I’ve been so focused on my university graduation in two weeks / life transition stuff that I failed to connect the passage of time to “Oh, I should write a post by today,” so since it’s now 10 pm at the time I’m drafting this as opposed to days in advance, I’m gonna go with a personal story. The other day, I was looking for the story of how I found out I’m ace, and apparently I only wrote the aro story, so I’m fixing that now.
I was discussing with some friends the other day how we all figured out our sexuality, and a pattern resurfaced that I’ve seen in a lot of people’s stories: if you grow up Christian as an ace, there’s often a delay in finding out due to thinking it’s what you’re supposed to (not) feel, and then if you step away from religious rules, because it’s hard to separate personal feelings from trained inhibitions. Which my own story illustrates.
I don’t know when I learned the term asexual – maybe when I was filling out college applications and had to google what all the words were on the demographic questions I was asked to answer? I always thought I was just a good Christian for not caring about sex – while I wasn’t exposed to the worst of purity culture, I definitely picked up the stuff about how you’re not supposed to want sex before marriage, not supposed to date unless it has the potential to be serious, etc. So while I recognized that I had less interest in sex or dating than a lot of people, I genuinely thought I was the “normal” one by most standards and everyone else was just really bad at following the rules for being horny, getting into relationships as teenagers, etc.
Then I deconverted in my first year of college. By that point I was picking up that I was the odd one out in terms of interest, but it still didn’t occur to me that I could simply be not interested at all, so when a friend explained the word “demisexual” (needing to establish an emotional bond before being attracted) to me, I claimed that label for a while.
At 18 I started dating my best friend (a longer story, the overall relationship aspects of which are better covered in How I Figured Out I’m Aromantic). By that point I thought the concept of sex was pretty gross and wasn’t particularly excited about it, but I had heard that a lot of people who deconverted had to deconstruct toxic attitudes about sex, so I thought it was due to ingrained moral inhibitions that I just needed to get over.
So when I visited for a summer, we tried having sex, and it didn’t live up to the hype. For one thing, it turns out I have vaginismus, but that’s a bit of a tangent. More importantly, I honestly just didn’t enjoy it, although I had wanted to try it for the experience. I thought maybe I was greysexual actually – only experiencing attraction rarely. Tried a few more activities, because my partner wanted to and also I am rather oblivious about myself in some ways without actually trying things, and starting disliking the whole thing more and more. It was at that point that I FINALLY realized I was a sex-repulsed ace.
While of course the specific details are different, and I’m different than a lot of people in that I feel like I needed to try sex and a romantic relationship to have actual data to be sure I wasn’t interested, the overall experience of a Christian upbringing delaying self-discovery seems to be a common narrative for that subset of the ace community, based on the number of conversations I’ve had about it with other people. When you’re taught that you should avoid being interested in those things, being ace isn’t remarkable – you’re “just being good.” (Until you grow up and now it’s a huge problem because men are supposed to struggle with lust, and women are expected to please their husbands, so now all the expectations have done a 180 and you’re in hot water.) So people aren’t as likely to realize something’s up for a while.
And if you’re like me and either deconvert or otherwise step away from purity culture expectations, then you’re likely to be told by secular circles that everyone enjoys sex (unless you’re old, or disabled, or the like, in which case people tend to automatically assume lack of sexual interest, which issue is its own discussion.) You might think, as I did, that you’re just inexperienced or afraid of it because of your upbringing, and it’ll be fine if you just practice anyway and retrain your feelings. So now you still don’t know you’re ace because you already have an explanation for your feelings.
Both sides have a control problem – as someone who’s been on both sides of that line, the issue isn’t actually either the repression of natural sexual desires, or the narrative that everyone has and should act on them. The real problem is that people are trying to impose a single narrative of “how people are or should be” in the first place, regardless of the precise details of that narrative.
But because asexuality is in opposition to allonormativity (the fancy term for the societal assumption that everyone experiences sexual attraction and enjoys sex), it can be more obvious for people in a secular context. If you’re raised with purity culture, it can make things messier in terms of self-discovery because ace feelings and behaviors are encouraged while you’re younger, and then it gets tangled up with your beliefs and how they might have influenced your development in addition to allonormativity, in a way that others don’t necessarily experience.
Anyway. I don’t have a particular argument I’m making here. The goal of this post is for visibility – to share my experience for those who might find it relatable, and make people more aware of one of the facets of ace experiences they might not know about otherwise. (Also note that while what I described has been an observable trend, I certainly don’t speak for every individual’s experience, nor about all Christians / denominations / such groups.)
Alright, 11:45 pm. If you read all 1,100 words of that, thanks, and hopefully it wasn’t too clunky to read. As always, feel free to leave a comment!