex to do the same. Beneath it is the assumption that sex will inevitably occur and that everyone desires it. In fact, that assumption is an essential part of purity culture—the idea that we are all “sinners” continually battling sexual urges, and resisting those urges until we are bound in heterosexual marriage “ordained by God” is what makes us pure. It doesn’t seek to hinder people from ever having sex at all; it seeks to control the conditions under which people do have sex. But I digress.

This is a book about compulsory sexuality and asexual experience. People on the asexuality spectrum, also called ace, experience little to no sexual attraction and/or little to no sexual desire, and these things are not evidenced by either the presence or absence of sexual arousal or activity. Even though “lacking sexual attraction and/or desire” is the widely accepted general definition, I do not understand asexuality to be defined by this “lack.” It is not about being without sexuality, though some may choose to describe themselves this way. I believe it is more true to say that asexuality is defined by a relationship to sex that is atypical to what has been decided on by society at large to be normative, and that atypical nature is marked by varying degrees of sexual attraction and desire. Asexual experiences stand outside what has been accepted and approved of as “normal” sexual experiences for both the queer and the heterosexual communities.

Here are just a few things people “know” about sex, attraction, and desire:

  • Sexual attraction and desire, whether queer or heterosexual, are universal; everyone experiences them and should experience them in the same way.
  • Sex is a necessary, unavoidable part of life and inherent to human nature.
  • Everyone is allosexual—experiencing sexual attraction and desire in normative ways. Anyone who does not have sex is merely celibate or abstinent, suppressing their sexual urges for moral, spiritual, or religious reasons, and people who claim not to want sex are disordered or stunted in some way.
  • Sex occurs because sexual attraction and desire signal that we actively want to have sex with someone.
  • Desire for sexual contact is sustained, especially within committed romantic relationships.
  • Partnered sex is more important, more valuable, and more mature than solo sex.
  • These ideas are immovable and not influenced by societal expectations, permissions, or other environmental factors.

This book will challenge every one of these, and more. Asexuality itself—the utmost “abnormal” sexuality, according to many—is already a challenge to these “truths,” as it recognizes that we do not experience sexual attraction and desire universally or uniformly precisely because some of us do not experience them at all. It acknowledges that desire for sexual contact with others will not always be sustained, that it is possible for desire to never even be present, and more importantly, that boundaries should always be honored when desire is not present. The asexual lens reveals that sex can and does occur in the wake of mutual sexual attraction, but that it also occurs for a myriad of other reasons, and there are a whole host of negotiations, rationalities, and compromises that take place— sometimes in a split second—when we decide to have sex. It understands that sex can be technically consensual, but still unwanted. Asexual consciousness recognizes that none of the things we “know” to be true about sex are immovable, and they are always influenced by societal expectations, permissions, or other environmental factors.

What we call asexuality is only one type of multifaceted experience along a vast spectrum of experiences with sex, attraction, and desire; it is simply another way of being. To be asexual in a world that privileges normative sexual partnership is to be atypical, Other, queer. It is to exist in such a way that many allosexuals perceive us to be lacking because asexual relationships to sex do not align with theirs, with what we have always been told is “normal” and right and required. In their eyes, seeing the world through the prism of compulsory sexuality, asexuals must be lacking in joy and satisfaction, intimacy and connection, emotional intelligence, maturity, sanity, morality, and humanity.

About the Author

Bevin is the associate comms director at North Atlantic Books.